When I relapsed, I was in a financial hole because I had only been at my new job for two months, and the health insurance hadn’t yet kicked in. I failed to purchase COBRA from my outgoing job, and Medicaid denied my request. When I went to the Medicaid hearing to appeal the decision, I stated my case: when I was in the hospital, my employer wasn’t paying my salary, so technically, because I didn’t have any income, I should get benefits. This was long before the New York State Medicaid “buy-in” program for people who wanted to risk working instead of collecting a disability check. Luckily, my own attorney-like defense resulted in the payment of my hospital bill.
Such tussles were partly my own doing, and also beyond my control. I call year eight “attending to finances” because I’ve seen over and over again that a lot of people who collect disability checks fritter their money away. I used to have a friend who had more jewelry in her collection than a museum’s gift shop. Whenever we were browsing street vendors, she thought nothing of spending $20 or $30 dollars on rings or earrings or bracelets.
In addition, the staff at halfway houses or other residences needs to have financial management sessions with their clients. For close to three years, I existed on $100 “personal allowance” each month, after SSD and SSDI paid the rent and counseling fees. So that when I found my first job, I thought nothing of treating myself to a $125 pair of boots, and lavish outfits to impress my supervisor.
Over the years, I’ve reined in my spending. In my eighth year of recovery, I found a new position, only to be laid off two months later in September 1994. I had an upper respiratory infection, and the office manager told me to go home and not come back until the doctor said I could return. I called up Liz four days later and said that the internist had cleared me. She told me, over the phone, that they had eliminated my position. My mother paid my health insurance until December, when I found another insurance broker job. Alas, the new firm’s owner booted me out the door exactly six months later—in June 1995.
Financial experts routinely tell us to have three-to-six months of living expenses in the bank, and some even say to have eight months on hand in case of an emergency. This is hard when you collect a disability check, but even then, it’s best to max out the limit the government allows you to have in your savings and burial accounts.
With two jobs kaput, I moved back home because I couldn’t afford the rent, car payments, and COBRA, too. I didn’t want to rely on my mother’s kindness for the rest of my life. We packed up my minimal furniture, and stored it in my parents’ basement, where I set up my own “apartment.”
Though I place finances as a concern in the eighth year, I think wise spending habits need to be ingrained early on in our recovery. I know some of the poverty thinking that went through my head, early on in my work life, is universal to us all: “I deserve this, because I have such a miserable job.” “My co-workers can afford this, so why can’t I?” “I’ll put this on the charge. I’m sure I’ll pay it off—eventually.”
And the unconscious feelings ran through my head: “I feel poor about my prospects, so if I buy these shoes, I’ll feel better.” “I have no money, so what does it matter if I buy this shirt, I’ll never be able to save.” The purchases, though, actually made me feel crummy and were precisely the reason why I didn’t ever have any money.
A motivational guide for saving up eight months of living expenses is that if you’re laid off, and receive unemployment benefits, you have a cushion that could make it possible for you not to go back on disability, especially if your primary goal is to kick the SSD or SSDI dependence.
Not everyone who is diagnosed with schizophrenia will be able to hold a job, though some of us are able to do quite well in the workforce, despite our illness. Once again, you should have in place a therapist and psychiatrist who support you if your goal is to try to gain employment. Whether full-time or part-time, I’m convinced the right job exists for those of us who seek work. It just may take longer to find, or we may have to be creative in how we look for and find it.
My suggestion is to curb or eliminate credit card debt, because some employers check your credit history in determining whether to hire you. It also doesn’t help to have lingering debt if you want to apply for a mortgage through one of the low-rate interest programs for people with psychiatric disabilities who are working.
As you may have guessed, I’m passionate about finances, and I’m certain I’ve exceeded the word count for this blog entry. We can talk about this in the comments forum. Do respond, because I’d like to know how you feel.
Year Nine: Ending the Cycle follows. It is in this next year that you relish the fruits of your labor, discard the old and unworkable, and revive your spirit.
Published On: April 19, 2007