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$2,000 in credit card debt can feel like the end of the world. It isn't.

In my 20s, I found myself in $2,000 of credit card debt. It took planning and patience, but now I'm debt-free.

$2,000 in credit card debt can feel like the end of the world. It isn't.
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In 2013, I left a job when I had little in my savings account to carry me over.

It was the right move. I knew that. But the timing? Well, that wasn't ideal. I threw myself into the job hunt and tried to make my minimal savings last as long as possible.

One and a half months later, and I hadn’t found another job. Things were looking bleak. And, bam, just like that it was time to pay the rent again. In NYC. And even with roommates and a dingy apartment, that’s no small feat.


I had interviews lined up that looked hopeful, so I decided to buy myself some time. I turned to my credit card.

Before I knew it, I had almost $2,000 in credit card debt.

You see, I'd used my card’s cash advance to cover my rent. One of those interviews panned out and I did get a job — yay! — but as we all know, that first paycheck takes a few weeks to arrive. I used the card again to cover basic necessities.

This debt sent me on what I'll call a five-phase journey. The first phase? Feeling hopeless.

Image via iStock.

I was overwhelmed, confused, and disappointed in myself.

“There’s a lot of stigma attached to debt and it really eats at self-esteem and confidence," says Charles Freeman, a psychologist based in San Diego. He explains that when someone winds up in debt, "they resent the debt, and then that resentment leads to stress, impaired self-esteem, shame.” He's right.

I’d never really understood debt before. And while I know that many people are wrestling with far more than $2,000 in debt, it felt like the end of the world to me.

My situation wasn’t unique. A lot of people rely on credit cards or don’t have savings, and it can feel pretty hopeless and overwhelming.

I spent a year making payments and barely saw the balance reduced. I paid more than the minimum amount, but it all went toward interest. They don’t teach us this stuff in school. I didn’t know what to do.

Thank goodness for Google. Through research, I found a glimmer of hope.

Image via iStock.

I did my homework on how credit cards and interest fees work. Basic stuff. I mapped out a plan and started to feel excited. I could see my way through the mess I'd created. Enter phase two: Realizing I wasn't doomed.

I transferred my balance to a 0% interest card. I also took a look at my income versus my monthly expenses. I mapped out my pay schedule and upcoming expenses, determining when I could afford to make additional payments and exactly how much. I passed on nights out with friends and buttoned up my spending so that it was as efficient as possible.

I made sacrifices and remained disciplined, but I began to feel anxious.

Phase 3: Impatience. I wanted instant results.

I wanted to pay off the debt as quickly as possible, so as I saw success, I was tempted to cut back even further. I found myself sacrificing necessities unnecessarily. I wanted all of the debt gone, and I wanted it gone immediately.

Image via iStock.

But cutting back on necessities was stressful. The debt was still there, and now my quality of life was decreasing. "Some people create a budget, they're starving themselves, they're isolating, they're trying to shave off too fast, and their quality of life is extremely impaired," Freeman explains.

So, I had to tell myself to stay calm, be patient. Give it time.

I learned to celebrate small milestones — down by 25%! 50%! It was an incredible feeling.

After a year of feeling like I was throwing money into a black hole, suddenly I could see the difference. The lower the balance got, the more determined I was to master money: phase 4.

In just a few months, the debt was gone. A challenge that previously felt insurmountable was suddenly nothing.

Literally, balance 0. I'd done it.

Image via iStock.

Not everyone can pay off debt this quickly (and many people are faced with paying off much higher balances). I was fortunate enough to be responsible only for myself and to have the financial flexibility to put every extra penny toward my debt. But one thing I learned is that even the smallest amounts do add up, as cliché as that sounds.

I felt elated. And I felt empowered.

I was ready to tackle any financial goal that came my way. I was almost addicted to that feeling of success. Phase 5.

“That’s called a process addiction. … there are payoffs emotionally," explains Freeman. "By paying it off [you] get some sort of external self-esteem.” And he cautions that the true goal is to learn how to not get overwhelmed by debt and to view financial hurdles as long-term goals that you can and will conquer with time.

Image via iStock.

After that first major failure and subsequent triumph, my financial game is much stronger. And I've found that there’s no substitute for education.

Trying to tackle debt without understanding it was useless. It was like throwing a ball while squinting up at the sun. I had no idea where my efforts would land. And I sure wasn’t hitting my target.

But that feeling once I dug in, found the right resources, and knew what to do? Oh, it was glorious. It was a small win, but it made me feel like any of my financial goals are possible. And in truth, they really are, given hard work, due diligence, patience, and of course, just the tiniest bit of luck. Now, on to my next financial goal!

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."