The other day I woke up from a bad dream.

In the dream, I was in graduate school (again) pursuing a different degree — this time on a full scholarship (yay).

As it turns out though, there was a fluke and my scholarship didn’t go through, and somehow I had $100,000 in debt.

In my dream, I was so panicked.

“Nooo!” I thought.

“I just paid off nearly $100,000! I have to do this again?”

I felt demoralized, scared, and daunted by the task of having to go through that experience once again.

I woke up looking around, blinking twice to make sure this was my reality. Living debt-free in Los Angeles, living the life I want.

Yes, yes, it was. A wave of relief crashed over me as I tried to forget the pain of being in debt.

It’s been over a year since I paid off my student loan debt, but I was in student loan debt for my whole adult life. I am just now coming to terms with what life without debt looks like. In many ways, it’s very sweet.

I have less guilt, less anxiety, and more freedom. I have more choices or access to them at least.

But in the year or so since becoming debt-free, I haven’t completely shaken the pain of debt. I’m still worried that something will happen and I’ll be back in debt.

Having medical issues this year stirred up that worry. Taking on a project like Lola has me concerned about managing my business finances.

I realize I think about things differently because of my experience with debt. I am cautious.

It’s like I got burned and I’m a little too scared to get close to the fire again. Though I am doing everything in my power to rock the debt-free journey by saving money, investing, and paying off my credit card in full every month, I still have these lingering worries.

Ultimately, I don’t ever want to be in debt again. I don’t ever want to feel like everything I earn belongs to someone else and can be taken away from me.

After paying off close to $100,000 in student loans and interest, I know that paying off debt can be trying on your finances, your health, and your relationships.

Though I have my freedom now, I want to keep it. So I acknowledge these feelings and where they are coming from, and try not to let them rule my life.

As a blogger, I’ve always tried to be honest about the emotions related to debt. It turns out that some of those feelings don’t go away — at least not right away — even when you are debt free.


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

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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10 responses to “Do I Have Post Traumatic Debt Disorder?”

  1. Hope Pond says:

    I just paid off something big for me. In my dream someone told me I had one more payment; except I was in my college registrar’s office. They were telling students they needed one more credit… I woke up with sweat on my brow

  2. I’ve been feeling this a lot since becoming debt-free. I’m scared something might happen, an unexpected thing, and I will be in debt again. Building up my emergency fund more is my priority right now. Even so, the scarcity mindset still lingers. Being debt-free is awesome but for some reason, the anxiety of being in debt again pops up every now and then.
    Colin @ rebelwithaplan recently posted…The Best Unpaid Internship There Ever WasMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      Glad I’m not alone! I am building my EF too and I know I’m doing the right things, but sometimes it’s still scary! I just think, “I can’t go back to that place!”

  3. Brent says:

    Hi Melanie,

    Good one. It really is true though I think. Not just in regards to debt, but being poor. I was far below the poverty line the first 5 years after leaving home, and declared personal bankruptcy in my early thirties. I still have dreams of not being able to afford food or new shoes. They use to call it the “depression mentality” and once you have it – it never seems to leave. I’m in my early fifties now, and I’m still easily worked up if our family finances get hit in a negative way.

    • Melanie says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Brent! It’s amazing how much the feeling can linger with you, even as years have gone by. I wonder if I’ll ever shake that feeling. I never want to be that broke or in debt again. It is truly anxiety-inducing.

  4. ZJ Thorne says:

    My anxiety dream lately has been having to find a new place to live quickly. It only got worse once I spent the money I needed to for a proper bed that won’t hurt my back. Must re-build the emergency fund and hopefully the sleep will get better again.
    ZJ Thorne recently posted…Net Worth Week 59My Profile

    • Melanie says:

      Yeah, that is tough! Think of the bright side… you had an EF! I know how anxiety-inducing it is to wipe it clean though and have to start over :/

  5. The Lady says:

    Even though I’m still working on paying off my debt, I’m in the best place financially I’ve been in a very long time. When I start to get anxious about all the “what ifs”, I think back to what I have survived in the past and how I did it. I count my blessings and try to beat the scarcity mindset monster back with my sassy attitude and classy ambitions! I hear ya, though. The panic is real.

    • Melanie says:

      Love your attitude! I am in the best position I’ve been in too — it’s hard to shake some of those old feelings about debt and being broke. But we can do it! A work in progress, always.

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