Monday, June 25, 2012

I Fucked Up Royally and Don't Know How to Get Out

It's no secret that the last 2 years have been an absolute hell for us.

The short and sweet timeline:
May 2010 my father nearly got killed in a car/motorscooter accident.
September 2010 a local judge sent our kids to Canada.
November 2010 Chris had a major health scare.
January 2011 Chris's brother Rob passed on. That was also the month we found the cancer. Oh, and the first time we were contacted by the IRS.
July 2011 Chris found out he would be laid off from his job that he'd held for 5 years.
August 2011 my grandfather passed on as well.
November 2011 Chris was officially laid off.
February 2012 Chris's mother passed on after a long battle with multiple cancers.

During this entire time we've been dealing with Chris's wildly inconsistent health issues, my health issues, IRS, money troubles, stress, dealing with legal issues surrounding the kids, business ventures that didn't pan out, etc. We've made multiple attempts at making life better but we seem to always get kicked in the nuts again. Now it turns out that Chris's promised bonus and stock options from the last job will not be given to him as agreed and my dad told me last week my grandmother has slipped into severe dementia.

On the other hand we're still alive, we're still together, and we don't give up easy (or at all really).

In fact once we get out of this situation I will be getting two new tattoos. One of Dory from Finding Nemo and the phrase "just keep swimming" and a modified version of the Ranger's Prayer.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for I am the baddest bitch in this motherfucking valley."
That's the philosophy that drags me out of bed every morning. That and a whole lotta faith.

As is often true though, I had to tell you that in order to tell you this.

I am mentally and emotionally ill. Not institutionalized-level, or not-safe-with-weapons level. More like "struggles with anxiety and depression on a daily, nay hourly basis" level.

I limped along and struggled along for a VERY long time. I have ADHD as well, and the trio of ADHD, depression, and anxiety is not in any way easy to deal with. But I managed somehow.

Turns out life occasionally gives you a shit sandwich so big that no amount of working around a problem will help. Once your life hits a certain point it's either sink or swim, mustang up or give up.

Like I said before, I don't give up.

I'd already spent years going through all of what was available to me for help. Therapy, self-help books, groups... none of it worked. And none of it was going to work until I made one discovery and one simple decision.

Yes, some of my issues are congenital and genetic and structural. Most of them aren't. Most of them are my doing.

Most therapy will tell you that the people around you influence you and your parents did a lot and and and... yes that's true. They all contributed. But I accepted what they told me. I let them influence me. Doesn't matter that I was a kid and under control and very easily influenced. I still internalized it. I have control over my mind and my emotions.

That's the discovery. I control my brain, mind, and emotions.

And damnit, if I can unconsciously fuck my mind, brain, and emotions up this badly, I can sure as hell un-fuck it all.

And there's the decision. I call it the Un-Fucking Project.

* * *

The Un-Fucking Project is an answer to a prayer, a cry in the wilderness as it were. I knew in order to be healthy I'd need to change almost every way in which I think, in which my mind works and my emotions work.

There's no map for this, no guidebook. Nobody can tell you how to be mentally and emotionally healthy.

Oh, they try. Millions of dollars in therapy sinkholes, and the therapy does work somewhat. But it doesn't address the core issue. Psychiatry as a whole has an unhealthy obsession with "normal", painting "normal" as the goal.

I don't want to be normal. I can't even define normal. Normal is a nebulous concept.

I decided normal isn't the goal, healthy and useful and under my control is the goal. This completely changes the dynamic; using "normal" as the goal means constantly comparing against someone else. "Healthy, useful, and under my control" means measuring my own progress against where I was before and analyzing based on whether or not what I'm doing is working better in my own life.

I could go on an on about the influences that brought me to this understanding, but it's a rather long list. Suffice it to say that I looked at how I was handling myself, looked at where I wanted to be, noted the HUGE gap with no concept of how to get there, and screamed for help.

Prayers get answered in the oddest ways and are never answered in the way in which you expect.

My prayers for help with my own mental state were answered with a complete stranger who introduced me to a way of thinking and analyzing and changing my own beliefs and ideas. Once I started applying what he'd taught me the world opened up and it was like putting on a pair of prescription glasses for the first time after being used to near blindness. The world looked full of detail and possibility.

I also saw every way in which I'd fucked up my life and the lives of those around me.

Un-Fucking is not for cowards it seems.

Fortunately I'd also been given the tools to not sink into despair, or guilt, or any other method of bringing the past along for the ride. Without those tools I would be sunk.

That's when I decided I needed to write this, that I needed to share this experience. I can't be the only one out there who struggles with a plethora of self-limiting thoughts and emotions and behaviors. Hell, since I determined part of the problem I had was dealing with the effects of a culture of learned helplessness I KNOW FOR A FACT I'm not the only one out there.

But that's for later. How I learned to remake my brain in the way I wanted it is a long and intense story and the tools I'm using deserve much more time and attention.

So here's the summary so far: Mel + really bad life events + mentally and emotional illness = must change how Mel deals. 

* * *

Chris protected me from the fallout of my mental and emotional illness.

That's what he does. Among our friends I call it "White Knight Syndrome". He likes to protect, likes to help.

He also enabled me for a long, long time and thus delayed my hitting bottom. It wasn't enabling in the traditional "alcoholic/addict" sense, it was more like "Oh shit... She spent the rent money... Ok, well the rent has to be paid. I better go make some money or sell something and make sure it gets paid". 

Part of how I expressed the illness was financial. If we had money, I'd spend it. Food, clothing, furniture, always necessities. But always gone. Much of the time I didn't even notice it happening; it was a deep-seated compulsion. Sometimes I fed it only off of savings. Sometimes payday loans and pawns were involved. Always convinced that if I didn't do "something" the money would disappear and we wouldn't be able to eat. Seriously. Not just convinced, absolutely mortally certain that if I didn't spend all the money we had on food, or clothes, or whatever, that we were all going to die.

That's what panic disorder is. You don't think. Your fight or flight instinct is all screwed up and it completely controls you, sometimes for hours at a time. You think that you are thinking, and reasoning, but really you aren't, you're just reacting, and overreacting and panicking. Sometimes you don't even really remember exactly what you did afterwards.

NOTE from Chris: Anyone who would misinterpret that statement as an indicator of serious mental illness, or that my wife is a danger to herself and others, you need to re-read what was written, and then go educate yourself about anxiety and panic disorders . It's reactions like that which make it impossible for people who have problems like this to admit it and deal with it. You are validating their greatest fear, which is that they will be destroyed by those they admit their problem to. 
Second lookup what others have to say about anxiety disorder or panic disorder and you'll find they say similar things. It's not like a fugue state, or a psychotic break, or a blackout. You don't do things to hurt yourself or others. But you do get fixated on things, compulsive about things which you feel will "make you safe" etc... They feel... and feel isn't strong enough a word here... that i they don't do that thing, that they WILL die.  
When they say things like "I didn't really remember exactly what I did afterwards", it's not like an alcoholic blackout, it's like when you get really angry and get into a fistfight as a kid, and you're not really sure how you got to that point. Or when you get carried away with a fun time, or a lover, or an argument, or ANY OTHER STRONG EMOTION; because that's what it is. At the time, you don't think that "hey, my emotions are running the show here, maybe I ought to stop and take time out to think rationally about this", because... your emotions are running the show. It's only afterwards that you can look back and say "Oh boy, I was an idiot there, and not thinking".   
What it means, is that people who have this problem have the exact same emotions and reactions as everyone else, it's just that sometimes they have them stronger and it hits them harder.  
What it absolutely does NOT mean, is that she (or anyone else who suffers panic attacks) is unsafe to carry a firearm.  

Chris took away my credit cards. He took away my bank account access. He limited my spending to just cash that he gave me. It didn't matter, I would find a way to make sure that whatever money we had would always be gone within a month or two. At first it was hoarding things, but then I found a way to make sure we never had any money. I found debt. I found online payday loans. I found pawnshops. I would take the money meant for paying the bills, and I would fill the deep freezer with food, then when the bills came due I would take out a payday loan or pawn something to pay for them, then when the payday loan came due or the pawn came due I would repeat the cycle getting deeper and deeper into a hole.

I was so ashamed, so scared that. I don't know what I was scared of, I only knew I felt like I would die if anyone found out. Especially if Chris found out. So I hid it from him. I lied to him. 

Fortunately or unfortunately, once the legal and medical bills started coming in I stopped doing that because there wasn't any cushion, any extra money. All extra went to legal and medical bills.

But the moment any money came in that wasn't assigned to the necessities of life, I made sure it disappeared.

You have to understand, I wasn't going out and buying diamond rings and fancy dinners, and living beyond our means. It wasn't anything like that. It was my mental and emotional illness in control, and me buying $1500 worth of frozen food. Or driving to Spokane or Coeur D'alene 10 days in a row to shop for "necessities" and "emergency supplies" and things like that.

Every few months, I would stop being able to hide it. Someone would come to shut the power off, and Chris would find out. Or Chris would run a credit check on us, and see collection notices on bills that were supposed to have been paid. Or my personal bank account would be so overdrawn that the bank would take money from our household account to cover it.

Then he would go and find a way to pay the bills again. And take the money and the cards and the checkbooks away from me again.

Eventually I didn't have to do it anymore, because there was always something unpaid. Always something growing interest and penalties and fees. Always more legal bills. Always more medical bills.

And it wasn't just money. I would do the same thing with our other problems too. I would get all the mail for a week, and just put it in a box unopened, pretending that if I didn't read it, it wasn't a problem. I would hide legal notices, bills, collection letters. I kept acting like if I ignored everything wrong it would just go away. Because I was terrified that if anyone knew what was wrong, I would die. Not figuratively die, not be upset or uncomfortable, I absolutely and completely and certain knew with all my being that I would literally die.

And then Chris got really sick, and I had to take care of everything else because it was all he could do to work. He had no energy, no focus, no time. Just enough to work to pay the bills. And I had to take care of the bills and the shopping and the house, and as soon as we had money again, I would start doing it again.

After Chris was laid off, and we got our severance (at least what was left of it after the IRS), he paid off a bunch of the debt and bills and collections. But then we had no money coming in for 8 months.

Now, he's been working again the last two months, but he's working 12 or 13 hours a day, and again he has no time and no energy for anything other than working to pay the bills. So I have to take care of everything again. And I've been screwing it up again. 

Chris has been protecting me from the fallout. Like I said, he does that. He loves me and he protects me.

I hid how bad it was from Chris, so he made plans and decisions based on what he knew, and then surprise, here's $8000 in past due bills, or here's an electric bill and a car payment not paid for two months each.

Unfortunately that's left us absolutely fucked, in a deep hole, with Chris making barely enough to cover the bills, and us completely fucked over by the loss of his bonus and stocks. We're currently 2 months behind on almost everything and NO cushion with which to pay down the debt that I racked up. And make no mistake, it's the debt that's killing us.

The money is coming in, but I got us so far behind, it isn't coming in fast enough enough to dig out of the hole. If it weren't for us being so far behind we'd be OK. It's not the new bills that are the problem, we make enough to cover the bills and be OK. It's the things I didn't pay, or paid late, or had fees on or, I think you get the picture.

The bonus and stock were supposed to get us out of the hole. It was supposed to be more than enough to cover all the outstanding debt (except the car and the truck) and give us a little emergency fund. Only we found out in May that Chris's previous employer screwed it up (some paperwork was filed wrong on their part, and something we were told when Chris was laid off was changed a few months later and we weren't notified, and by the time we found out it was too late to fix it), and we would be getting nothing.

I was counting on that money, to fix my mistakes. To let us start back up from level ground instead of deep in a hole.

NOTE from Chris: For anyone who choose to take this time to celebrate our difficulties, or say "I told you so", or any other such thing,  or for those assuming that we are somehow living beyond our means, or even making bad financial decisions. Suggesting that I am being irresponsible by owning a Cadillac (which I paid less than the price of a used accord for, is utterly reliable, gets 26mpg, and after depreciation still have about $6k net positive equity in), and a "big shiny black truck" (which I paid half book for and in which I have about $10k net positive equity in), suggesting that we should drive $500 beaters (which are unreliable and maintenance hogs), and that we should declare bankruptcy and move to a shithole appartment (which by the way don't take three large dogs, and would cost MORE than we currently pay where we live - the advantage of living in the middle of nowhere- Oh and then there's the several thousand dollar upfront cost of moving)... and are clearly passing moral judgement on the fact that my wife has a mental and emotional issue with money... 
Perhaps you should re-read what has been written here, and what I have written in the past about our financial situation. 
As of right now, we are about $4,000 behind on bills. We also have a pawn ($800, on a $2500 item), and a payday loan of $280 to pay off.  
As of right now, including the various payments on the outstanding balances, payments on back bills etc... I'm taking home almost exactly what we're putting out. That would be because I took a 45% pay cut, because with my health I couldn't deal with a 100% travel job anymore (otherwise we'd be making more than we were making before I got laid off).

Oh and that would also be, because our truck loan was sold on to a servicer with a universal default clause in the contract (which we didn't have a chance to deal with by the way. It was either accept the terms or cash out the loan, and by the time we even got the notice we were sold, it was too late to cash the loan out), and when my wifes problems got us into a default on a small medical bill, the loan servicer jacked out interest rate up into "penalty rate", DOUBLING the interest (and basically doubling the payment). I would have refinanced immediately, but right at that time, I got laid off, and with no permanent full time income, I couldn't. Now that I'm working again, once we're caught up and I get six months at the new job (four months from now), I will be refinancing the truck with my credit union, dropping several hundred a month from our monthly bills (they've already said they can do that for us). 
Once we can catch up, and stop incurring more fees, interest, etc... on the hole we're in, we're going to be a few hundred net positive a month. If I can get the truck refinanced and the car  and/or trailer paid off in the next few months (we owe about the same balance on each, at about the same interest rate, but the car payment is more than double the trailer payment) we'll be something more like $1000 a month net positive.

Once I can spend some time on the gunsmithing work (which by the by, I now have a several month at least backlog on, and am merely waiting for paperwork to be finished up, processed, and cleared) we're going to be just fine. 
And of course, that is all before Mel finds another job. Even at $10 an hour, that's still another $1200 or so a month net positive after taxes etc... 
The problem is getting out of the current hole, and making it to the points above.
I have paid all my personal unsecured debt except to one person, who gave us a long term interest free loan, to help with the child custody case. Anyone who has asked for their money back on the cookbook, we have given it back. The bonus and stock sale was going to wipe ALL that debt, and not getting them, as we were contractually promised, is why we are where we are. I could sue to recover that money, but that would cost more than the expected return by far, take years, and probably ruin my professional reputation and career. 
We have about $5k in credit card debt at a reasonable interest rate (6.6%). We have the car, the truck, and the trailer, to pay off; at a total of about $28k outstanding. Right now, all three have a combined resale value of about $50k (and I have a motorcycle worth about $5k on top of it, that I paid cash for).  
The only other major outstanding liability we have is doing a print run of cookbooks, which will cost approximately $2,000. The cookbook has been completed in terms of content for years now (though we are still working on new photos. The old photos weren't great quality, and most of them were lost when our old NAS box died, and the backup turned out to be corrupt). The bonus and stock were going to cover that too. That's why in December I said we would have it out by the end of April.
Our problem isn't bad decisions, or immoral choices, or living beyond our means. Our problem is we had to take a huge pay cut, got screwed over by the IRS, and my wife has an illness that screws up how she deals with money.
I got us in this position. When times were flush I made sure we never held on to anything. Now we're selling pretty much everything we have to make ends meet.

I don't know what to do. I fucked it all up, and I'm fixing my shit so I never do it again, but I don't know how to fix the financial spot we're in. I have lots of ideas for the long term, but in the short term we might lose everything. There's $2000 between us and possibly losing the car and truck and therefore our transportation. Chris says he might have to sell the motorcycle. Since it's the only thing keeping him sane while we sort through everything, I REALLY don't want to sell it. The only guns we have left are the personal protection armory which is at this point really, really small. If I sell my personal carry guns Chris will kill me (not literally of course, but close enough).

I don't know what to do. I'm at a complete loss.

Does anyone out there have any ideas?

EDIT from Chris: 
I want to be clear about three things here.  
First, I overreacted to a comment earlier, and responded to it angrily, rather than in an explanatory mode. I apologize, as that is not useful; however I have a real problem with the presumption that some people seem to make about money issues, and about emotional illnesses. I edited my responses inline with the post above, to perhaps explain the situation better.  
Second, I have nothing to do with this post, except in that I love and support my wife, and am doing everything I can to help her get better; while at the same time doing everything I can to keep our family going.  
Last week, after several days of very bad emotional wrangling, I told her that she wasn't going to be able to move on past her shame spiral if she constantly had it hanging over her head; and that the only way she'd be able to do so was to admit it publicly. She decided that I was right. This was that public admission. I wasn't exactly expecting that last part frankly, but it's what she wanted to say and how she wanted to say it. 
Second, we are NOT asking for money from our readers, even obliquely. Every time we mention our problems here, people send us money. We are NOT asking for money. This isn't begging for money, it's my wife making a public confession of her problem, so she can try to get control of it. 
Even if I were going to ask for money, we still haven't finished the new print version of the cookbook, and I wouldn't dare until we did. I still have promises outstanding that I need to keep before I can ever even think of asking for help.

This is not a matter of losing our children, or our house, or even the cars. If it were about the kids, then yes, pride or circumstances be damned, I'd be begging. But it's not. This is a problem we got ourselves into, no matter the circumstances, and will get ourselves out of. 
Yes, it is a matter of selling a bunch of "stuff", but we have stuff to sell. We are going to get raped on selling it, but that's our problem to deal with. 

EDIT from Mel: 
There's been some misunderstanding about the true problem here.

The problem isn't money or spending or spending addiction. It's what fuels the behavior that's the problem.

Fear and anxiety are the crux of the problem. I grew up with no money with parents who had/have issues of their own. In order to rationalize their issues they taught us that money is evil and that wanting more than is necessary to eat and keep a roof over our heads was inherently evil and sinful. In many ways my father still feels that way. When you think money is evil you do everything you can to avoid having any. When you believe that being wealthy is inherently wrong and evil (and believe everything that's done to become wealthy is inherently wrong and evil) you do everything in your power to avoid keeping money. Doesn't matter if consciously you know better, it's the internalized fear that counts.

Add to that being starved by my ex-husband, and then the fear turns into "I must spend every penny on necessities or I will die." That last bit is very important. Or I will die. The moment your life is in danger, real or otherwise, you do whatever is necessary to protect it. If that means taking all cash and turning it into food and sundries, that's what you do.

My compulsive fear is literally, that people who have money are evil, and they will come to kill us if we have money, therefore I MUST make us poor, because if I make us poor we won't be evil anymore and they won't come to kill us.

So it doesn't matter how much we spend, or don't spend, or what we spend it on; the compulsion is I HAVE TO GET RID OF ALL THE MONEY NOW OR WE WILL DIE.

So it's not the spending that's the problem. The fear is the problem.

Those aren't the only fears I forced myself to root out and destroy. One of the other major fears involves social fear and fear of vulnerability.

If I show myself as vulnerable and as who I am, I will be cast out and I will die.

That's the fear. It's deep, it's very primal, but it's also very learned. It's not something I was born with.

Part of posting about what I'm struggling with is taking that fear and facing it head-on and proving it to be wrong. I will not die. If I'm cast out, it's only by people I don't give a damn about.

Everything I'm doing is about facing fear and proving that every single bit of mental and emotionally programming I've internalized and done to myself is utterly false.

So in short, it's not about money. That's just one of the ways in which the true issues are expressed. I don't need to hit bottom on money. I don't need to destroy my life. I don't need to get rid of my car, or my truck, or anything else because the problem isn't money.

The bottom I had to hit, and I did hit, came down to a choice. Either I control myself and my mind and my emotions, or I don't. Either I keep buying into every piece of bullshit that I was raised with, educated in, and internalized myself, or I don't. It's not one part of my life I'm grappling with, it's EVERYTHING CONCERNING WHO I AM.

So I face the fears, one by one, and prove that everything I thought I knew was wrong. I'm beating the crap out of the learned helplessness I'd been conditioned to believe as the utter truth.