Excuse me, you seem to have an elephant in the room

The last week has been silly with a capital S. I spent the last 4  months or so ignoring the biggest elephant I have ever known and hoping that it would just slink away if I ignored it for long enough – a bit like that annoying school playground bully. Bullies hate being ignored and more often than not are cowards. Ignore the taunts and they get bored and start collecting marbles or stamps (no offence meant to marble and/or stamp collectors – I’m sure you weren’t bullies).

Elephants however, are not that easy to shake off. If anything they just get more settled, with a trunk firmly attached at one end and the enormous arse at the other end blocking any possible escape route. In the middle, the looming bulk that from certain angles doesn’t look too bad but from other angles is more solid than a block of concrete. The elephant feeds off the fear, getting bigger and bulkier by the day. Each time you try to sidle round it, the gaps become narrower and so the merry dance continues. The elephant I was having to contend with? Debt. That big, scary, sharp pointy toothed pachyderm that creeps in as a tiny animal and develops into something that trashes everything with the slightest tail swish.

The last few months I’ve been skirting round the unopened letters, dreading phone calls, having broken nights’ sleep, anxiety attacks and tearful and panicked conversations with Caroline while all the time not mentioning what is actually causing all the worry. I’ve worked 2 jobs for longer than I originally planned, not bought anything that wasn’t completely essential (that includes socks without extra holes, underwear that actually fits) and other such niceties. I’ve had groceries delivered for me from wonderful friends who must have seen a few clues and I’ve had to swallow my pride and accept their generosity. And I will never be able to fully convey just how grateful I am for their kindness.

Slowly I came to a grinding halt; my debit card was declined at the checkout more than once (for £25 – so no dramatic purchases), my credit card was being maxed out no sooner had I made the monthly payment. Every time I looked at the fuel gauge on the car my heart sank. Where was I going to find money for fuel this month? And how long before I really am at the legal tread limit on the front tyres? What about the MOT – if it failed I’d be really stuck – no money for repairs. These thoughts were just the start. A note from my landlady nearly sent me spinning out of control with unchecked panic. Turns out all she was after was my phone number as she had lost the contacts on her phone. But that worry, that unspoken raw fear of being evicted because my rent might have bounced was like acid poured straight into my stomach. Something had to change.

The elephant came and sat on my chest last Monday night after I’d switched off the light and after Caroline’s nightly phone call. The darkness was a welcome relief from the harsh light of reality and we’d discussed the possibility of opening some of the letters that were still going to my old address (oh yes…I hadn’t even had the cojones to change my address details – told you I was trying to ignore that elephant). I had flatly refused to open them, stupidly hoping they would just stop arriving. Maybe the bank would just get sick of writing to someone who clearly is paying no attention to their demands, requests, information and charges. Apparently, the bank doesn’t subscribe to that idea.

As I lay there, exhausted and wide awake, a little voice started to whisper in my ear “you have to sell the car”. It was the same voice I had heard 3 months ago that I neatly avoided and shouted down as a ridiculous idea. The voice this time was much clearer and the whisper was firm. “You must sell the car – it is the only way out”. “Shut up” came my reply, small and weak. “No, listen to me” the voice went on “the car is the problem right now. The car is not really needed. You are going to sell the car”. I was quiet, waiting for the voice to offer more suggestions but it was waiting for me. Waiting for the penny to drop and waiting for me to accept the inevitable truth. The silence was deafening and in it the answer had been found.

“I’m selling the car” I had called Caroline back, just minutes after hanging up. I had to talk this through with her – no matter what her answer I had to tell her and had to have her support. I already had made an appointment to speak to the bank about the state of my finances and suddenly I had a plan, a plan that might actually work. Her answer was as I expected “are you sure? Really? Is that the only thing that you can do?” We went back and forth discussing options. The tears were falling unchecked and the knot of fear I’d been carrying around with me was ever so slightly looser than before. I wrote down 4 lists: income and outgoings, objectives and goals. Without those lists, I wouldn’t have had the resolve to go ahead with my plan.

I met the bank and laid out my plans. I had a quote for the car. I had a way out. There were tears, many many tears. My finances were not as bad as I had feared but were bad enough. The plan was accepted and my faith in the bank and in bank people was restored. I walked out an hour later feeling lighter, less stressed, less frightened and with a clear plan of attack. The car was sold on Sunday. There were no tears until we got back into York – but they were definitely tears of relief. Caroline said that I looked much younger and less scared within a matter of seconds of handing the keys over to the buyer. I will admit I sold out – literally. I sold the Golf I had wanted for so long to We Buy Any Car. They offered me a fair trade price. I didn’t have the luxury (or patience) to wait for a private sale.

Life since then (all 5 days of it) has been much calmer. I haven’t once woken up with a weight on my chest in the middle of the night. I’ve not tossed and turned for 3 hours imagining eviction proceedings, bankruptcy proceedings and other such horrors. I knew that the elephant had finally taken the hint and had gone away, back to his home.  Being carless has its drawbacks but the benefits are far outweighing these. I’ve discovered than the times I really do need a car, we can hire one for the grand total of £30 for the whole weekend. I only live a mile from work so I’ve walked in most of the week with a couple of train trips when I had all my stuff for job number 2 with me.

The money clears into my account tonight and I can finally pay my mum back the rest of the money she loaned me when I moved. I can live (sensibly) as opposed to just existing. By that I mean I can afford the essentials – food, bills, rent. Clothes that fit and are functional. Race entry fees – again not extortionate but I am a runner and I want to race . Running has kept me sane (ish) and has helped quell the fears that occasionally threatened to drown me.

I learnt an important lesson – you can never hide from an elephant. They will always find you and it’s better to face it head on that let it box you into a corner.

Excuse me, can I just squeeze past?

One response to “Excuse me, you seem to have an elephant in the room

  1. This was me in April 2010. Kudos to you for also stepping up and facing the music. I hope that with your plan of action things slowly (but surely) work themselves out. Good luck!

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