I wanted to leave home as soon as I could.
I longed for freedom: to bask in the cathartic anarchy of living alone.
In Scotland, you can leave secondary school at 16, without finishing your final year. I left high school after my fifth year and enrolled at university in the granite city, Aberdeen. The time was now. I was ready.
I came from a small town pretending to be a city, in the central belt of Scotland, called Stirling. Here, the shops change every week, the nightlife is laughable, and there is an uncomfortable number of barbers and charity shops. Arriving in Aberdeen felt as freeing as smoking my first joint.
In my first year, alcohol consumed most of my daily life. But it wasn’t until the second year, when I began to barrel down a path of self-destruction.
Fuelled by unrelenting depravity and self-loathing, my student overdraft – £2,000 at my greedy fingertips – went to feeding my mounting addictions to drugs, sex workers, alcohol and designer clothes. I exploited all my vices as I pursued my imaginary six-figure lifestyle and the debt accumulated.
After my student overdraft maxed out, I decided to get a job. I had put this off – time working meant less time partying. But then the holy grail landed at my feet: a local strip club was hiring bar staff and my 18th birthday was just around the corner. I had vivid pictures of the strip joint in From Dusk Till Dawn firmly planted in my head. The party was just getting started.
The thing is: working at strip club was ultimately when my degradation climaxed, my mental health plummeted, and the impending realities of my debt consumed me whole.
Each week, I received £220 in pay. But it wouldn’t be long before I withdrew the cash deposited it in strippers and sex workers’ stockings. I was spending money on and off the clock. Soon, I began to skip on rent payments, all to keep up the façade of wealth eating away at my rotting core.
Every penny in my pocket went toward my addictions. With no money left over for food, I lost three stone and started eating from my house share’s bin. When the extreme highs turned to agonising lows, I reminded myself that rich people don’t eat day-old kebab.
As time passed, I became severely behind on rent payments. On several occasions, I jumped out of the living room window and legged it down the street to avoid a confrontation with my irate landlord that I deserved, but was unwilling to face. As the debt continued to climb, I ignored all his calls and texts and buried my head in the sand.
My mental health was in pieces. Sleep eluded me. I had stopped eating, and I was avoiding all communication with my family. I knew I couldn’t face them without bursting into tears, and I couldn’t bring myself to explain the depravity of my actions and the subsequent debt now looming over me.
I was caught in a spiral, where my partying lifestyle became a tonic to the misery it induced. Any attempt to put a stop to the madness seemed futile. But, however unlikely it seemed at the time, my ordeal would soon be over.
I had grown fond of a girl who worked behind the strip club’s bar. We started to date – for the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel alone. It was everything I needed. Being with Christie put a stop to the out-of-control partying and gave me stability. I was back to eating three square meals a day. I was sleeping more. My mental health improved.
I was open with Christie about my depression and money troubles from the start. From working with me, it wasn’t a shock to her. She helped me get to a point where I could face up to my debt. I can never repay her for that. But, I knew that I had to confide in my family before I could truly move on.
After six months, I picked up the phone early one Sunday morning and called my father. To this day, it is the most difficult conversation I have ever had. After hearing what I’d gone through, he told me that he would pay the £2,000 to settle things with my landlord, telling me it was vital to get out of there and start afresh.
Building up the courage to make that phone call saved me from the inevitable court dates and visits from bailiffs. It was a call I wish I didn’t have to make, but also a call that I wish I’d made sooner.
Christie and I managed to secure a small one-bedroom flat for £300 per month in a small, sleepy village just along the road from my dad’s house. I got a full-time job in a local chip shop through a school friend of mine, and Christie picked up work at a local hotel.
Once my wages started coming in, I managed to pay off the £2,000 overdraft by sticking religiously to monthly repayments. My father told me to focus on getting my life back together, to enjoy myself with my new partner, not to worry about the £2,000 I owed him. He said paying off the overdraft was a massive achievement – there would be plenty of time to pay him back.
So, there it is. What ultimately got me out of debt was coming clean to my loved ones. I could never have got my mental health back on track without Christie, and I could never have paid off my debt without the help of my father, a self-made man who I one day hope to emulate.
I know some of you will be reading this thinking, ‘you got yourself into that mess, so you shouldn’t have let your dad bail you out.’ You’re probably right.
The truth is, I didn’t know what to do. I was 18 years old and recovering from a deep state of depression. One moment I was kicking a ball around, and the next thing, I was walking down red-light districts during the early hours of the morning. I was a basket case and got way in over my head. To some, it may have seemed like the easy way out, but for me, it was the only way out.
I learned my lesson the hard way. I will be forever grateful to those who stood by me and pulled me up from the depths of misery. Now that I have a son, looking after my mental health and becoming better with money is not a choice but a necessity.