Lessons from Purchasing a Car When I was Depressed

Technically, I can’t afford my car (meaning, I’m putting way too much of my income towards it, not that I can’t make the monthly payments) and even worse, it’s actually a pretty crappy vehicle. The front seat headrests are torn and hollowed out from previously installed DVD screens, there are cracks and scratches all over the back of the seats. Anytime the AC turns on there’s a knocking sound on the passenger’s side, which probably means something important loose beneath the dashboard. The brakes make a hissing noise any time I stop after driving for short distances (something two mechanics have assured me is fine, but I’m not convinced) as if to constantly remind me, every time I turn on my car, I was insane to sign my name on the dotted line, dedicating 72 months to a vehicle that most definitely isn’t worth this much of an investment.

When I went to the dealership I was having a depressive episode. I had already signed my papers for a 2011 Honda Accord which wasn’t great (it stalled whenever I accelerated) but definitely didn’t give me as much anxiety about my 2017 Kia Sportage. The dealership called me to come back in under the guise they’d forgotten to give me some financing papers to sign. In reality, none of the banks approved my loan because of my short credit history, which simply consists of student loans and a single credit card I used for groceries in university to build some semblance of a credit score. My first time at the dealership had been with my boyfriend and his friend who had previously been a car salesman. So, I was confident there was no way any of the salespeople would try to get over on me. But, for “signing the financing papers,” I went alone and it’s the first major decision I regret making in my adult life.

The moment I stepped into the dealership I knew something was wrong. The dealer that had been trying to get a hold of me on the phone greeted me with a well-practiced smile and told me to wait “just one second” for him to get the paperwork. I sat there for nearly an hour with a dying phone and an itching instinct to come back when my head cleared from all the spiraling thoughts. It was getting dark outside and I had been up since 4am for work. At this point, everything I had researched about car shopping had fallen out of my head, into the abyss where most of my memory and sense goes to die once the depression sinks as a replacement. And my god, did I pay for the absence of sense.

Life lessons are difficult to handle when I know some of the pain could have been avoided if I was mentally healthy. And the lessons are even more of a headache when I have to pay for the mistakes by facing years, and years of debt. What I know now is this:

If you have mental health problems, DO NOT make a major decision if you’re not feeling well (or, at least, don’t make it alone).

My depression has been on a steady decline since I graduated from college. I had been receiving free therapy for my constant mental health problems, and the support from my therapist had been something that got me through a terrible year of my life. Without that mental support, things have been falling through the cracks faster than I can manage to figure out what to grab onto and when to grab onto it. My head was far from clear that night at the dealership and my thoughts were bordering on suicidal before I even pulled in the lot. As the dealer gave me the whole spiel on what a great deal I was getting I simply nodded and told myself my decision didn’t matter because I wasn’t going to be alive for long enough for anyone to collect that amount of money.

I’m not completely better now, but I can definitely examine things past the fog of my mental illness. One thing that would have saved me from myself was having a second party there to share their perspective. My thought process when I’m in a depressive episode understandably irrational. If I had spoken up and confessed this to my boyfriend then I would have had to second head I desperately needed.

Just because you can fit it in your budget, doesn’t mean you have to.

My planned monthly car payments went up $120 dollars when signing for the new car. I’m very meticulous when it comes to budgeting, partly due to my anxiety. And partly due to my fear of being homeless because of a close scare a few months ago. When I saw the extra money tacked onto my monthly payments the first thought was: I do have enough money for that.

Knowing my income would allow me to make monthly payments and still not be in the negative was a feeling of relief. I was only considering the surface level outcome of the situation. Sure, I could write a check and not worry about rent and food. But, extra money going towards my car was money I could have put towards savings or investments or something that would pay off in a better way.

You can’t always see them immediately, but there are other options.

One of the repeated thoughts that circled through my head while at the dealership was that I had to make a decision right then and there or I’d be out of a car. When in reality there were/are plenty of car dealerships that would have had a suitable car within my budget. I could have found financing on my own or took Lyft to work until I managed to figure something else out.

Depression and anxiety enjoy making me feel like choices need to be made in an instant. When my anxiety levels reach their peak I feel as though there’s a clock ticking in my head, encouraging me to point to which answer I want when I don’t even understand the question. But, honestly, the majority of life’s choices don’t happen in a heartbeat. And they don’t need to because there’s no bonus points for quick answers.

 

What I have now is a car that will — after I factor in the repairs — cost me more than my four-year degree. It squeaks, knocks, and eats my pocket for gas way faster than I ever thought was possible. This car is my introduction to decision-making as an adult. Hopefully, a few years down the line I will be grateful for everything this choice has taught me. Because now I understand how much my mental health can affect my finances. And now, I’ll have a painfully expensive reminder of how serious it is for me to factor in how I’m feeling when it comes to signing away thousands of dollars I have yet to make. At least, it’s a lesson I won’t soon forget. In the end, maybe that’s all that truly matters.