mental illness and money woman with bowed head

Mental illness and money: what is this blog really about

Mental illness has a stigma, and money is taboo. This should be fun!

When I started this blog I had every intention of talking about the poor financial decisions I’ve made during my life that got me to where I am now: 47, in debt, and feeling like I’ve squandered all of my good fortune. It wasn’t my intention to write about the impact that mental illness had on making those poor decisions, but it emerged organically as I have composed the posts. I can see now that writing about my mental illness and money challenges is a pretty natural topic.

The thing is, although I’d superficially acknowledged that bipolar and mania were factors, I’d never really looked at all of it closely. Since writing about it here, however, it has become something I can’t ignore.

It’s depression that’s the problem, right?

Although the problems date back to when I was a teenager, I first learned I have bipolar type 2 when my therapist took a closer look at why my depression wasn’t responding to medication and therapy. We looked for patterns in my life and that’s when I first noticed that wild spending and impulsive relationship choices were accompanied by massive “highs” and then immediately followed by crashes into depression. We decided to try a medication that has been successful in treating bipolar 2 called lamotragine, and between that and some significant lifestyle changes, I finally got some traction in becoming healthier.

Actually, that’s an understatement. It was like night and day. It was like getting a new life. Being able to function without being in the throes of a crushing depression was a whole new world.

It was the depression that was the problem though, as far as I was aware. I kinda-sorta saw that there were periods of hypomania in my life but I’d never recognized what a big problem they were. (Hypomania is a characteristic of bipolar 2; it is mania without psychotic breaks. I use the terms pretty much interchangeably though.) I had always rationalized those manic periods of spending as me being easily influenced by others, unable to say no, or just flat out being a dumbass. I never acknowledged it as being literally out of control, that I was letting mental illness drive the bus, but that was the truth of it that I simply preferred to avoid. Hell—I’d still like to avoid it.

When I am manic, I am irrationally optimistic. It’s really hard to admit something is wrong when you are on top of the world. Inspiring other people. Being in action to make your dreams a reality.  And it’s even harder to admit when that is the version of you that others, and you yourself, prefer. It doesn’t feel bad. It feels amazing. Mixed episodes of mania and depression don’t feel good. It comes with agitation and impatience and rage. But pure mania? Man. Before it starts dipping, for me, it’s like being a fucking superhero. (Who needs to sleep? There will be time to sleep when you’re dead.)

My mental illness and money

In the last few years I’ve thought of myself as being very stable, and yet when I drop the bullshit I can see that I spent around $80,000 on an ill-conceived business, on taking care of others, and on impulsive purchases that somehow made sense at the time. I always believed I was in control. I always believed I could handle it. And yet… I couldn’t fucking afford to spend almost $80,000. Evidence? How about the $40,000 or so of debt that I’m carrying? The proceeds from a house that I sold? About $30,000 in bonuses? All gone in a puff of smoke. I simply walked away from it, and it isn’t the first time I’ve done so.

The mere fact that I’m talking about pissing away almost one-hundred thousand dollars is enough to make me want to vomit. I am in a privileged position, I know this, and I feel like I am betraying everyone who struggles to merely get by. And I feel like I’m betraying myself by closing my eyes to the fact that I am NOT, in fact, in control. No matter how much I would like to be.

This is the reality check that has come through starting this blog. It is the reason I’ve decided to go back to therapy, and that I am open to maybe even changing my meds. I just can’t ignore the fact that as stable as I feel right now, there is obviously still a problem that is not being addressed. I think that it has been more or less invisible to me because in the past it was being suicidal that screamed out “get help!” I have somehow missed that spending thousands upon thousands of dollars and putting my future (and Junior’s!) in jeopardy just might also be a red flag. I mean what the fuck?!

Back to square one

So. This brings me back to the point of this post: what this blog is really about.

  1. It is about being late to the savings game.
  2. It is about my efforts to get out of debt and make progress toward FI.
  3. And now, I think it will also be about addressing the issues that are obstacles keeping me from reaching that goal.
  4. It will be about mental health and the impact it can have on personal finances.
  5. It will be about the challenges of living with bipolar, and getting healthy.
  6. It will be about being responsible for my life.
  7. It will be about me.

I would love to hear from others whose lives have been impacted by mental illness, especially as it pertains to personal finances. I KNOW there are other people out there struggling with this too.