Money is the root of all anxiety

Posted on January 19, 2007

In my all too rare barely manic episodes, I have to be very careful about money. It ceases to mean anything to me and if I’m not vigilant, I can get in a lot of financial trouble. Three main things happen when I’m what’s called hypomanic (a low level mania): I don’t sleep much, I develop distinct obsessive/compulsive tendencies, and I go shopping.

Now it’s funny, but one of my worst episodes involved a clock radio. I wanted to get a new clock radio for my husband. His had broken and he relied on his watch alarm to wake up in time for work, which didn’t always succeed. The new clock radio needed a digital display that did not glow red, because red glowing things in the dark freaks me out. Guess how many that eliminated? Bear in mind this was before Internet shopping. I had to go out to the store and physically look at all the clock radios. On a sane day, I would have chosen a store with a good selection, picked out the best for my needs, and gone home. But it wasn’t a sane day.

So, my mind buzzing and whirling from lack of sleep and whatever else goes on when I’m manic, I got out the telephone book and made a list of every electronics store in the city. I had about two dozen stores listed. Then I organized them so that I could visit one after the other in a largish circle rather than driving haphazardly around. I started this at 7:00am and timed my departure from my home so that I would arrive at the first store when they opened at 9:00am. I had a spreadsheet I’d drawn by hand (and ruler – to get the lines straight because what good is a spreadsheet with crooked lines?) so I could “comparison shop.”

Yes, that’s right. I was going to visit every single store and evaluate all of the clock radios and once I’d seen every available one, I’d choose the best and go back and get it.

Do you have any idea how long it takes to visit two dozen electronics stores over a ten-mile radius? I finished, exhausted, well after dinner. I had ruled out every clock radio I’d seen for one reason or another. But I did come home with a new answering machine, a new telephone, and a really nice mini-cassette recorder. None of which we needed, and none of which we could afford.

I love the energy I have when I’m hypomanic; I hate the behaviors. And I use the word hate sparingly and purposefully.

On the flip side, when I’m anxious or depressed, I’m constantly stressing about money. Constantly stressing that we never have enough. I know probably all of you stress about money too, but I really think this is different. At the first sign that we might not have quite enough money to meet our financial obligations, I am immediately certain that if we spent less on food, we’d come out ahead, or at least break even. So I will solve that problem by not eating. If I don’t eat, that’s one less person to feed and that much more money for our other commitments.

I’ve been doing this for over twenty years and I can’t stop. As a teenager, when my depressions first started and were severe, I had to be force-fed because I’d lost 25 pounds in two weeks, dropping me to 80 lbs. My relationship with food is completely messed up, because it’s both a luxury (when I think I can afford it) and a consolation (when I’m so tired and depressed and I detest myself anyway so who cares if I eat an entire pint of ice cream?).

The fear of not having enough money, even before I sit down and figure out the numbers, is enough to drive me to panicked tears, feeling overwhelmed and hopeless and looking for any reason – any reason at all – to punish myself for not making sure we had enough.

My youngest (so far) is ready for preschool. More than that, he needs the socialization and physical and mental stimulation preschool can give him that I simply can’t at home. During the day, it’s just the two of us. We looked into preschool and as anyone who’s sent a child to preschool lately knows, it’s expensive. Even the most accommodating cheders are still not free and I wouldn’t want a charity education even if it were available because, in part, I know there are others who need it even more than we do.

We will work the numbers and try to make it fit and meanwhile I will try to do everything I can to not panic or starve myself or bawl my eyes out unnecessarily. It is hard. It’s hard for anyone; it’s a real feat when wacky brain chemistry turns a financial challenge into a feast or famine, walking that thin line between inner peace and inner punishment.

I try to remind myself of the hopes, the promises. I try to remember Yaakov avinu, whose story strikes such a chord in me. He left home under less than desirable relations with his family (like me), and years later found love, wealth, and reconciliation. His encounter with and promise from G-d is profound, and his realization that G-d is here and I didn’t know it – these at least open the door to me for accepting that all will be okay, if only I let it.

Does trust negate fear? Does belief overcome doubt? Can reliance upon G-d eliminate so much dependence on money in today’s world?


  1. Rivka

    It is funny now. I was very serious then. My husband did eventually get a new clock radio. I only went to two stores.

    I’m in charge of paying bills and such. We tried it with my husband taking care of it, but he finally admitted he just didn’t have the discipline to say no to things we couldn’t afford. I just have to make sure I stay away from finances when I’m at either end of my extremes.

    If being Jewish isn’t about learning and practicing self-discipline, I don’t know what is.

  2. Ayelet

    I couldn’t help laughing at your description of the clock-radio search!

    About the whole money thing, I have long ago decided that I just don’t have the bitachon to handle looking at our finances. It stressed me out so much to the point that I couldn’t deal with it and I would lose it if someone spent an “unnecessary” cent. And so, my husband does all that now – he pays the bills (when he remembers), he pays the rent, he pays the babysitter (or, rather, overpays her). Of course, being the Type A monster that I am, it drives me crazy when we pay a late fee (that would never happen on my watch!) but I’m much saner not knowing how badly the numbers don’t add up. I don’t even know how much we pay for rent – and I like it that way.

  3. Rivka

    Therapydoc: thank you, both for your confidence and your encouragement. I’ve given the blog address to my counselor, though I don’t know if she’ll visit or read it. But at least she knows she can. While I’m sure there is a therapeutic catharsis to blogging about this, I also want it to be useful to others, to help them understand better maybe how to approach emotional disorders within the Jewish community and beyond.

    Jack: but imagine what you could accomplish if you had the energy to visit two dozen electronics stores in a ten-mile radius – and did something productive with that energy! These days I look back on that episode, and others, and I can’t believe some of the things I did. And I still miss the energy when I don’t have it.

    Mother in Israel: our plan was to keep him home this year and start him in a four-year-old kindergarten program next year, like we did with his older sibling. But I’m not sure that’s working – for him. He does draw and plays with playdoh and watercolors and “reads” books and accompanies me on all my errands. I do some work from home, though, and it’s hard on him when I can’t interact with him all day. I agree preschool is overrated. We’ll have to see what balance we can find between meeting his needs and continuing to meet ours. Thank you!

  4. mother in israel

    I don’t believe that socialization with similar aged children is critical at this age. If you feel it is, you could arrange afternoon or weekend playdates, but he has a brother, right? My son just started kindergarten (5yo) and he adjusted beautifully. You need to weigh the expense against the possible benefits. Even if you just read to him regularly, let him do crafts, talk with him about your daily activities and whatever interests him, and take him on errands he will be fine. If having him home will negatively affect the mental health of either one of you negatively then that is a different story, but remember that entering preschool creates a different set of stresses. Preschool is overrated.

  5. Jack Steiner

    Do you have any idea how long it takes to visit two dozen electronics stores over a ten-mile radius?

    Oy, that would be exhausting if they were all on the same block.

  6. therapydoc

    yes, yes, and yes to your last questions. you’re going strong with this blogging thing!

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