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Money and mental health - a year of living dangerously close to the edge

Friday, 13 January 2017 Jamie Stevenson

Money worries contributed to Jamie's anxiety and panic attacks. He blogs about how he's coped and what he's planning for the future.

Jamie writes about money and mental health. His kids keep him going when times are hard.

I’m sat on the narrow staircase in my rented home clutching onto the carpet with my fingers.

All those TV and film clichés about panic attacks are true. I can hear my heart thumping, my head feels like it’s spinning out of control and my view of the stairs in front of me seems to be going in and out of focus. “I will survive”. It’s a mantra I repeat several times a day.

Why? The bank cut my (large) overdraft in half and cut my credit card limit. The result, I’ve just tried to by fuel for the car. £33 - <card declined>.  I was paid two days ago – how can that be? I fumble for the Gold Card – emergencies only. <authorised>. My heart leaps, I feel like I’ve committed a crime.

Next stop local shop to get milk (49p) and bread (75p) for my two young children. Gold Card works again. I get back to my rented house and look at my bank account online. Sure enough I’m broke. Again. My head starts to spiral and that’s when I end up on the stairs.

"I’m broke. Again. My head starts to spiral."

Last month I sold my wedding ring and my watch. That covered food and fuel to get to work. This month there’s nothing left. I look at my mum’s gold locket that I inherited when she died 9 years ago. In it is a picture of her and me aged 3. I close my eyes. I can’t sell it.

It’s almost a year since my wife and I separated. We have two amazing children and the impact of our conflict and unhappiness was in danger of affecting them badly.

Perhaps typically as a bloke I took on paying the majority of the mortgage on the family house, that’s about a third of my take home wage. On top I pay the rent and bills on my rented home and half the child care costs. I have a good job, not massively well paid but for my (middle) age it’s ok. I have about £140 a month to spend on food and fuel. I save that for when I have my kids, which is 50% of the time.

I knew after 7 months my income wasn’t going to meet my outgoings. I looked online for advice on debt and finances. Citizens Advice helped. I went to speak to a solicitor (for free initial consultation) about how to draw up a financial agreement with my ex. Negotiations with her meant I could bring costs down slightly. Family bailed me out a bit, but it was still way too close for any comfort.

"I went to the bank in a bit of a flap. I tried to stay calm and breathe steadily to stop any panicky feelings."

I went to the bank in a bit of a flap. I tried to stay calm and breathe steadily to stop any panicky feelings. I was uncomfortable and felt the sweat on my hands and neck.

The manager listened and understood. The family home would be on the market soon and mortgage payments would stop. In September it would be school for both kids and childcare costs would reduce. She was lovely, but she couldn’t approve any more overdraft, she’d have to speak to head office. She walked into the other room to talk animatedly with someone on the phone. “I’m sorry we can’t help” she said in a flat tone. 

I sat half expecting the room to consume me. I felt weak. My mouth was dry and I didn’t know if I could speak. She was visibly angry while she explained that my account activity meant they couldn’t extend my overdraft and credit. She explained that the reason my activity was negative was because I kept going over my overdraft and incurring fees. “Yes, that’s because my overdraft limit needs to go up” I said. She agreed with me and said how frustrated she was, but that head office only did ‘responsible lending’.

I drifted away from the bank. I felt like I was floating, detached from the people around me. I looked at people buying sandwiches from Greggs and shopping and felt like I couldn’t do that. I had gone from being part of that society, to being apart from it – disenfranchised.

It’s 16 years since I was diagnosed with depression. Anxiety came to join the party late last year.

Each day I work to maintain a clear mind. I take my meds, practise Mindfulness (when I can with two busy kids) and I talk to friends. But each day I’m anxious expecting to be hit by another financial or emotional blow.

I was stood with my kids trying to catch those ‘fairy’ seeds that float in the summer months. They caught one each. I caught one. My wish. For my ex and me to feel emotionally and financially secure for our children. For me a home, and a chance to just got to a supermarket without panicking – a need to feel included again in society.

"Each day I’m anxious expecting to be hit by another financial or emotional blow."

My estranged partner has been able to manage, work and get through this tough time with help from friends and her parents. I’m happy for her because it means she and our kids are happy. We’re not bad people – when things got unbearable under the same roof we had to make the decision to separate.

There are a few things that have helped.

Keeping in touch with friends even if you feel ashamed or like withdrawing. Trying to speak to the bank and your family to see what can be done. I also went through a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) through my GP – and as part of that I discovered mindfulness. I was skeptical but it totally disarmed me –my friend said I looked great and relaxed for the first time in ages.

All through this year I have been thinking about where I could save money, so looking ahead to when my outgoings would drop helped me focus on a possible future.

My daily mantra is “I will survive”. It’s joined by “one day” when I see a car that’s younger than my battered 14 year old estate care or see a small house with a sold sign.

My kids are amazing and although they have their moments they lift my heart and keep me going.

Take a look at our information on money and mental health

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