Maybe that’s a question Dr. Seuss asked at one point in his life. Maybe I subconsciously stole from Robert Hobart Davis, the guy who was responsible for the “how much wood could a woodchuck chuck” tongue twister. But what is a lowly blogger in 2017 supposed to do? What hasn’t been taken at this point in pulp culture?
But seriously – back to the title question. After all, it still remains. How bad can your bad debt get?
I’m going to tell you how bad it got for me. It wasn’t pretty and I wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t even a hot mess for Christ’s sake. I was just a walking zombie, wandering aimlessly through a thick fog of anxiety and too ashamed to tell anyone about my torment.
The vast majority of people who end up struggling with a lot of bad debt don’t go through what I went through, so let’s get that clear right out of the gate.
I’m glad to be in the minority on this one. The less people who walk that valley the better. Some readers won’t be able to relate with my experience, but at this very moment some of you are walking through the same hellish valley. This post is for you.
I realize now that I was predisposed to emotional extremes. All people suffer when their financial ship is sinking, but most eventually accept what’s happening and they deal with it in a sane manner.
Whether they end up claiming personal bankruptcy, signing up for a debt settlement program, or ending up on the street, they naturally deal with the hand they’ve been dealt. They don’t lose sleep, their appetite, or their common sense.
I lost all of those things.
Day after day, week after week, and month after month my happiness slowly dripped out of my being and into a pool of dread. I was shutting down, and the people around me were starting to take notice.
When the phone rang I wouldn’t answer for fear of poison tongue collectors. I avoided the mailbox too. I was starting to avoid anything that might remind me of my financial predicament.
Because of sleep deprivation, and lack of solid food, I was starting to lose weight and my grip on reality….
WOAH WOAH WOAH! WAIT A MINUTE!
Slow this pity train down!
We need to take a step back and explain how things got so bad. It wasn’t like I woke up one morning and my life was shit.
It started with a car battery.
Stages of Debt
Stage #1: Department Store Dept
This first stage wasn’t really a big deal when I look back on it. I missed a payment on department store credit card. It was a car battery I had purchased a year earlier, and I simply ignored it. It was like I completely forgot I had the debt at all.
To make matters worse, I moved right after the battery purchase, and never registered a forwarding address to my new place of residence.
This cost me dearly. I missed all the payment reminders and final notices. Not only that, I missed the phone calls telling me to pay my debt.
So stage one was nothing really. We’ve all had our credit rating damaged before.
Missing a payment for longer than three months can happen, and it sucks, but you move on. You just pay it off, give your head a shake, and start paying closer attention to what credit lines you’ve signed up for. Within the next year or so your credit report blemish fades away, and eventually you’re FICO is perfect again. Makes sense. But there was a reason I so badly dropped the ball, and it had nothing to do with money.
It had everything to do with a bad relationship. My first wife and I were miserable together. We should have ripped up the sheets a long, long time ago.
But oh no! We had to stay together for her daughter from her past husband. We didn’t want to hurt her.
So as our insidious relationship continued, neither of us cared anymore about trivial things (or so we thought at the time) like bank account balances, credit card balances, and bill payments.
So a seemingly insignificant battery was just the tip of the cold and jagged iceberg below.
Stage #2: The Deflowered Debtor
Thanks to my carelessness with the department store credit card, I had popped my FICO cherry (so to speak). I was no longer clean and pristine. I was a bad boy now, and there was nothing romantic about it. There was more to come, and I was making that MORE come faster than slower.
After the first insult on my financial reputation, I just didn’t care as much as I had before. My wife never cared about my credit score either, so this was the beginning of the end for my over-700-FICO days.
I used to work graveyard shift for the airlines, and on payday my ex would quietly sneak into the room while I was sleeping and take my credit card. While I was sleeping in the day, she was spending money on all sorts of junk we didn’t need. It was infuriating.
I warned her that we were spending more money than we were making, and I took over all grocery shopping so we could stay on budget. She hated that, and no matter what I said or did, we both found a way to destroy any progress we might have made.
We just didn’t care about each other anymore. At that point we only cared about ourselves. A very dangerous headspace to be in.
So as soon I realized we were hopelessly careening down a back road, on our way to insolvency, I let go of the wheel altogether.
Stage #3: Debt Consolidation
So lucky me. Burden lifted. I didn’t care anymore about debt, and didn’t care about protecting the “family finances”. I knew that our small three person family was on a crash course with divorce.
I didn’t bother her anymore regarding her spending, and I upped the anti even higher by spending money on my own. I bought all sorts of items I couldn’t afford, knowing perfectly well that we weren’t likely to pay it off.
At that point I decided I better consolidate all of our credit cards and car loan debt. A local credit union gave me the loan, and as soon as we paid off the car and the credit cards we started spending again.
Once again spending more that we were earning combined (we both worked full time jobs – her as a nurse in a hospice).
There would be times when I even neglected to pay the utilities and/or phone bill. We had our landline disconnected at on point. That’s how bad it got.
Now my credit rating was really tanking fast. I had three credit cards that were all behind for payments and two of them were completely ignored for over half a year. The notices began piling up in the mail, and the phone started ringing. The bill collectors had us in their crosshairs and I felt like we deserved their special brand of verbal abuse.
To be continued tomorrow, September 13th, 2017.
Good morning! Had a good sleep and excited to finish this post.
Stage #4: Debt and Self Medication
The collection agencies are calling every day, and the stress is starting to affect both of us in a bigger way. So did we seek financial advice and find a way to plug the holes in our sinking boat?
There were many ways we could have gotten our act together. We could have gone to a professional, the older people in our families, and/or the Internet. The web was around in those days and we could have used it to find some great websites to learn from. Websites like these!
But alas…we both decided the best of course of action would be self-medicating. I dove into a big bag of pot and she dove into a big bottle of Jamaican rum (loved it!). Come to think of it, we should have changed our wardrobes to signify our self med choices.
Like this perhaps?
Well….maybe not, but I’m trying to get across how STUPID we were as a couple during that time.
So now we add the cost of two people self-medicating every day. Our debt was climbing in leaps and bounds by this time. Then she got a DUI, and I got suspended from work.
Living. The. Dream.
Stage #5: Debt and Divorce
It wasn’t long before she had an affair. Then I had an affair. Then she wanted an “arranged marriage” whereby we lived separate love lives, but still lived together married with child.
I wasn’t willing to do that.
Then we tried counselling, and that was comical at best. All this time we were still hemorrhaging money. We were destined for personal bankruptcy and divorce.
We both had a lot of guilt, and in an effort to ease my guilt I decided I would accumulate all of our debt and pay off all her creditors. It took awhile to get that all done, but I made it happen. I gave her the home equity (not much by then), the car, and all contents in the house.
I left with no credit, a couple boxes of my CDs, my clothes, guitar amp, and Fender Telecaster. Right back where I started.
Free at last. I moved in to an apartment downtown with two friends of mine. It was charming for about 24 hours, but after that it was just scary and lonely.
I was discharged from bankruptcy within six months, and my seven years in the penalty box began.
Stage #6: Debt and Desperation
I know the first five stages sound like a real drag, but I hope you’re not feeling sorry for that guy. He asked for it big time. I was young, impulsive, arrogant, and just plain dumb.
But this is when things started getting weird. We’re back to where I started near the top of this post.
I started losing my appetite, my zest for life, and my rational mind. I couldn’t sleep. The best I could do for sleep was maybe nod off for 10-15 minutes when my body finally just shut off for the sake of survival. I would wake up in terror with my heart racing. I was afraid to fall asleep.
It wasn’t just sleep I was afraid of either. I was afraid of social situations, food, my work place, entertainment, sex. My anxiety and depression was so high that I developed agoraphobia. My job was in jeopardy, and things got so bad I considered snuffing your humble narrator out once and for all.
At that point I was sent home from work on indefinite stress leave.
Luckily I did have some friends and family who loved me enough to listen to my pathetic ramblings. They all knew I was in trouble. I had lost forty pounds and my clothes didn’t fit me very well. I looked drawn and desperate. One of the reasons I ended up with agoraphobia was because of my appearance. When I was outside I thought everyone could see how frightened I was.
My friends and family insisted I seek mental help. I started seeing professionals and the long journey from mental illness to mental wellness began.
I did what I was told for once in my life. I became the lamb, and not the lion I thought I was. I took my medication, stopped smoking weed, and forced myself to eat solid food again.
I started reading self-help books everyday. These writers (Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, Dan Millman are my favorites) changed my life forever, and soon enough I had gained back my weight, fell in love, and quit playing in clubs.
For those seven years in bankruptcy I learned to live in a different way altogether.
I found out that life can still be wonderful when you have no credit and no money. I found fun things to do that didn’t cost me a penny. In the summer I would take walks to the park, lay on the grass and take in the blue sky day. I would take the bus (or walk) to the library and stay for hours reading and browsing.
I discovered that the true beauty to life is there before our eyes ALL the time. The trees, birds, grass, sky, sun, rain, clouds, animals, and people (in their true forms) are beautiful (don’t worry, your humble narrator hasn’t lost his edge – I still find time to belittle hippies when I have a free moment to spare).
When I was just starting to pull up from my nose dive into hell, something happened with my perception. All of a sudden a simple tree, or a field of grass seemed to radiate something I had never seen before. It was like I had awakened for the first time. Like I was seeing the world through a newborn’s eyes.
These moments of bliss were only momentary, but the memory of those moments has never left me since. Whenever I’m outside, or look out a window and see any form of nature (a bird, tree, flower, bug) I’m reminded of those moments of blissful realization.
I still worry about money if it looks like we’re going to be earning less and spending more. I still get annoyed when I see “humans being unconscious” and when I’m being unconscious. I still curse when my dog pukes on my carpet. I still hate commercials, car jams, and spam. By no means am I a poster boy for enlightenment, but deep down inside I’m calm, and I know what matters in life.
When shit hits the fan (which I will discuss in my next post) it’s still sends me for a short time, but the facts are always hovering over me.
“It’s only a temporary situation, and it will change. All that matters is enjoying the breath going in out of my body and the short time I have left on this earth.”
Brent Truitt is a full time Internet marketer and part time blogger who lives in Canada and the United States. You can connect with him on Twitter @IAmBrentTruitt