The Material Consequences of Anxiety

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I had a weird realization this week while I was rambling about my insistence on working too much: many people misunderstand that mental illnesses have material consequences. Sure, they might get that for something like an eating disorder or schizophrenia, but for “garden variety” stuff like depression and anxiety?

In general the negatives are seen as the internal experience of the individual.

But I want to challenge that notion.

Mental illnesses generally come with a change in behavior, and those changes in behavior can have monumental impacts on a person’s life. Let’s talk about an example:

I’ve been working too much lately. I know it, and I know I have to stop taking on so much freelance work.

It’s not like I need the money to be ok. In fact my budget relies on about a third of the freelance income I’ve made this month. So why do I still have such major anxiety about it?

I actually think that my parents did a pretty good job of giving my brother and I a reasonable financial education. We both grew up with bank accounts and understanding that what we put in there should be used towards college (to help us understand saving and to get us invested in our own education).

Unfortunately my very literal brain interpreted this as “anything you spend that’s not for college is Wrong” and that continued even past graduating from college (which obviously makes tons of sense). I really struggled in the first years out of college to allow myself to buy anything up to and including food.

I’ve also had a number of instances where my bad executive functioning has meant very sudden and unexpected HUGE bills. I always feel like any piece of mail could be some mystery bill for thousands of dollars that I wasn’t expecting, and so I need to hoard away my money as much as possible.

In the practical sense, this has meant that I consistently go without things that I want and need, and practically can afford. It has also meant that budgeting is incredibly challenging for me. Immense bills can come out of nowhere and decimate my budgets.

On the other hand, I refuse myself money for fun or enjoyable things in an absolute fashion until I snap and swing wildly to “fuck it I’m buying everything” and destroy my budget that way. Because of the challenges around emotion regular, anxiety, and executive function, my behavior isn’t predictable and I have to work more than I should to support my needs.

I always need a buffer in case I overspend or forget something important (like the way I forgot I had already set up a large transfer and did it again and overdrafted yesterday).

This also extends to things like loans. I’m wildly aggressive about paying them off. Again, this isn’t a bad thing except when you drop money that you probably should hold on to because seeing the loan gives you so much anxiety.

I end up not having cash on hand to pay for things like clothing because my anxiety demands that I spend every spare penny towards loans.

People sometimes don’t realize that things like anxiety and executive dysfunction have real, material consequences beyond the internal distress. They don’t understand that the impact can be things like the ability to do a job or manage a budget or eat healthy food. Managing those consequences is really challenging.

This is one area of one person’s life. The impacts for me have been major though. I could give examples in dozens of other areas. Mental illness isn’t “just” in someone’s head: it is also in their actions and the outcomes of those actions each day, and that can have big impacts in terms of someone’s living situation, health, relationships, job, schooling…everything.

This isn’t a revelation.

Just a reminder.

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