Published The Journal.ie;
Each morning, I wake up in my beautiful home of 18 years with my two ‘babes’ ( Shih Tzu dogs, Olliepop and Bettyboop) and gaze out my large open bedroom window at the expansive oak tree dominating the carefully nurtured garden, listening to the bird’s song. I drag myself out of bed ladened with despair and anger to buoyant dogs wanting their run in the back garden. I move along my home passing the wide sweep of the dining room, where I celebrated many family events, Christmas lunches, entertained my many friends, and displayed my passion for art. Then suddenly I am overwhelmed with anguish and tears flood my cheeks. My adorable dogs clamber onto my legs offering me solace sensing my state of mind.
Why am I in this trauma? In a cruel twist of fate, I am fighting for my home, my sanctuary, my lifeline where I nurtured my dreams and hopes and hid from my insecurities. I am in the middle of a repossession battle, a place I never believed I would be. A place probably so many people in the same situation never thought they would be. ‘I console myself that I’m one of the lucky ones because at least I don’t have a young family to worry about.’ However, the trauma of losing my home in my early fifties is not diminished by that fact.
My idyllic life unraveled with my marriage. The details are not important the impact is the same no matter how one loses a home. It’s a major trauma in anyone’s life. Ironically enough I slept as a homeless person as part of the Focus Ireland initiative to raise awareness of homelessness in Ireland. As I lay under the stars, in a ragged blue sleeping bag damping from the night dew, I cried at the thought of anyone having to experience the harshness and loneliness of homelessness. It was an unsettling experience.
However, with the ever-growing repossessions, there is very little understanding or research into the psychological impact of losing a home. Instead of having sympathy for such homeowners, many people blame them for their dilemma. That isn’t surprising. It’s an example of a general tendency as documented by social psychologists, Melvin Lerner decades ago, which I will detail further on in my story.
The pain and despair I suffer every day is inexplicable. And yet the reality of my life, the loss of my home is met by stern reproaches: The exchanges go something like this: “Repossession is not the end of the world. You will be a stronger person from this. You will move on to a better place. We never thought your marriage was good. The banks will do what they have to do. You are just another number in the bank’s records, that’s life, they have no provision for circumstances or trauma. Everyone has problems.” And finally the big one “get on with it.” The hard-core views and commentary are, in fact, winning the battle of public opinion.
So let me take the other perspective — against the stern view. It has to do with the psychological effects of the strict enforcement of a mortgage contract, and abstract economic statistics which just might make us overlook what is important.
Mortgage contracts are usually set over a period of twenty-five to thirty years and based on the fact that circumstances will remain static over a lifetime. There is no accounting for life’s unknown: divorce, death, job loss or mental health issues. Furthermore, there is no genuine support system in place to help struggling mortgage holders reduce their debt by for example ‘downsizing’.
The Central Bank concerns itself rightly so with borrowing costs and repayment potential. But it also needs especially in an environment where ‘job for life’ is over, with ‘growing separation statists’ and ‘mental health issues’ to reconsider the inflexibility of terms in an ever changing society. The ability to pay back a mortgage established on the first signing of the contract based on an anomaly that life’s circumstances never changes undermines its functionality completely. This inflexibility is devastating to so many people especially as there are real alternatives and options rarely exercised by the banks other than repossession. Believe me; no one deliberately sets out to rip apart the foundations of their home, their sanctuary in life by simply not making mortgage repayments, it is more commonly a change in life’s circumstances which create the fragmentation of home life and the loss of a home.
So back to Melvin Lerner commentary in his 1980 book, “The Belief in a Just World: A Fundamental Delusion,” where he puts up the argument that people want to believe in the inherent justice of the economic system. They want to believe that those who appear to be suffering are in fact responsible for their situations. He provides observational evidence that after an initial feeling of sympathy on-lookers develop adverse views toward those who are suffering. And this unsympathetic tendency seems to be at work today without any consideration for the deep trauma caused by losing a home and in most cases from circumstances out of one’s control.
And it is this detail that we need to start looking at more closely. The reasons and manner in which a deposition is occurring. There should be a legal obligation at most and a moral obligation at least on banks to look at the extenuating circumstance of mortgage problems with an open, flexible mind, offering solutions rather than a death knell of repossession. We need to fundamentally review our attitude to home repossessions and question our judgmental attitude to such circumstances. I am not ashamed of losing my home; I am desolate at losing my home.
My home was the crowning jewel of all my hard work, savings. Profits and plans for over 25 years. As I look out over the scene, it no longer feels like mine – mine to enjoy, mine to call home. I stand for a long time, remembering my daughter growing up here, her many birthdays, racing about with their friends, with family and pets. I am looking at a postcard of a lovely place, vibrant with color but just an image, a two-dimensional illustration of something that was real, but which I no longer embody. My life vein is draining, the happy memories altering. The pain is endless, the suffering unrelenting and ignorant judgment on top of all of that is soul destroying. However, I am a spirit who continues to strut her stuff without shame of repossession, but instead feeling shameful at my vulnerable and desperation.
I hope that maybe in some small way my story might start to change the thinking, the narrative about how we view and treat people who find themselves without a home and in the depth of gloom. I hope it begins to break the stigma and reproach that exists around repossession. I know I must continue the struggle for my home regardless of opinion or judgment so that my dreams can live on, my memories can be happy again so that homesickness does not become my enemy that stalks me forever.