David blogs about how easy it is to get into debt - and how he got support to help him cope.
As I rummaged around in the bargain bin of my local convenience store I had to accept that it was beans on toast for dinner. Again. My handful of coins wouldn’t stretch to a pie. Thankfully I had enough for beans, and there was plenty of bread at home, so I was happy.
Unfortunately I returned to find that my dog had eaten all the bread.
It was time to draw a line beneath the past two hellish years of robbing from Peter to pay Paul, and letting my omnipresent anxiety get the upper hand on a daily basis. This wasn’t just about the bread, it was about the 101 things racing through my mind that meant I absentmindedly left the bread on the kitchen counter. You can’t do that when you share your home with a 3-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
On reflection, the alarm bells started to ring over two years ago, as I sat down to binge watch Breaking Bad, despite having lots of work to finish that day. Working from home has its perks, but I found it difficult to maintain a work/life balance. There I was, a 40-year-old bachelor working on wedding websites with stressed clients, and writing relationship advice articles when I hadn’t had a girlfriend since before the invention of Facebook. I felt like a fraud.
It wasn’t just my work that was suffering. I had very little enthusiasm or desire to do anything, I just wanted to escape. That involved burying my head, or taking a two week holiday to America that I couldn’t afford.
"I just wanted to escape. That involved burying my head, or taking a holiday to America that I couldn’t afford."
Spending money became therapy, because I was depressed and desperately trying to fill a void in my life with things to make me happy.
I didn’t think twice about using credit cards because I had a regular income, and didn’t foresee a time when I would be out of work. For me, not acknowledging that I had a problem would soon prove to be my downfall.
In 2013, at the age of 39, I finally managed to rent a flat, but seven months later the landlord decided to sell, so I opted to buy 50% rather than face another upheaval. I’d been told that home buying was stressful, and upon completion six months later, I could only agree. Then, a week later, I turned 40, and that’s when life, as I now know it, really began.
"Spending money became therapy, because I was depressed and desperately trying to fill a void in my life with things to make me happy"
Since I was no longer bound by the terms of my tenancy agreement I decided to get a dog. However, my new companion, Luna, the bread eater, proved to be much more of a handful than I had imagined. I was warned she’d be hard work, but I think I just welcomed the challenge. My mind seemed happier when it was occupied.
Despite having a lot on my plate I was determined to work more hours, but just as I found my rhythm everything fell to pieces. My salary was slashed overnight, a month before Christmas, and two months later it was gone. I was getting better, but the business world doesn’t take prisoners. Suddenly you find yourself in the middle of deep water, doing the dog paddle for your life.
Now I had a mortgage, bills, dog, debt, and no income. A few people suggested I lose the dog, but I don’t believe in sticky plaster solutions. I believe that if something isn’t working then you should find a way forward, no matter how narrow the pathway. My priority was to find another job.
"Now I had a mortgage, bills, dog, debt, and no income."
An episode of Coronation Street prompted me to speak to my GP, who referred me to a therapist, and although talking about things didn’t solve my problems, it helped me to view them from a different perspective. My therapist suggested I speak to a debt counsellor, but I believed that I had a handle on things. Sadly I wasn’t just anxious and depressed, I was deluded.
At this time I was being promised lots of work from various sources, so I decided to hold fire on the debt counselling. Sadly, the days passed and the work didn’t materialise. I had enough to just scrape through each month, but I was falling deeper into debt.
It’s easy, with hindsight, to make suggestions that seem blindingly obvious, but when you’re constantly anxious and depressed you’re not exactly making the best life choices.
Other work arrived, but the debt snowballed, and as the months went by I found the minimum payments almost impossible to manage. In fact I wasn’t even paying off the debt, I was just moving it around.
"As the months went by I found the minimum payments almost impossible to manage."
Desperate for a lump sum to give me some breathing space I sought help from my bank, and purchased a scratch card. The bank wouldn’t help me consolidate my debt, and the scratch card only won me enough for a loaf of bread.
Selling my flat looked to be my only solution. The cash would solve all my problems, and I could rent somewhere until my credit report was back in good health. Except I had a gut feeling that this wasn’t my best move, and knew there had to be another way.
That’s when I sat down, ate a slice of humble pie, threw my pride out the window and contacted StepChange, the debt charity.
Finally, I was talking to professionals. There was no “How did you get into debt?” or “Why didn’t you ask for help sooner?” and I didn’t feel judged or embarrassed about saying “I’m in over my head, and I need help”.
The charity set up my Debt Management Plan that allows me to make smaller payments without going over my monthly budget. These payments are then passed on to my creditors, who reduce all interest to 0%.
This won’t solve my immediate cashflow problem, and it will be some time before I’m debt free, but after two years of baby steps I believe this is my biggest step towards freedom, peace of mind, and ultimately, more bread.
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