The Overwhelming Hidden Cost of Keeping Up Appearances

This blog post is part of the Suicide Prevention Awareness Month blog tour in partnership with Debt Drop. If you are feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA) at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.

There is SO MUCH pressure. It's everywhere, tacked on to every obligation or expectation we feel compelled to meet. 

We feel the need to:

  • Have the right friends
  • Date the right people
  • Have the right look
  • Be or look the right age
  • Participate in the right activities
  • Shop in and eat at the right places
  • Say, think and know the right things
  • Attend the right school(s)
  • Get the right job 

…and the list goes on.

We have to look and act the part and it’s exhausting. It can also exhaust our resources: time, money, energy, attention. And when we’ve exhausted our personal resources, it’s become all too easy to borrow or outsource.

Access to easy credit is relatively recent. Culturally, we're playing catch up as we learn how to deal with it. That learning curve is steep at times. And that means that, as a society, we're really lousy at it, at least for now.

The statistics are clear: most of us are in debt and many of us are in debt up to our eyeballs but everyone’s too scared to admit our lives are often built on a precarious foundation...a proverbial house of cards.

And the stress is immense.

Many of us feel the pressure to demonstrate to others that our lives are rosy and, the better we are at it, the higher the stakes in revealing that life isn’t quite so perfect.

It can start with a single financial mishap, such as:

  • Buying a home or vehicle that’s a bit too much to handle
  • Borrowing money to go to a school we believe we need to attend to be successful
  • Getting sick and having to pay for medical treatment, losing income because we need to take time away from work, possibly even living with disabilities that require us to seek assistance
  • Losing a partner (breakup, divorce, death)
  • Unexpectedly losing a job

All of the above situations could happen to any one of us, taking us from a stable situation to one where we now have new fixed expenses in the form of payments to one or more creditors that we find unmanageable over the medium to long term.

What at first seemed as our saving grace—easy access to credit—can turn ugly very quickly.

Unfortunately, that’s right when we should start talking about it. We need to start finding ways to reduce our psychological burden and make things better. Little by little. Day by day. 

But most of us don’t. 

Getting access to credit to bridge a shortfall of some sort has been normalized to such an extent that most of us would rather seek assistance from a creditor than talk to family and friends about a bind we find ourselves in. This fact is hurting us in ways that we may not appreciate in the short term but that we feel in material ways as our debt obligations grow over time.

Denial and self-justification are powerful tools in this regard. They help us keep face, both with ourselves and with others. And the larger the debt gets, the easier it is to start to feel there's no point in even feels pointless, we believe it'll never be paid off.

Shame is an epidemic in our culture.
— Brené Brown, Listening to Shame, TED Talk (see link below)

And then there’s shame. I’m convinced that shame, along with denial, are the emotions that keep the credit markets afloat. Denial and shame compel us to hide reality from ourselves and least a little while longer.

As our personal debt grows, so does our precarious house of cards. One wrong move, one unexpected event and it can all come tumbling down. And that fact preoccupies us so much that we can scarcely think of anything else.

And yet, we still keep our misery to ourselves as we renew a lease on a car we can’t really afford or grab a few groceries, wondering all the while if this is the time our “plastic” will be declined.

We need to stop this madness by tapping into our relationships and the helpful resources that are key to getting through hard times. 

Support Is All Around Us

Shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorder.
— Brené Brown, Listening to Shame, TED Talk (see link below)

Having the support of our fellow human beings is more powerful than any source of credit in helping us get our lives back on track. Support helps us relieve the pressure (mental, emotional, sometimes financial). 


Solid support helps us feel OK with dropping the act. Support helps us renew hope. Support helps us stay in touch with the reality of our situation and prevents us from catastrophising it. Support helps us find the strength to eventually get back on our feet, one step at a time.

Most importantly, support crushes shame and denial. It can offer us the validation and the strength that is often difficult, if not impossible, to feel on our own.

If you feel overwhelmed by the pressure of it all, please seek help. Now. It could not only change your life, it could spare it.

There are no appearances so important to maintain as to bring you to the brink, or worse, to have you consider actions that cannot be undone. There is strength in vulnerability. There is strength in sharing worries, anxieties, and overwhelm.

Anyone who has experienced the relief of telling someone, anyone, swears by it. 

Let’s tell shame to take a hike by choosing to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is the ultimate pressure valve.

If you feel you’re at the end of your rope, please reach out. You'll likely get a softer landing than you might expect. 

Here are a few resources you can tap into, but there are a ton of additional resources out there*:

*If you know of a better resource, please let me know in the comments!

Lastly, I’m also here to listen if you need me.

*Hugs* to anyone who needs one.

For more on the topic of shame, here is Brené Brown's full TED Talk titled "Listening to Shame":

Click to watch her talk.

Click to watch her talk.

Image credit/copyright:  tuelekza (sad woman) and fantasista (Benjamin in noose)/