Where do I start to sort out my life?
January 22, 2015 12:23 PM   Subscribe

I'm completely lost. I have always suffered from depressive episodes (never discussed it with anyone) and now things have come to a head. I am in my early thirties. I don't know how to carry on.

Christmas was a nightmare. My mum is in the final stages of a nasty terminal illness. Christmas was full of tears and trips to hospital. My father is extremely courageous, but they live hundreds of miles away and I feel helpless. I dream about her dying almost every night.

Early in the new year I found out that I am being evicted. I have until March to find a new place to live, but I don't have the reserves to look for somewhere new. Rents have risen dramatically while I've been in my current place and I will have to live somewhere further from where I live, probably with strangers. At the moment I can't even begin to look for somewhere new (this is in London).

A few days ago I received a call at work from HMRC. I have not filled in a tax return for the last five years. I knew that I was supposed to, but I couldn't understand how to register; I requested information to register, which never arrived. I gave up. I ignored their calls and letters. This was a very, very stupid thing to do. In retrospect it was a function of the anxiety and depression from which I have always suffered. I tend to curl into a ball and avoid this kind of situation, though I know that won't help in the long run. Now they are saying I owe them £5000 in penalty charges. I feel suicidal. I have £200 in savings, and I earn about £15,000 a year. The irony is that I probably don't even owe any money in tax, just penalties. I feel as if I have ruined my life with this debt that I will never, ever be able to pay off. I have a lovely boyfriend who lives at the other end of the country and we were saving money to live together. Now, I don't see how that will ever happen. I can't talk to him about any of this because I feel desperately ashamed.
I need to sort out this tax issue, but I don't know where to start. I spoke to a woman at HMRC and all she kept saying is "How are you going to pay?" I kept saying I don't know until I started to cry and had to end the call. I haven't cried for years but now I find myself crying two or three times a day.

I have been in bed almost continuously for three days. I have to force myself to eat. I don't know where to begin. I don't know what to do first. The tax issue is like a foreign language to me, I feel like I need someone to just talk me through it, but when I talk to HMRC I get hostility and anger. I don't want to have bailiffs come to my home or to go to prison, but I honestly don't see any other alternative.

I'm sorry if this all seems very self-pitying. It probably is. I just need some help figuring out how to get out of this hole because at the moment I just don't know. What do I do first? How do I muster the courage to face these things? I feel completely alone, and embarrassed about how I've let my life spiral out of control.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I think you've already taken the first step towards dealing with this, in writing this question. It will be a long road, but you've started.

I think the next step is finding some help. If you think your boyfriend would be supportive, start talking with him. You don't need to tell him everything, but even a little emotional support and commiseration would help, I think, to give you some energy and burst the shame bubble. You will feel better afterwards, not worse. I wonder too if your work has an employee assistance program where you can get some confidential counselling. I'd ask about that, and if they don't I'd go see your doctor. You do sound depressed, and medication might help.

Try not to worry too much about your taxes. Truly, that is something you can resolve over time. When I was in my late twenties I was in a similar situation tax-wise, through ineptitude/denial/laziness, and the accompanying shame spiral. I was in about 10K of debt plus had the spectre of years of unfiled taxes hanging over me. It sucked dealing with it, but once I started it got easier. I paid off the debt and ended up owing nothing on the taxes. Honestly, it worked out fine, and was nowhere near as difficult as I expected it to be. Boring and embarrassing yes, but solveable, and very very common.

I'm sorry about everything you're going through. You're not being self-pitying: this sucks. But you will get through it, and you'll be okay. You've already taken the first step.
posted by Susan PG at 12:42 PM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

First thing, you need to talk to someone. If you can't talk to your boyfriend or a friend or family member, have you tried getting help through NHS? Here's a page where you can search for a local therapist, but I think it's recommended that you talk to your GP first.

About the taxes, have you tried calling National Debtline? I don't know how much help they can give but I bet they can at least answer some questions.
posted by Huck500 at 12:45 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

To quote one of my favorite movies, "Baby steps, Bob."

Right now you've got all these HUGE DAMN THINGS going on in your life. I always tell my clients to write it down, and then break it down.

Regarding your mother's illness - maybe reaching out more often? Maybe a once a week call will help calm and help you draw closer as the end draws nearer. Put it on your calendar, and when it comes up, do it. Taking action always makes us feel better.

Regarding your eviction - Again, break this down into manageable steps. 1) Ask boyfriend for assistance, 2) go out every Saturday for 2 hours and look at places to move to. 3) Start getting rid of/selling things that you don't want to move, and so on. 4) Start networking with friends to see if they have a line on something, etc. Put these steps on your calendar and when it comes up, do them.

Regarding your taxes - I'm almost certain that there IS help available. Debt counselors, free legal advice, etc. Put it on your calendar to Google for 30 minutes to try and find that assistance. Don't go beyond that or it might freak you out and send you into a tailspin. Again, ask around, talk to folks. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Break each of these things down into baby, bitesize pieces. Sometimes getting things out of your head and onto paper can be helpful. I know that when I try to keep all the things I gotta do in my brain, my own anxiety comes and sets up camp permanently, until I get them on paper and planned out.

I wish you the best. This too shall pass, but I know you will come out on the other end a stronger, wiser and calmer person.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 12:55 PM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

Please don't feel ashamed. These are all REALLY big issues that are not easy to deal with. Financial issues can happen to anyone. It's definitely not just you. Your reaction is completely understandable and is to be greeted with sympathy and not shame or scorn.

Know that it's OK to ask for help. I've done it. We've all had to ask for help at some point. As time passes, you'll figure out how to deal with each of these things and get through them. Like John Kennedy said, try to take them one at a time. You're obviously an intelligent person, and people very clearly care about you. Please do ask for emotional and/or financial help. You might be surprised at how sympathetic and helpful people are!
posted by cnc at 1:06 PM on January 22, 2015

Anyone of those issues would make me depressed. All of them together - yeah, no wonder you are lost and struggling. You are human.

You need therapy. You can't fight this alone. Force your yourself to find help. Start by talking to your doctor.
posted by Flood at 1:20 PM on January 22, 2015

I've been through this -- all of it. Believe it or not, it's just a matter of addressing each of the things, one by one, and making a plan, and putting the plan in place, and then it just become the stuff you do. It will take you a while to pay off the debt, as an example, but that just becomes a thing you do, paying a little bit every month.

It feels overwhelming because it's all happening at once, but I've been through all of it, and it's all solvable. Life is full of these things, something caused by our own inexperience or immaturity, sometimes caused by outside forces, and they can just be awful when you experience them. But one you have fought your way out, it's quite something, because it really takes away a lot of fear. You know you can always work your way back, because you've done it.
posted by maxsparber at 1:39 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

TaxAid might be helpful - in particular, HMRC are required to "make 'reasonable adjustments' for a person with a 'mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'" and your affairs should be handled "sensitively and sympathetically"; you may also be able to get some degree of leeway in the way you're treated re the recovery of the money if you can provide evidence of a mental health problem, as set out in that link. Basically, they should stop being dicks about the fact you owe them money.

This is in addition to the possibility of arranging a payment plan if you can't afford to pay in one go. They normally run over 12 months but can go for longer in "exceptional circumstances"; perhaps mental health issues qualify as such.

Beyond that, speak to your boyfriend, speak to your doctor and take things one step at a time. This is survivable.
posted by inire at 1:45 PM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

(This is long, but I hope it's useful!)

I've been in (very!) similar situations myself and it's awful. I know all too well the combo of depression/anxiety, shame, and a system that seems only interested in grinding you down when you have almost nothing. Having threats pile up and up and only finding it more difficult to respond to them or imagine being able to deal with them. It's natural that this has you in a state and entertaining all kinds of possibilities. However, I feel that you can get out of this, as I did, and for whatever consolation it's worth, when it does finally tip over and you realize things are fixed, sustainable, that you have a path forward -- firstly it can happen surprisingly quickly and decisively, and secondly it will feel *amazing*.

Being employed, having a partner, and evidently being able to articulate yourself and make steps forward even in these circumstances, are all things that will be of great use. I'm so sorry to hear that your mother is ill while all this is happening, but for what it's worth, it doesn't mean you are not allowed to have problems and to reach out for help as well. In fact, it may offer opportunities to connect more strongly that your parents will both be glad for, rather than sensing that something is wrong but feeling unable to help or to be let in on it.

I will try to give advice about as much as I can. Before I get into specifics, I would say that two things were incredibly helpful and sustaining during these times in an overall sense. Firstly, when I was finally able to reach out to the people around me and explain what was happening, I found incredible support from everyone I turned to -- family, friends, people on the internet, independent organizations and even, eventually, many of the institutions who were causing me trouble and fear themselves. Reaching out felt impossible, both out of the human fear of showing vulnerability, and the shame of feeling that I would be seen as the worst person they knew, that I'd failed where they'd succeeded, that no one would understand why it had all happened to me, or that even if they did, that they'd have no way to help. I was wrong about that. In my depression and terror, I forgot how loving and strong humans can become when someone they care about -- and that all these people weren't just pretending, they really did care about me, and they understood, and accepted me even in those circumstances. I feel sure that the people in your life, including your boyfriend, will be the same. For what it's worth, I know what it takes to ask a question like this, you expressed yourself brilliantly, and I'm sure you will be able to do the same with others as well and that they will understand. I'm rooting for you, and you're more than welcome to PM me to discuss specifics or just share lamentations.

Secondly.. it's a little hard to explain, but I feel it's worth mentioning: when things got really bad, although the thoughts of the actual circumstances themselves often seemed hard to defy, I always made sure to show and feel defiance to the dark part of myself that tried to tell me that the world was cruel, dark, bleak, that I was bad, that no-one could sympathise with me, that things were hopeless. I knew, from my own past good times, that that part is a bullshit liar, and I knew I'd see that clearly again when things got better -- and I do.

Okay, so now for some more specific things. Basically, things are not fucked, and the system will not destroy you over this debt. Although HMRC haven't been helpful so far, and dealing with them is like wading through shit, they like any creditor have to face the reality that ruining you does neither of you any good. But I'll get to that in a second.

As those above say, the first thing to do is gather your support. It's scary, but you should tell your boyfriend about this. The good news is that I think just having written out this question will help you with what to say. It is probably also worth reaching out to any family and/or friends who are particularly close -- even if you feel that things have drifted apart. Both the relief of coming clean and having others to share your burden and provide encouragement, and the advice and help they can provide, will make things far easier, even down to small things like helping to make action plans, remind you to keep on top of this or that, etc. Even doing a small amount a day, or just one thing, can be enough to work you out of the rut and get you moving forward.

Another option which you can take before or after that is to talk to an organization that is there to help you deal with these issues. One of them is the Citizen's Advice Bureau. Hereis their page on debt specifically. Others are Debtline who can give advice, and Step Change who will work with you in a more involved way -- I used them, they sent a pack of questions for me to fill in and came back with extremely useful advice that helped me lift many of the debt burdens quickly. If the HMRC debt is your only one then this will be relatively straightforward (not necessarily quick, but quick to become sustainable and manageable), but I had way more debts, had no idea what half of them were, and they were able to sort me out too. Don't feel bad if there's things you don't know or have blocked out, you can get in touch with them whatever stage you're in and they will understand, help, sympathise, and will have dealt with people in much worse places.

It will come down to working out a budget for yourself, and apportioning a part of it -- even if it's just a tiny part -- to paying back the debt. They will give you more details and how it relates to HMRC specifically etc but even setting up a very small monthly payment plan can be a first step and enough for them to agree to call off any potential bailliffs, because it means you are engaged with them and they can stop spending resources trying to track you down. From there, large debts are often reduced to a more manageable concession level, especially for people in circumstances like yours. Also, even with the bailliffs, it's very rare for them to literally arrive, kick you out and take your stuff. Normally you will get *at least* one 'talking' visit first, and very clear letters beforehand as well. I actually never had them follow through in turning up even when things were dire and I ignored way too many letters. But anyway, the orgs above can give you more specifics about that side of things.

From there you can start looking for ways to improve your situation, to make changes and improvements to improve your cashflow, pay down the debt, repair your credit, and leave all this behind you. Once the iron blanket of threat and uncertainty is lifted off, this will be and seem much easier. How it happens will become clear at the time. For now, keep dealing with the basics.

It can be shocking to have to change house and deal with the ridiculous London housing market, and make changes to your lifestyle, but a month (or more?) is a surprisingly long time in London housing. Get to websites like RightMove and Zoopla, and Gumtree and start having a look around -- there can often be surprisingly good deals, even these days. Once you've identified places that look like they might work for you, keep checking back regularly. Great deals can appear quickly but be gone just as quickly. Unfortunately you may indeed have to compromise with e.g. living with strangers -- but check because sometimes you can snatch up a 1-bed or studio for cheap. And even if you do have to share, a lot of adults have to do the same nowadays (including me!) and as long as it's not with students, most households will offer peace, privacy and respect.

I guess other than that, I would say that the more you can do to look after yourself, keep up the basics of your life and be kind to yourself, the easier it will be. Try to keep your sleeping and waking times sensible and consistent, stay active and mobile -- go for walks, visit new places, see new things, even if they're just closeby -- and stay as social as you can, with friends if possible or just anywhere there's people. Eat and excercise as well as you can; even small improvements can make you feel a lot better. Consider trying meditation; even simple techniques (like taking a few deep, slow breaths!) were often very helpful to me. As long as you can hold yourself together and keep taking steps forward, even small ones, then returning to a good, stable situation is only a matter of time.

You can and I daresay should seek medical support to deal with these circumstances -- it's likely that they will be able to help alleviate your depression, anxiety and stress and this will make everything much, *much* more easy to deal with and help you get out of this precarious place. It can be a hassle, depending on who you have to deal with, they may try and fob various fairly-useless services on you, but keep going, talk about what you need and what you're not getting, and don't be afraid to approach different parts of the NHS for advice if one part is not giving you what you need. As with the debt services, they will have dealth with people in your situation, and worse situations, many times and they will understand and do what they can to help. Even just explaining your problem to someone like that can be tremendously helpful.

Finally, I just want to reiterate that even though things can seem to loom terribly, and they can indeed present difficult problems, the shadows they cast when you're in this state are much larger than the problems really are, and I feel confident -- and you should affirm to yourself -- that you have the strength to get through this, as others have, and that everything will be improve the more steps you take, until your situation will seem almost unimaginable compared to how things seem now. If you find yourself gripped by crisis, with self destructive thoughts coursing through you, then please, please, call anyone, either someone you know -- they will understand and help -- or call one of the following:

Samaritans: (08457 90 90 90)
London Distress Centre: (519-667-6711 -- apparently that is their UK number!)
One of the organisations here.

Even if reaching out for help then seems pointless, it will turn out to have been extremely point.. y. I promise.

But I hope that already, and as the advice comes into this thread, you will see that you are already on the way forward, up, and out of this mess. Good luck, good health, and I look forward to hearing of your success. You can do it. And as I said, if you have any questions (I'm not an expert advisor, but I have some experiences with dealing with this stuff in London), feel free to PM me about anything.
posted by Drexen at 1:51 PM on January 22, 2015 [14 favorites]

Dear OP, thank you for posting. I, too, have been in that pit of self-loathing and pity. Even now I am battling my own personal tax monster. Some of us (especially if we have ADHD) have difficulty dealing with the stuff that neural typical people can deal with more easily. To us, it feels impossible and thus, we don't do it and thus, we want to die because of the shame of our failure. To the neural typical people, this kind of thing is merely annoying.

The advice upthread is good. Go find someone (your boyfriend, another relative, a therapist, a friend) who can be supportive and nonjudgemental. Sit down with that person and make a plan. Don't confuse your behaviour (failure to deal with taxes and upcoming eviction) with your value as a loveable, loving and loved individual. You are not your taxes, filed or not. You are not your apartment, evicted or not.

Do see if you can, eventually, get evaluated by a specialist to see if there is a reason why you find it so challenging to do things that others find merely annoying. I had your life before I got my diagnosis and went on meds. For me, meds have been like a cane. I still have trouble walking (doing paperwork, etc.) but I can, in fact, walk.

Also, give yourself room to mourn and grieve and feel everything you feel. The most emotionally healthy person on the planet would have difficulty coping with the impending death of a loved one. Now you are also facing the new and horrifying prospect of eviction. Of course you're a mess. Who wouldn't be a mess?

It's okay to be a mess. But it's not okay to hate yourself or to hurt yourself or to carry this around on your own. Because that's not loving toward yourself.

I had to talk myself out of bed this morning. Doesn't matter why. I just reminded myself that I was capable, resourceful and resilient. I talked to myself like I was 5. As in, "It's okay that you don't want to get out of bed, Bella. But you are strong and resourceful and need to get out of bed to care for yourself."

Some days I need to do that. I have learned to accept it instead of feeling stupid about it. We must use the tools that work for us.

You are in crisis. You need to be kind and loving and forgiving of yourself and take baby steps and enlist allies and remember that this crisis is exhausting and hurtful and sad but not permanent.

It is tragic and yet normal. Our parents die. That hurts. We fail ourselves. That hurts. We are afraid. That hurts. Officious bureaucrats are unfeeling to us on the phone and we burst into tears and feel terrible. That's how it is.

Your journey is both utterly unique and completely normal and human. I say this not to depress you but to encourage you. Congratulate yourself for posting this and asking for help. Give yourself a pat on the back for keeping yourself fed. That's extremely challenging and yet you are keeping yourself fed. Good work!

Do not give up. Keep reaching out. Not everyone will be able to take your hand and help you. But some people will. And you will survive this. And perhaps even find the happy future you want with your boyfriend, if you can let him into this part of your life.

Wouldn't you want to know if he was facing a similar struggle? Wouldn't you want to offer him emotional support rather than being shut out? Don't tell him anything, of course, if it feels too risky. The last thing you need is a breakup on top of everything else. But consider being honest with him.

Memail me if you ever need to vent or want support. I know it feels impossible but you can do this. We are cheering for your success!
posted by Bella Donna at 1:58 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

The tax issue is like a foreign language to me, I feel like I need someone to just talk me through it, but when I talk to HMRC I get hostility and anger.

You need an accountant. You can sign a piece of paper and she will be able to talk to HMRC for you, sort out the back taxes and penalties, and arrange a payment plan. You don't ever have to speak to them again! And I know you can't afford it but see if your boyfriend, parents or friends will help you raise the money. I KNOW this feels overwhelming but it will be 1,000x less overwhelming the instant you have someone on your side who can help you.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:59 PM on January 22, 2015

If I were you, here's what I'd do.

Give notice at your job and move back home for now. Find work near your folks, temp or perm. Or just hang out for a while with your family. This solves the eviction thing. Decide that as of Feb 28, you're outta there! Since you want to move north with your boyfriend, you've just taken the step.

Find an accountant, or paralegal-type or someone who can help you get your taxes filed. Here are some resources. If it were me, I'd get with TaxAid. I will tell you that if you called the number on the letter they sent you that the person you spoke to was a collector. This person will not help you. There are OTHER numbers you can call to get help. But try TaxAid first.

Get help for your depression/anxiety from your GP, and see if you can get referred for therapy.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:00 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I agree that if you can go home and survive without a job for a little bit of time, go home. Pack up this weekend, put in your notice, and go home to your mum and dad for at least a few months.

Contact some of the resources listed here for getting help with your taxes. I have been where you are, and here's some perspective: you are not a drug dealer hiding your income from the taxman, you are not shuffling off ill-gotten millions to a secret account in the Caymans. You are in trouble in a "unpaid parking tickets" kind of way, not a "debtor's prison" way. The red-tape machine has noticed you because that's what it does, but you are a teeny little fish. Nobody's dreaming of the promotion they'll get when they catch up with wily old Anonymous.

I'm sorry you were treated so badly when you tried to call (the one thing you can say about the IRS is that they have truly nice customer service, it's weird), but obviously there's of organizations that do this kind of help, so it will be fine. Lots of people fuck this up, you are not the first and you won't be the last, it is entirely sortable. And not hugely time sensitive, either. It didn't get solved for the past 5 years, it's not going to get fixed overnight.

But you have to tell your boyfriend. It is possible he will be startled, but you cannot build a relationship on money lies and you will feel better once it's out. If he acts like you set kittens on fire, he's a shitty boyfriend, but if he just goes OH NO (because it's a thought that makes everyone panic for a minute) and then oh, well, okay, that needs to get fixed - he's a keeper.

Under any other circumstances I'd say you also need to tell your dad, assuming he's the kind of dad that gives good practical dad advice, but you'll need to maybe make a judgement call on whether now is the time.

See a doctor as soon as humanly possible. If all you can accomplish for right now is getting on Celexa or similar to hold you up for a little while and get through this upheaval, that's still bunches better than nothing. It won't magically fix anything, but it should - over the next month or so - take a little of the weight off your shoulders and make it easier to do all the other things.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:11 PM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

What a horrendous time you are having - tax shit alone stresses me out my box. I am guessing you've never mentionned any of this to a GP? A kindly one you had mentionned it to could perhaps help out with a letter. With this bastard govt in place HMRC probably 'don t care' about that stuff but may be worth a shoot. Woman on the phone sounded awful.. bolshy types get these jobs now - try to not take stuff like that personally (says the queen of taking stuff personally!).. some folk have an unfortunate manner which is like encountering a bulldog when you're feeling vulnerable. Even if haven't seen GP prior.. may be worth a trip/letter if poss..

CAB trip might be useful re tax too though they are notoriously stressful long waits and overstretched..

Write a list of all the problems then a list of anything yu can do to work towards solving them (some there are nothing you can do for ofcourse).

Writing list can give a momentary experience of some kind of limited mastery.

You certainly need emotional support - get a referral from GP to a counsellor or Community Mental Health Team.

Sorry you're habing a shit time. Life is really shit sometimes, but not always..
posted by tanktop at 4:02 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

HMRC came after me for non-payment and it turned out they owed me money. You may be so lucky. I would sort out your living situation first. Look up secured by occupancy. These are companies who move people into buildings for up to a year for a fractional rent to protect it from squatters and vandalism. This sounds perfect for you. Not knowing what you do it is difficult to help.

My condolences about your mother. I remember being the lonely out of place American on the London buses weeping over the imminent death of my grandmother. London is a very difficult place to grieve, and you have my sympathy.
posted by parmanparman at 4:41 PM on January 22, 2015

Though this won't help your life circumstances, it will help with your depression somewhat. According to "The Depression Cure", studies have shown that taking 2,000 of fish oil a day helped curb depression better than prescription meds. I tried it and it certainly proved true for me. The fish oil regimen did better than my prescription drugs and I only take the fish oil now.

It has to be fish oil with twice the epa to dha though. So 2-3 tablets a day of something like this.

After 2.5 or 3 weeks it will start kicking in. Your life situation will still cause you stress and sadness of course, but this might at least help you get up in the morning.
posted by manderin at 7:07 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

« Older Condoms breaking   |   OldPersonFilter: Why would someone want to... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.