Why would an otherwise rational and somewhat normal person be afraid of their phone? For me, the answer turned out to be that I am still traumatized from being called and harassed (and tortured)by debt collectors.
I love my phone for apps and social media but when it rings I get panic attacks. Especially if the caller ID is “Unknown”. I need to push myself to answer,and sometimes I just can’t do it and it’s been like this for years. I chalked it up to being introverted but recently I decided to dig a little bit deeper because I felt like it was weird to be so thrown off by something that doesn’t bother other people.
Unknown numbers make me want to cry because I still haven’t recovered from the years of harassment, and all the times when I did pick up and the person on the other end was yelling at me, shaming me for my struggles and generally kicking me when I was down.
My phone had become a portal to hell. Picking up and answering meant either I was apologizing for the epic failure my life had become and begging for mercy. The mercy never came. Instead, my debts spiraled upwards at rate of 29% compound interest so that the callers were demanding amounts which were unbelievable higher than what I originally borrowed. They were so much higher infact, that paying wasn’t even in the realm of possibility.
At some point, I just stopped answering. But I didn’t just stop answering the debt collectors- I stopped answering everyone. If I didn’t know the number, I didn’t pick up. Because of this, I missed job offers, old friends reaching out to catch up and even people who were calling because they were concerned about me and wanted to help. Eventually I got mad, mad enough to learn my rights. Mad enough to take action and the calls stopped. I did this by using tools and techniques that I got from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It was a process that took time and it required a lot of patience and follow through.
It was more than 5 years ago, but from that moment on, I went on a mission to help people going through the same experience to get their phones to stop ringing. I got certified as a debt arbitrator and spoke to hundreds of people on the phone. The one thing that everyone seemed to have in common was a feeling of being paralyzed and powerless. There was only so much that I could do for people one at a time, and so I started working on a tech solution. I wanted a startup that could scale to help all the other of millions of Americans who are dealing with the same problem.
My first start up was to help people settle their debt, but it became clear to me that it wasn’t the right solution. Before people can even think about settling a debt, they need to get organized and get some peace of mind. So I started working on a solution for people regardless of whether or not they can even pay their debt.
What I did next was build a team of like minded people and we created was Civilize- a communications and consumer advocacy platform for people in debt. Together we applied, and got into one of the world’s top startup accelerators -Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars.
We are building something amazing, and now we need your help. We are looking for people who are struggling with harassing phone calls from debt collectors and are willing to take the time to use our product and help us improve it.
We are also looking for people who are willing to share their stories(absolutely privately) so that we can make sure that we understand people’s needs and that what we are building will be able to help them.
Is your phone ringing? Do you want it to stop? If you want to learn more about me and my work, then please connect with me on Linkedin. If you have questions, ask in the comments so that other people who might have the same questions can see the answers (I promise to respond to every single one)
As for me, I am committing to a course through Brene Brown’s Courageworks. I am doing it because I have spent years trying solve this problem for other people on a practical level but I am still hurting on a personal level, so it’s time to do some of my own personal work so that I can move on. Hopefully, we can all move on.