September 10, 2016

This blog post is part of the World Suicide Prevention Day blog tour. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit www.Suicide.org

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“I don’t know how I can go on with all of this debt.”

“I’m worth more dead than I am alive.”

“I’m so stressed out, I’d rather die than deal with this debt.”

Over the past couple of years, I’ve received numerous emails from people searching “I want to kill myself because of debt” and finding my blog. Some I never hear from, some leave comments, and some send me emails.

I spent a portion of my vacation in Italy responding to someone who was getting hounded by creditors and wanted to absolve his family of the shame of being in debt. Last Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving I responded to more emails as well. During the holidays, I see a spike in traffic.

I answer every single email, no matter what day or time it is. It doesn’t get any easier to get these emails. My heart still hurts and I want to help. But why do I care? Because it’s personal.

My relationship with suicide

I will never meet my maternal grandfather. I know him vaguely through photos and stories, but mostly I know him because what he did.

He committed suicide when my mother was five years old, leaving my grandma alone to raise six kids. Though I am happy to report that my mother and her siblings have become happy, healthy adults, this one event is a stain on our family history.

There’s an emptiness. A hole. A branch of the family tree, abruptly cut off. We try to grow branches on our own, but come up short.

Aside from that, I had my own issues with suicide as a teenager. I was a depressed, awkward teenager and had trouble finding my place in the world. A puzzle piece that didn’t fit.

Through pills and razors, I flirted with ending it all. It would be easier that way. Or so I thought. One of the toughest conversations I’ve ever had was telling my parents how I felt. I could see the horror on my mom’s face, as she contemplated the potential of losing not only her father, but also her daughter to suicide.

I got the help I needed and got better. But even though I recovered from my suicidal feelings, depression has been a major character in the play of my life.

When I was deep in debt a few years ago, some of the thoughts came back. “It would be easier to end it all.”

Paying off debt felt so enormous. I felt trapped, stuck, and mostly ashamed of getting myself into this situation.

But I realized that killing myself over debt wasn’t worth it. It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Back to counseling I went and ultimately I created a plan to get out of debt.

I started this blog as a lifeboat. I began to side hustle. I chose to believe that my only option was to get out of debt. And I made it happen.

What to do if you’re feeling suicidal because of debt

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal because of debt, first let me tell you, you are not alone. You are not a loan. You are not crazy, you do not “deserve this” and you can overcome this.

I know how hopeless everything feels. The weight of debt is strong and the world looks bleak. Any ray of hope is hard to find. Your life feels like it’s controlled by something else. You feel an inner turmoil so deep, it’s hard to put into words.

But if you are really feeling hopeless because of debt, here’s what you can do:

1. Talk to your creditors. Can you lower your payments? Lower your interest rate? Go on temporary deferment? If your debt is causing you financial stress and you are unable to pay, talk to your creditors first.

2. Consider a debt management plan. There are nonprofit credit counseling agencies out there that can work with you to help you pay off debt. Make sure it’s a legit company. It could help.

3. Is bankruptcy or student loan forgiveness an option? I am NOT a financial planner, so I am not recommending these options but, they are something you should look into. I literally had someone tell me bankruptcy would be worse than death because of the shame. But I know several people who have filed bankruptcy, and they have moved on to have happy, productive lives. Your life isn’t over. Will it be tough? You bet. But it’s not over. Also, there are student loan forgiveness options for federal student loans through an income-driven plan or through Public Service Loan Forgiveness. If you have medical debt, call your lender and see if you can negotiate a payment plan or get some forgiven. As I mentioned in my book, I got an ER visit completely covered when I was uninsured.

4. Talk to a counselor. When I was deep in debt, finding myself in tears every day I went to therapy. There is NO shame in therapy. I honestly think everyone should go to therapy. Why? We all need a non-biased third party to help us see things differently. Our friends and family can help, but having someone else to talk to can offer a new perspective. I couldn’t afford traditional therapy, so I went to the local graduate school and got low-cost counseling. I was able to negotiate the sessions to $5 as I was on food stamps. Look for help at your church, graduate schools, community centers, and more.

5. Realize you are not your debt. For so long, I hated myself because of my debt. It represented all my mistakes. It represented the past that I was trying to move on from. The number consumed me with shame and guilt. Then one day, I realized I am not my debt. With or without debt, I am still a good person. It’s important to separate yourself and realize there’s more to life than this one number. And it’s important to enjoy your life now, even with debt on your shoulders.

“We have to connect with a new story and a new sense of self. We need to feel grounded in our life today, not waiting until the debt is paid off to start living.” says financial therapist Amanda Clayman.

Debt affects us in many ways — but it doesn’t have to be forever

Debt can feel all-consuming and take over our lives, affecting us in numerous ways.

“Living under the burden of debt affects us in numerous ways. We can break these down into regret, feeling trapped, and feeling like “our real life” is out of reach because of our financial obligations,” says Clayman.

It feels like we are working only to pay off debt, so what is the point? The point is to conquer debt and continue to live your life. Realize that life goes on and debt does not have to be forever. That with help, a plan, and a budget you can overcome this difficult period.

It’s important to remember, you are not alone. You are not a loan. Debt is NOT a death sentence.

Seek help, reach out, and don’t suffer in silence.

Resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Info about Debt Management Plans

Info about bankruptcy

Directory for low-cost counseling

Suicide Forum

 

Melanie

Melanie is a freelance writer currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy, and empowering people to take control of their finances. She writes about breaking up with debt, freelancing, and side hustle adventures at DearDebt.com.

Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. In addition to her love of personal finance, art and music, she is also a karaoke master. Follow the adventure @DearDebtBlog.

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15 responses to “Debt is Not a Death Sentence”

  1. Thanks for writing this, Melanie! This is a bigger deal than many people realize, I’d guess.

    My mom struggled with near suicidal depression brought on because of poor health and then severely compounded by the poorness that resulted when she couldn’t work. It was all I could do to convince her that the most important thing she could do for me was NOT earn money but focus on her health instead.
    Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life recently posted…Just a little (link) love: phone calls editionMy Profile

  2. Thank you for sharing this! My debt led to so much anxiety, and there were times when I felt hopeless and trapped. Now that I have a plan to pay off my student loans, I have hope.
    Frugal Millennial recently posted…Month in Review: August 2016My Profile

  3. Speaking as someone who did reach out to you out of desperation, thank you. My life has since changed around and while it’s still not where I want to be yet, it’s better than it’s been in a long time and I am full of hope and optimism for the future. 🙂

  4. Thank you for this honest and encouraging post, Melanie. It is tragic to think of the despair debt can drive people to. These are great suggestions for finding your way out of both depression and debt.

  5. Miss Mazuma says:

    Your words are truly inspiring for those who are struggling to find their way out of the fog. It can be so daunting when you feel like you have no other options but there is always a way. Speaking up is always a good first step. Thank you for sharing your story, Melanie.

  6. NZ Muse says:

    My darkest times were my hardest financially, and I love this post.
    NZ Muse recently posted…How homeownership saves me moneyMy Profile

  7. Powerful post, my friend. I will never forget the family that banked at the bank where I worked. The wife killed herself, and the rumor was that she did it for the life insurance policy (they paid on suicide at that time) because the family was deep in debt and overwhelmed by it. Those children were so devastated at the loss of their mother. Money, debt, it’s NOTHING. It just doesn’t matter. Life and love should never be outweighed by money or a lack of it.

  8. Thanks again for organizing this suicide prevention blog tour, and for sharing your experience.

  9. Jesusita says:

    Although I have not gotten to this point, I have become pretty close. My anxiety about debt has become so debilitating, I have not left the house in three days so far. I am just now trying to get it in control. but it is really hard.

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