Jennifer Ellis
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Keeping the Faith

The Mental Toll of Debt

The metal toll of debt

It is interesting when you realize that your financial situation is out of control. Debt weighs heavily and constantly, and it feels as if you are drowning. Other times it feels as if you are observing yourself as if from a distance. Not quite believing it is happening.

I have read many stories of people reaching financial rock bottom and not really appreciating the reality of it. Why would you? It is just another story, as real as the films you watch on TV. 

It started slowly, creeping up on me stealthily almost. I was made redundant 18 months ago from a teaching job without any financial payout as I was classed as sessional. I needed a break from teaching anyway and the pay wasn't great either. It turns out the pay, meagre as it was, was more important than I thought. I am not trying to elicit sympathy but rather to give a cautionary tale of the way that debt weaves its tentacles around you and tightens, slowly and ever tighter.

At first, it was alright. I have a husband who has a wage that covers the mortgage and just enough for basic bills and a little over for food. We also have two children. I thought I could get another job quite easily. It turns out it wasn't easy at all. One of my children became chronically ill and I needed to be home to take her to many hospital appointments so a regular job was out of the question at least in the short term. We took out a loan to cover the shortfall as, after the mortgage, we struggled with day to day expenses. At this point it was manageable, and I also used my credit card to supplement food shops. Then the car broke down and one of our animals needed an operation, which came to over £1000. You see, debt found us slowly and sneakily. 

Suddenly my credit card was maxed out, I was juggling the loan payments, and our overdraft facility was used up. We started getting letters from the bank saying that direct debits weren't being paid.

Last week was the week I finally realised we were drowning in debt. There was no way out. We literally had nothing. Up until then, it had almost been a dream and not quite real. Debt had taken its toll and we were firmly in its grip. I was the story other people read about.

The mental toll of debt has been immense. It occupies every waking thought, and I have gone through every emotion, from anger to despair many times every day. It is funny, though, how institutions like banks and creditors treat you when you owe money. It totally depends on who you get on the phone as to the level of support you get offered. In the end, obviously, you owe money so the circumstances that brought you to this point are not important to anyone else. 

It is scary, though, that in a little over 18 months, we have come to this point. Just from day-to-day living, no holidays, no days out, no shopping, apart from food shopping and essential clothes for the children. We had some major expenses such as vet bills, repairing the car, a major roof repair and funeral expenses for a loved one, none of which we had the money for.

It has affected us as a family. We cannot afford to take the children anywhere. At all. We can't afford to go anywhere. At all. I know that a lot of people are in this position or worse and have been for a lot longer than us, and I know my story isn't new or unusual. The mental toll of debt has, however, affected us all.

The title of this piece is keeping the faith. In trying to climb out of this debt mountain, I have gone from a state of panicked inertia and a feeling of being so overwhelmed it is difficult to function normally, to trying to feel a glimmer of hope.

Here is my glimmer of hope moment, my keeping the faith moment. We have a box room in the house which was filled with normal household stuff such as a broken hoover, a wonky sofa bed, and such like. It is a glorified cupboard normally described by an estate agent as a "compact" bedroom. My neighbour rents out a room for Airbnb guests so I thought I would do the same. I cleared out the room, put a single bed in there and a folding table and chair I got for free from a social media selling site and we have our first guest on Thursday. It is a start and the £29 for the overnight stay will hardly sort out all our problems, but it gives us that glimmer. I also have an interview in two weeks time for a job I really want as it is a flexible part-time position which would fit around any medical commitments for my child.   

So, I am keeping the faith, but it is hard. I hope we can pull ourselves out of this debt mountain. We are still at the bottom, trudging along like a sea creature who lives at the bottom of the ocean, but we are looking up to glimpse the sun above the water. I hope we manage to get there.     

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