We have a salary and employee sponsored health insurance. We don’t need to get a 2nd car pronto as annoying as metro in winter can be it’s still a perfectly doable option (that many families deal with and only have one car). The heater is working in the house, we have a meeting with our pastor next week and one with our financial advisor in a couple of weeks once we’ve settled into the salary.

The physical weight of being overwhelmed has lifted I kid you not. It’s amazing. I’m still exhausted, but that constant bearing down of doom is gone.

Yet I don’t feel  happy.

Is it the depression? Probably somewhat. I think too that it is the realization that all these issues in our marriage that I’d been putting off “till we’re in a better place” can’t be put off any longer. We have Things To Talk About that I can’t bring up because it causes a fight every time and then when I lose it in front of our pastor I’m accused of just steam rolling him. I don’t feel like it’s a safe place to talk unless there’s a witness, then I know I will be Heard.

Or maybe it’s just chemical. I had pretty bad postpartum depression due to hubs job loss and me needing to go work in my office when my baby was 9 weeks old. That was an awful 4.5 months of my life and I don’t remember a lot of it. I do remember when he got a job, and I was able to take a pay cut to do the same thing but from home, thinking how everything was working out and yet I was not Happy. That’s when I started meds. I wonder if my body has been supplementing itself with cortisol and adrenaline for so long that my already crappy ability to produce serotonin was affected. I need to get back to therapy but at $300/pop I’m not so sure. We’ll see if the new health insurance covers 60/40 or something. I’m not holding my breath.

But life goes on. I hate that I think I’d be a better mom and a better person if my husband wasn’t a part of my every day life. I have absolutely no idea how we’d get on (me and the girls that is) financially without moving in with my parents, but the fact that I even think about it must mean something. Still, we move on. Maybe someone I know will win the powerball and gift me my freedom. Ha.

To friends who have gotten married in the past 2.5 years that we were unable to attend your wedding because it was out of state, or get you a wedding gift (I have a list for when we have enough money of what I’m getting each of you), I’M SORRY. It sucks to have missed out on multiple special days in our friend’s lives; and sucks that I couldn’t pick out a fancy and fun gift to give you to mark this important milestone.

To my kid’s friends who got crappy cheap birthday presents over the past 2.5 years, I’M SORRY. It’s not that I think you needed something big and expensive to show my kid’s love for you, but you’re kids. It’s hard to explain things like this to my own kids, let alone their friends. I think we did OK; I’m pretty sure everyone loves stickers and funky pens and fresh new notebooks and playdoh (always a cheap standby that everyone loves to open a new can of).

To my kids: I’M SORRY. We haven’t been able to go on vacation for 4+ years now. Or take trips to amusement parks or local expensive attractions that require tickets. Partly we can’t afford these things and partly the stress of the past 2.5 years has beaten me down I’m so exhausted I can’t comprehend taking a day trip. Even a low cost one where you pack your own food requires gas and ice cream and that add up when your budget is in the red every single month. I’m sorry you don’t get to go to camp again this year. I’m sorry we can’t go see the new summer blockbusters coming out in the theatre. I’m sorry I’m such a grump so often and lose my cool so easily. I have zero patience left and am in a constant state of alert. My body hurts and you just want to play with me at the pool and I discourage it. I’m so sorry. This whole situation has left me not the mom I want to be, and I know daddy feels the same way. It hurts my heart to hear you complain that you don’t see him often enough and that he doesn’t come to the pool to play with you (thank god for the pool, though). We love you, and we hope our love shines through and you see that despite having a summer very different from your friends.

My sister-in-law sent an email the other day to the family (her mom, brother, me, other brother, his wife, dad and step-mother) asking for prayers because she needed to sell her car this weekend so she can pick up the new car she’s purchased on sunday. Nothing fancy – we’re not talking selling one beat up old Ford and picking up a BMW. She has a CRV that needs struts and shocks and for whatever reason she’s decided to sell the car instead of paying for the repair. She’s being honest and disclosing everything in her add and asking a very reasonable price. And she’s buying a newer CRV than the model year she owns. Personally, I don’t understand why but that’s beside the point. The point I’m trying to make is in her email: The fact that a simple request like “I need to sell my car” can be sent to those nearest and dearest without the batting of an eyelash.

My trouble is that I’m biting my tongue (or rather sitting on my quick typing fingers) by not sending a reply along the lines of “and while you’re at it, pray that our loan modification comes through this week because I don’t have the money to pay the mortgage due July 1st (and I didn’t pay the June 1st bill either for lack of funds…).” But that seems very passive aggressive, no?

Why is there shame in our situation? Sure, hindsight is 20-20 of course. We could have done things differently when we were newly in this situation. Hubs could have worked harder and more consistently to get a job (he will admit, sadly, that there were times when he just let it go. Depression? Possibly). But we are here now and we need prayer. And we need answers, and I feel like this yearning is counterintuitive to what I wrote the other day about prayer but I’m not freaked out about the lack of mortgage payment, I know it’s in God’s hands and somehow this will be worked out one way or another. But how come we don’t send emails like this updating our family and friends on the status of our situation?

Money is such a taboo. It’s OK sometimes to joke about not having any, but you better be doing the joking from your modest house, simple vacation rental, or sensible 10 year old car. You can joke about having too much if you really are blessed with resources but you’ll look like a douche unless folks know you are philanthropic with your cash.  Other than that people don’t really talk about money ever.  It troubles me that we feel so much shame and guilt about our situation which I truly believe is one that could happen to anyone. It leaves you feeling isolated, only speaking in broad terms with those closest to you and staying mum to anyone else, maybe just a “yeah, well, you know…” in response if they are brave enough to ask how we’re doing financially.

We DON’T have the money to pay all our bills every month. We ARE on food stamps and Medicaid. We DON’T know if we’ll get our loan modification requests approved for our mortgage and home equity lines. We are MAXED OUT on two credit cards, leaving a Target card as our only working one and it’s used strictly for things like toilet paper, dish soap, shampoo, tampons, toothpaste, trash bags and laundry detergent (stuff you can’t use food stamps to purchase but really are necessities). We have NO money in our savings account. We WORK our asses off. We CANNOT pay to for necessary car repairs and household fixes that keep adding up.

So why?? Why don’t we reach out in detail to those we love and know love us back? Why is it such a shadow on our lives to live with this lack of funds? It’s a frustrating place to be and one of the reasons why I started blogging again. I feel like these things need to be spoken, if not to benefit us, then to benefit the next family dealing with extended unemployment. If you are reading this and you know someone who has been out of salaried work for a long period of time, KNOW that they are dealing with all this too. I hope that in bringing awareness to the toll extended unemployment truly takes on a person and their family will allow someone else to be helped in a way they didn’t know they needed and didn’t have to ask for. So that person you know? Go buy them a gift card to the grocery store or Target or Costco or something.  Even Jiffy Lube or a gas card. Boring, yes. Practical, HELL YES. Finding these occasionally through the past 2.5 years in our mailbox, often anonymously is like a huge breath of fresh air and a little tiny bit of weight lifted off my shoulders. And if you are feeling even more generous, a gift card for dinner out and an offer to babysit would be unbelievable. Or treat to a pedicure or something pampering.  Or just bring over fresh cut flowers and a six-pack of their favorite hard cider. Just sayin.

As a Christian, I believe in the power of prayer.

As a victim of extended unemployment, I’ve come to change some of my opinions on how prayer works.

I still believe God answers our prayers, the problem is too often we do not pray as we’re supposed to. Let me give an example of what my head is thinking (remember my post on brain fog? yeah, let’s see if we can mumble through this together without me losing any of you):

  • In high school, I might pray that God would help me get an A on an exam. That’s great, right? But God already knows what I’m going to get since he’s omnipotent, right? It’s like when my kids ask for some horrible pure sugar sour patch gummi worms they see in the check out line – sure, they can ask but I already know the answer is NOT ON YOUR LIFE. Doesn’t ever stop them from asking.
  • How then are we to pray, if we know God knows everything that’s already supposed to happen? I really don’t think we’re supposed to ask Him for Things. Good grades, candy, a boyfriend (another frequent high school request), a job. I think what we’re really supposed to ask is for Him to open our eyes, to give us clarity to SEE His works in our lives.
  • Too often we pray, “Dear God, please let me get an A on that European History test, I know I didn’t study as hard as I could have but I need an A to pass the class and not fuck up my GPA, Amen.”
  • We really should pray more like this: “Dear God, you gave me this brain. Help me to use it to the best of its ability, and if the results of this exam do fuck up my GPA, help me to find acceptance and trust that all is in Your Hands and to motivate me to study more next time.”

Does that even make sense?

I guess these thoughts lately have stemmed from others around us praying that “the right person buys the car they need to sell this weekend” or that “the AC in the condo they just bought that died overnight will be covered by the home warrenty.” Like when these things happen (God answers in the affirmative) it’s proof that prayer works and that their prayers were heard. The flip side is that our prayers of “Please send us a job for hubs with a steady salary, benefits, and stability” have obviously been answered in the negative so far. What does that mean? We aren’t praying hard enough? We aren’t praying often enough? It frustrates me to see people asking and receiving as much as it does to hear of folks who have been praying for us throughout this whole ordeal.

I think prayer is a state of mind more than just a specific act. Sure, confessing wrong doings and praising God through your humble on-your-knees quiet times is definitely a good things. It’s the asking. I don’t think we’re supposed to do it. Instead of asking we should be in a constant state of being receptive to God, of being able to hear Him when he does work in our lives. Then instead of feeling so beat down as to why our prayers keep being answered in the negative, we’re actually encouraged to see how despite 2.5+ years without a salary, benefits, and stability we’ve managed just barely.

Even though we are floating in a vast ocean clinging to the last board, that board is still there. We haven’t been forgotten. God has worked through friends and family to not just help provide, but to bless. We’ve made more relationships in the past 2.5 years than we had in the previous 7.5 years of our marriage combined. We’ve given more of ourselves in that time as well. We KNOW what we have is from God, and He is the reason we aren’t living in my parent’s basement. Yet.

So instead of praying for a job, for a salary, for stability, I chose to instead be in a prayerful, almost meditative state – when driving, cleaning, doing chores – and to be reflecting on the faith and trust I need in Him to keep our heads above water. These constant self-reminders of how far God has helped us come as well as a constant seeking of His Hand in the everyday leaves me feeling so much more fulfilled and loving and faithful.

It’s real, yo.

I get a little mini panic attack every time someone asks me why I’m not working full time too.  The answers are many:

  1. hubs has greater earning potential in the long run right now so he needs to seek out a position that keeps him as top breadwinner in the family
  2. have you looked into childcare costs lately? The amount I make as a freelancer is close to what I’d make if I was working full time less the cost of two kids childcare, especially in the summer when I would need full time care/camp for two of them for 10 weeks solid.
  3. and yes, someday I probably will go back to work, some hours out of the home, when the little one starts kindergarten in 2017. I’m so thankful there are more and more positions out there offering flexibility or part time during school hours. Not to mention I’ll have the time to give my photography business the time it deserves so maybe that will be taking off by then and I won’t need to take an office job.

Then there are the less well known reasons.

  1. I had to go back to work when my oldest was 9 weeks old when hubs was laid off totally unexpectedly (side note: 11 years of marriage, 2 kids, 4 layoffs together). This is what sparked a bad ass case of PPD that never totally went away. I’m still medicated.
  2. I grew up with a work-at-home mom, piano teacher edition. She went back to teaching high school when my brother was little because her dream job fell into her lap. A year later my dad left his job to work from home in the early days of home internet. So except that one year when my brother went to a friends house in the morning and everyone was home by the time elementary school was over, there was ALWAYS a parent in the house. It freaks me out to not be there for my girls if something was to happen at school and I couldn’t be there in a split second. I didn’t have kids to send them to daycare, although there are days now that that little one isn’t so little anymore that that doesn’t seem like a bad idea…

And the scariest reasons are:

  1. Exhaustion is a part of my everyday. I am tired from when I get up in the morning till when I go to bed. Two much stress plus low thyroid function plus depression plus anxiety disorder plus stress plus two kids plus stress = pooped.
  2. BRAIN FOG. I swear, I had only heard about this before. I used to be sharp and with it and organized and on top of things, capable of juggling multiple projects at once.  Now I can barely get a writing assignment done in a reasonable amount of time. I don’t think like that anymore. I get spacey, I lose track, I feel like I go in circles.

So to me, I’m not working because the thought of being in an office, even just part time, responsible for other peoples work, deadlines set by bosses, responsibilities, etc. scares the shit out of me. I can’t do a task for an hour and then lay down for a nap like I do at home. I can’t space out in meetings and not be able to formulate words and thoughts in front of superiors and peers.

I spent 9 years working both in an office and from home for one organization and juggled a crazy workload at various times, taking on responsibilities above my pay grade like it was no big thing. I look back and have no fucking idea how that was possible, even when I was pregnant (twice) and had PPD (once). My contract ended when I was 6 months pregnant with my 2nd kiddo, and thankfully I’m glad I wasn’t re-hired on a different contract (they tried). It sucked then, but I don’t know how I’d do it now.

So that’s the long and short of why I’m not “working.” Now I need to go take a nap before bracing to deal with a swim meet tonight.

The short story is we used to be middle class, now we’re not.

I have a lot of anger on top of everything else – depression, anxiety issues, PCOS, and hypothyroidism as well as stress.  Oh so much stress and it’s fun twin excess cortisol production.

My husband was laid off in November 2012. Since then he’s found on and off temp work, sometimes on for months at a time, but often off for an equal amount. He’s also built a shed, worked as an arborist and watched way too much DIY and HGTV. Currently, he’s temping 40+ hours a week plus commuting downtown via metro, but the pay doesn’t cover our bills, nor does it come with benefits like health insurance. So he’s also working as a handyman on the evenings and weekends. He’s good at it, but we pretty much don’t see much of him anymore.

Which leaves me feeling like a single mom with a house and two kids to care for.  Instead of a husband I feel like I have a needy roommate with benefits on occasion, when we’re both not so freaking exhausted. I work as a writer (freelance/ghost) and editor, graphic designer, photographer and run the executive board at the little  nursery school my youngest attends.  I also partake in Muay Thai kickboxing classes 3-5 times a week, which I do not just for the physical benefits but because it’s literally cheaper than therapy. Nothing like kicking the shit out of someone to make you forget all your woes.

I’m trying to be more positive. To not go off and rant everytime I have a willing ear to listen, although I’m thankful for those friends who don’t mind and have been ever so supportive on this depressing journey we’ve been on.

I want to share what I/we’ve learned during this 2.5+ years – about navigating social services, medicaid, SNAP, working with deacons and saving money. I want to reach out to others struggling with extended unemployment or underemployment. I’ve never known anyone in my situation; I want to be friends to those who find themselves in a similar mess. Money is not something people talk about in detail – sure we all known the broad details of someone who gets laid off or gets that big promotion. But the nitty-gritty of day to day life with dwindling resources is too often coated in shame and embarrassment when in actuality it could happen to anyone. ANYONE. We should be able to speak up and reach out when we are in this position; likewise we should be aware of our fellow humans and understand more what is going on in detail whether they can vocalize it or not.

I read once that poverty is a social construct; it’s something you feel when you are no longer able to maintain the social lifestyle of your peers or community that you once could.  I wish I could find the original quote, it was from something on NPR I think. It truly describes where we are.