When I’m really stressed out, I try to ignore my feelings.
Sure, I’ll tell you what’s wrong if something specific is going on but you will, inevitably, have to listen immediately to my plan for solving that specific problem. I am a problem-solver of the highest order. Years of practice and execution of plans has made me efficient and confident. There are very few times I get thrown a curveball I can’t hit. It might not be a home run, but it will get me on a base, at the very least.
I’ve spent much of my married life … well … probably much of my life-life but have you ever noticed how it feels like when you get married there’s a kind of starting over that happens? Like, I’m this person now instead of that one (with a new name and everything) and maybe I started judging that as my new and improved starting point to erase the mistakes that happened before. As if this new woman with a new name had a whole different way of dealing with problems and wasn’t just the same person with a different driver’s license photo.
So back to married life and me spending most of it anxious out of my mind. A husband that went from being a pizza guy to a painter to a coffee slinger to a barista to a financial advisor. It didn’t start that way. It started with me working in insurance and him finishing his degree. I was actually that wife that worked while her husband finished school. I had heard about them but never actually realized how that whole thing would look like while it was happening. It looked a lot like anger if you were me. Especially if I came home and Roller Coaster Tycoon was on the computer monitor. I was neither kind nor forgiving early on. Mostly because I was scared out of my mind about the house and the bills and the money and this husband-interloper who felt it was his money too! How dare he! (I’m mocking myself, here, I know I was awful.)
Then he had a degree and we were so happy until it turned out – surprise! – to be totally not helpful at all in getting him a job. So he ended up with a string of jobs he wasn’t too fond of. I was fired from Allstate for being atrocious at customer service and started working from home. Next is the “famous among family and friends” story of the two hours I lasted at the Disney Store in the mall. The only thing I am worse at than customer service is customer service in a crowd.
In retrospect, I should have seen the failure coming a mile away but you would be amazed at what I can convince myself I can do if I just don’t wuss out. If I power through my anxiety and confusion and just do the damn thing, I am sure I’ll be great and of course I’ll get used to the physically debilitating symptoms of overwhelming fear I feel in situations where I have to deal with strangers in a crowded, loud setting. I can do anything! Except then I can’t and I walk out and have a panic attack and I’m sitting on the floor in a bathroom stall in the mall on my phone crying and begging my fiancee to let me quit. The fiancee that may have warned me against taking the job in the first place who was rather confused I needed his permission because we totally do not have that kind of relationship but I just needed to know it was okay, you know? That he would still love me even when I was failing so spectacularly.
Really, I’m so bad at timelines. I thought the Disney Store debacle happened after the Allstate debacle but for some reason I know we weren’t married when I was at the Disney Store so they can’t be related.
This is why I can never write a memoir. I can’t keep track of time.
A journal? Of course I have journals from before we were married…from before we even dated….sure the information is probably in there. But then I would have to read them and there is about a zero chance in hell I’m going to do that in the near future. I’ll let my kids read it when I’m dead and they can marvel at how unhinged their mother really was.
Look, kids! Look at all the coping skills your mother didn’t have when she was young!
It will blow their minds.
I’m trying to get to the good story about the budget. I don’t have a good transition. This will have to do.
I will always remember the day I wrote down our bills on a piece of paper. Then I wrote down our income. (I didn’t even know this was a budget at the time!) The number in the bills column was bigger than the number for income. This is why I’m so understanding of friends I know and readers who have never set up a budget. I remember wondering why I had never thought to do that before.
I mean, I had even read Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey (that I received as a gift from a Christian radio station when I donated $10 to give orphans in Africa a well for fresh water, I kid you not) and I still have that book and I remember reading it and thinking, “This is for people who already HAVE money.”
Figuring out how people made money became an obsession. I wanted to know what everyone did for a living and I spent more hours on the BLS than I care to admit – even to myself. There are so many jobs that people have that no one tells you about. It’s like a secret system where people randomly find jobs they end up at. It felt like a lottery until we found the unions and, eventually, bricklaying. As he went through training I had this feeling that things were going to get really difficult but they would be so much better after the bad part. On the heels of this moment of clarity was when I toldl Mr. Brickie, “I don’t want to work. I want to take care of the kids and, beyond that, do whatever I want with my days. I want to find a job for you that will take care of all of us and I’ll make sure our lifestyle doesn’t surpass that salary. We’re going to find a happy medium. Oh, and by the way? We’re totally going to lose the house in the process. Let’s talk again after you have a few days to be okay with losing the house because I know it’s important to your whole man-pride image.” (We had some conversations about feeling like a failure and what real failure was and taking steps backward and forward in the interim but we were back to focusing on HIM so I was all good with that. HIM is outside of ME so it was a fine thing to focus on.)
Some of you have probably heard me say, “I don’t have a passion.” That’s because I couldn’t afford to have one. All my neurons and synapses were dedicated to not being homeless. They were all dedicated to keeping my family safe. They were all dedicated to things OUT THERE instead of my inner world. How can I decide what I want when I have to figure out how to feed my kids?
So now it seems I’m starting to be able to take little peeks inward instead of feeling like I have to focus on everything else around me and balancing it all so it doesn’t come crashing down like so many spinning plates. I feel calm in a way I didn’t think was possible.
Which is funny because I was told recently (in writing, my reactions were at my screen not in person) that I was going through a transition and I took a mental step backward and said to myself, “Who? Me? You’re talking to me?” Here I am, safe and calm and feeling totally chill and someone is telling me I’m in a transition period? It amazes me how sometimes people with the most book learning are the most unknowledgeable when presented with a real-life case study of someone in a stable place. Also I know this whole paragraph sounds like something I made up. You can just disregard it because it was a long story that ended that way but I assure you none of it was about me transitioning to anything but a deeper state of contentment.
One of these new and fun peeks into myself (sounds dirty but it’s not) let me see that my decision to start actively writing when my kids are all in school for a few hours a day is absolutely the right decision. I don’t have a genre in mind, I’m going to just write for anthologies and submit and see what sticks. I’ll edit and revise before sending, I don’t mean I’m going to throw a first draft at anyone. That would be gross and mean. But I’m going to see where my talent and interests intersect. For example, I know after writing sexy stories professionally for marketing purposes. So I may be very good at that kind of writing, but I do not enjoy writing those stories, so you won’t see my name in the erotica section anytime soon. I’m on the fence about horror because sometimes I don’t sleep well after I write those stories. I look forward to seeing all the different genres I can try to write for and seeing how well I can do.
Even if nothing comes of it just doing it and trying and being free to write what I want and have fun with it means the world to me. It will be like giving my mind and my heart wings and letting them soar free without worrying.
That freedom comes from years of learning how to budget, learning how to make things happen automatically, and having a plan. Also, I’ve learned to be patient. Things don’t get amazing overnight, they take time and effort and hard work. I won’t write something amazing on August 20th at 7am when my kids get on that school bus. I will be able to look back on that date and know that is when I started down the path but that path will start with research, not writing. Also, I have been writing stories in fits and starts for years, so I’m not really starting from scratch, I’m just choosing to be dedicated to it like I’m dedicated to budgeting and finance now. It’s like I’m giving myself a first-day-of-work start date.
Instead of constantly seeing everything in terms of opportunity cost, cause/effect, and problems/solutions, I feel the bonds of my brain cracking, see the dust fall from squeaky, unused hinges as the door to my imagination finally begins to open again. It’s been so long since I’ve been able to focus on, say, the shades of brown on my desk or pay attention to how the light hits my blinds. Daydreams have been my enemy for far too long and I look forward to letting my mind play.
I should probably put this entry aside and edit it later to make sure I don’t sound silly or completely off my rocker. If I do put it in mothballs I know I’ll probably never share it and it will live forever in my Google Docs Drafts folder. So you can have me the way I am. Slightly edited, proofed for spelling (I hope) and mostly raw but free of Salmonella.
Thank you. To those of you who have shared birthday wishes online, directly, and otherwise. I have to tell you….40 is so much better than 30 was. This might actually be the best birthday I’ve ever had. Not because it’s so amazing, but because it so does not need to be amazing. A bakery cake and my family is all I need today. I can look inside my heart and the emotions are not fear and anger and panic. Today my heart is filled with love and contentment and joy. I have fought for these feelings and they feel like a gift to myself.
What I have is enough.