that’s great, Jessie J – could you let British Gas know, because those fuckers seem to think its all about the money, money, money. So do their BFF’s Severn Trent, and the Council – and pretty much any other organisation that can get hold of my name and address.

So lovely  people, if you haven’t already guessed its mid January. That wonderful time of year, where pay day is a million miles away, you’ve realised just how much money you have spent on Christmas presents, including for those people you don’t really like but can’t get away with not buying for, like your husband- and just as you’re coming to terms with how expensive Christmas is, the bills arrive. Just brilliant.

Not just a few mind, but a white avalanche of paper through your letterbox, and even though my lovely Grandma got me letterbox type organiser to put them out the way, even that is running out of room. My letterbox looked like that scene from Harry Potter when his Hogwarts letters arrived and went flooding into the house, although thank god there were no Owls. I refuse to trust anything that can spin its neck around backwards, weird, big eyed, serial killers they are.  The only letter I’ve had in the past week that hasn’t wanted money is one from Gala Bingo, which was encouraging me to gamble it away instead. Though to be fair to Gala Bingo at least they included a voucher to take three friends for free, give you free wine – and the envelope was all colourful – take note British Gas, if you want me to acknowledge your presence on my mat – get colourful and include a voucher, like one for one free phone call to an advisor who doesn’t call me Lauren, or ma’am, or make me want to send them anthrax.

So here I am – all champagne tastes and lemonade budget. This is another wonderful part of Bipolar – when you’re manic you’re spending money like water, and when you’re depressed you don’t (in my case anyway) but you don’t spend any money at all, on important things like paying your gas bill or council tax, and come January you get angry letters from Scarface wannabe bureaucrats demanding payment or else. (Or else what, they are welcome to repossess the dust in my house, because that’s about the only thing at the minute that isn’t covered in felt tip, thanks to Gabriella).

So I’ve been dutifully paying all my bills (silently swearing vengeance on places like Severn Trent, who charge you for water, when we live on an island where all it does is fucking rain). So I am now, along with the vast majority of my friends and family, in January, watching the sales, and the smugly financially organised love them – and quite frankly Joanie ‘Nan’ Taylor from the Catherine Tate Show has got nothing on me. Fucking Liberty.

Which brings me to the two points I wanted to make about mental illness and finance. First the two do not go hand in hand. To get a grip on your finances and stay in control, you need to be in control of your mind yourself. Which when your brain works off its own agenda, and some days you’re Martin Lewis, and others Eddie from Ab Fab, it’s not possible. Some people, like I have in the past, use spending money as a way to feel better. To buy presents for people, to shift the guilt for being flaky, or unwell. For others its a way of making sure you have nice things, and look nice, when you feel like shit inside. Its a release and that short high you get from the purchase doesn’t last long enough, so you make another one, and it spirals. Then debt hits. Then the darkness you go into has another hold on you, you have another reason to hate yourself and the circle continues.

Secondly, for the seriously ill, working is not always possible. Managing money when you can just about break even is one thing (lets face it, with inflation, petrol prices, wage freezes and bastard tory government no one is feeling flush, or even in the black), managing on benefits when you are mentally ill is quite another. That takes rigid, precise money management that the mentally ill are usually not capable of. To sort that, it involves having another person have access to their finances, which is embarrassing, and if you can’t ask for help regarding mental health, you are hardly likely to ask for help for your finances. Being skint, is just as bad, if not worse as being mentally ill, as its stigmatised as a another kind of personal failure. Another way of outing yourself as not being part of the Instagram/Facebook perfect lifestyle.

Then the other nasty side to this, is the shame people feel for being on benefits. Like they have to explain why they are not capable of working right now, to almost justify it. People can see benefit claimants as lazy scroungers, and yes some are. However being made to feel like a scrounger when you are ill, is not helpful to anyone, especially people who will already hate themselves enough without outside help. Something the job centre does in spades. The job centre is not designed to assist people with mental health problems, in fact I would go so far as to say the job centre does more damage to some people, than not taking their medication. They ram everyone into their one size fits all approach, and sanctioning the mentally ill until they have to go to a food bank, is just disgusting and if I had my way, would be criminal.

There is not enough understanding of what exactly it means to be mentally ill. Genuinely mentally ill. The problem is the word depression is thrown around so casually now, that the workshy have come to see it as the answer to their prayers. The jobcentre seem to think that the GP will issue a sick note for anyone that says they are depressed. However, anyone with serious psychiatric problems will have other symptoms. Plus the genuinely ill, want help, not babysitting. They are usually the ones who will look for work when they are not well enough, because they don’t want the shame of the ordeal ‘capability for work’ assessments put them through.

Depression is a word that covers too wide a spectrum of mental illness. Slight low mood on one end, to suicidal thoughts, plans and serious psychiatric distress on the other. It is a term too frequently used with no precision. It is also a term I don’t allow on any formal letter, note or report I have any say on. I ask for a more precise description, usually Bipolar episode, depressive etc than just depression, because I have a problem with being in the same category as someone who is mildly depressed. Not that I am devaluing mild depression, it is just it is a different set of symptoms and severity being experienced, therefore there should be a difference in how they are described. I liken it to the phrase ‘had surgery’. You could have had a mole taken off, or your tonsils out, or even an ingrowing toe nail removed, that is a world of difference to having a hysterectomy, or a lung removed, or a liver transplant, or a brain tumour removed. But technically all that could be summed up with the phrase ‘had surgery’.

Changing how we describe mental illness will help how it is seen and treated. That will make all the world of difference to people living with it. Anything that stops genuine people being caught up in the assault on the unemployed by the government is golden to me. Now don’t get me wrong, I think the government does need to tighten up around unemployment benefits. It isn’t fair on those who graft and pay tax, to see the feckless in our society getting pissed and/or pregnant on their tax money. However imagine being unwell, having to use the system designed to catch you when you are ill, and being put in the same category as those who wont work. I believe our  welfare system in a safety net not a hammock. However there is too much shame experienced by the mentally ill from using it at all. That has got to stop. To help people, mental health care needs a holistic approach. It is not just the illness that needs treating, but all aspects of life that people need assistance with.

However I am one of the lucky ones. I have a husband who is mentally ok (well as well as he can be married to me)  and took control when I couldn’t. He handled everything from the kids, to the house, to Christmas .It was just the bills that were in my name that he couldn’t deal with. Which makes me laugh, because we are married yet they refuse to talk to him. Some wouldn’t even tell him how much was due, so he couldn’t pay them. Which makes me laugh, they either want the money or they don’t. So now I am well, to prevent this from happening again, I either need to spend the best part of a grand getting a power of attorney drawn up, in case of future ‘mental incapacity’ – which has potential negative drawbacks for me in certain circumstances, let alone its cost – or I have to go around, putting data protection waivers onto every organisation I deal with, or make accounts joint, when I might not want to. More administrative ball ache and yet another example of how organisations need to catch up and find ways of dealing with disabled people that help them.

For anyone reading this that is struggling financially or has genuine concerns about their financial health, then please get proactive and try to sort it out. Financial health has the biggest impact on our mental health, and its very rare to be financially ill, and mentally healthy. Jessie J is wrong, it is all about the money, money, money as money can reach its long fingers into so many aspects of our lives and make it miserable. If you feel in control of your finances, you feel in control of your life.

First step, is a website called moneysavingexpert.com – the advice on that site and its forum helps so many people, as it helped me in the past. It has budgeting advice and tools, money saving  tips and advice. The forum is great for getting advice on, and has helped people 30k in debt sort themselves out. Plus it has links to debt advice related charities, such as step change. Please if contacting a debt charity, do not use one who charge you, there are so many out there that will do it for free. Check it out.

Try not to emotionally spend. If you feel low, spending money you know you don’t have will not help you. I go by ‘if its free, its for me’ – that has helped find ways of doing things to lift my mood without spending money. As you need to find ways to help yourself you can frequently rely on, and for that its needs to be free or really cheap, so you always have access to it.

Budget – knowing the damage, and where you can start to fix it will massively help. If you can ask a trusted friend of family member to help you, sometimes even talking about it helps. There is always a way out of financial mess – so says Martin Lewis, and thanks to the 3 free pairs of trainers I got from a tip off from his site and all the countless discounts and cash backs I’ve scored I take his word as gospel – it may be painful but there is always a way out. You will need independent advice from citizens advice if it is bad, but his website is a good place to start. I am that addicted, I take it as failure if I pay full price for anything these days, its almost a buzz – one of my weirder quirks but hey at least this one is helpful, downing neat bottles of Jack Daniels has never gotten me anywhere helpful in the past, although I am quite proud of my binge drinking super powers, even if they are now retired.

So my bills are paid, my bank balance is back to that place where the cash point laughs when you put your card in, but all is right with the world. I am a student, the cash point should be laughing at me, I don’t the other students to think I’m weird, well weirder. I have lots of fun stuff planned, and again I’m on the up. I’m still taking one step at a time, one bastard pill at a time – but I’m not going backwards.

Take Care

Laura 🙂 x

DISCLAIMER – Martin Lewis is in no way affiliated with my blog (although I think he bloody well should be, and a few cheesecake companies – I’ll take and advertise cheesecake, provided for me, its free) – I doubt he knows of my existence, so please remember all tory hating, foul mouthed opinions are my own. Plus any advice you get from the site, is the responsibility of the site, I just told you to have a look. However Martin, if you are reading this, and would like some cheesecake and a chat about mental health and money saving, and money saving in general, please get in touch – I don’t go cheap on cheesecake – and I quite like a man with a discount code.

 

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