* Nerissa D’Alton shares her deeply personal story of her own terrifying journey with debt *
As someone who considers herself as responsible when it comes to money matters, I never expected to fall prey to the big scary monster called DEBT.
I thought I had safeguarded myself – I never buy anything I don’t really need, I pay my bills on time and my priorities in life are non-materialistic. Yet 3 months ago my world completely fell apart when I had to face the prospects of losing my house. They say the top most stressful events in life are losing a loved one, changing careers and getting married. I had been through all of those and I can tell you the feeling of being out of control of your financial future tops them all.
It’s not that a house as such is something I value from a financial point of view. But it is a place of safety. It is where I nursed my baby, watched him grow from a helpless newborn to a very self-willed two-year-old with all the fun and games involved. It’s where I shared my joys, my sorrows, my life – with those near and dear to me. It’s where I come to after a busy day and spend time with my out-of-control dogs. From the little corner I go to when I’m feeling sad, to the lovely patio overlooking the garden where I spend most of my evenings, admiring the silence.
The practical steps of dealing with debt are quite simple. Painful, but simple. There are many institutions and professionals geared up to help people like me – who find themselves in an out-of-control situation with no hope in sight. The emotional repercussions though are devastating.
My natural reaction was to figure out how this had happened to me. Questions like “where did I go wrong?” started an avalanche of further questions, yet a clear answer evaded me. When you start questioning your every single action and decision, you end up feeling like a failure on all levels. Digging deep is never easy but when you realise your situation impacts your entire family it can be very overwhelming. The only way forward for me was to grit my teeth, assess my options and march on. If I had the option of falling apart I might’ve taken that, but life doesn’t wait for you to be ready to cope, it just tumbles right ahead.
After visiting debt counsellors, speaking to the family elders and understanding the various levels of our financial crisis, there seemed to be not too many options. Certainly none which would leave me or my family scathe-free.
Considering our options debt counselling seemed the most practical. This option terrified me, as I thought once you had been for debt counselling your financial future would be over. Thoughts of never buying a car again, never opening a clothing account, or just never getting a cell phone contract seemed like the end of the world to me in my panicked state. I would have a black mark against my name forever. But I was misinformed, and after doing a bit of research and speaking to others who had been through (and survived!) similar situations, I realised that this was truly the only way forward. After a certain amount of months the debt would be taken care of, and I would be able to start over, as if nothing had ever happened.
In the end I got to keep my house. Or so it seems for now. But the cost was earth-shattering. I lost the person who meant most to me, who I had centered my life around. I might have my house, and my credit cards are paid up, but my life will never be the same again.
Nerissa D’Alton is a content writer for HEARTLINES social media.
* If you find yourself faced with the ugly side of debt or overindebtedness, contact the National Debt Mediation Association (NDMA) www.ndma.org.za or call them on 0861 11 6362 (NDMA).
HEARTLINES has produced various resources to start conversations around values & money that can be used in families, faith-based groups, workplaces or small groups. Check out our RESOURCES section.