Punishment and self-blame left me stuck in the past looking at the insurmountable challenge of climbing out of a pit made from my own insecurities and fears.
Yesterday, Jamie (husband extraordinaire) and I decided to face the inevitable issues surrounding our decrease in income. We knew that losing an income was going to be awful. I have experienced at least one moment of blind panic about money every day since last Monday (See post Introductions All Around) when we decided to change my employment status to contingent. We did some research on consumer debt and debt management, found an organization that didn’t look shady, and scheduled a telephone interview with a credit counselor. Our credit counselor was kind, empathetic, and non-judgmental. She didn’t drop the phone, gag, or lecture when we painted a detailed picture of our debt. The phone call took an hour and after I snuggled up with Jamie and wept big, ugly tears. It was an unpleasant experience, to say the least.
The information Jamie and I found on credit counseling and how to identify a reputable credit counselor can be found at Federal Trade Commission: Dealing with Debt.
I have been in social services since 2006, working directly with folks, who are more often than not in crisis and Jamie has spent his entire career in social services. I thought I knew what to expect when we got on the phone with the credit counselor, after all, I’ve been on the counseling side of this conversation plenty of times. I was wrong. There were some unexpected lessons waiting for me on the other side of this experience that I had not anticipated.
- Talking about money problems is awful, talking about money problems with a stranger is worse. I am ashamed to admit that I did not appreciate how terrifying and humiliating it is to have to sit down with a stranger and talk about crumby financial decisions. Intellectually, I knew that it was difficult to have these conversations but I was unaware of the ugliness and incompleteness of the phrase “financial hardship.” It does not begin to capture the depth and breadth of emotions contained within its borders, emotions like sadness, anger, frustration, and grief.
- Negative stereotyping reared its ugly head when it was least expected. I was embarrassed. I kept talking about how hard I had tried to recover while still working full time. I wanted our credit counselor to know that we were good people and that I wasn’t lazy, as if having a chronic illness and money troubles was somehow, suddenly equated with being “bad” or “stupid.”
- Self-blame and punishment are deadfalls. The “what ifs” were thick on the ground and covered in what appeared to be rational thought. “What if I had practiced Yoga with more intention?”, “what if I had been kinder to my body in my 20s?”, “what if I had lost the weight earlier or quit smoking sooner or used that gym membership?” There was an endless list of reasons that I could find to place myself at fault for the pain in my body and for the financial challenges that my family was experiencing. All of those reasons were in the past and out of my control. Punishment and self-blame left me stuck in the past looking at the insurmountable challenge of climbing out of a pit made from my own insecurities and fears.
- The truth is harder to recognize and accept. I have a cluster of chronic illnesses and right now those illnesses are kicking my ass. Jamie and I are struggling, but we are also making a plan to move forward. We are not the first couple to experience the loss of an income due to an illness and we will not be the last. We have each other, our home, our dog, an incredible support system of family and friends, and hope.
We have today. I’ll take that.