It was the summer of 2014 when I went to the grocery store one fine morning to buy a carton of milk. I was hungry. And I needed to down my box of Coco Puffs with milk. At the checkout counter, I presented my credit card which, to no surprise, was declined. Shivering, I proffered my second card. And third. With no cash in hand and a slew of declined credit cards, I started crying.
It was the lowest point of my life.
Then the anxiety attacks came in followed by its best friend: Depression.
Fortunately, a kind stranger saw me weeping, shivering and an utter emotional mess. He paid for my milk. It was at that point in my life I realized I needed to take control of my life. I needed to get out of debt. Stat.
It’s 2018 and I’m debt-free. I’m not going to lie – It was hard. Really hard.
I had to look at facts and face some harsh truths. I had to change the way I lived my life. But most of all, I had to change the way I saw myself.
Most people don’t think that mental health and finances are related. But someone who had a mental illness – depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, bipolar disorder – knows that if affects every single aspect of your life. Even your savings.
The facts are there. A study found that 72% of people who have mental health problems find it harder to manage their finances. 74% of people with mental illnesses avoid paying their bills. I was one of them.
I was 30 years old with no savings. I was living in my friend’s basement with no job prospects and no hopes of a career advancement. Not even a salary hike. I was always prone to anxiety but it just got worse. I started spending more money to make myself feel better. A little retail therapy wouldn’t hurt anyone, right?
Before long, I traded my meager savings for mounting credit card bills and unpaid utility expenses. It was overwhelming. It was stressful. And it gave me more anxiety attacks. At night, I’d lie awake obsessively worrying about my debt.
Eventually, I had a breakdown.
So, what did I do to become debt-free and restore my mental health?
I faced the truth.
Have you ever been in denial about something? It’s very easy to avoid facing the truth. I refused to believe that I had a serious financial problem and mental illness (anxiety attacks) until I couldn’t even buy milk.
Getting out of debt means looking at yourself in the mirror and admitting the truth. It does set you free. And it’s the hardest thing to do but trust me, it’s worth it.
I developed a spending plan. And got lots of help.
After admitting the truth, I had to get down and dirty. I made a list of my expenses and income. That meant opening envelopes I didn’t want to, looking at bank statements I was terrified to see and calling my bank to learn about the reality of my debt.
I also asked my mom (yes, my mom) to help me. I confided in her about my situation and it immediately made me less anxious in general. The anxiety attacks gradually subsided. My mom and I don’t always see eye to eye, but she really did help me take charge of my finances.
Confide in someone about your debt. Someone you trust. It was the single biggest step that I took towards working on my mental health.
We both made a spending plan that ensured that I have some money set aside every month to pay off my credit card bills one at a time. It was scary but necessary.
I cut all my credit cards, frivolous expenses and paid my bills.
God was this hard! My mom cut all my credit cards while I reduced my expenses. It meant letting go of a lot of habits I was accustomed to – that Starbucks coffee I drank every morning, making a gift for my friends on their birthdays as opposed to just buying something at the mall and eating out one or two times a month as compared to twice a week. It was hell but in retrospect, it was worth it.
I stopped judging myself on my money.
You know what made me feel really shitty? That I had no savings. I’ve never, ever had savings in my life. I lived paycheck to paycheck and I always judged myself for never having enough.
This judgment led to me thinking about my future. Then the anxiety attacks came in waves. It was a vicious cycle.
Identifying the cause of my attacks and not judging myself took a lot of effort. And a lot of time.
I stopped thinking that I’m a bad person or a horrible woman because I had no money. I’m human. I’m me, with or without money.
Gradually, as I paid off my bills, I started to feel more in control of my life. I got optimistic, confident and disciplined. I still judge myself on how much money I make but the only difference is, this time I stop myself when the thought occurs. I tell myself “you’re more than what you own.”
I took charge of my life.
When you’re in debt, you feel like your life is spiraling out of control. In 2018, I’m proud to say I have savings. Yes, I have savings!
Not only am I more confident, optimistic about the future and have better mental health, I have a sense of freedom and peace of mind. I have career goals now. I no longer live in my friend’s basement. I have better relationships with my parents, my friends, and my siblings. I’ve even started dating.
When you save, when you pay off your loans, you take control of your life. You became your own boss.
I’m not going to lie; I still get anxious when I see a brown envelope or get a call from my bank or look at my bills. I still struggle to control my impulse to shop for senseless things. But it becomes easier every day that I persevere.
Did you know that in 2015, 43.4 million Americans were afflicted with a mental illness? That’s 17.9% of all adults in the United States. Have you ever suffered from anxiety, depression or some other mental illness and couldn’t deal with your finances? Comment and tell me what you did to overcome it. I’d love to hear from you! Let’s share stories and inspire someone, even just one person, that you can get better and take control of your life, your finances and your mental health.
Andrea Boffo is CEO of PlusVoucherCode, a website that provides discount codes to save money on online purchases.
Image courtesy of Heather Paque.