So it has been a while! After a few weeks of beating myself up for not being productive enough I decided to take a break to focus on studying and working. With the pressure of coursework and regular work I had to put some things on the back burner.
I struggled a lot trying to maintain healthy routines for myself and avoid relapsing, with so little down time outside of work and studying it was hard to practice regular self-care. It has only been a week or so and I am trying to be patient with myself while I try to get back into a routine of self-care and healthy coping strategies. I haven’t relapsed, which I am very proud of, but am conscious that I need to get into a better routine to maintain my mental health.
Although, I wasn’t posting regularly I found a lot of inspiration from people around me. This time of year, post-Christmas, tax returns, winter weather etc means most people have been feeling pretty broke and pretty low, and most of my conversations with friends have been about how crap they feel.
A few weeks ago, walking round Brixton with my friend, she told me about a friend she wanted to introduce me too. “He has been really depressed recently but he just got funding to do a big theatre tour so he is doing much better! … I actually said to him – do you think you were really depressed or just poor?”
It might seem flippant to chalk depression down to not having money but as an environmental factor it has a pretty big influence. It’s well known poor people have poorer mental health outcomes (do a quick google search and you’ll see the outcomes for children and adults living in poverty are pretty grim!). Although, I did already know that being poor and depressed could be linked something about my friend’s comment really hit me.
I’ve said before that the absolute worst my mental health has been coincided with the poorest I have ever been. 2015 was terrible and to be honest 2016 wasn’t a million miles better but I was out of the financial skip I had been in. A week after Christmas I was reminded of this when I went to go see Hamilton, for the third time in 2018. When I first heard of the show in 2015 I fell in love immediately! But I couldn’t afford to buy the album. I listened to the songs out of order on youtube, dreaming of seeing it in real life. As I left the show with my friends at the end of 2018 I thought back on that year, would I have believed three years later I would not only have the money to see Hamilton but see it 3 times?
Is that the most significant change that has happened to me since 2015? No
Is being able to go to the theatre the key to improving mental health? Not at all, a few weeks later I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed!
But for me that moment reminded me that not having money is limiting not just in terms of your opportunities but also your aspirations. If this coincides with other stress or mental health dips, then it can become a toxic mix and navigating your way out of it isn’t easy. Making more money or paying off a substantial debt won’t happen overnight but recognising that having less financially will affect your mental health could help you to work out small ways to counter it. Winning the lottery or living on a diet of boiled lentils aren’t realistic or practical solutions.
Financial deprivation has a real impact on your optimism about life and you need to apply realistic solutions to manage your money and allow yourself to feel better.
Stop telling yourself you should have more money
One of the most depressing thoughts is that you are the only one who is out of control or has no money. Everyone else is going on wonderful holidays or buying houses and cars and you’re sat wondering how you are going to afford to travel to work next week.
Telling yourself you should have saved more two years ago or you shouldn’t have bought such and such a thing three weeks ago isn’t going to help. Feeling guilty or angry about it won’t motivate you to change your behaviour. Tell yourself it is a problem you are capable of solving, that managing the stress, deprivation and frustration all this time is a sign of your resilience not weakness or recklessness.
Come up with a realistic strategy
Recognising that having a crappy paying job, living in an expensive place or having huge debt (or all three!) is important. Deciding you won’t go out for the next six months or will only eat cornflakes for a month is unlikely and won’t make you feel beter. Depriving yourself when you are already feeling deprived won’t improve your well-being.
Clearly define what the problem is, are you spending too much in rent? Is your debt repayment costing too much? Is there somewhere you can make a saving?
Identify clear areas where you can make changes and set dates to review it. Tell people you are doing it so they can support you with it.
Do research on websites like Money Saving Expert to find out if you could change your debt repayments, find deals on food and utilities and blogs on financial literacy. When you know better you do better.
Find cheap thrills
Saving money doesn’t mean you have to give up on treats for yourself. Some things are expensive, going on holiday for example, but it is possible to find cheaper alternatives. Save for your holiday and check or cheap alternatives for when you are there. Get rid of your gym membership and join a running club or do yoga online. If you go out with your friends don’t drink so it is less expensive.
Don’t deprive yourself of the things that make you feel good, just adapt them to fit into the budget you have not the one you want. Be grateful for what you do have and don’t tell yourself you need something else to make yourself better or more valuable.
You’re already awesome and you don’t need any amount of money
or fancy looking pillows to prove that!