‘Ex-chainers’: meet the men and women struggling to adjust to life after crypto

*While bitcoin lost 85% of its value over 2018, the real tragedy of the bear market has been the human cost. In this series of guest posts, Inferno publishes interviews with former members of the blockchain scene who left the crypto sector for the real world. Names have been changed to protect privacy.*

It’s a crisp January morning and I’m waiting outside the Starbucks in the concourse of King’s Cross station, London. It’s 10 am and the commuter traffic has slowed, but King’s Cross is far from quiet. It’s a constant hubbub of action that feels like it will never cease. But cease it will, at 1am, when the station locks its doors for the night. Then there’s a four-hour window of absolute desolation. Silence, like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie. The analogy is poignant.

‘That’s what happened in the crypto world,’ Lenny tells me when he arrives, punctual to the minute. He’s not at all what I expect. I had been anticipating a skinny kid, maybe just out of college, hoodie and greasy hair, whose naive dreams of getting rich quick had been shattered by a brutal downturn in the cryptocurrency markets. But Lenny is in his mid-thirties, clean-shaven and wearing an M&S shirt and jacket. This is someone who still makes an effort about his appearance. Not because it will help him get a job, I later discover, but because right now these little rituals are the only things holding back the tide. He looks like he works out, something confirmed by his impressive grip when he shakes my hand. He’s strong – at least, physically. Emotionally, it’s a different story.

‘It was like *28 Days Later*,’ he explains, when we’ve sat with our lattes inside the doorway. ‘One day everything’s normal, you’re going about your life, you have a fiance, a future, and it’s all good. Then you wake up and…’ He makes a nondescript gesture, but the meaning is clear. ‘It’s all gone. Almost overnight, your hopes and dreams. The wealth is one thing. But it’s the loss of identity that really destroyed me.’

Growing up with a father who turned to gold as a store of value during the high inflation of the 1970s, and a mother who was one of the first women to earn her economics doctorate from Cambridge, Lennie was exposed to the Austrian school of thought at an early stage. ‘It made sense, intuitively,’ he explains. ‘Deflationary monetary policy, gold-backed currencies – and bitcoin as the technological successor to all that. I was hooked.’

For a while, it worked out exactly as planned. Lenny started buying bitcoin mid-way through 2016. As the value began to rise, he increased his position and took out a loan. ‘The idea was to book some of the profits, pay off my debts and buy gold, and weather the storm that we all knew was coming,’ he says – his ‘all’ referencing the echo-chamber of the crypto forums, where talk of impending economic collapse are the bread and butter of daily conversation. ‘But it didn’t work out that way.’

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