Help is at hand for those facing bleak circumstances

JOE HARRIS knows more than most about despair. He knows, for instance, that losing your business will not just clean out your bank account.

It will also sap your spirit, drain you emotionally and physically and could even wreck your marriage.

Joe rode the Celtic Tiger with gusto, moving from a senior management position with an insurance company to setting up in Cork as an auctioneer.

The business prospered but when the bust came, he was woefully unprepared.

He describes graphically being overwhelmed by the onslaught of creditors, debt agencies and banks looking for their money, and the moment when he considered hanging himself.

“I was in such emotional pain that I could see no way out. Even during the boom, I was losing control. The business was expanding at a rapid pace and I was not covering my back properly and robbing Peter to pay Paul.

“It was like being half way across a river and knowing you will never make it to the bank but also unable to turn back. It was a nightmare.”

Things got so bad at one stage that he took to the bed, unable to get up to do even the simplest of tasks, like taking a shower. Even when he ended up in a psychiatric hospital for a month, his carers there had to drag him out of bed for breakfast.

“When I lost my business, I lost not only my income, but my career. My family home was about to be taken off me and I could not even give my four kids basic stuff. It was totally overwhelming.”

In the midst of his despair, he made one almost disastrous decision, and one life-saving one.

The first was his purchase of a rope to hang himself, the second was throwing it away and accepting the comfort of a quiet chat with Alan Dilloughry, a childhood friend from Douglas, Cork.

“Alan is an accountant and, obviously, he gave me financial advice, but that wasn’t what really saved me. He was a buddy when I badly need one. He met me every day for a year and sat me down and went through everything. He had a catchphrase — ‘let’s do the next right thing’. Without his help, I would never have made it.”

Like the buddy system that operates within addiction counselling, Joe is convinced that people who faced what he did require a similar service.

“MABS — the Money Advice and Counselling Service — are brilliant and they were a great help to me, but they don’t deal with commercial loans or give strictly financial advice in that sense, which business people need.”

Joe offers an alternative — MADS (the Money And Debt advice Service) — which he has set up. In the past year he has given, for free, in the region of 80 people the benefit of his experience.

The best advice he has for those in trouble is that net worth does not equal self-worth and there is a way out of the despair that comes with losing almost everything.”

Despite lingering financial difficulties, Joe is now a happy man.

“I am so glad I did not take my own life. I have now passed that darkmoment and I am sodelighted that I renewed my perspective on life and that the most important things are family and friends.

“I invested too much of myself in the business. With me it meant more than a business.

“You forget how important people are.”

* To contact Joe, email him on joeharriscork or phone 087 112 3543.

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