Depression is defined by Wikipedia as, “a mental disorder characterized by at least two weeks of low mood that is present across most situations. It is often accompanied by low self-esteem, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, low energy, and pain without a clear cause. People may also occasionally have false beliefs or see or hear things that others cannot.”
It is estimated that approximately 6.7% of the American population, or 16.1 million Americans, suffers from depression. I am one of them.
Most of my posts are about facts and statistics and shy away from my personal life for the most part. This one, however, is going to dive into my depression, how I deal with it, and how it affects my financial decisions.
The hope is that others suffering with depression can find a resource and an ally in the personal finance world and can gain some insight on how it may contribute to some of the decisions, actions, and outcomes of their lives.
A Bit Of History
I can honestly tell you that I have never felt completely comfortable talking about my life and my feelings, but I feel that it is important at this point in time and has become relevant since I began this blog.
I can go back in time and tell you these things thanks to my therapist who has helped me deal with a lot of things at this point. I know, I sound like a whiney little kid or a nut job. I am actually in my 40’s and have dealt with this for a long time on medications that never really worked for me and never really knowing why I was feeling the way I was feeling.
I lived life with low self-esteem. I never knew where I stood with anyone at home. I was constantly walking on eggshells so I didn’t upset anyone. I never knew if I was in trouble or if it was alright to talk that day.
My parents did go to all of my sporting events. I was a starting football running back, I played basketball, and ran track. I even played football in college. You would think that I would be confident and outgoing, but I was about as introverted as you could possibly be.
When you are in high school and college, should be popular, people are even trying to be your friend, but still want to kill yourself and don’t know why, there is a problem. At this time, depression was not as widely recognized or diagnosed as it is today. There weren’t many resources to turn to for answers so the tendency was to suffer in silence.
At least twenty years of clinical depression had gone by before I finally got bad enough and my wife convinced me to see someone. That was a major changing point in my life. I began to open up about my life, my feelings, my father, his father, etc.
I came out of that first session feeling like a thousand pound boulder had been lifted off my chest. I was so nervous going into the session because I wasn’t sure what we were going to talk about or if she was going to judge me or what funky things she may have me do. I didn’t want to get hypnotized and cluck like a chicken every time I hear a bell ring.
Everything flows so natural and she gives me suggestions on how to handle certain situations that come up on a weekly basis that I may have a hard time handling. My wife even goes to some sessions with me to keep me on the straight and narrow. She sees it from the outside and can give my therapist an insight that I may not be able to see.
I am still on medication, but the supplemental therapy sessions are helping more than I could have ever expected. Just speaking to a non-bias third-party individual has been essential to figuring things out for me and helping me process my depression triggers.
How Does Depression Affect Your Finances?
Personal finance is difficult enough, but when you are suffering with depression, it adds another layer of complexity. Your normal thought process is disrupted and you tend to do things that other people would not normally do.
There were long periods of time where I felt lost. It felt like nothing was important, nothing was worth doing because it really didn’t make a difference in the big scheme of things. I still feel this way at times. Financially, these are difficult times because I feel like I need something to fill this void. I feel like I need something to knock me out of this rut.
What could that something be? Maybe a new TV, computer, guitar, theme for my website? It doesn’t matter what it is, it will cost money and will make me feel better….for about 5 minutes. Afterwards I want to completely punch myself in the face for being stupid.
The Solution For Impulse Buying
The first step to stopping the “impulse buy”, is to recognize what triggers it. For me, it was the rut that I would fall into. I would begin to feel lost and hopeless. I knew at some point during this rut that I was going to want to buy something in order to make myself feel better. How did I know this? Because that is what I always did in the past.
I can now recognize the trigger, so how do I stop it? I have been trying to replace the reward of buying whatever I think will make me happy at the time with something else. You just need to figure out what you can do that will give you a similar feeling.
Do you enjoy running, playing video games, cooking, working in the yard? “But you said that everything seems useless at this point, I won’t feel like doing any of those things.” I hear you.
One valuable piece of advice I received from my therapist is that, if you begin to do something that you actually enjoy, even if you are in a rut, there is a big chance that you will actually continue to do it. I can tell you, at least from my personal experience, that this has been the case for me in most instances. Not 100% of the time, but more often than not, I will actually forget about wanting to go out and buy something when I begin to do something else.
So there I was, with a pile of debt, a family to provide for, and no clear way out. Yes, you don’t need to have depression to feel the exact same way, anyone visiting this site feels that way or has felt that way at one time. One thing that depression does, however, is warps your sense of belief.
To most, this situation is terrible, but there is a clear path with a clear outcome. When you are in a state of depression, you truly feel that you are never going to make it out, you are the cause of all of the problems, you are going to lose your family, there is no solution, and everyone is better off without you. That is how dramatic your views can be warped. So not only do you have to follow the debt-free steps, but you have to get your crap together, realize that your thoughts and views are being warped, you are going to survive, and get with it.
I say that in a blunt way because that is what I say to myself. I don’t like to sugarcoat things and make everything all unicorns and rainbows. Sometimes life involves picking yourself up and getting it together. I am not one to have people lift me up. I would rather have them help me understand the reasons behind the why and allow me to handle things.
The Solution For Hopelessness
When you become hopeless in your pursuit of a debt-free lifestyle, you need to do your research. You need to read blog posts, articles, listen to podcasts, consume information every single day. This will keep you motivated and will keep your goal fresh in your mind. Once you stray away from your goal for a few days, you will tend to lose interest and it will seem hopeless or useless to you.
It also helps to have someone there to hold you accountable for your actions. Don’t do this alone. You need someone there to make sure that you are sticking to your plan and that you don’t fall off the rails. Make them hold you accountable for creating a budget every month, paying your debt snowball, etc.
Make sure you keep track of your progress and celebrate your small victories. Stay motivated in any manner you possibly can. Chart it on the refrigerator, make a spreadsheet, whatever makes you happy.
When depression rears its ugly head, you want nothing more than to be alone. There are a few reasons for this, at least for me. I usually want to isolate myself because I find myself getting annoyed and angry very easily when periods of depression set it. I also feel that my depression affects other people in a negative way, so I try to stay away from people, especially people I care about, when I know I am in these periods.
How would isolation contribute to your personal financial decisions? People who isolate themselves from the world, tend to accumulate material things to replace the human contact they once had. It is sometimes thought that one of the causes of hoarding is due to attempting to replace the love of people with the love of objects. If you fall into this mindset, you could spiral into debt very quickly.
That is a dramatic scenario, but it isn’t uncommon. I mean, look at all of the television shows that feature people living in houses with things piled to the ceilings. These people normally live alone, isolated from their families for one reason or another. Usually due to a mental illness or a traumatic experience.
The Solution For Isolation
One of the best things I ever did was to give my wife and parents permission to interfere in my life unconditionally if they ever saw that I was falling into a period of depression. They now know the signs and can figure out how bad it is going to be fairly quickly.
If they see I am beginning to withdraw into myself and disappear for a little while, they have my permission to pull me out and hold me accountable. This means I have a fantastic support system in place to catch me when I fall and not let me become “that guy” on the block with 500 Beanie Babies.
To wrap this fairy tale up, depression is real and can affect your life in many ways. It affects you mentally, physically, and oh yes, financially. That doesn’t mean that you can’t find ways to identify and avoid the triggers in order to change your current habits.
Putting your ego aside and finding the right support system is critical to saving both your sanity and, in the long run, your bank account.