Anxiety & Money: How Breaking My Arm Brought Up My Financial Fears

I broke my elbow on January 27th, just tripping over a small fence that guards the flower beds in front of my apartment, and landing mostly on my elbow and chin. My hearing went out and I stumbled back into my car, disoriented and nauseous, to ride out the symptoms. I remember my arm hurting, but was mostly scared by the thought that I might have a concussion.

I waited about five minutes to feel better, then went into my apartment. I had a full conversation with my building manager and maintenance man before going up to my apartment. I was super shaken up, but just scared, not hurting. I thought the pain in my arm would go away, because I wasn’t feeling the full extent of my injuries. Then, I tried to pick something up and was shocked that I couldn’t do it and that the pain was suddenly so bad.

I started to cry and couldn’t stop. It hurt, but I wasn’t crying from the pain. I was crying, at first, because I was afraid to go to urgent care and get my arm taken care of.

It probably sounds weird to you, and that’s good, because it’s definitely not normal. I have very powerful anxiety about going to doctors. It’s not that I’m afraid of germs or anything, it’s that I a) have anxiety around new situations and had never been to this urgent care location before, b) had an experience being not believed by multiple doctors when I was little, eventually leading to major medical repercussions (a common theme among lots of people and primarily women, but maybe I’ll give that TEDTalk later), and c) significantly, I have anxiety tied to healthcare because of dealing with so many changes and lapses in insurance over my lifetime, and it’s meant that the financial ramifications of doctors visits have always terrified me, since they’ve been completely unknown (a staple of the U.S. healthcare system).

Getting government-funded healthcare was a long series of hoops to jump through, but we did it every year for my teenage and college-aged life after my dad lost his job. But there was one year during college when, for whatever reason (failing to jump through 1 of the 100 hoops?), I didn’t get the assistance. I went almost a year  without coverage, constantly worried that I would get sick or hurt and end up in medical debt. My University also required that all students be insured, so I was breaking the rules, too.

I was so afraid that someone would call an ambulance for me, or that my wisdom teeth would finally start coming in painfully, or that I’d be in any number of more emergent situations. Or that my college would find out and force me to buy their expensive (to me) health coverage. Not to mention that my birth control– one of the most important medically and financially preventative tools in my life– was expensive and complicated to get. 

And, despite being years out of that dark place, I carry the same anxiety with me today, managed by having a full-time job with benefits and doing a lot of research. I still have to over-research what my insurance covers (and double and triple check) before I ever get treatment in order to emotionally prepare myself. I still avoid making doctor’s visits– I currently am a few months overdue on some preventative appointments. I now have them scheduled, though, thanks to the accountability that is writing this post and trying not to be horribly ashamed of my inability to do basic things.

I guess that part’s really the kicker– I was deeply, deeply ashamed of being uninsured. Even when I had government health insurance, I was ashamed of that, too. 

So when I broke my arm and was in pain, trying to wrap my mind around all the ways my life would be affected, trying to use my one good arm to research my health insurance coverage and best urgent care option, I could not control my panicked state and I could not stop crying.

Here’s what happened: Brian drove me to urgent care as I sobbed and made dumb jokes to make myself feel better. I got X-Rays, a stint, a sling, and an appointment for an ortho consult in two days. We left, got Popeyes, and I took off work for the next two days. I made sub plans and cried some more. At my ortho consult, I got more X-Rays and a much better stint, and the final diagnoses of having fractured my elbow. 

To my knowledge, it didn’t cost me anything. They didn’t tell me about any co-pay, though I’m still anxiously waiting to see if a bill shows up in my mail. I’m writing this about a week and a half after the whole ordeal, and my arm has healed so much already.

The entire experience, to me, is a perfect illustration of what it’s like to truly feel financially insecure– right now, I am in a position to pay for emergencies and save for my future and spend on things for myself. I am, in so many senses of the word, finally comfortable with my finances. I even FEEL comfortable most of the time, which is very very recent for me. But that doesn’t mean I can leave the formative years of financial insecurity in the past. I don’t get the privilege of leaving those painful feelings behind, because they can show back up at any time. My anxiety isn’t cured because I changed my circumstances. In fact, it will probably always be there, even if it’s beneath the surface. 

Sometimes I feel like I’m not in the right place– especially as a personal finance writer. During my debt-free journey and intense frugality, I knew I was using my money control as a bandaid for my deprivation mindset. I knew that even though I was making good choices with my money, I didn’t feel good. I still felt insecure, out of control, and afraid. I’ve made huge strides since then. Most of the time, I am at peace with my money. But then something like this will set me back. I’m finally learning that that’s okay, and that I’ve made awesome progress despite these moments on my journey. But it’s not a narrative I see in this community often, and so I want to ask you guys to share.

Do you have a similar sentiment about anxiety and money? I think the shame I had about healthcare came from feeling really alone. I hardly knew anyone who could relate. So please, comment below or send me a DM on Instagram (@teacherstalkmoney) if  you’ve experienced something similar. Let’s start the conversation about simultaneously building wealth and fixing our money mindset while still having setbacks.

See you next week 🙂



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