This is an area that is supremely mortifying for me to talk about. Anything that hits very close to home usually is.
Sex addiction? That's embarrassing but still kind of sexy. Being an alcoholic? Sure, who isn't? But bankruptcy or realizing you are a compulsive overspender? Oh, man, avert your eyes.
When I quit The New York Post, I had more than $50,000 in debt. And no real job. I had a plan, but it wasn't very concrete and it always carried the looming knowledge that whatever money I brought in would be diminished quickly by my massive credit card bills.
Then one day I started talking to a man I had just met named Gabriel (I always think of him as my own personal version of the archangel of the same name) who I casually mentioned my money problems to out of the blue. I don't know why I did. I never talk about it. It was so embarrassing. Look at me. I've made terrible, horrible financial decisions and racked up tons of stupid, nasty, completely preventable if I was more responsible credit card debt.
Gabriel looked at me and said, "You should consider doing what I did. Chapter 7. Here's the bankruptcy attorney I used." Then he wrote down Shaev & Fleischman, who I emailed the next day (no this is not a paid advertisement, but they were wonderful to work with and never once treated me with any air of pity, contempt or judgment -- and they did a terrific job on my case, which was successfully discharged last year).
Just as I never ever in a million years once thought I could say, "My name is Mandy, and I'm an alcoholic," the idea of declaring bankruptcy was on my "never" list. Like murdering someone. Or robbing a bank. As you can see, it wasn't my bankruptcy attorneys I had to worry about judging me. It was myself. Talk about issues.
Talk about learning how to talk nicer -- to yourself.
Meeting Gabriel was a godsend. I went from a place where I feared I would be trapped in jobs I hated for the rest of my life only to make a little chip out of the never-ending crush of debt to realizing that there is always another step possible, there is always something out there. I realize that for many people educational debt is non-discharge-eligible and that you may even have had a medical event that cost you thousands upon thousands and really, most of all, I probably have no idea where you're coming from. Or the level of debt you are dealing with.
Well, you're right. I don't.
But I do know that I have known plenty of millionaires who are amongst the most miserable people on the planet. I'm talking mis-er-able.
I know that no matter how bad things get there are always single right actions that can be taken to gear you into the next step. There are even 12-step meetings for Debtors Anonymous or Underearners Anonymous. I know that at the end of the day, while money is definitely required and essential for wildly important things like diapers and healthcare and food, money is not everything. And there is always a way.
Hell, I know one man who is now a multi-millionaire who cheerily talks about the year he spent being homeless. That's a man who knew there was always another right action he could take. He kept going. He just kept going.
I would say the bottom point for me financially was when I found myself living with my parents at 36 -- a choice that I made -- and my bank account showed only $100 in it. I got creative and realized that I could build some apps using Andromo (I never ended up releasing them because I soon got offered the job at xoJane, which quickly consumed all my time) and start selling vintage items on Etsy.
I also followed up with money that was owed to me from a few different ventures, and I started to put the word out that I was looking for ways to pick up extra cash. Would I have taken a job at Starbucks or Jamba Juice? Absolutely. Money is money, and being where I was -- sitting across from my mother on the couch, looking at what my state of affairs was and just holding her in my arms, I saw how ridiculous the entire scenario of the rat race of financial servitude really is.
Because, yes, I filed bankruptcy. And, yes, I was living with my parents. And, yes, I was down to my last $100.
But I had love. When I held my mom, when I hugged my dad, when I saw other members of my family, when I cuddled with my dad's guide dog, I knew I had love in my life. And it kept me going.
It kept me going to find that next $1 to bring it up to $101. And then $102. And then even more than that.
You can keep going, too.
Even if you feel like you have no one right now (I was inspired to write this today after someone wrote me today saying they had looked at my "Reasons Not to Kill Yourself" article for the third time this month and who is dealing with a crushing amount of personal debt and sees few ways out), I especially love you.
I love you, and I believe in you, and I hope you will look at my story. Because you may have debt right now, but you also have love. If you can give that to yourself, the money will come. I promise you.
Keep going. Keep going. Keep. Going.
You never know what tomorrow will bring.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.