I Finally Spent Money on an Accountant, and It Was Huge for My Mental Health
I have a chronic anxiety disorder that causes me to suffer from delusions of persecution, as well as irrational and overblown fears of authority figures and the commensurate web of bureaucracy I can so easily see myself unwittingly trapped in. It also means that the very topic of money management leaves me in a cold sweat—that is, it did until I put my money in the one place I didn't expect would revolutionize my mental health: I hired an accountant.
I was one of those people who would feel faint whenever the topic of money came up. It was like the specific anxiety was hard-wired into me, shooting out white-hot alarm signals as soon as a bill—any bill—showed up in my mailbox. In addition to my chronic anxiety, I also suffer from a specific type of mental health phenomenon known as mathematical anxiety (yes, it's a thing). This caused me, for example, to feel panic swell in my chest and tears spring to my eyes during every math class at school—as I stared down a sheet of hieroglyphics that I, for the life of me, couldn't decipher. The same thrum of fear still raises its head in adulthood when I have to deal with money.
Over the years, instead of engaging with my finances head-on, I've simply ignored them. Of course this is an exceptionally privileged position to be in; while I grew up in a working-class family, generous grants, loans, and eventually jobs have always come along at just the right time for me. I've always had something—even if only an overdraft—to fall back on. Sure, I'm swamped like millions of others by student debt. But I've never had the true motivation (or the nerve) to look my own finances in the eye.
Ultimately, the underlying worry that my haphazard and irresponsible approach to money would eventually, inevitably, catch up with me only contributed to my sense that I was fleeing from some awful specter that could at any moment tear the ground from beneath me and swallow me whole. Better to keep running than to face it head-on.
It turns out, I'm not alone in my extreme avoidance of financial education. Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of My Online Therapy, tells me that in her experience as a therapist, financial security comes up often among people's worries—not only because it's "an important human need," she says, but because "as we grow up, we're often reminded of the importance of budgeting and being responsible for our finances. So when we think we don't have financial control, it can cause high levels of anxiety, as well as low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy."
"When we experience anxiety, our first instinct might be to avoid the situation that's causing us stress," Touroni explains. "So, in this instance, our natural urge might be to avoid financial difficulties (e.g., debt)" in order to ease the stress that topic causes us by burying our heads in the proverbial sand. But that avoidance not only "stands in the way of problem-solving," Touroni adds; it also "makes it easy for problems to spiral out of control, which can cause further anxiety and stress."
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Touroni's reference to feelings of inadequacy hit home for me. Compounding my anxiety around money was a sense of shame—that I couldn't just pull myself together and manage the basics of life like an adult. So that's what I vowed to do.
Six months ago, when I was laid off and decided to embark on a career as a freelancer, finally facing my finances became a very real need. Suddenly, there was no company HR department to sort things out for me—no deducting whatever needed to be deducted before sending me my paycheck. Suddenly, I'd panic every time I even tried to figure out my rent, bills, and groceries. I was overwhelmed. I had to accept that I just couldn't do it alone.
That's when I started googling accountants. The mere concept felt decadent, a luxury I surely couldn't afford. I considered myself a snob for even considering hiring an accountant; it felt like admitting defeat. But when I'd finally found an accounting firm with a rate and way of operating that worked for me, I could feel a weight being lifted off my chest—a weight I hadn't even realized I'd been carrying for so long.
I realized that hiring an accountant didn't mean I was "giving up" on getting a handle on my own money. It meant I was asking for support. Now, every month, I still have to go through my finances and send the accountant relevant documentation—which, mind you, would have felt impossible before. But knowing that someone is there to support me means I can finally start facing my finances in a way that I can manage.
Lucy Cohen, co-founder of Mazuma, puts it better than I can: "By enlisting an accountant, the multitude of common reasons for financial worry—such as lack of knowledge of financial processes and procedures, time constraints, missing deadlines or dealing with hefty requests from HMRC—can be alleviated almost instantly. It can be impossible to know which way to turn in times of difficulty...but an accountant is there support you no matter what."
Today, I pay less for an accountant per month than I do my phone bill—but even if I paid more, it would be worth every penny. I'm still on the road to accepting that paying someone money to manage my money isn't silly; nor is it tantamount to giving up on my own financial education. That part is a process—but what I do have complete confidence in is the fact that I finally feel in charge of my life and my money. In charge and, for possibly the first time ever, unafraid.