“I would definitely take the gift of empathy to my 16 year old self. The financial and emotional issues I’ve experienced have made me more open-minded” #debtawarenessweek2019

Our project assistant Marie shares her own experience of debt and mental health as part of our Age and Wellbeing series.

One question our volunteers and training participants have been considering as part of our latest theme is ‘if you could take a magic pill and go back to being 16 would you take it?

I definitely wouldn’t choose to! When I was young, lots of topics in society were ‘hushed up’, and it’s something that I’ve carried with me throughout my life. The main thing I would do differently if I had to go back would be to try to speak to someone about my problems more often. In fact, not even just problems, but about things that matter in general. If we can’t talk about the things that matter in our daily lives then, when problems do emerge, the tendency is to avoid sharing them because it seems so alien.

Although my money worries are over now, the impact of debt problems during my 20s on my mental health have endured. My heart still sinks when I see envelopes with a clear window, in fact sometimes I still struggle to open mail. I’m scared of phone calls to the extent that I don’t really answer it at all any more. All these years later, I am on edge for much of the time, for no identifiable reason.

There’s no logical reason for me to feel like this anymore. I have financial stability and I’m pretty much sensible with my cash. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop feeling like this. What I do know is that, if I had spoken to someone close to me a lot sooner, I wouldn’t feel quite so disturbed by that experience. Trying to sort out the mess of my finances and ending up with a terrible credit rating wasn’t even half as stressful as the amount of energy I spent making sure no one would find out.

I do think society is more open now compared to when I was 16, but I think a lot of us still feel judged. If I did take that magic pill I wouldn’t want to talk about debt and mental illness necessarily, but just about money and emotions more generally, so that I took better habits into adulthood.

It seems crazy that our culture is obsessed with spending, yet talking about our bank account is still taboo. For years I didn’t realise I had mental health issues , until I spoke to other people and realised not everyone felt like me. Unless we feel comfortable having such conversations in everyday life, how will we know what is healthy and unhealthy? How will we all learn that there is not a ‘type’ of person that has money problems or has a mental health condition?

I would definitely take the gift of empathy to my 16 year old self as well. I was very much of the ‘you make your bed, you lie in it’ mentality back then. I applied it to myself too, and would punish myself for the tiniest mistake. The issues I’ve experienced have made me more open-minded and generous, towards others and myself. If any of my friends or family were having money issues, I would definitely do them a solid, no questions asked and no judgement. And certainly no money advice – as far as I’ve come, I doubt any of you would want that from me!

If you are struggling with debt, have a look at this helpful list of support organisations which our Community Correspondents our together. We also made a zine about debt and wellbeing which you can look at here.

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