The Five Stages of Grief: Student Debt Edition



I had just graduated, and was still riding the high of not having to spend hours of my day cooped up in a windowless library. Armed with a Master’s degree, I was thrilled just to be able to read for pleasure again, and my loans were the last thing on my mind. But somehow, before my diploma even arrived, that first insidious letter made its way into my mailbox. How did they find me so fast? I had just moved to nyc, and yet my student loans followed me like a relentless storm cloud.

But hey, the first letter was friendly-looking enough. The form letter says things like, “Expect a detailed report on your loan status soon!” and “We look forward to helping you manage your loans.” It felt like the emoji of form letters: it didn’t really say anything or mean anything, but let me know that I was on their radar. So I threw the letter in a drawer, dusted my hands, and forgot about it.

A couple weeks later, another much thicker envelope arrived. But I’m busy. So, I set it aside to deal with later, when I have some real time to focus.

A couple months go by, and the envelope has become a pile. At this point, the text on the envelopes has transitioned to ALL CAPS, BOLD and URGENT. Automated phone calls start, but since I never listen to them all the way through, who can tell how urgent it really is?



At a certain point, the stack got comically high. That didn’t move me out of denial though. What got me were the manifestations of my panic: I had dreams about my debt, started breaking out worse than any middle schooler, and got what my lovely roommate refers to as a “sour stomach” whenever I thought about it too hard.

So I knuckled down, and opened up each and every letter.

That’s when the anger came.

I was angry. Angry at myself for going to a private school and for majoring in something as professionally useless as I did. Angry at my parents for not forcing me to major in something I hated. Angry at Sallie Mae. Angry at how easy it is to pretend that student loans are just like Monopoly money: part of a game, and easy to steal when no one’s paying attention. Above all, I was angry at the fact that a few numbers had the ability to make me feel so angry.



Then, the “if only”s began to creep in. If only I had looked at these letters sooner. If only I had gotten a second opinion. I thought I had more time!

The quick and sudden death of my disposable income hit me hard. I considered making a deal with god, or the devil—really, whoever would take it. In an attempt to postpone the inevitable, I considered just staying in school forever. I could become a double doctor, a useless specialist, the possibilities were endless. But that quickly gave way to the slow, sinking descent into utter devastation.

Depression and Acceptance


Fortunately, I only dipped quickly into debt depression. Yikes, it’s a lot of money. But matching it with tantamount depression won’t make that number go down. At a certain point, there’s nothing to do but grit your teeth, accept your fate, and make lots of lists.

I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, a time when I’m debt-free and my degree might actually be applied to my job. The light may be far off in the distance and the tunnel may be paved with PAST DUE letters and dollar signs, but there’s still a light.

light at the end of the tunnel

**Originally posted on on March 26, 2015**

The Five Stages of Grief: Student Debt Edition

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