This blog post is part of the Suicide Prevention Awareness Month blog tour in partnership with Debt Drop. If you are feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.
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One of the reasons The Holistic Wallet is so important to me is because of the correlation between financial health and mental health. Did you know that debt and economic strain are leading causes of suicidal deaths?
While I can certainly empathize how suicide can seem like the only option at times – financial and otherwise – debt is NOT a death sentence.
In fact, I am a survivor myself – of debt, domestic abuse, and suicidal thoughts – and I would like to take this opportunity to share my story in the event that speaking my truth can help someone else.
Earlier this year, I called off my engagement and moved 1,500 miles across the country to escape months of narcissistic abuse that had a devastating impact on my psychological health. I never understood quite how resilient the human spirit is until I summoned the courage to get out.
I’m still working on forgiving myself for letting that relationship go on for as long as it did, but leaving it was the greatest act of self-love and self-care I have ever committed. However, it didn’t have quite as positive of an impact on my financial health. (Well, not yet. It will pay off in the end because financial abuse is no joke either but that’s a story for another time.)
I am writing to you now with $5,566 of credit card debt and $2,813 of medical debt that I am scheduled to pay off in 18 months costing $479 in interest. With the interest-free credit options available to me, I assure you I’m getting off easy.
I’m sure there are plenty of ways I could have started this new chapter of my life more frugally – six separate households offered to take me in indefinitely and I lost count of all the hand-me-down furniture offers – but I accepted as many favors as I could stomach while also rebuilding my sense of independence and self-sufficiency.
Debt isn’t quite synonymous with freedom. But for me it most definitely is.
The debt I carry now is directly related to that traumatic period of my life. It is the cost of leaving and the cost of surviving. It is symbolic of being both a victim and a survivor. And because of that, I am proud of my debt.
See, in the months before I left, I thought I had to fake being happy until I would inevitably have to kill myself to get away from my ex. Because there was no other way out. My life would be intolerable if I stood up to her and walked away.
Writing that seems petty now that I’m on the surviving side but I was so traumatized by my ex’s erratic behavior – the fear of the financial mess it would create, of the violent retaliation and public defamation, and of losing everything I had worked so hard for over the past several years – that I just didn’t want to be alive to witness it all come crashing down.
The break-up was just as messy and painful as I anticipated it would be but I got through it because I knew I didn’t want to be dead; I just wanted to stop living the life I was living.
Let me be clear: If you don’t like where you are, YOU CAN LEAVE. Fuck the price tag. Fuck the stigmas. Fuck the messiness. It might not be easy, but it’s attainable. And we all deserve to be safe and to be treated with kindness.
I am writing this now with a HUGE bittersweet grin on my face because I have been the happiest and healthiest I have ever been in my entire life these past few months. I am very, very, very grateful I am here right now to experience this.
And I don’t remember when it clicked but now I see my debt as a trophy of survival. I make a $500 payment every month as my big fuck-you to the stigmas of debt, domestic abuse, and suicide.
Your debt does not define you unless you want it to.
As Melanie Lockert says, “You are not a loan and you are not alone.”
There are times when I feel like a fraud in my industry because I am simultaneously ashamed and proud of my debt. This industry still does a good job at debt-shaming which is ridiculous because our entire economy is built upon debt but that’s a rant for another time as well.
I try to speak to myself as I would speak to anyone else who would come to me with a similar situation. And I said “Your story is not over yet. Your debt will not define you. This struggle will not be as permanent as death.”
Debt is not the end of the story. Debt is not defeat. Debt can be resilience.
I can tell you this with certainty because I have debt and it feels like both a horribly traumatic mistake and a modern financial tool that has saved my fucking life.
There is always something else on the other side of that debt. It does not appear out of nothing. Maybe it’s something tangible that you own like a couch or an education. Maybe it’s just a story, a lesson, or a personal growth experience.
That is not to say that my debt in the past wasn’t shameful, that a big number of negative dollars didn’t feel like it would follow me for as long as I lived, that I didn’t consider I was worth more dead than alive once I had life insurance.
Debt can feel like a heavy burden to drag along. Debt can represent a mistake, a bad call, a distressing period of your life. It can be another big thing you have to worry about when you’re already worrying about so much.
Whether it’s medical debt for a false alarm or a life-saving surgery, whether it’s a destructive shopping habit or daily life essentials on your credit cards, whether it’s a mortgage-sized amount of student loans for a degree you never used or one that led you to your dream job….
Know this: You did what you had to do with the means and mindset available to you at the time. You are here now. And you are breathing.
If your debt does not represent a personal triumph, if your debt is the trauma itself, I promise you it is not as permanent as death is.
I promise you will have other wins. I can easily name 50 things I am grateful for now that I am still here to write this email. One of those is likely a good parking space I nabbed at Trader Joe’s. It’s still worth it.
I still cannot find the words to express how liberated I feel these days that I still have a voice. I am still afraid to use it at times, especially being a public figure on the internet, knowing my livelihood can be destroyed in a very public way and I will have no power to stop it.
But I have faced this beast before and I will let my body decide when my time is up before my mind does. I hope you continue to stand up to your beasts, too – debt or otherwise.
Living my best life,
PS. Here are some books that have been indescribably helpful to me: This Is How: Surviving What You Think You Can’t by Augusten Burroughs; Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson; White Hot Truth by Danielle Laporte; The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron; and Power: Surviving And Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse.
PPS. I am working on a post about how I prepared my finances to leave my abusive relationship. If you do not have time to wait for its release, please email me when you can safely or comment on the blog post here with an alternative contact method. I have to approve comments before they are published and I will not make yours public.