Jana Says

Living life from cover to cover

mental health

It’s all in the words we choose

Shameless plug: When you’re done reading this post, check out the program description (if you haven’t already) for Bloggers Helping Bloggers, the mentoring program I founded a few months ago. The pilot phase just finished earlier this week and, with the help of J. Money at Budgets Are Sexy, I’m revamping the program for the next round (scheduled to begin in January 2013). We’ve got a lot of fun things planned and I hope you’ll join us, along with the other mentors and mentees already on board!  

Every night, before I go to bed, I take a 20 mg pill of Celexa. I do it so I can function as a normal, non-depressed, slightly less anxious, and productive person. Deciding that I needed medication was not easy; I didn’t want to become dependent on it and I really wanted to overcome my depression without the aid of pills. But, when several months of therapy and only part-time work, failed to show improvement, I knew I needed to do something else. Even if that method was my last, and completely undesirable, resort. So I went to my doctor (my therapist cannot prescribe medication) and obtained my prescription.

And I’ll tell you what. It’s made all the difference. Within a few days, I started feeling like myself again. Everyone close to me could see it, too, because many of them commented on the change in my personality. I could see, mainly in my ability to write and work and function as a wife and mother and friend. Eventually I had to admit, that yes, the medication did help and I had to admit that I needed it (for the record, this is the third time I’ve been on medication for depression. The other two times, the medication made my depression worse so I stopped taking it. I know now I was on the wrong meds).

It is for this reason that blog posts encouraging people to “choose happiness” bother me. It’s not like picking a breakfast cereal or a car; for many of us, it’s not that easy to just choose, no matter how much we may want it. We can follow all the advice in those posts and books perfectly yet something doesn’t click. And, believe it or not, when you’re trying to choose happiness and it doesn’t work, it just makes the depression worse. No one wants to be depressed (well, maybe some people do. I don’t know) and when we dispense advice that essentially dismisses the fact that there’s something chemically wrong with a person, telling them that they’re just making bad choices, it doesn’t help their situation.

Please trust me on that one.

But what the hell does this have to do with money?

As personal finance bloggers, we tend to overlook the fact that people might not have the skills to just get a job or create a budget or even open a bank account. We take for granted the knowledge we’ve acquired and assume that everyone has that same foundation. They don’t. I worked for years with people who barely knew how to pay their bills, obtain a non-driver’s license ID, or even how to dress properly for court, let alone a job interview. It was frustrating, exhausting, and even maddening to see their lack of skills. But sadly, it’s just a fact.

We have a responsibility to those people, to those who don’t have our knowledge and experience, to give them information they can use without assuming they have even an inkling about where to start. We can’t just tell them “create a budget” or “get a part-time job” or “pay your bills on time”. We have to tell them how and, if we can’t explain it, we need to point them to resources that can. It’s also important that remind them that at one point, we didn’t have that information either. But we learned it through hard work and asking questions and researching and learning. And we must encourage them to do the same.

So, before you dispense generic advice and commands, remember the people who might not have an easy time following them for whatever reason. It might not make a difference in what you say but it might make a difference in how you say it.

And that can be just as impactful.

6 ways to handle being overwhelmed

Confession: Other bloggers intimidate me.

Within the personal finance blogosphere, as well as the other niches, there exists a tremendous amount of talented, smart, witty, and ambitious bloggers. These bloggers consistently write quality content, and engage with their readers on a daily basis. With quality interactions, too, not just half-assed ones! They can be found supporting other bloggers, big and small, have legions of dedicated fans, see their posts mentioned on major sites, and yet they remain painfully humble. And, on top of that, they are always creating something new–podcasts, YouTube videos, courses, eBooks. They are some of the most productive people I have ever encountered.

What I look like when I’m overwhelmed. Except not a man.

And that intimidates the shit out of me. Because no matter how hard I try, I cannot keep up. Even at my best, I’m about half as productive as so many other bloggers despite the fact that I have a host of projects I’d like to complete. I have the ambition, I have the drive. I’m just terrible at maximizing my time to the best of my ability. When I sit down to work, I’m extremely productive. I get shit done. But I also have a problem of getting sidetracked very easily. Mainly because when I think about all that I want to do, I get overwhelmed. And when I’m overwhelmed, I become paralyzed. And when I’m paralyzed, I stop being productive and decide that I’m not going to get anything done anyway and I’ll never be as good as the bloggers I admire so why bother even trying.

So that’s healthy.

However, I’ve been trying to overcome the paralyzed sensation I get when overwhelmed. When I get like that, it’s easy to cycle back into my depression which would be terrible because we know that I won this round. Since I don’t want that to happen again, I’ve had to employ some strategies that, when I get overwhelmed, I can use to refocus and start working again.

  • Ignore the “be everywhere” philosophy. I know that many disagree, but for me, being everywhere isn’t for me. I can’t do it, and part of what was overwhelming me was seeing how many bloggers are, in fact, everywhere. I admire and respect them for that but trying to do that was too difficult. I would get frustrated that I couldn’t be everywhere for whatever reason and that frustration would lead me to throw my hands up and utter “fuck this. I can’t do it”. So, I stopped trying to do it all. I accepted the fact that I can only be in one or two places and I’m fine with that. 
  • Determine priorities. Once I ignored the “be everywhere” philosophy, I needed to decide what is important to me and what isn’t. I decided I had no interest in creating my own podcast (although being a guest is fun) nor do I have an interest in creating YouTube videos. But I like writing. That’s what I’m good at and it’s what I want to do. So I’ve made writing my primary focus and my priority. 
  • Establish long term goals. I made a list of all the projects I would like start and/or finish. Then I narrowed the list down to the 4 projects that I thought were the most doable and realistic. I wrote them down in my notebook, and now, when I find myself getting off track or becoming consumed with something that’s not related to those 4 goals, I revisit the list and focus myself.  
  • Establish short term goals. I broke this down into two categories: blogging goals and project related goals. My blogging goals include tasks like guest posting more, reaching a certain number of Facebook likes, creating a master list of topics, creating a queue of posts, and some behind the scenes work that I need to finish. My project related goals are more tasks and/or objectives I need to complete in order to achieve the long term goal. For instance, I need to design a website for Bloggers Helping Bloggers, I need to copy and paste posts for an eBook and I’m participating in NaNoWriMo. 
  • Have a to-do list. But make it manageable. I know what my time constraints are; with a kindergartner at home, my life gets really hectic at times. To manage myself, I’ve always had a to-do list. But I realized that I was being unreasonable in the expectations I laid out of myself. I would put more on the list than was practical to get done in a day and then I would get pissed that I didn’t get as much done as I wanted. And sometimes I’d look at the list in the beginning of the day, see there was too much and take a nap instead. I am masterful at avoidance. But that starts the cycle all over again, which isn’t good. As a remedy I now make a weekly to-do list, taking into account my priorities, goals, and time constraints for the week.  
  • Forgive myself. I spent beaucoup time being angry at myself for not being able to keep up with other bloggers. But I know myself and my limitations and I know that no matter how hard I try, I just can’t do it. And I had to tell myself that it’s okay. I had to remind myself that I’m doing the best I can and that’s all I can do. I gave myself permission to stop being so hard on me. 
The other thing I’ve done is follow my own advice. I wrote a post over the summer about just starting somewhere. If you don’t know what to do or how to do it, just do one thing. So I do that. When I get really overwhelmed, I start by reading a few blog posts. Or writing a few paragraphs. Or going on Twitter or Facebook. Or looking at my to-do list. I just do something. Because once I start one task, it’s easier to move on to the next and the next one after that. Kind of like a task snowball.
And eventually, that task snowball starts to tumble down the mountain and knock me out of my paralysis. That’s when the real fun begins.
Readers, when you get overwhelmed, what do you do to break yourself out of it? 

Managing money and mental illness

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV or anywhere else. The advice in this post is based on my experience and my experience alone. If you are struggling with mental illness, please see a mental health professional or your family doctor for expert, professional help.

Up until a few months ago, I was ashamed to admit that I have a mental illness. The stigma that comes along with it, and the looks of pity, concern, and fear from others, just wasn’t worth the disclosure. So I kept it to myself. Although looking back, I probably did a pretty poor job of hiding it. Anyone close to me knew something was wrong and I’m pretty sure strangers thought I was just a basketcase. I was like the kid wearing a sheet and telling people I’m a ghost; everyone knew I was lying, they were just too polite to say anything.

But now, thanks to an amazing support system, I’m fine with telling people what’s wrong with me. Why? Because I’ve decided there’s no shame in it. I can’t help what’s wrong with me. I liken it to my gestational diabetes. I did everything I could to prevent it but my body didn’t care. It was going to give me the disease regardless of my efforts. My depression and anxiety are the same way. And there’s no reason to be ashamed of something I can’t control. Besides, there are so many people like me that it’s almost the new normal to be completely fucked up.

Anyway, as a result of my therapy, I’m working on new behaviors to try, particularly when I’m anxious. I’ve talked about my distractablity list before. Let me tell you, that list, combined with my meds, have done wonders to calm me down. It’s also worked to help change some of my financial behaviors as well. You see, when I was in the darkest part of all of this, my finances almost crashed and burned. I forgot to pay some bills, couldn’t stay organized, almost overdrew my account due to lack of attention to my checking account, and a whole host of other problems. It was ugly. And, as a financial writer, it was embarrassing.