The Best Gift My Emergency Fund Has Ever Given Me

Originally published on April 24, 2017.

Something you might not know about me is that I have always been good at remembering dates. I still remember that the first boy who kissed me was born on January 30th. I know I stood on a stage and gave my high school valedictorian speech on June 11th. I wish I could forget that I lost a good friend on August 3rd. I know I graduated from university on October 23rd, which was his birthday. I will always remember the first day I was sober. And I will never forget the date I found out my parents were getting divorced. I haven’t always been good with numbers, but I am good with dates. Dates, I know. Dates, I remember.

I can already tell 2017 is going to be a year where a few new dates burn into my memory. January 29th will be the day I submitted the first draft of my book (and there will be more dates with more milestones to celebrate, as time goes on). February 5th will be the day I reunited with an old friend. And March 20th will be the day I moved to Squamish. But I do believe the most important day of the year, so far, was April 5th. April 5th at 2:13pm PST, to be exact. That’s the day I knew I couldn’t deal with my problems and my anxiety on my own anymore. That’s the day I decided it was time to talk to a counsellor.

Like so many of the big changes I’ve made in my life, this one seemed a little impulsive in the moment. On the same day I wrote about my anxiety and the slow breathing experiment, comments and emails started pouring in, and many of you suggested I consider talking to someone. Then a friend texted and said she had recently found a new counsellor, and encouraged me to at least look around; read through a few websites; see if anyone seemed like they could be a good fit. Within the hour, I had found that person, typed up the email and hit send. Two hours after that, we were on the phone. And the next day, I was in the office.

It seemed a little impulsive, the same way starting the shopping ban seemed a little impulsive and the same way getting serious about my money seemed a little impulsive. In each of those moments, I sort of threw my hands up in the air and announced I was ready for change. But neither of those changes were made on a whim. They were made only after telling myself “I should stop wasting my money,” and “I should look at the numbers and fix this,” countless times before. In this case, I had been telling myself “I should probably talk to someone about this stuff,” for two years. April 5th is just the day I finally decided to do it.

Why I Was Nervous About Starting Therapy

It’s not hard for me to come up with a list of reasons for why I put it off for so long:

  • I wasn’t ready to face my feelings.
  • I didn’t know if it would work. And I didn’t want to waste money on something that might not work.
  • I thought that because I had been dealing with it all on my own for this long, I should be able to see it through on my own too.
  • I felt ashamed*—as though not being able to deal with it on my own would mean I wasn’t strong enough or smart enough or capable enough.

*If you consider how therapy is portrayed in the media, it’s not surprising a lot of people feel this way. The characters never seem to want to go, and the results are often anything but ideal.

When I started searching for counsellors and reading through websites, I found my anxiety also went up just thinking about how expensive it would be. If you listen to our podcast, you know I’ve been trying to shift from a scarcity money mindset to one of abundance this year. Two months ago, I could barely stomach the thought of setting up a weekly $100 automatic deposit into my investments, because I was worried I would run out of money. Could I really afford to make an even bigger investment in my mental health!? On April 5th, I finally knew the answer: I couldn’t afford not to.

Something shifted in me that day, and I realized it wasn’t a matter of asking for help anymore, or even wondering if it would work. I was just ready. Yes, I was still scared to face my feelings, and I was scared about what kinds of things might come out of our conversations. But I was also tired of living in fear and in pain. When I wrote about why you shouldn’t treat yourself, I shared that my life was unsettled, things were hard and I was sad. Things only got worse, and I could physically see that my usual coping mechanisms weren’t working anymore. In an email titled “My White Flag,” I wrote that I was ready to start doing the scary work.

My Experience With Therapy, So Far

I wasn’t going to share any details about my sessions, but thought it might be useful for anyone who has considered going to therapy to at least hear about the first one in a constructive way. First, I will say I had—and still have—no idea what to look for, when searching for a counsellor. I’m sure there are credentials or types of experience or something you’re supposed to consider. I didn’t look at any of that (and found the sites that just listed all the credentials totally overwhelming). Instead, I did what I always do: read the words and trusted my gut. My gut told me one counsellor would be a good fit, so that’s who I emailed.

Thankfully, my gut was right and my counsellor replied almost immediately. As my friend said, “I think a good counsellor knows there is a short window of time where a person will accept help”. Mine obviously knew this, and I was in the office the next day. I was nervous, but not for any of the reasons I mentioned in the list above. On April 5th, my anxiety had gotten so intense, I was genuinely afraid to calm down. I didn’t know how to do it, and I didn’t know what would happen when I stopped operating at that level. I felt like I was going to burst—and I did, in the sense that I basically cried the entire first session.

My counsellor was incredible through all of it. No matter what I shared, I never felt judged. They just made space for me, and together we brought new topics out and explored them a little further. Obviously, you can’t fix anything in one hour, but I did gain a lot of insight into where my anxiety was stemming from, as well as why I was feeling and acting the way I had been. We also practiced meditation and mindfulness techniques, which helped calm me down and made me feel like my feet were finally planted on the ground again. I walked out of our first session feeling like a new person, and knowing my problems were fixable.

I’ve seen my counsellor three times, so far. Sometimes we sit in an office. Sometimes we go for walks outside. Each time, we talk about different things—usually whatever I am feeling most anxious about that day, and then anything else that’s been on my mind since our last session. It has definitely stirred up some emotional stuff; things I had never thought of before, or had shoved down and forgotten about for years. But it has also already given me an incredible sense of peace; like everything is going to be ok, I just need to do some work. I’ve even had a few breakthroughs that helped me release some anger and feel more compassion.

The Best Gift My Emergency Fund Has Ever Given Me

Looking back at who I was and how I was feeling only 20 days ago, I am so glad I had the courage to send that email. It felt a little impulsive, in the moment. I had only scanned a handful of websites, then quickly picked the counsellor who I thought would be a good fit. Then I typed up the email, and asked the friend who had encouraged me to look for someone if I should send it. She said yes. I hit send. I cried for a minute, feeling scared and unsure of what was going to happen next. But then a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. The first step had been taken. I was going to get some help. New coping mechanisms were on the way.

Therapy isn’t cheap, especially when you’re self-employed and have no extended health coverage. When I write the cheque each week, I know that’s real money that is going to come out of my bank account, and it could add up quickly. But I don’t really have to worry about it—and that’s because of my emergency fund.

During the first year of the shopping ban, I saved more than $17,000, $10,000 of which went into an emergency fund. Before, I would have told you that money helped me feel comfortable enough to quit my job. I would have told you it helped me stay afloat while dealing with irregular income. And I would have told you it helped me sleep at night. Those things have all been true, but this month my emergency fund gave me the best gift of all: the ability to invest in my mental health. It gave me the freedom to scale back on work. It gave me more time and energy to focus on myself. And it put my life back into my own hands.

There are so many posts in the blogosphere that will make the case for why you should have savings. I know, I read hundreds of them every week for Rockstar Finance. For some reason, though, we still aren’t good savers. I don’t know why that is. Maybe we make excuses for our spending. Or maybe there really is always something that needs to be bought or paid for. I don’t know. But I do know there will come a day where you will wish you had money for something, and savings gives you an incredible gift: options. I haven’t actually touched my emergency fund, but I know it’s there if I need it. That gives me a lot of options, and I am so grateful for it.

In January, when I first decided to do a year of slow living experiments, I wrote that there was “so much work to be done this year”—and there is. What I didn’t know was that so much of it would be personal work; deep work; work on myself. It’s not going to be easy. In fact, I think some of it is going to be hard as heck. But the cost of not doing the work is far greater—and that’s not a bill I want to receive.

While I would like to believe I would have had the courage to reach out for help on my own, the truth is I know it’s only something I felt comfortable with after more and more people told me about their own experiences working with counsellors. You know who you are (friends and readers alike) and I am grateful for you. If there’s a chance sharing my experience with therapy will help anyone make that decision for themselves, this post is worth publishing. If you want to talk about it or ask me any questions, email me anytime. And if you need an extra push, here’s a reminder that helped me: it’s no different than going to a regular doctor about a physical ailment.

This weekend, the first thing I noticed when I woke up both mornings was that the elephant was gone. My chest felt light. I could finally breathe. He crept over a few times each day, but it never lasted long. I even had my first dance party in the kitchen, since moving in. When I was looking for a picture for this post, I was immediately struck by how beautiful this one with the Tibetan prayer flags was. In reading up on them later, I learned the white flag (which I’d used as the subject of my first email to my counsellor) symbolizes air—something I am no longer gasping for all day, every day. :)