The emotional effects of debt recovery

For the longest time I had the intention of writing a post about how I had (royally) messed up my finances. I had a long draft brainstormed discussing the how, the why, and the long and painful process of finally accepting how bad things had become, just before I hit rock bottom. It was a shitty year.

But for whatever reason, I delayed writing the post, and now realized that I am in a completely different phase. I’m past the denial, I’m past the blame, and I’m well into my action plan. Basically, much of what I had considered writing, ranting, and preaching about just didn’t seem relevant anymore. I may consider re-hashing the early years at some point (if it’s helpful to someone else, just starting their journey), but as it stands, it feels like going backwards.

So, I’d more so like to comment on some un-expected emotional/psychological stuff that has come up for me along the way…

Like how I am not as proud of myself, or as excited as I thought I would be. And this is despite the fact that I’ve worked extremely hard to pay off a significant chunk of the debt. I guess part of it could be knowing that I still have quite a long way to go. I’ve researched it a bit and I know that “debt fatigue” is a thing. I’m possibly just numb to it at this point. But I think a bigger, maybe even more important, part of it is the shame and stigma that goes along with debt. It’s what I’m most tired of.

Granted, it’s partly my fault for never being able to “own it” completely, or put myself out there without flinching. I don’t hide that I am struggling with my finances, but I also haven’t been 100 percent honest with most people about how bad things were in the beginning. Because when I tried to be, I found that people weren’t exactly supportive. They’d make comments about how I had a great job, the support of a significant other, didn’t have any dependents, and any number of things that made me feel terrible for being in a bad financial situation. Even when I was accepting responsibility and owning up to my mistakes, people seemed confused, and implied I had no right to be in this situation in the first place. It’s unfortunate, because I can’t imagine giving that same attitude to someone who decided to lose weight, for example. In that case I feel like people can openly talk about their progress and the compliments flood in. No one would be rolling their eyes or blaming the person for needing to lose weight in the first place (at least I sincerely hope no one would!). It’s not that I needed sympathy, or hand-holding. I just wish I could celebrate my progress, have someone congratulate me, and cheer me on. But really, I feel like if I did openly confess to hitting a milestone, like paying down my first 10 grand, I wouldn’t exactly get a high five. I’d be met with shock and disgust that I could have that much on my credit card in the first place.

I also realized that I had developed severe tunnel vision. I couldn’t stop obsessing over the next target, calculating what was/would be/should be in my bank accounts, and was horrified to realize that over a year had totally slipped me by. I seriously need to stop fast-forwarding my life. While things are tough right now, I don’t *actually* want to wake up years from now (when I’ll have this truly paid off), only to realize that I gapped out and don’t re-call the first half of my 30s! While the end-goal is exciting, I think I almost need to have it on the mental back-burner for a bit, and find smaller things to look forward to until this ordeal is done.

Obviously, there is also the self-esteem aspect in all of this. It’s not a shock that I don’t think super-highly of myself. This isn’t un-expected, but the severity of it is. I’d say that it’s spread into a general lack of faith in my ability to make decisions, especially when it relates to money. My stomach is in knots about spending money on even the tiniest thing — regardless of if it’s a necessity, or something I’ve budgeted/saved for, and can afford it. I’m going to have to get over this, but it’s going to be hard. At the end of all of this, I’m probably going to feel almost uncomfortable with the amount of extra income I’m going to have, since I’m currently slamming down close to a grand each month towards the debt and interest. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that one day, this will all be *extra* money, that I’ll be entitled to spend again, that I’m actually going to be able to have some freedom. I’m petrified of messing up and don’t trust myself. It sucks the fun out of it.

I’ve also noticed this bizarre, and annoyingly-intense compulsion to explain my spending to people. It’s as though having confessed some of my struggles, I feel the need to justify every step I make, like I’m under a microscope (I admit said “microscope” could all be amplified, imagined judgement from people, only existing in my head…). For example, if someone compliments me on what I’m wearing, or asks where I got my new boots, how much I score my new coat for, or whatever, I instantly launch into a detailed defense about how I got it on sale, or otherwise justifying how I afforded it. This is so un-necessary, and yet it’s a knee-jerk reaction.

My anxiety and obession surrounding spending has gotten out of control. I think, like most things I struggle with, a big part of it will be learning to care a  lot less about what other people think, learning to assert myself, and realizing that I have the right to spend my money how I see fit. The reality is I’m almost a completely different person, and have to adjust my relationships, and other people’s expectations, going forward. I’m not the person who will always say “Absolutely!” to dinner and drinks anymore or the one who will spoil my friend’s children with gifts in an effort to appear generous. I might be labeled as “cheap” or “boring” by those who don’t understand, but I’m learning to tune out the noise — at least a little bit. Hopefully, one day, I will fully trust that I am actually making good choices and on the right path.

I’m not sure if anyone out there can relate to this, but I needed to put it out into the Universe 😉

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