Accepting Your Emotions

Mental illness can bombard you with a lot of emotions. Many of them are understandable; a lot don’t seem to make any sense. People will be more empathetic in regard to some of your emotions than others. You will find some emotions easier to deal with than others. Some emotions can cause other emotions, such as when you feel irritated and then feel guilty for feeling irritated. It’s important to acknowledge all of your emotions and their effects.

You have the right to feel however you feel. Anyone who tells you otherwise may mean well, but they are not being helpful. You cannot control your emotions; you can only control how you express them. When people say “you’ve got to control your temper” they don’t mean that you should repress your anger, or deny its expression: they mean that you need to learn how to express your anger in safe, constructive ways. When I first read Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers, it was a revelation. She pointed out that feeling fear is inevitable, but you can choose how to act in the face of fear. It made me realise that everybody feels fear – many to the same extent as I do – and that I didn’t need to remain paralysed by my fear.

Accepting my fear allowed me to start tackling my anxiety problems. It’s not a linear process and it’s not easy, but I’m now aware of a new possibility: that I can cope with my anxiety even if it doesn’t go away, that I can take action towards achieving my goals even if the anxiety is still present. In short, it helped me to accept my anxiety.

Accepting your emotions is a vital step in learning how to deal with them. Sometimes it will be more difficult to accept your emotions, such as when you feel sad on a happy occasion and don’t know why, but it will get easier with practice. Start by simply observing how you feel. I have found it useful to do this with an app called Moodtrack, but you might prefer to keep an “emotions journal” either digitally or on paper.

Try not to judge your emotions – just acknowledge them and note any factors that might be affecting your emotions. These could be external, such as a friend getting a new job when you are unemployed, or internal, like feeling exhausted because you didn’t sleep last night. You may begin to see patterns almost immediately, or it might take several weeks (or even months) before you can analyse your emotions and figure out the most common triggers. Again, don’t judge. Your patterns and triggers are unique. Having unusual reactions to certain things does not make your emotions less valid – nor does it make you a bad person.

Once you accept your emotions and their causes, you can begin to develop coping strategies. You may need professional help to do this (I was lucky enough to receive a year of drama therapy, which was amazing), so get help and support if you need it. Dealing with mental health issues is difficult and there is no shame in seeing a therapist, psychiatrist or counsellor. Even if you are not mentally ill, you may benefit from seeing a mental health professional or life coach. After all, if you had a physical injury you would see a physiotherapist without shame – you don’t have to cope on your own.

You might be surprised by which emotions you find hardest to accept. Often, these can be positive emotions like joy, excitement and contentment. I found it difficult to accept feeling happy, for example, when I was depressed. I would feel happy for a couple of hours when I was with my friends, then sink into a deep depression. I thought that I didn’t have the right to be happy and the brief happiness made the depression harder to bear because it proved that I was capable of feeling better. I repressed these happy periods a lot, because the contrast with how I felt the majority of the time was so painful. It was years before I learnt how to enjoy the happy periods amidst the sadness, frustration, fear, anger and numbness I felt over 90% of the time – but I got there in the end.

You can learn to accept all of your emotions, even ones which might feel dangerous or taboo. It can be a long, laborious and scary process, but it’s worth the effort.

Dealing with Debt and Mental Health

Your mental health can affect your finances and your finances can affect your mental health. The specific effects vary, but common ones include feeling very anxious about financial matters, impulsive spending and losing control of finances during a period of depression. It makes sense when you think about it: if you are depressed, showering and cooking meals become massive challenges – paying bills on time has to take a backseat while you prioritise the bare essentials. Trouble is, you have to face your finances when you start feeling better and if they are a mess, it could make you feel worse again.

The good news is that there are some great resources for people with mental health problems and debt:

  • Money Saving Expert has produced a Mental Health & Debt guide that is supported by several mental health charities. It can be downloaded as a PDF at moneysavingexpert.com/credit-cards/mental-health-guide and contains loads of useful information. There is also a page of tips for people with bipolar, who may be prone to impulsive spending during manic phases. Unfortunately, there is no mention of borderline personality disorder – despite impulsive spending being a symptom of the condition.
  • Mind also have information on mental health and debt, including tools you can use to ascertain whether or not you have a problem at mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/debt-and-mental-health/ and details of where you can go for support. It also has a guide you can download.
  • stepchange.org is a UK debt charity which can help people with debt problems and also has a lot of articles and resources on debt and mental health.

It’s important to get any help and support you need as soon as you can. You can solve your money problems, but the longer you leave it before addressing the problems, the worse your problems will get – and the more impact they will have on your mental health. I know you might feel ashamed or embarrassed, but there are many understanding, supportive people who can help you. Debt is a common problem and there is no shame in admitting you have money problems. In fact, you deserve praise for finding the courage to face your debt.

My mental health has had a huge impact on my finances. I have had to leave jobs because of mental illness and decimated my meagre savings as I waited to receive benefits. Relying on benefits for several years has been difficult; the judgment I face from both government employees and society in general has made my depression and anxiety worse at various points. One of the symptoms of borderline personality disorder that I struggle with is impulsive spending. I took out a credit card to pay for my MA tuition (which was definitely worth it), but also bought a lot of expensive crap in attempts to make myself feel better (definitely not worth it) and ended up with over £6200 on my credit card. I also had a £2000 overdraft, which I have managed to reduce to £0. I also owe my parents several thousand pounds, because they have been forced to support me for most of my adult life.

I’m telling you this to demonstrate that I no longer feel ashamed of my debt. I am dealing with it and (slowly) paying it back. The process isn’t entirely linear: sometimes I mess up and buy a pair of shoes because I think it will make me happy. Sometimes I buy too many books, kidding myself that £3 or £4 is a negligible amount and won’t add up. Other times, I have unexpected expenses like vet bills or replacing broken items. However, I always go back to reducing my debt instead of increasing it. It’s not easy, but it will be worth it in the end.

Facing your money problems is difficult at the best of times, let alone when you are recovering from mental illness, but it’s easier to do it now than to wait until the problems get worse. You are not alone. There are people who can – and will – help you. Start by following the links I have provided above.

 

See also: 7 Steps to Start Dealing with Debt