how my mental health affected my financial situation

Over the summer I listened to a few financial podcasts and was inspired by one particular episode in which the guest was talking about her childhood and how it had deeply affected her relationship with money. This got me thinking about the connection between finance and mental health and how they influence each other, and I decided it was an important topic to cover.

If you think about it, personal finance and mental health are both topics that aren’t really talked about that much. If you want to learn how to manage your finances properly you have to seek out information, but conversations about money can still be considered taboo in certain societies, and no one is ever taught financial literacy. Yet our financial wellbeing has such an impact on our general wellbeing, it strikes me as strange we don’t address it more often.

For this blog post since I don’t have much experience myself, I put out a call for contributions and was fortunate enough to have a few people respond. The following is an interview/guest blog post by Celine who was willing to share her story. I hope you enjoy, and thank you to her for contributing!

Who are you, and what made you want to share your story?

My name is Celine and I am 40. Over the last 18 years, I have held 14 roles working as an administrative assistant. Even though I always managed to convince recruiters I moved from one job to another by choice, the reality wasn’t so simple… In my case, poor mental health led to 9 job losses, empty bank accounts and barely any retirement savings.I decided to share my story because I want people to understand that there is always hope and that your situation can improve, even if you are going through your darkest hours.

Know that you are not alone.

I have been to hell and back many times. And no one could ever tell. I faced many injustices because of my condition and the way I look. Most people have a preconceived idea of what someone with a mental illness looks like, usually due to the media. I am not an 18 year old boy wearing a black hoodie. I wear nice shirts and diamond studs. (This never helps when seeking support from the social services.)

Today, I am ready to start a new chapter, and I feel that addressing some of these issues will help me move on. Finally (and ironically), it is now I’m feeling better that I am actually facing my biggest challenge: how to rebuild my life after financial loss and stress.

When was the first time you became aware you were suffering from a mental health issue?

Although some of my friends mentioned my behaviour was somewhat “off” or “different”, I only realized something was seriously wrong when I started going to the ER on a regular basis. My life had been a mess, but I was convinced I had it under control and that I was making conscious choices. The truth is: I wasn’t, and I needed help.

Mental health issues are common in my  family. Everyone either faces ADHD, narcissistic personality disorder, depression, anxiety, PTSD or, in my case, type 1 bipolar disorder. The symptoms of mania include:

  • Exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence
  • Poor decision-making — for example, quitting a job, going on buying sprees or making foolish investments

Because of my family history, my childhood was filled with traumatic events. To cope with this reality, my brain taught me to dissociate from my feelings. This meant that I could keep living a “normal” life: going to school, playing with friends, being a good student and graduating from a good university.

Because emotions are there to help you think, feel and react to your environment, completely discarding how I felt wasn’t a long term option If, like me, you don’t address those feelings, you may end up developing “a range of psychological or physical symptoms”.

Describe the relationship for you, between finances and your mental health:

I have never been able to save money, which is not necessarily a problem. A lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, simply because circumstances don’t allow. However in my case, my illness involves symptoms that make it hard to cope with money. This materialised in the form of shopping sprees and opening a few businesses, every time using all of my retirement savings to fund them. Managing my finances is certainly not something I grew up learning. My mother was depressed with drinking problems, and my father is unknown. Not paying taxes or being prosecuted for insolvency was common.

I started working when I was 20, and worked full time on and off until 2015, when my health started to deteriorate. I registered (many times) with the unemployment office, knowing I would be leaving the jobs I would find within months. With time, they started doubting my capacity to  work at all. I was asked to request financial support due to medical reasons, which was denied since I could not express the problem. The downward spiral started from there.

Ironically, I was starting to realize I had a problem, getting the help I needed. However, finding the right medication would take time and I wasn’t able to function normally. I couldn’t keep a job, nor pay my invoices. I largely used credit cards, paying off debts with the next short term mission, and emptied my mother’s bank account (with her agreement, of course). I reached a point where I was feeling too unwell to work at all, and I could not afford to pay my rent. I had to move out and live with my mother, back to where I had experienced all the trauma as a child.

While this sounds terrible, by then me and my doctors had found a treatment that worked, and I had a therapist who had helped me find the answers to all my questions.

Would you say that your financial situation can negatively impact your mental health? Or vice versa?

For me, the story I just shared is a clear illustration that mental health greatly affects your relationship with your finances. My illness makes it hard to work on long term plans or to have a clear view over my finances. 

Now I am feeling better, I have learned that having some money in the bank is a source of reassurance and reduces my stress a lot. I also realized that the amount you make (or keep in the bank) has a lot to do with self-worth. As I regain confidence and develop a sense of purpose and identity, I start to believe that my life is precious and that I can contribute positively to society. I have goals. Remembering that reaching those goals will take time pushes me to take care of myself and my mental health, and to project into the future. 

I now have reasons to believe that my life will not end so abruptly, as I used to. This implies that I have to learn how to save money to finance my projects, and to use my resources more wisely. It has become important to me to live well and to save in order to help myself and others.  

How have you learned to deal with this situation?

I have learned that mental health is just “health”. I take care of myself and create my own rules to make sure  my physiological and psychological needs are met. For instance, I am someone who needs more sleep than most, so now I look for jobs that offer flexible hours, allowing me to prioritize this aspect of my health. 

When I am able to meet the conditions that help me stabilize my mental health, I am in better control of my life, and of my finances. It’s certainly a work in progress but I feel much better now just understanding what caused these difficult situations I kept finding myself in, and how to manage them.

What have are you doing to better manage the relationship between finance and mental health?

I have learnt to appreciate what I had been missing all along: stability and safety. And that often, this comes with having a stable job and money in the bank.

I think money has a lot to do with the value you give to yourself. Finding a sense of identity was very important in my recovery process. This takes time and effort, and is sometimes challenging. But I love spending time discovering who I am, and what I can bring to the world.

I have started taking classes on personal finance, and I’m thinking about getting different sources of income, just in case of a future crisis. 

What do you wish you had known on the topic that might have helped you in this situation?

One of my friends, a psychologist, diagnosed me around 2006. I didn’t listen at the time, not really understanding what she was talking about. I waited nearly 10 years to ask for the help I needed. If there is one thing I learned, it’s that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. And asking for help is hard. But the consequences of not asking it are even harder to deal with.

What are your next steps?

My next step is to find a part time job that allows me to maintain the balance I need. Soon after, I would like to find a place of my own again.

I also want to resume my studies, I want to learn enough to support people who are unaware of their own needs and struggles. I’m also starting to work on different projects related to mental health, like this blog post. ☺️

What would you like to say to someone who might be struggling with the relationship between finance and mental health?

I like to think that nothing is over until it’s over. Seeking help can be terribly difficult when you don’t trust people or when you feel ashamed. If you had a bad experience trying to talk to someone about your problems, you are likely to stop asking. Don’t give up! Try again when you feel ready. It may take a few attempts, but you will find someone who understands and who will put you in the right direction.

People cannot read our minds. Learning to understand and express our emotions is essential. The “Wheel of Emotions” is a great tool to use when you’re learning how to communicate your feelings with others. Start trusting people again. You will be pleasantly surprised.

And remember that I might be one of your colleagues, so always treat others nicely ! You don’t know what they are going through. It is seldom the ones who scream the loudest who need help, but the ones who are unable to make a sound.

Where can people find you ?

If you feel like reaching out to me sometime, feel free to contact me via Emma

If you liked this interview, remember that you can read 8 more stories from different people and their experiences with mental health here.

Do you want to share you story about finance and mental health? Or perhaps you just want to talk to someone about it.

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Currently working in marketing and comms in Amsterdam. Passionate about all things digital, writing, dancing, travelling and much more. Mental health blogger and advocate.

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