I Won’t Let My Debt Depress Me
In 2016, I reached a milestone I had aspired to for as long as I could remember: graduating college. I had walked across the stage with a toothy smile, a culmination of four years of hard work. The celebration of graduation day was fleeting, however, as the reality of my situation set in. I had earned two bachelor’s degrees — and over $100,000 in debt.
The joy of achieving my goal faded and I quickly spiralled into a financial anxiety I had never known before. “I’ll worry about it when I graduate,” I told myself at the outset — and then it smacked me in the face upon receiving my diploma.
Just a few weeks shy of my 22nd birthday, I had been thrust not only into the “real world,” but the real world of someone in a financial mess. Soon after I left school, I logged into MyFedLoan and almost vomited. The reality of what I got myself into sat in the pit of my stomach, making me sick.
The anxiety had me in a chokehold for the latter half of 2016. The load of my debt sat on my shoulders daily, weighing me down, reminding me that this is my life for the next few years. With every dinner I went to with a friend, movie I saw, pack of gum I bought — a nagging voice shamed me for not using that money to pay off loans instead.
This is why my resolution for 2017 is to not let my debt depress me as it has. My biggest fiscal resolution is not so fiscal at all, but mental. This isn’t about saving up all my change or not buying any more lattes. Rather, I’m resolving to be as positive about my future rather than fall into a depressive hole like I did last year.
Thankfully, I had a job lined up when I graduated. I started a week after, and I began to make voluntary payments towards my loans during the grace period. I moved back home so I didn’t have to worry about rent. When the grace period ended, I set up standard repayments instead of income-based, in hopes to get rid of this debt as soon as I can.
I know this will be a battle. I can tell myself everything’s okay because I have a job and I’m making payments, but the anxiety just doesn’t go away because I will it to.
I have cried to my parents, multiple times. At first, they told me I had signed up for this by choosing to go to the college I did. Over time, though, they became more empathetic: they said that this is not forever, that I’m doing everything right, that living home is practically a rite of passage for people my age.
Perhaps they’re right. Perhaps I am doing everything right after making such a life-altering decision. Regardless, I often find myself feeling low. I imagine what could have been had I known anything about personal finance when I was 18. What schools and scholarships I would’ve applied to, the extra jobs I would’ve taken on, the amount of money I could be saving now with my salary.
This war between myself, the tug and pull of “I’m doing everything right — because I did everything wrong before” is why I’m making a mental health resolution this year, in addition to my financial resolutions.
I am resolving to continue paying off my debt as fast as I can; getting my income up; and learning as much as I can to be financially literate in the future. But above that, I am resolving to be optimistic about my financial situation. I have automatic payments set up, so I don’t have to worry about being on time. I will up my freelance game to generate more income for myself, because I am resourceful. I will not complain about having to live home, as many would do so if it were an option.
Thinking about the next few years is daunting, but in 2017 I will not let it shake me. I know I have a great job, a sharp mind, and a loving family to fall back on should I need to. I will continue the course and refuse to waver.
Looking back is almost as painful as looking forward — but in 2017 I need to accept that I cannot change the past. The mistakes I made are irreversible, but I need to remember there are many worse mistakes to make — financial and otherwise. I cannot go back in time and tell my teenaged self to reconsider, as much as I’d like to. I can, however, honor her by keeping to her promise.
The automatic payments are easy, though watching my account balance dwindle isn’t. Finding more work and opportunities is a little less so, but doable. Changing my mindset and willing myself to be optimistic? That’s the real challenge, but I am determined not to let my mental health crumble in the face of financial strife.
I know, eventually, this debt will be paid and a far-off memory. I’ll probably remember it with a scowl on my face, like how we look back on those awful kids we knew in middle school. Maybe, though, I’ll remember it as a time of great perseverance and willpower, of great learning and self-care and growth. I hope, by the end of 2017, I’ll be one step closer to achieving that.