LungLeavin’ Day!

Hello everyone. I love being able to promote good causes, so when this came across my desk, I couldn’t pass it up. Read this letter from Cameron, and go visit the site he has set up. He and his family have put up a hell of a fight, and they are excited to celebrate their eighth year of victory against mesothelioma. 

Read, click, visit, and participate!

My name is Cameron Von St. James and I was wondering if you’d be willing to help me with a cause that means a lot to me!

Eight years ago, my wife Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma; a rare cancer that kills most people within 2 years of diagnosis.  She had just given birth to our daughter Lily, and was only given 15 months to live.  After a life saving surgery that included the removal of her left lung, LungLeavin’ Day was born.  This will be the 8th year that we celebrate!

The purpose of LungLeavin’ Day is to encourage others to face their fears!  Each year, we gather around a fire in our backyard with our friends and family, write our biggest fears on a plate and smash them into the fire.  We celebrate for those who are no longer with us, for those who continue to fight, for those who are currently going through a tough time in their life, and most importantly, we celebrate life! 

This year, we are asking bloggers to participate and spread the word about LungLeavin’ Day.  We created an interactive page mesothelioma.com/heather/lungleavinday that tells the full story of our special day.  We hope you will check it out and share it on your blog.  It would mean so much to Heather and I.  Let me know what you think.

Thank you so much,

Cameron Von St. James
http://www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/cameron/

 

The Rearview Mirror

When driving, you should check your rearview mirror once in a while just to be fully aware of your surroundings. After all, no one wants to be caught off-guard by a snarky tailgater while you’re trying to change lanes, or worse, by a titanoboa, which, according to scientists, could totally come back someday if global warming continues on its current course.

That sound you hear? Yeah, that’s me barfing in fear.

So what about looking in the rearview mirror of life? Some say it’s good to look to the past to avoid making the same mistakes over and over. Others say it’s nice to look back so that you can see how far you’ve come.

I call bulls*** on all of it.

For me (and others like me–I know you’re out there), that little *glance* I take into my mirror while driving tends to turn into a long…. cold…. endless…. stare when I’m looking into my past. I was blessed with a super-human memory, which certainly has its merits, but its downside is that I remember everything. I remember that time you rolled your eyes at me in 9th grade when you had to hear for the 30th time about how Danny talked to me for almost 30 minutes after school that one day. I remember that time I told you I had a bunch of siblings I’d never met and you obviously didn’t believe me but pretended you did. I remember that time you made a bet with all of our friends that I would ruin this one really important thing (and then I did). I still think I’m that annoying girl who can’t shut up about boys, who tells strange made-up stories for seemingly no reason, and who is bound to screw up important things.

I used to tell myself that my frequent journeys into the past were helpful. I used to quite convincingly make the case that I was learning from mistakes and becoming a better person. Turns out that was… yep, total bulls***.

At the risk of TMI: I’ve done the 4th step. I’ve taken inventory, and it’s ugly. I do not regret the work I have done to clean up my nuclear disaster of bad decisions, but ironically, it was while I was staring my mistakes in the face that I made the biggest ones of my life. It was like I looked into the rearview mirror and freaked out when I saw a copperhead, so I closed my eyes and ran right into the mouth of a titanoboa.

Oh look, there he is again, in case you forgot. Baaaaaaaarf.

So what’s going on? Why the obsession with what’s done and gone and why did it fail for so long to help me with the issues at hand today?

I don’t necessarily know the answer, but I have some pretty good theories.

The main one is that I’m still hurt. I’m hurt because I remember every single little thing. Deep down inside, I’m concerned that you remember me only as that annoying girl who couldn’t shut up about boys. Or that annoying girl who would black out from drinking and then say some really scary things (and of course not remember the next day). Or that annoying girl who would tell the most bizarre lies just to seem a little more interesting. Or that annoying girl who was too darn boring to be worth being friends with anyway.

The truth is that you probably don’t remember me much at all. I’m the one who remembers.

But anyway, when you make decisions from a place of being hurt (or angry or resentful or sad or whatever), it’s extremely difficult to be logical or rational. By holding onto my pain, I’ve subconsciously been revengeful. I’ve avenged my own suffering on people who totally had nothing to do with it in the first place and most certainly didn’t deserve it. Instead of being able to tell someone in the moment, “hey, that hurt me,” I shoved it down inside and tried to figure out how to stop the bleeding. I’m not justifying my actions or anything, but I do at least think that’s why I did some of the things I did (as opposed to me just being a terrible person).

All of this is coming up because a big reunion just passed me by. I honestly couldn’t go anyway because it would have been a long trip and I had neither the funding nor the time to go. But would I have gone if I could have? Absolutely not. I know that all of my friends from that time period are still close (without me) and I don’t know how it happened. They all live all over the country, so it’s not the distance. We all had full time jobs and/or got married and/or had kids, so it’s not life’s distractions.

I either did something to upset them, or they just forgot me. And I’m not sure which is worse.

So I obsess about the past and wonder what went wrong. I replay every conversation that I can remember so that maybe I can uncover the moment where everything turned. I keep thinking that if I could just figure it out, I could reassure myself that I’m different now. Maybe part of me thinks I can convince them I’m different now. Is that even what I want?

These types of crazy-making thoughts are why Facebook is just bad for me. I know Facebook-Induced Death Spiral is not yet in the DSM, but it will be one of these days, trust me.

The other reason I’m being haunted by ghosts:

I’m going to be visiting my hometown in a few weeks for the first time in quite a few years. It’s interesting because the people I really want to see are not necessarily the people I would have thought I would want to see. I’m not really thinking about any of it too much because all of the people I got in touch with were genuinely happy to hear from me. There’s quite a bit of comfort in knowing that I left some bridges unburned.

I’m hoping that one day, I’ll find peace in all of it. I’m hoping that if someone hurts my feelings in the future, I’ll be able to just say to their face, “wow, that hurt my feelings, can we talk about this real quick?” I’m hoping that my glances into the review mirror really do become glances.

And I’m seriously hoping that giant-ass snake does not come back in my lifetime.

Why I Don’t Do the Facebook Thing Anymore

Recently, I’ve come across about a zillion blog posts/articles written by people who are either analyzing their current presence on Facebook (thanks, Rob), contemplating the decision to delete their Facebook page (thanks, GMD), broadcasting the recent studies that show that Facebook contributes to depression and feelings of loneliness (here’s a smattering of links, all from the same site, even), or explaining why they never jumped on the Facebook bandwagon in the first place (thanks, Cal).

Given that Facebook has been around for almost a decade now, I’m wondering why all the sudden attention is being devoted to it. I mean, MySpace just sorta died without fanfare (present attempt at resurrection non-withstanding)… and does anyone here even remember Friendster? Did I just date myself?

Facebook invaded our lives with infectious frenzy. What started as a slow trickle of college kids and recent graduates joining the ranks went viral very quickly once the -.edu requirement was omitted. All of a sudden everyone and their mother (and grandmother–oh geeze) jumped in the pot. It became so ubiquitous, that people started saying things like “it’s not real until it’s posted on Facebook.” That applied to everything from photos, party invitations, quirky one-liners (that we would surely forget if we had to actually wait for the right time to use them), and even relationships. I actually sort of wonder how many relationships have met their demise due to of one of the involved parties not making the relationship “Facebook official” in the right timing.

And I get it. I’m not a Facebook hater and I don’t look down on people who use it. I think it has a lot of good qualities. I like the ability to keep in touch with people you may otherwise not be able to. I love the fact that it makes remembering birthdays a cinch. I sometimes don’t even mind the weird corporate-ness of it all–there are some events and sales that I have found out about through glancing at someone else’s Facebook that I would not have heard about otherwise.

Here’s the thing for me personally. It was just making me tired. I am an introvert in the truest sense of the word, and I just couldn’t keep up with everyone and everything. My Twitter feed I can handle. I can glance at that very quickly, find stuff I’m interested in, and simply ignore the rest. Facebook was not so easy to be superficially involved in. I felt like I had to be all-in or give it up all together.

I deactivated my account for a year or so just to get some much-needed social rest and ended up going back to it. I wanted to see what was going on with long-lost friends, and I thought it would be cool to get back in touch. What I found was really more than I could handle. For one thing, it seemed some etiquette/protocol had changed in my year-ish of absence (I’m looking at you, Facebook stalkers), and it also became abundantly clear that the online world kept spinning even when I’d jumped off, and I could not run fast enough to catch it again.

For instance:

  • I met a guy in a random place and we exchanged numbers. On our first date about a week later, he basically recited my entire Facebook profile to me. I know that people look each other up–that is sort of understandable–but I felt very on display.
  • My sister-in-law wrote me a scathing private message about how my disconnection from Facebook was like a slap in the face to the family (despite the fact that we still texted and talked on the phone sometimes).
  • My circle of friends from college are all still BFFs and had all recently been in a wedding for one of our mutual friends that I wasn’t even invited to. We had stayed in touch through Facebook, but when I left, I sort of ceased to exist. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • My mother joined, and all of a sudden, every single one of my photos had some sort of “what exactly are you doing there?” comment on it, and every status update was followed by “what exactly does that mean?” The constant need to explain myself wore me out.

None of these things are that bad… they were just too tiring for me to deal with. I’m not a big fan of conflict, and I’m not the type of person to get in people’s faces and demand attention. Not that everyone on Facebook is fighting and demanding attention, but that’s just what it seemed like it was going to take in order for me to stay relevant among my “friends.”

So I quit. Quit it for real. Sometime in 2012, I not only deactivated my account, but I petitioned to have it deleted. And it was. I thought I would miss it, but the wave of relief that came over me instead was.. unexpected. I had no idea how much it had been weighing me down. I keep in touch with my real friends and with the family members who are willing to have email/phone relationships with me. Their numbers are small and manageable to my tiny reserve of social energy.

I’m not pissing people off anymore, and I’m not emotionally drained by events that didn’t even “happen.” I don’t think I ever had so-called “Facebook Depression,” but I can definitely say that I’m happier without it.

And that is why I don’t do the Facebook thing anymore.

The Danger Paradox

I generally feel like I’m pretty safe. To be honest, I don’t even really think about it that much. I live in a small town now, and even when I didn’t, I never felt like I was inherently in danger. After all, this is the United States, and we have the luxury of not having to worry about a constant civil war or daily bombings or widespread communicable diseases and things like that. We have our problems, I know, but it could be much worse.

I have been rather disappointed, however, to hear how dangerous my old neighborhood has become. I keep hearing about people getting attacked, mugged, raped, stabbed, and shot just right down the street from where I used to live. It really bums me out.

Then I remember that it was like that when I lived there. In the two years I lived in that neighborhood:

  • A homeless couple set up camp in our building’s laundry room
  • A drug dealer used our courtyard for his business
  • One of my female friends was attacked from behind and mugged while walking on our busiest street
  • One of my other female friends was pulled into an alley, raped, and robbed at gunpoint
  • One of my male friends was jumped by four men who injured him enough that he needed to be hospitalized

And those are just the things that were personally connected to me. I can only imagine what else happened there that I never heard about.

I used to work late at night and early in the morning, and I didn’t really think much of walking to work by myself in the dark. I didn’t always love it, but I never felt like I was in danger. I knew multiple people who had been hit by cars–so that was really my biggest fear. When I think about it now, I can’t believe I was so brazen. I feel truly lucky that nothing terrible happened to me.

The only thing that happened that was even remotely weird was when a guy asked me if he could borrow my bike. While I was riding it. He said that his leg was hurting and that he needed my bike more than I did. He was on foot, so I just high-tailed it in the other direction. I think he was truly either intoxicated or not completely present, mentally, and not much of an actual threat.

So I guess there was real danger there the whole time that I just wasn’t allowing to enter my reality.

Then, among the most recent terrible story I saw about a woman being attacked in my old neighborhood, was this absurd story about a school in the same city that has now made it against the rules for kids to play tag at recess because it’s “too dangerous.” Talk about bumming me out. Too dangerous? Tag? I could see them maybe making the case for dodgeball where you’re really whacking other kids upside the head, but tag?

Look, I know freak accidents happen. I’ve heard horror stories about kids falling off swings and hitting their heads in exactly the wrong place. Or kids who slip and fall and end up breaking bones. Things happen, and sometimes they are really tragic.

It’s just that if we start banning tag, how long is it until we ban recess all together? I mean, allergies are dangerous. Sunburn is dangerous. Walking is dangerous. Toxins in the air are dangerous.

How is it so easy to ignore a super-huge danger while simultaneously freaking out about something so innocuous as a game children have been playing for centuries?

Please don’t take fun exercise away from children. I believe that is far more dangerous than the minute risk of a child falling and becoming irreversibly injured via tag.

And as if these stories about danger (real or otherwise) in my “home” city aren’t enough, there is the absolute onslaught of fear-mongering coming out of the mouths of the powers-that-be in Washington. I don’t want to get all political because that’s really not what I do, but I don’t like it when people in power use fear to manipulate others. It’s frustrating, and I wish it would stop.

I’m not really sure why all of this sort of got to me all of a sudden. I think part of it is that I’m a little nostalgic for my “home,” and it’s like the universe is trying to convince me that I shouldn’t be. Or something. Or maybe I’m reading into it and it’s all a coincidence.

I’m going to forget about it all by going outside and playing tag with my dog. I’ll try to stay safe.

On Being Ordinary

I have written only the title, and I can already feel this post getting out of control.

Let me just start with how it came up, I suppose. I read an article (or is it a blog post? Can we tell these days?) about so-called Millennials, and why they tend to be unhappy. I’ve read approximately one umpteenbajillion articles like this. Millennials are awful, self-entitled, delusional, lazy idiots who have no place in this world. They need to shape up, and quick, or they’ll never make it in life, amirite?

Then I read posts (like this one) in defense of the much-beleaguered Generation Y, and while I laugh sort of hysterically and shout “hell yeah!” in my head, I also know that it’s not completely right either. I read through the comments, and some of those Baby-Boomers who commented had great points, too.

So where does this leave me? I feel sort of offended by the Millennial criticism, but I’m not always sure I fit into that category. I was born in 1981. That sandwiches me right between Generations X and Y, neither of whom have been very highly regarded lately, but if I had to pick, I think I’d take the former, just to get away from the supposed terribleness of the latter.  Just for shits and giggles, I took this silly Millennial Quiz to see if I fell more to one side or the other. Turns out, I’m 80% Millennial. Damn.

Well, this is no surprise, really. I grew up with a computer (albeit a green/black screened one until 1990), the internet (we got AOL Online in 1994, when I was in 7th grade), multiple “participation trophies” (awarded for no other reason than showing up), and a genuine belief that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. I’m relatively liberal, I have multiple tattoos and piercings (although do I get points for having taken all the piercings out at this point?), and I thought that my extensive education entitled me to a job that was better than slaving to The Man for minimum wage. Fine, ok, I get it. I’m one of them.

Watch out. We are sassy AND bored.

Here’s the thing. I swear I’m not delusional. I am painfully aware of my situation as a completely ordinary human being who will likely not do anything special in my entire life. Thats not to say I don’t have value–I believe all human beings have value, even the really terrible ones. This is not a rant about being worthless or anything like that. This is just a check-in with reality and knowing my non-place in it. In fact, this entire blog got started basically because I realized how incredibly Normal my life had suddenly become (until I got sideswiped by illness) and how I had been making peace with that fact. Now that I’m getting better and things are again returning to Normal, I am again making peace. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

What I Feel Like I’m Missing Out On

By not being “special,” I feel like I don’t have enough influence on the world. I see so many bad things happening everywhere (world hunger, war, climate change, natural disasters, disease, homelessness, drug addiction, etc.) and I just want to be part of the solution. I’m so appreciative that my life is pretty darn good, and I want to help the ones who are struggling. My heart goes out to people, and I want to fix things. I do what I can when I can (volunteering, being a substance abuse counselor, etc.), but I’m plagued by guilt in realizing that it’s just not enough. I know the world does not rest on my shoulders alone, but I have the heart to do so much more–I wish I had the means.

I had a boyfriend in college to whom I tried to explain all of this. It basically came out as “I wish I were famous” (entitled Millennial alert), but what I really meant at the time and was completely unable to communicate was, “famous people have money. Money talks. Money solves problems. I want to solve problems and I would do it if I had the money.” He thought it was a very stupid and selfish desire, and I can see how he thought that. I promise it came from a good place.

Anyway, I’m at a point currently where I am barely keeping my own head above water, so my ability to help others is diminished. I know that when the time is right, I will resume helpful activity, but until then, I will probably continue to feel pangs of guilt. If I know me, I’ll probably continue to feel guilty even after doing what I can, because I will likely continue to believe that it’s not enough.

I also feel like I’m seriously letting my parents down. Actually I know I’m letting them down because they tell me so. I don’t know how many more times I can be reminded that I am educated and not living up to my potential and blah blah blah before I throw something at the wall (update: the answer is one. My mom called as I was reading/editing this post, we had “the talk,” and I threw a pillow at the wall just for dramatic effect). I know I’m educated. I’m the one who spent 19 years in school, thanks. It just so happens that I focused really hard in an area where I have (at best) very little talent. It is a mistake that I am still working on letting go of (and just when I feel like I’m getting past it, the student loan bill comes again). Again, this is not a self-depreciating rant for the sake of ranting. I’ve been through it and gotten the T-shirt. Do you know what it’s like to be bad at your job? I do. It’s the worst. I left my field so that I didn’t harm anyone. It honestly felt like the responsible thing to do.

People tell me I jumped the gun too soon and that I was just “inexperienced,” but I know in my heart that it was more than that. To put it in perspective, think about doctors. There is a doctor out there who is the absolute worst doctor in the city, state, or country. You wish he/she would stop practicing medicine, right? Right.

But really, when I think about it, all of that is tolerable. I mean….

Here Are the Advantages to Being So Incredibly Normal

I can hide in plain sight. No one is following my every move. Hell, I don’t even have a Facebook account anymore. I cannot imagine what it would be like for people to know (or care) what I was doing all the time. I think it’s kind of funny when famous people complain about that sort of thing, but when I try to put myself in their shoes, I get it. It would be super stressful.

Drama is truly awful. I’ve had a lot of it in my life, and most of it was created by me and me alone. I actively tried to make things interesting, and often ended up in the middle of a tornado of suck. Then I would complain about it and set the cycle off again. Inside, I hated it, but I also didn’t know any better. It took some pretty serious explosions for me to notice that I was actively chasing bad situations and worse decisions in order to keep things constantly on the razor’s edge. My 23-year-old self would not be caught dead with a square like my current self. Her loss. My current self sleeps well, eats healthily, does not drink in the morning, does not wake up in strange places, and is not afraid of her partner. It may be less exciting, but it’s a hell of a lot better.

So am I one of those terrible Millennial-types? Sure. I am. I have pretty much all the symptoms. That said, I am going to continue to work hard (both at a corporate job where I don’t see myself ever making much money and at my own pursuits), and I will not get bent about how I “deserve” fame and recognition. I will not ever go back to my crazy, drama-seeking ways just to keep it interesting.

And I will try try try to stop feeling guilty about things that aren’t mine to feel guilty about.

The Bucket List (the “career day” version)

It is news to no one that I’ve been basically sitting on my couch for the last year and a half due to illness. It was a mystery illness that had potentially permanent, life-altering consequences, so it was very tough to make plans. All of the Bucket List entries on this blog so far were made before I got sick and included lots of cool things that I couldn’t really think about too much in the last 18 months.

I’m thrilled to say that the mystery has more or less been solved. It was a simple solution, and I’m on my way to recovery. There is cautious optimism, but all signs point to “I’m going to get much, much better.” I can start thinking ahead again! Yay!

Here’s the thing. I’m not the same. I’ve changed physically in some ways, and I’m told that my full strength and stamina might never return to what they once were. I’m told that I might always have to deal with low-grade pain. I’m not scared of any of this (and it may turn out not to be true), but it does come into play when I start to think about what to do with my time. I have always defined myself by my career and let work take priority over everything. My relationships have suffered (especially with my family), and I think my health has probably suffered, too. My life perspective has been… just… warped.

So, illness is terrible, but while I’ve been sidelined, I’ve been given the gift of time. I’ve been given the gift of peace and quiet. It turns out, when I allow myself space, I don’t want to be married to any job (which is good since I haven’t had one in a while), and as it turns out, I don’t want to spend the rest of my days slugging it out and working days, nights, weekends, holidays, whatever–to make money for someone else. I think I can do better. So here are some things I am legitimately considering, and I intend to at least try all of it.

Writing a Book

I always joked with people that I should write a book someday. I’ve made a few half-hearted attempts in the past, but I’ve always abandoned the project. I get all embarrassed and self-critical, and then I get conveniently “too busy” to keep going. Well screw that. I’m going to do it. I don’t know quite yet if it will be a memoir-of-sorts or if it will be a work of fiction loosely based on things that I know about… but I’m going to do it. I will self-publish if I have to. For the first time ever, I actually believe I have the skill to pull it off. Why not?

Freelance Writing

Hey! I’m already doing this. I always thought you had to have some sort of piece of paper saying you are qualified to do this, but guess what? You don’t. I’ve gotten several jobs, and already have two long-term deals with clients thanks to Elance. I’m making money, and I’m doing something that’s interesting to me. Best part of it all? I can dictate my own schedule. If I am having a tough time focusing, or if I simply have too much life stuff happening, I don’t HAVE to work on anything that day. I just will have to put in some extra time the next day. I’m totally fine with that. I get to treat myself like an adult, and it’s great.

Making Stuff

I learned how to sew when I got sick, and it turns out, I love it. It’s a ton of fun. I’m still pretty rough, and I definitely need more lessons. That said, I want to make stuff. All kinds of stuff. Bags. Skirts. Shirts. Pants. Everything. I want to make stuff for myself, and I want to make stuff to sell. I want to open an Etsy store. Correction: I don’t just want to do this. I NEED to do this for my soul to survive.

Coffee

In the distant future (distant because I have zero capital at this point), I want to own and operate a coffee shop. I am so passionate about good coffee, and customer service is in my blood. I want to create a space where people can come, relax, socialize, be creative, discover awesome music, and enjoy the wonder that is coffee. This one is a bit of a reach for me, mainly due to the crazy amount of money it takes to build and open a place like that, but I just believe it’s going to happen someday. And I know cafes and restaurants fail all the time. If I ever have the privilege of having one of my own, mine won’t fail. I will not let that happen. It’s too important.

Investing

Ok, so this isn’t so much a career option for me, but it is something I want to do, and if done right, it will make money. I’ve never been interested in investing. Sort of like how I’ve never been interested in fashion. Surprise! Things change.

It is totally this guy’s fault.

I honestly just never thought I was smart enough to think about the stock market or anything having to do with investments. Apparently, it’s just like anything else. You just need to start with the basics and go from there. So thanks to Jim Cramer, I might actually be able to turn a little bit of money into a little bit more. Eventually.

I know working for yourself can be an uphill battle, and I know that some people don’t win. I’m just saying that I think I can do it. I want to try. I’ve never tried before, and I refuse to go through the rest of my life complaining that the people who are successfully self-employed are somehow better or luckier than me.

Privilege and luck can be made.

 

I Am Not My Debt

I was watching the Suze Orman Show today (because I’m suddenly a CNBC Prime junkie), and she was talking to a woman who had endured lots of random hardships in her adult life (divorce, being laid off, having crazy medical issues), and had subsequently racked up a sizable chunk of debt.

It hit me: oh emm jeee she’s talking to me.

I mean, she wasn’t. She had a legitimate guest on her show who just happened to have very similar life circumstances to me. You better believe I started paying careful attention, though. I love Suze, but she can be pretty harsh. I was expecting her to basically tell this woman that she doesn’t give a crap about her sob story and that she just needs to buck up and get herself out of debt before she finds herself unable to retire at the age of 98. That’s surprisingly not what happened.

Basically, Suze told her that money is not the problem. More money would not change this woman’s debt situation. In fact, this particular person had actually been able to pay down her debt, only to find herself getting back into debt immediately afterwards. She was deep in debt for the third time in not-so-many years. How frustrating!

I started thinking about my own debt problem and how it started. I was raised by good parents who were great with money. They taught me the value of money at an early age, and I was almost overly responsible with it. I got a job when I was 15, and I worked all the way through college. I saw my friends get into trouble with credit cards, so I vowed not to even get one until I felt like I was responsible enough to handle it.

I got my first credit card at age 24 and never once carried a balance. I built up a great credit profile and an even better FICO score. I bought a home later that same year. I seriously thought I was invincible, you know, since all of my young-and-stupid years were far behind me. Boy, did I have a blind spot.

You all know what happened to the housing market in late 2005, so I don’t even need to mention that. And as if that wasn’t enough of a stressor….

In 2007, I went back to school to get my Master’s Degree. A year later, right after turning 26, I went through a divorce that left me financially unstable and without health insurance. Then I got really sick. Then every single piece of my car decided to break, one by one. I think 2009 goes down in the books as possibly the worst year I’ve ever had, as far as “shit happening TO me” is concerned. I lived off credit cards for the next two years while I finished the grad school program I’d started while I was still married, and it was shocking how much debt appeared out of seemingly nowhere.

Then the student loan payments started. Fortunately, I had scored a full-time job right out of grad school (one of the lucky ones), and even though the job turned out to be one of the most difficult and emotionally draining experiences of my life, I was getting back on my feet.

Until I got laid off due to budget cuts at the end of 2010. Are you kidding me?

Ok, so a lot of those circumstances were beyond my control. I know this. But I was also raised in such a responsible environment, I am crushed by guilt when I think of my financial situation and the alarmingly large amounts of money I owe. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to grad school at all. Maybe I should have dropped out once I got divorced. Maybe I should’ve forgone treatment when I got sick. Maybe…. so many maybes.

I’m in a position now to get myself out of the mess, ever so slowly. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, let me tell you. The thing is… even though I know I just need to be patient and take everything one payment at a time, I’m still punishing myself. Even Suze believes that you have to allow yourself a little bit of wiggle room each month to do something fun or else you’ll drive yourself mental (and probably give up and go bankrupt). I have the hardest time allowing for anything enjoyable that costs money. All I can think is “I’m a debtor. I don’t deserve this. I really don’t deserve this.” And you know what I learned today? That is exactly the attitude that is going to keep me in debt and miserable.

I’m certainly not saying that I would keep myself in debt on purpose. I don’t think any unlobotomized person would choose that. But I might do it subconsciously. I might be likely to sabotage my good efforts just so I can stay unhappy and lament my frustrating circumstances. The truth is, I can see the light at the end of a very long tunnel, but I refuse to act as if I’ll ever be standing in the light. I act as if the tunnel will be my reality forever, and that’s just not true.

So the moral of all of this is–I am more than my debt, and I am a worthwhile human being. Once I pay all of this down, I should be super proud of myself. I should then remember that I’m worth it, and not ever get myself in a mess like this again. I know some situations are beyond my control, but I sure could do a better job of preparing for emergencies, and believe me, I will from now on.

Thank you Suze for everything you told that woman today. I took it to heart and will try to stop beating myself up about this financial situation. It may be a long road, but it’s temporary. Day by day. Payment by payment.

I’m so Ready for Zero.