Money and bipolar disorder
Dan's spending got out of control during a period of mania. In the low that followed he didn't answer the phone or open his post and his debt mounted up. He feels the banks let him down.
I was in my late 20s. I had a first class degree and a Masters from Oxford, and was working towards my doctorate. All my life I had wanted to be an academic, to do research, the one thing I knew I was really good at. And the goal was finally in sight.
But the seeds of what was about to go wrong had already been planted. I hadn’t started my Masters straight after my undergraduate degree.
A mix of bad advice and pig-headedness about what I wanted to study meant that my application for funding had been rejected two years in a row before finally being accepted.
And because I was so one-track on what I wanted to do, I had stayed those two years in Oxford, paying the highest rents in the country and not really supporting myself by doing as much teaching as I could get my hands on.
"The debts were mounting. As far as the banks were concerned I looked like a good bet."
When I succeeded in obtaining a full fees and maintenance grant at the third time of asking, I thought I had it cracked. But the sums didn’t stack up. The so-called full maintenance grant was around £5,500. Rent was £400 per month, and because I was a graduate, that meant for the full 12 months. Out of the remaining £700 I not only had to live, pay all my bills, and buy books – I had to service the overdraft I’d racked up trying to survive the previous two years.
This was the first big lesson I had about banks – they treat you very differently as a graduate from an undergraduate.
But although they had started wanting repayments, they were still willing to see me as a good bet. So when I started my doctorate, I was able to take out a £10,000 “development loan” to augment the maintenance grant that now only covered rent.
"With binge spending spiralling out of control, a £10,000 loan didn’t last long."
By this time my mental health, which had been fairly good since a major manic episode in my second year as an undergraduate, was taking a turn for the worse.
I was beginning to obsess about things, specifically about buying things I thought I needed if I was going to be a proper academic. That was how I ended up with, among other things, 23 bibles.
With binge spending spiralling out of control, a £10,000 loan didn’t last long. I was still teaching as much as I could, but that left little time actually to study, and when mania tipped over into the inevitable crash to a massive low, everything collapsed.
I hid myself away from the world. I didn’t answer the phone and I wouldn’t open the post, and debt after debt stacked up, with £1800 of bank charges added to the mix.
"I hid myself away from the world. I didn’t answer the phone and I wouldn’t open the post, and debt after debt stacked up."
And then the 3 years I’d been given to study were over. The doctorate was nowhere near complete. And the bank now required instant repayment of the development loan that had earned me not a qualification but hundreds of pounds a month of repayments.
That was the last that was ever heard of my dream to be an academic. The need to earn every penny I could to keep the debts serviced took over, and ever since I have been taking any job my health could cope with that would enable me to come close to staying on top of the debt.
There are lots of things to reflect on about this time, but two things are really worth taking away.
The first is that as a graduate, and one whose mental ill health made being with people difficult, I was properly on my own for the first time. That made it very hard to spot what was happening until I was a long way into it.
"I was properly on my own for the first time. That made it very hard to spot what was happening."
Second, to the banks you’re either a good bet or you’re a bad situation they’re desperate to claw everything they can from.
Once my study finished that was it. Even when I started, they wouldn’t put my undergraduate debts on hold. I was destined to fail. And now, when I’m finally well enough to fulfil my potential, it’s too late.
For obvious reasons I don’t earn enough to support myself through study. I’ve been written off in my 40s – and the stupid thing is the banks will get less out of me in the long run as a result.
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