“I don’t even owe that much I’m sure, plus graduation and employment. So much freedom is coming my way!” At this point all you see is possibilities and potentially no will no longer be staring at the same useless textbook and trying to make it out to be a 60-page paper (you grad school students who are laughing, don’t– this was hard when it happened too). You tell yourself that in light of the rest of your life, a few thousand dollars won’t last that long. You do not think about interest.
You brush the whole thing off and indulge in your last moments with your peers. You buy the plane ticket, you go off to see the world, you laugh like your loans were all a lie. You manage to forget that your grace period is not as long as you think it is and that is how you end up at stage 1.
You checked the mail, and there was a letter with your name on it. This has happened before, you’ve received mail and it was never this big of a deal. However, this letter is from a loan provider and they want to remind you that you still owe them. They are just reminding you that your payments start up next month.
You are numb. Shell shocked. How dare they!? There is no way that this is for real… You rack your brain to see when you graduated, how this could be true. You go to an isolated place in your home because your heart rate is speeding up and you are entering into stage 2…
You suddenly get a burst of energy and fury all at once. You are mad at everyone and no one. You are mad at God, at people, at your university, at your family, at yourself. You are seething with anger and you don’t know what to do with it.
You rip up the letter, curse to yourself, flip off the loan service provider letter, you march around your room muttering angry words to yourself. You think about the folks from your class who seem to be doing “better” than you financially and you judge them harshly. You think back to those stupid, stupid classes that taught you nothing and you internally demand your money back. You say a lot of things that you will eventually take back because stage 3 is coming up.
You may or may not have started “building your credit” with that handy dandy credit card. Your stomach has learned have to do a backflip and you feel the ground shaking from beneath you. This. Was. A. Bad. Idea.
College. The whole thing. Your credit card, everything.
Did I mention that you are sort of in-between jobs right now? You start to consider your options. You can’t think of options. You begin panicking and pacing the floors. You could apply for another job. You sign on to your laptop, and unsubscribe from every paid service that you don’t need. You start thinking about what else you can and/or should give up to make space for these loan payments that you can’t afford.
You consider grad school, the peace corps, the army, and more. Is it too late to join something and defer your payments? Is there anything that you can do?
Maybe, take a seat and play some music or listen to the silence as you bask in your panic. As the tunes play, your feel your chest constrict and your enter stage 4
It’s over. You should have known, you should have paid attention, you are screwed. You sit down, holding back tears. Then you think, “screw it” and you let them fall. Each tear chases the other down to the letter from that loan service provider that you should never have trusted.
You have thought and rethought your options multiple times over and you feel very much trapped and like there is no way out now. You begin to mope. The moping goes deeper.
You cry alone in a sad state realizing again that you won’t enjoy your money for a very long time. You let the sadness consume you for as long as possible and then you go numb. You give up, you lay listless and unfeeling. You knew this would happen. There is nothing you can do and there is nothing you can do about that. You are slowly giving up. Everything feels like more of a burden than it was before that letter came in the mail. But one day, it just you realize that you are not the first or last to be in this predicament and it clicks… you begin entering into stage 5.
You take a deep breath and say the words “I can do this. I am an adult. This is going to be okay,” and you continue breathing. Eventually, you realize that you are indeed still alive and that you are the same person you were yesterday, in just as much debt, but that you are aware of it now. You start planning to form your life around your loan repayments. You fall asleep.
Acceptance by no means equals being “cured”. You are still very much in debt and are very, very aware of it. The pain of repayment is still a part of you, but what this means is that you are ready to move on. You are ready to try reintegrating yourself into society with your debt. It is the tension between life as it was in college and life as it is when you are paying it all back. It is also a bridge that takes us to where we want life to be as for us one day.
One day, you may wake up and find yourself back at stage one, or over at stage three. The stages of grief are not consistent in the order of which they happen and are not “one and done.” You may revisit various stages in various order, but once this is certain….you will come to acceptance again and when you do you will realize that life is not all bad or all loans. You will remember that you can do this, even if you have to do it crying yourself to sleep. You will make it out okay. You will hate interest and think three times as hard before ever signing for a loan again. But it is all part of the process, and you will be okay. Even if you don’t believe it right now. Get connected, find resources, talk it out with friends, get advice from adults who have paid back their debt and give yourself grace for when life does get hard with your repayments. Do your best to keep living as you pay, you’ll be glad that you did.