How Depression Can Mimic Credit Card Debt and How to Deal Effectively

I have to say that I really like my therapist, and that she gets me and how my mind works, and therapy with her has been so helpful for me. Sometimes, though, she shares an insight with me that speaks to me so well that I feel the need to share it with others. And that happened in our session today.

One of the things I struggle with a lot is feeling negatively about myself, and because of that I end up basically giving up and acting in a way that makes me feel even worse about myself.

Today, my therapist pointed out that basically what happens with me is like debt. That I'm so used to swiping my 'I feel like crap' credit card and each time I do that I build more and more emotional debt. Each time I feel down and then use that as an excuse to hide from the world and stop doing what I should be doing (and instead sleep or watch movies or just generally feeling down and therefore sluggish and non productive and mopey) it gives me even more reason to feel bad about myself and that emotional debt gets worse and worse and worse.

As soon as she made that comparison I saw exactly what she meant and was able to see my pattern much more clearly. It certainly mimics credit card debt, in that the debt makes people not have money to pay for things so they swipe their card to pay for things and their debt grows and their payments grow and they have even less money available for their financial needs and use the credit card even more until they're in this black hole of debt.... Very much like this black hole emotionally that I get into. (To give an example of how this works in practicality... something gets me down. So because I'm feeling down I decide that I don't want to do anything so I stay in bed all day and cancel my work for the day. On top of that, I ignore what's going on in my house and the place becomes a royal mess, and then the mess in the house and my feeling yucky about myself makes me snap at my kids, and then I feel even worse, and the cycle continues...)

My therapist literally brought up Dave Ramsey in our session today. (You know my therapist gets me, because of course, Dave Ramsey!) She asked me what he would say the first step to do in getting out of credit card debt, and I mentioned the debt snowball, where you pay off a little bit at a time... and she corrected me, and said that the first step would be to cut up your credit card so you don't keep on adding to the debt. All very well and good, I thought, but what is that darn "I feel like crap credit card" and how do you actually cut it up?
Her answer was that the way to cut up that credit card that just creates the "I feel worthless" black hole is that when someone feels like doing things that will make them feel worse because they feel worthless, to stop in your tracks and go and do something that will make you feel positive about yourself instead. Even if its just something small, like putting a load of laundry in the washing machine.

The thing is, with an actual credit card, you cut it up and then you can't use it anymore, but with this "I feel like crap credit card" you have to keep on cutting it up every single time. And just like it feels hopeless when you have all this credit card debt, like you won't be able to pay your bills at all if you don't have that credit card, deciding to cut up your "I feel like crap credit card" is hard work and takes so much bravery. But it's still necessary.

And today I actually managed to do that.

I went to the pool, and as I'm not so in shape, even though I paid for the hour and a half slot at the pool, and had a goal of swimming forty lengths, I started feeling tired after 14 lengths. It didn't help that I got swimmers' ear and it was starting to be a bit painful. I really was going to just leave the pool and end my swimming session when that self recrimination started. "You suck, you're such a loser, you're so out of shape that you can't even manage to swim a short distance, and because of that, you're going to waste all the money you spent on the pool, you pathetic..." and then I caught myself and said "I am going to cut up this credit card right now! I refuse to use this credit card anymore!" and I said that instead of self recrimination, I would start empathizing with myself, and I started talking nicely to myself "Wow, you did a lot of lengths so far, and yes, it's tiring, but you're working hard on building up your endurance. Yes, swimmers ear is annoying, but you can deal with it afterwards, I believe in you, you can keep going, don't give up just yet." And you know what? I listened to that positive voice that I chose to use instead of making more debt with my "I suck credit card" and I went back to swimming and managed to swim an entire 40 lengths as I'd planned, in just 50 minutes! Not only that, because I didn't give up, I ended up hearing from someone else in the pool that my speed at which I swam motivated her to keep going. So I went from feeling down about myself and my swimming to feeling glad that I was able to motivate someone, in addition to feeling proud of my accomplishment.

Yes, so far I've only managed to do this today, but I've talked so much on my blog about how bad credit card debt is, that I'm sure that this analogy of not paying with my "I suck credit card" will help me snap out of this spiral that I often get into.

I have to finish working out the analogy, because I can't just cut up the credit card, I also have to "earn money" and "pay off that emotional debt" that I already have.

One of the things that many behavioral therapies talk about is building mastery and acts of service, specifically doing positive things that make you feel good about yourself. These things, in my opinion, are putting money in your emotional bank account... and if you're in the red, you might need to just be using that to pay off that really large debt. You might not feel good about yourself immediately even if you do these positive acts, but hopefully it'll help you feel less crappy about yourself. But the more you earn these "I'm awesome money" the sooner your debt will be paid off and the more money you can actually build in your account.

Things that are building mastery and acts of service would be things like working out, painting, drawing, cooking a nice meal, making a casserole for a friend, calling up a friend to see how she's doing, etc.

Today I decided to really put money in my emotional bank account and after pushing myself to finish that swim (already money in the account), I went to work (and pushed myself to even though my wrist was hurting me and I wanted to cancel) and then I met up with a good friend and had a nice talk, and then we learned a religious book together, and then I went power walking. All those really deposited funds in my emotional bank account and I'm feeling so much better now than I did this morning.

No, its not a forever thing. And it sucks, because depression isn't something you fight once and never have to deal with again. It's going to be a daily battle to cut up that darn credit card every single time. But I know it's worth it. Because the alternative is spiraling emotional debt.

Do you struggle with depression? Does this analogy speak to you? Would you add anything to this analogy? How would you cut up that credit card?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Great post! Go you! I'm proud of you for being proud of yourself. <3

  2. I have never thought of it this way, but I really like the analogy. At first glance, it seems to apply to me too.

  3. That analogy is good. My brain is also wired the way that is harmful for my well being, and getting myself out of my bfain's negative "loop" is something I am very very proud of.

    Our brains are plastic, which means they are moldable even past the childhood years and I found out that with determination and patience I indeed can change the way(s) my brain reacts (or: connects things).

    The first step for me was detecting a bad pattern, the second was the decision I do not want to keep that pattern (because it harms me or because I simply do jot appreciate that character trait, for example), and after that it was all work, work, work. In which I think this analogy your therapist gave could be very useful.

    Congratukations on many things you managed to accomplish today inspite of (the negative part of) yourself! I really think it is a small victory, first of many!

    1. Thank you so much! Rewiring your brain is so hard!

  4. I just wanted to applaud your bravery for speaking about mental health issues when I perceive you to be in many ways quite a private person. Please know that when you do this you are inspiring others with courage even if they are people you will never meet or know. Self disclosure is emotionally hard and raw but you are helping people every time you do it. In this digital age people can hide behind their air-brushed lives and this has been shown to affect people's mental health when their reality is measured against the picture-perfect mirage of their acquaintance's lives. Thank you for keeping it real and know that however low your self-approval may sink there are people across the world who are inspired by what you write and your bravery. Having watched videos and demonstrations you have done I can tell you that you are an attractive person both inside and out. You are bringing up your beautiful children with grace, dignity and ingenuity while battling these issues at the same time. In my mind this elevates you to super-heroine status! May I suggest " Mental illness; the curse of the strong" by Dr. Tim Cantopher. This has been of great help to my family. Sending a virtual hug.

    1. Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. I was really nervous to publicly mention anything about struggling with mental health, worried, I'd lose readership, get people to see badly, etc... But in the end, other people being public about their struggles helped me out so I decided to become public, somewhat anyhow, and hope it would help others as well.

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