Did you know that the average balance held on a credit card is about $6,000, at least for Americans and Canadians (taking the exchange rate into account).

That’s not nothing, obviously, and a lot of people would find it difficult to pay off the debt without incurring a lot of interest, but it’s not insurmountable, either. With a careful budget, time and discipline, you could clear the debt, albeit perhaps slowly.

This becomes more insurmountable given the fact that the average person tends to hold about four different credit cards, and each one has that same average balance.

Ouch. Now that already exorbitant interest starts to become a real issue. Twenty-plus percent each month on $25,000 starts to add up and fold in on a person, looming over their heads. Debt can cast a long shadow.

Damn. Instant gratification and delayed responsibility are expensive, yo.

This kind of debt can leave a person feeling trapped and paralyzed, and can start to restrict one’s options.
Now, this isn’t a conversation about the dangers of getting in over your head financially. You’ve got your parents’ advice for that and probably a few of your own painful lessons learnt in that department for evidence.

No, this is a conversation about the invisible costs of ignoring trauma.

If financial debt can leave a person feeling trapped and paralyzed, the same is true when what you’re putting on credit is your emotional well-being.

Actually, come to think of it, the same is true for probably just about any part of your well-being; emotional, yes, but also your physical, mental and spiritual health. These are all things that you can put off to be dealt with at some unknown point in the future, but you might not want to fall into the habit of doing.

All of us have done what we needed to do to get by when the going gets rough. We’ve all robbed Peter to pay Paul from time to time, moving our resources (time, money, energy and attention) from where they are to where they most needed to be in the moment, even if we knew it wasn’t an ideal solution. We all need to triage our priorities when there isn’t quite enough of us to go around.

This is not a bad thing. It’s called “Surviving” and it’s why you’re still here. So, if you’re reading this, then high five: it worked!

Getting through what needs to be gotten through is awesome. It’s how you build confidence, strength and resilience. Those are good by-products from tough circumstances.

Resilience is a good thing to have, especially when you need it (and we all need it). It’s okay to be proud of it, and you should be: you earned it.

But it’s important to honour how you came by your resilience. Failure to recognize the costs of your resilience and you become vulnerable all over again, but with a longer way down to fall.

The thing to pay attention to, however, is how long you put off the reckoning. Ignoring an overdue bill harms your credit, which can have consequences on your options moving forward; ignoring prolonged impacts to your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being harms your experience of life, past, present and future.

I know all this first hand, because I was a really resilient child, growing up in challenging and extraordinary family circumstances. I know I was resilient because everyone told me so: teachers, family and friends, social workers, case workers, therapists and counsellors. I impressed some professionals and flummoxed others. I should not have been okay, and instead of okay, I was excellent: successful, healthy and happy. I didn’t crumble or fall apart. I excelled.

In the face of adversity, I tended to thrive when I was expected to succumb.

I didn’t know what it meant to be resilient, because I never meant to be: I only knew I was doing what I needed to do to be okay, and that looked like finding joy and being driven to excellence. I didn’t know any other way to be.

What I also didn’t know was that I was putting trauma on credit, and the longer I put it off, the harder that debt would be to clear. The piper would need to be paid.

It was like I’d been given a credit card from the age of three, with a twenty-year grace period on payments due. Imagine finding out you’d been paying for decades of spending on credit, but hadn’t had a clue you owed anything back. The interest is spectacular (spectacular bad, not spectacular good).

This is why we don’t give children credit cards. Well, I mean, it’s probably one of many reasons, and honestly, maybe why most of us still shouldn’t have credit cards as adults… But I digress.

Now, decades of deep work with the support of excellent therapists, counsellors and coaches and loved ones, I’d say I’m in the clear. I’ve paid my debts, for the most part. I’m in the black, so to speak, and aware of my credits and debits, to make sure I stay above the line and out of the red.

But this past year has been a hard year, dammit. And all around me (and inside me, too), I can see people putting off what’s going on, because it’s too much be with right now, in the thick of everything going on, or not going on, as the case may be.

We are living through unprecedented times and circumstances. So many have lost so much: health, lives, loved ones, income, et cetera. Everything changed and keeps changing, while other stuff won’t change no matter how much we wish it would.

Connection has been cut off. Kids are at home. Everyone’s at home. Trust has been damaged, from within our dearest relationships to our national and global leadership.

And then there’s survivor’s guilt. Maybe you haven’t been personally impacted in the same way as others; maybe you haven’t lost income, or fallen ill, or lost anyone to COVID. Perhaps you’ve secretly, or not-so-secretly, enjoyed this slow down, or felt like it was a welcome reset on a hectic lifestyle that was seemed to have taken on a life of its own. It’s awkward to feel grateful or appreciative for circumstances that have caused others immense suffering.

There is a cost to all this. Yes, financially in your own home economics and also globally (holy crap! a global crisis has a hefty price tag), but also to your YOU (heart, mind, body and spirit).

No one goes through trauma without paying a toll. Resilience isn’t free.

On top of the pandemic, as if it wasn’t enough (now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d be writing), and exacerbated/amplified by it are the impacts of the current global social-political-economic three-ring circus.
It’s heartbreaking and bewildering. It’s overwhelming. It’s too much. And we’re all just trying to get by, as best we can, which is absolutely what we need to be doing.

And yet, I can’t help but hear the familiar bells of a coming debtor that will need to be paid, by each of us and by all of us.

And so, I beg of you, check your internal balances. Look at the debt you’re accumulating. Make a small payment towards the capital cost you’re accruing. At the very least, get some support to help you identify what the impacts of surviving are for you.

I know it’s easier to avoid the enormity of your experience and ignore the mounting costs, but I promise you that it’s worth taking a look at what is so now, so that it doesn’t take you by surprise later.