MIND AND MONEY: How debt happened to me

Written by Heather Wilson on 29th Aug 2017

As part of our Mind and Money series, looking at the connection between money and our psychology, Heather Wilson, aka Mental Wealth Girl, has written this guest post, on how she fell into financial difficulties as a result of a decline in her mental health.

I read every day about how the NHS is struggling and how politicians are promising more funding for mental health patients. I hope these politicians know just how expensive mental illness is.

It has cost me exactly £29,850 in debt.

This is a very recent discovery. Over the last four years when my mental health has been steadily declining, I thought I had racked up about £20k, with £15k on a loan which covered a car and home improvements taken in July 2013, and the rest on credit cards.

I rang up my various card providers and asked them just how many balance transfers I had arranged since 2013: £3,000 in November 2013, just 4 months after I had taken that loan out. £5,400 in 2014. Two in 2015, one for £2,750 and the other £3,700.

I was earning £36,000 a year as a teacher and yet I was switching to 0% balance transfer cards at an alarming rate.

The problem with mental illness is that it creeps up on you. Whilst on my PGCE, I remember going to a lecture about stress. The lecturer used the ‘boiling frogs’ analogy. I was sitting in a nice cool bath of living in London, earning nearly £50,000 a year in a job that I loved and spending every penny I had enjoying my late twenties and early thirties.

Then I made the move to a prestigious boarding school in Norfolk where I took a pay cut but I figured that living outside of London and working a 6-day week would help me to save no end of money.

How wrong I was.

I knew that the job wasn’t for me by the first half term break. If I had known then that I could have resigned with just a month’s notice, I would have done so then and there and got straight back on the train to the Smoke. I have never been one to quit; I would have probably given up on the teacher-training when the 12-week school placement was underway. I was bubbling away in a boiling pot of depression and anxiety. Yet I stuck it out and self-medicated with junk food, alcohol, a couple of very poor relationship choices and, you guessed it, shopping.

In London, I could afford to have a blow-dry twice a week, my nails done every week and working a stone’s throw away from the Topshop on Oxford Street meant I had enough leopard-print to make Rod Stewart jealous. But in Norfolk, I had to make do with online shopping and weekly excursions to Norwich to get my retail fix.

My hair changed from bleached-blonde to pink to chocolate brown in an effort for me to feel like something other than this depressed and anxious shell of a person, working in a job that I hated. I treated myself to a £2,500 violin as my only happy times were playing in the school orchestra. I bought a £600 Max Mara gown to wear to the Leavers’ Ball to try to impress people that I didn’t even like.

If that wasn’t bad enough, old habits raised their ugly heads from my youth and I succumbed once more to anorexia. I wasn’t looking my best from all the booze and stodgy boarding school lunches and dinners so I decided to get a personal trainer and to modify my eating habits.

From September 2014 to July 2015, I went from receiving compliments about how great I looked to getting sideways glances and kindly meant comments about how I needed to “stop now before I go too far”. To any anorexic, these words are like a badge of honour. I must be doing something right for you to say those things. You are just jealous of me. You want me to stop because I am thinner than you.

By September 2015, I had been seen in A&E by the Mental Health Liaison Team and referred to Eating Matters, an incredible charity offering eating disorder counselling. I kicked and screamed and cried about being forced to go to therapy, but once I got so weak and disillusioned, I realised it was the only way to save my life.

Two years of psychotherapy and twenty weeks of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy later, I have now been discharged. I have made so many changes in my life but taking control of my finances was the last, and best, one. I cut up all the credit cards, made a budget and I now hold myself accountable for every penny I spend.

Since January this year, I have paid off  £6,350.40 of my remaining debt and I am aiming to be debt free by November 26 2017.

Join me on my journey at Mental Wealth Girl on YouTube and @mentalwealthgirl on Instagram.

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