Earlier this year, I had a mental health breakdown. I’d always been conscious of my vulnerabilities and stress triggers, but this one was a full-on collapse, with physical manifestations of pain and angst. I told myself all kinds of stories about what had caused this break down. From stress, (and really, it was a high-stress period of my life) to hormone overload, to change of environment with a roommate who bordered on strange, if not toxic—to me at least. And yes, it could have been all these factors combined, but there was also one other factor that I did not like to acknowledge: Money.
Yes, thinking about money just about drove me mad. And the thought of it alone was such a huge trigger that I shut it out completely, refusing to acknowledge it as part of the problem. You see, at that point in time, I had just moved apartments again, (a needless endeavor considering how that also panned out.) I had also paid some major bills and best of all, had withdrawn my services from one of my underpaying clients. It’s not that I did not have money to eat, it was that based on my calculation, I did not see myself surviving on what I had coming in. Basically, to my mind, zero money equals death.
There are many ways we think about money that are dangerous and toxic. Sometime ago, I read about how both the hoarder and over spender have one thing in common: a fear and helplessness towards money. This has been the case for me, and I suspect of many women too. Naturally, I believe in the usual capitalist-driven laws of survival: save your money, invest, don’t spend everything you have at once. In one of my earlier employments, I never understood how grown men who earned fixed salaries complained about being broke. Was it not as simple as planning, creating a budget? Also, being a person who is largely not materialistic meant that I could not empathize with people who just woke up and wanted outlandish things like traveling on a 200k salary.
Well, life has a way of catching up with you. For the first time, I started having real sleepless nights about money. I came to grad school later than most people, which meant that years before this, I was always employed, always able to pay my bills without breaking a sweat, always able to have something basic that I wanted. Then suddenly, I was thrust into this space where money became an endless conversation. It’s not just the presence or lack of money that distressed me, it was that my earning capacity had been crippled. I had always held two/three jobs at a time, always had work. But in a new country with immigration laws, employment became impossible.
Anyway, that’s how worrying about money pushed me to the point of mental and physical breakdown. I realize, and I’m still learning that I need to re-imagine my approach to money. Or rather, the power that I’m giving it over my day-to-day journey. It’s worth paying attention to, just like we would pay attention to cancer or an impulse to harm. Worry is self-harm. And money doesn’t respond to worry. I was thinking about this because I know there are some people like me who are happy in abundance and sad when broke, as if there is anything in life that is constant. I’m still in grad school, in a strange country, which means in the for seeable future I’m going to have to trust the graces that have brought me here, but I’m also going to have to solidify my sources of joy so that not having an overflow in my bank account does not determine who I smile to.
It’s easier said than done, though. After all, random shit comes up all the time, it could even be a health scare or an urgent fee. Maybe you’ve recently lost your job, or watched a project gone bad. Maybe a source of income did not pan out or you are just tired of the status quo. I’m not here to ask you to work hand and diversify your income portfolio—you already know those things. I’m here to remind you that you are more than the things you do not have, and you deserve a good night’s sleep. Learn how to sit in the waiting, in the brokenness. Whatever you cannot lose has power over you, many great philosophers, from stoics to Jesus Christ, agree with this. Being in a season of brokenness is not the problem; letting that season define you? Now that’s something you need to work on.