Battling PTSD & $88k Debt

In late 2016 when I had my first nightmare I was deployed and remember telling my roommate the second I woke up. From that moment on I could not ignore what I was feeling or experiencing. Before that first nightmare my anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of PTSD were just something I ignored. A sign that we are all taught to look for in the military is the nightmares or flashbacks.

At that moment it all became real to me what I was experiencing but there was no way I was going to open my mouth about it with anyone other than my roommate. After telling her that time I would keep it bottled up inside of me because there was no way I as a woman of color was going to suffer from any mental health issue and be seen as even less than in the military. Little did I know, that PTSD would affect me (and my money) far after my deployment ended.

History of Bad Money Decisions

Before the PTSD, I admittedly made some bad money decisions. I enrolled in college for a year but ended up dropping out because of bad grades and having no way to pay for it. I received refund checks, but it didn’t fully process that those were just student loans that would have to be paid back. After I joined the army at 19 I went back to school and kept taking out student loans. I was doing well in classes this time. I had a habit of maxing out my credit cards and then going extreme to pay them all off. In my mind credit card debt wasn’t bad so I kept racking it up especially when I wasn’t working as many hours or didn’t make as much money as usual.

During my first deployment I paid off all my credit cards and came home with a good amount of savings. That savings quickly depleted as I made an impulsive decision to move to Long Island with my-then-boyfriend. We financed everything and got new cars because we came home from deployment, so we deserved it- Right?

Before my second deployment I decided that I had to do something different. I knew I was going to be making too much money to just come home and be in even more debt. My sister was following Dave Ramsey and I figured I would listen to some of the budgeting advice she was giving me. I made my first budget on February 10, 2016 based off my tax refund check with no other form of income until I left on deployment the following month or so. I started to pay off my debt which at the time totaled more than $88,000.

A Recipe for Emotional Spending and Obsessive Behaviors

When I was paying off debt for the first two years my goal was to have it paid off as quickly as possible. That goal meant that when I got back from deployment I started to work side jobs to earn extra income to throw at my debt.

I quickly became obsessed with making more and more money. There were weeks where I was going from one job to another and not getting home until after midnight just to sleep for about 5 hours and wake up and do it again. My mental health started to suffer because I was working myself to the ground and I started to see my PTSD get worse.

I was getting anxious or depressed and would go and buy something or go out to eat. As I saw myself make more money my overspending was getting worse and worse. I was emotionally spending to make up for the fact that I was completely ignoring my mental health or my own self-care. It was an endless cycle that I was in about making more money, having no time for myself, breaking down and emotionally spending, then becoming anxious and depressed about overspending, and then figuring out more ways to make money to combat my overspending.

The cycle continues for over a year. I was not taking care of myself and in hindsight now see why balance is so important.

 Sometimes the Longer Road is worth it

In the middle of 2018 that cycle was becoming more apparent to me. One night, in the middle of an anxiety attack about money, I decided I needed to figure out how to stop this cycle. I am passionate about money, but money does not need to be my entire life. I also realized I needed to prioritize self-care and give myself grace.

Some ways that this looked like for me was increasing some of my personal money, budgeting for miscellaneous things that come up, and realizing that every single month was a restart for me. One unhealthy habit that I had formed was the comparison game of how much others were doing towards their goals. I realized that I needed to find the balance that worked for me.

Personal finance is not one size fits all, so we cannot look at another person’s situation and beat ourselves up for not being in that situation. Adding a few months to whatever journey you might be on in order to accommodate for mental health or balance is okay. You will still achieve your goals!

Sometimes the longer road is worth it.

How has your money journey been affected by your mental health?

Maria is a military veteran who is currently pursuing her MPA in Inspection and Oversight. She is a personal finance advocate and has an unhealthy obsession with all things tacos and her dog Apollo. She is building her financial coaching business where she is helping other people achieve their financial goals and live a better balanced life with money. YouTube channel: Modern Budget Curl, Instagram @modernbudgetcurl, and website

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