Reply To: Financial mess and shame

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I was diagnosed in 2010 at age 36 (I turn 43 in a few weeks), and was over $60,000 in debt at that time. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and PTSD five years prior to that after serving in Iraq, and the spending was my therapy. While I wasn’t abusing drugs or alcohol, the effects were still pretty bad since I wasn’t fully engaging with my therapist and didn’t have an accurate view of how I was really doing day to day so the effects were similar to self-medicating. It was so bad that I would use a convenience check from one credit card account to pay for another. I was still making payments on time, so I would transfer the balance from one card to a new card to lower my interest rate for 12 months, only to have 12 months come and go with no change in my situation. I felt good when I bought something new, and for a short while afterwards, but none of my issues were really being addressed. My despair and shame were so great that I was afraid to answer the telephone because of debt collectors and I only shared my situation with my then-girlfriend (now wife), thinking she would dump me in a heartbeat. The opposite happened, and she stuck by me and even married me. My depression and PTSD symptoms completely sapped my motivation to find better employment, and when I finally did, I was crushed when a good salary only stopped the bleeding and I wasn’t really able to start making progress on my debt until I got married and started sharing all living expenses with my wife. We tackled the debt slowly and deliberately using Dave Ramsey’s book and system, and it took us four years to pay off the debt.

I had a lot of people advise me to just declare bankruptcy, and I briefly explored getting a debt consolidation loan. That would have been much easier, but I wasn’t raised to take the easy way out and I didn’t want to have to someday explain to my kids that I passed on my burden to others. I felt like paying off my debt was something that I had to do if I was ever going to move forward. I also realized that ADHD was one of many contributing factors to my poor decisions that led to my mountain of debt, which helped me realize that I wasn’t just some lazy guy who couldn’t get his sh!! together. I won’t re-hash other people’s good advise on seeking treatment for your ADHD, but I will reiterate that you need the help and support of your family, particularly your wife. It took me a few years to finally accept that I had ADHD, and I won’t say that I don’t still feel shame and embarrassment from it, but those emotions are not nearly as intense as they once were and I know that ADHD is something I have, not who I am. I’ve experienced great success in my life prior to KNOWING I had ADHD, but I still succeeded and I am doing so again, albeit with more difficulty than earlier in life.

Remember, your wife is your best partner and will probably be a much bigger advocate for you than you might think right now. Stay strong, and my family will have your family in our prayers.