Over the course of one year, I lost my job, my college career, my home, and my car all because I didn’t have money. I was 19, and I didn’t know what to do. I could have run back to my parents, sure. But they were 500 miles away, and even if I had gone to them, they were barely scraping by on their own. Instead, I decided to stay in my town, determined to figure it out on my own.
It only makes sense that at this point in my life, my depression came rushing back to me, capitalizing on the hopelessness I already felt. I stayed with friends who partied a lot, which meant most of my time was spent asleep or drunk. I always felt so sad—sad that I couldn’t find a job, sad that I couldn’t make any progress in my life, sad that my town didn’t have public transportation (though I couldn’t have really afforded that either), sad that bill collectors kept calling me, and sad because I was always drinking.
With no way to get around, no permanent address, and only a few outfits sitting in a box at my friend’s house, I found it very difficult to get a job. Every job I didn’t get became a new failure my depression could hold over my head. Eventually I got a waitressing job at a restaurant down the street, but as luck would have it, the restaurant shut down two weeks later. I got another waitressing job at a new sports bar that was opening, but I had a panic attack the night before my first shift thinking about the revealing shorts I had to wear, so I never went back. Thankfully I found an $8/hour call center job across the street from where I was living. I started the next day, working any hours they asked, so grateful for the opportunity. For the immediate future, I was going to be OK.
But what I quickly found was that the depression that arrived with the bad times didn’t go away once good things started happening. My depression, it seemed, wanted to hang around to see if it could ruin those too. I was no longer in danger of starving to death, but I was still scared every day that I’d be back there again. I felt like I was never truly out of the woods.
If I learned nothing else from my parents, it’s that no one chooses to be poor. They only choose how they handle it. People who have never been in that position find it easy to make suggestions like “just get a better job” or “save more money” as if that’s all it takes.
In my experience, this is true of mental illness as well. I didn’t choose it, but I could choose how I handled it. I knew that a lack of control over my finances causes horrible episodes for me, which meant it was in my best interest from a mental health perspective to scrimp and save and manage my budget like it’s my job.
I devoted my spare time to learning the rules of the financial world so I could be a little more in control of it. Like a lot of people with mental health issues, the more out of control I feel in a situation, the more likely I am to struggle mentally. I created a budget that I forced myself to stick to, and I slowly but surely built up my credit score and my savings. I got a car, paid off my student loans, and paid off some medical debt.
My mental health is still a daily struggle, but I’m working on eliminating personal finance from the long list of things that trigger me. Of course, sometimes depression and anxiety are just there, unprompted, and they can’t be easily tamed or reined in with spreadsheets or wit. In those cases, I do the best I can.
But the more I learned and the more I budgeted, the better I felt, at least for this one facet of my life. Even though I can’t make my depression or anxiety go away, it’s given me a lot of comfort to realize I can try to give it less to work with.