Managing Money, Mood and Medications When You Have Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia

Sometimes when a person with a mental illness isn’t at their best, money can get out of control. I have been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder which means I have symptoms of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I was also diagnosed with anxiety, and when you add the paranoia of psychosis to that and a high or manic mood, you are looking at a danger, especially with regard to your finances.

One of the worst things about having a mental illness is that a person can feel pushed, or even bullied to lend money when they have any and pushed away when it comes time for money to be paid back. My past is littered with such incidents. There was one person, who at the time was my best friend, heard about me getting $6,000.00 as a disability payout. I wasn’t all that careful with the money, and my friend said that if I loaned him $2,000 it would be paid back with interest. He told me that his dad had screwed him over and I knew he was a hard worker and well off. Then, he disappeared. Nowhere to be found. I finally called him up one day and his answering machine said he had moved to Australia and wouldn’t be back for a year. I was very nearly livid. I called his dad who offered to make good the debt but after he told me this person hadn’t gone to Australia I chalked it up to eccentricity and said I could wait. This so-called friend called me up and was very angry with me. He said, almost exactly these words: “I’ve borrowed money before. I’ve borrowed a lot of money, and this isn’t how things work.” I couldn’t believe I had been taken again. I recommend anyone who has a psychiatric disability right off the top that they not tell anyone other than perhaps their spouse how much money they have saved or as income. It really is none of their business, and the words, “I don’t have it. I simply do not have it.” are excellent ways to politely tell someone you are not a lending institution.

One of the problems with having a mental illness is that a person tends to get very lonely, and when they are lonely they become vulnerable to predatory people. I had one guy offer to sell me his non-functioning truck for $100 and I was very excited to get it and hopefully get it running. Instead, he told someone else about it as well and sold it to them for the same price just about the same day I was going to buy it. One has to watch people for warning signs and sometimes it can be extremely important to pass up a small opportunity to get some benefit so you can avoid a major disaster in the future. The warning signs with the guy with the truck were extremely noticeable. I was over at his house once and bought a pack of cigarettes off of him because I had run out and he had a whole carton. We sat down to chat and he kept literally reaching over me to get cigarettes out of the pack I had purchased from him. I almost couldn’t believe he felt that was okay. But the real disaster came when I sold him an old car I had sitting. I think I asked him for $200 for it or something to that effect. It was running fine, it just had a loose bolt on the alternator that I had fixed but forgot to tell him to keep an eye on it. He had the car for weeks, ran into curbs with it, mistreated it and wouldn’t even let me help him change the oil and service it. Then through his own neglect the alternator came loose and he called me up demanding I remove the car and pay him back every cent he paid for it. How such people can exist is beyond me. Even a new car isn’t returnable simply after one kilometre has been put on it, and a new car runs around $15,000.00. He thought I should have protected him with a warranty for less than a single day’s pay. In a way I was also at fault because my dad had told me many years back in no uncertain terms that you should never buy a used car from anyone you know.

I could go on and on, but I just really want to emphasize that if you have a mental illness, keep a tight hold on your wallet. Do not ever lend money, and if you find yourself being bullied into lending money, be firm and make an outrageous request like they give you something worth twice the value of the loan to hold onto until they pay the money back.

Thanks to a third person that I have decided not to put on this list, I really got into trouble. Again, part of it was my own fault. I applied for and received credit cards and lines of credit which I could have paid off fairly easily if I were able to work even a few days a month on top of my disability benefits, which was allowed. Instead, another so-called friend ran up a debt with me of $6,000 and then I had to make up for the shortfalls in my income by buying on credit. Then disaster happened and I went into the psychiatric hospital for a very long stay and the social worker there decided that mental illness hadn’t humiliated me enough and that I should also declare bankruptcy. The worst part of it was that they wouldn’t even allow me to use any of my credit cards for things like tobacco or other needs. I spent almost 6 months in the hospital wearing the same pair of jeans. I do things a little differently now. I do have credit cards, though it has been extremely difficult to get them, but the two cards I have come with such low spending limits that if needed I could max them out and pay the full amount off in cash the same month with my disability money after I pay my rent.

When I was in the hospital for six months, I lost all control of my finances. One of my doctors, through sheer spite, using words I used to describe him to his face when I was ill, put all of my decisions with a public trustee. This was such an incredible disaster. I found a job not long after getting out of the hospital and in one case someone stole a set of keys and my employer went to my public trustee and got her to pay (out of my money) for new locks for an entire high-rise apartment building. It literally ruined me and the money was given up without a fight or dispute, the trustee simply took my money and handed it over. I soon got a very well paid job as a stage hand and was doing well enough to not mind spending a little extra on things like editing for my first book, taking my dad out to supper often and even getting a car. Then my charming and charismatic friend came along and kept making false promises that he was going to build me a website for my book and that he was very skilled in advertising when in reality I don’t know if he had ever completed high school. That cost me $4,000 and it seemed to go on and on. Lesson learned: Don’t lend money! You are not a bank and you can’t afford to solve the world’s problems or operate better than a bank.

All that is very relevant to a lot of you I hope, but I do also want to give some advice on how I was able to save money, get out of debt and build my life back up again after it was destroyed by a six-month psychiatric hospital stay and a number of ‘friends’ that I would have been much better off without. I had been through so much when I was in the hospital I wasn’t capable of doing a lot of things and my future looked really bleak. I ended up finding a spot at a group home which helped immensely. It was expensive but it covered everything. Food, room, phone, power. I had a few problems with the staff there (actually I think I had a problem with all of the staff) but it really helped me get on my feet. I lived in a nice house, I had a few friends in my same situation, and the staff even went out of their way to put some fun in our lives with movies and sports outings and so I managed to get by. I moved out of there for a while and my sister had noticed that my condition seemed to have deteriorated and so I went back to the group home and spent five years there, then I think they simply got sick of me. They did something for me that perhaps should have been done much sooner. They got me into subsidized housing. It was the right time for it. I was paying $800+ at the group home for rent and my life wasn’t my own. I was having a major problem with having to pay for convenience store food and delivery meals because I couldn’t seem to convince my roommate to stop stealing my food. I asked if I could put a lock on my cupboard and they said they didn’t want the place to have an institutional feel to it. Then, they went into our house where three males that didn’t smoke lived and pasted up large no-smoking signs all over the place. Pure idiocy. They kept on trying to get me to load groceries even though I was barely eating any and paying for them. These little things went on and on.

I would like all of my readers to benefit from this blog but I don’t know how these sorts of things work in the US. I know that people with a psychiatric disability get a lot less benefits, if they can get benefits at all, but whatever situation they are in, if they can handle cooking and shopping they should try and find a subsidized apartment. Many churches have such buildings, in my city the Schizophrenia Society has a subsidized building specifically for people with schizophrenia. Get out there and look. I don’t know if I just got lucky or if the government standards for places like mine are strict, but I live in an awesome building. I even was able to find some part-time work through the agency that runs this building and more like it. Basically, I get very low rent and I found a way to get a subsidized bus pass and free use of city fitness facilities, and life has become pretty comfortable for me. I have to be very careful with things like alcohol, tobacco, and other substances. I know for a fact that I would be in a horrible financial situation if I consumed any such product. I also make a point of putting on a backpack and walking three miles to the large grocery store where prices are better rather than shop at small local places. It is really important to watch every penny, to write things down and plan them out. Even if you don’t feel you are up to a part-time job, it can be very important to get a volunteer job for many reasons. One is that it gives you work experience. The second is that it gives you a life, a place to go, things to do, friends to meet and even more important, self-respect. Keep your space clean, and don’t accumulate objects. There are many times when I take and purge out all of my extra possessions simply because I have a bad habit of over-buying. Why subscribe to magazines when you can read all you want for free at the library? Why buy books for the same reason? Spend your money keeping your quality of life as high as you can. Make sure your laundry gets done on a regular basis, make the effort to bathe and brush your teeth. These activities make it easier for you to get along with others and saves tons of money in things like dental bills. I have been working part-time and living in a fairly sparse apartment (though it is large) and so when I have a little money extra to spend I like to buy second-hand signed and numbered prints from a well known Canadian artist. They look wonderful on my wall and the value of this sort of thing has a good chance of going up in a few years. Some other ways to save money is by getting a quality product rather than a less expensive one. My parents had all the amenities of life in their house despite a low income because they would save up for and research things like blenders, toasters, ovens, stereos, and just about anything like that.

Really, what it all comes down to is in the title. Money, meds and mood. If you have recently left a hospital or may in fact need to go to one in the future, learn to reach out to resources that can help you. Focus first on getting a psychiatrist and affording medications through blue cross or other programs that work for you. Then, do a bit of research on getting free or low-cost counselling. You would be surprised how helpful and empowering it can be. If you are a smoker, make plans to quit, but also make sure you buy enough to get you through the month. I can’t even imagine being a smoker where I live because it costs around $15 for 25 cigarettes. That would be hundreds of dollars a month I could be saving for a trip or my retirement or even a second-hand car. But if you’re hooked you’re hooked, might as well enjoy it and make sure you don’t have to do without. In my experience (I smoked for 18 years before quitting 16 years ago) you can’t quit when you are constantly wondering where your next cigarette is going to come from. Then comes mood. Mood can be influenced by how you manage your money, how you keep your clothes and house clean and how well you eat. Start simple with the eating. Try to get a portion of protein, a good cereal in the morning, and a few servings of fruits and vegetables with nuts to snack on (moderating each of these). Add a daily walk to that and you will find your life will go so much better. I literally was a mess when I got out of the hospital 20 years ago, but by following the money, meds, and mood principals, I ended up doing well.

Well dear readers, that is all for now. Been getting some great comments lately, thanks so much. As always, if you would like me to cover something specific in this blog, let me know.

One comment

  1. I understand and feel you there, I’ve spend my entire life struggling with these disorders and losing all money in one go…. if not to lousy friends, then to online scams or impulsive shopping.


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