A couple of times now I’ve mentioned the word trapped when describing how I feel about life. Kidnapped would apply; so would held hostage. All these adjectives refer to the life-changing events that happened to me in the summer and fall of 2008. Several events unfolded that I could have handled if only one of them had happened, but the domino effect of them all knocked me down and I’m still trying to get up. Some days I feel like I might be making progress, that I’ve managed to get myself upright on my knees, that I maybe even have one foot on the floor and I’m about to propel myself up onto two feet. But then something will come along and I feel like I’m flat out on the floor again, holding on with my fingernails so I don’t fall into the basement.
I’m really wrestling with these words as I type them. Just the act of thinking these thoughts touches so many emotions, so many nerves. The feelings I carry about it all are as painful as having the dry heaves and then vomiting up bile. Making the thoughts come to life by putting them into black words on paper just exacerbates it all.
The real rub in all of this is that in the overall scheme of things, I have absolutely nothing about which to complain. I have a house (for now). I have a working car. I have a job. I have medical insurance. I have food in my pantry and my fridge. I have a husband who loves me and we are in a healthy relationship. Together we have six daughters and six grandchildren who are all healthy. We are blessed.
I will not worry about finding a warm place to sleep tonight. I will not go to bed hungry. I will not be without a warm coat and warm shoes when I venture outside this weekend. If I get sick, I can go to the doctor.
So everything rests on my perspective. That old adage comes to mind: Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. Or, to put it another way, take the quote from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
I am not a spoiled brat. I don’t have an entitlement attitude. And I don’t understand how I got here!
I know I am not alone in my feelings. Thousands, tens of thousands, maybe even millions of people in our country, in our world, had similar life-changing moments in their lives in the summer of 2008 when our economy began its downward spiral. I was not the only one to lose my job. My husband is not the only one his age who may never land a job again for the rest of his life. We were not the only ones who lost their financial security in the market crash that September. We were not the only family who had teenagers maneuvering the rocky road of adolescence during that challenging time.
But the fact is, bad things happened to us that were not in our control. And even though we had contingency plans, those efforts were not strong enough to handle all the crushing blows we sustained. At the time, my husband said the downturn will last three years. I laughed at him, nervously, and said it will last five to eight years. Today, I feel like we’ll never recover.
And that’s the part that infuriates me. My whole life has been spent planning for goals, reaching goals, planning for higher goals, dreaming dreams. If I failed at something it was because I didn’t try hard enough or I didn’t have the right tools or enough knowledge. And so I tried harder or saved money to buy the right tool or acquired the knowledge I needed.
Today, it hurts to dream dreams and it’s depressing to imagine goals. Six years ago we had a responsible financial plan and we were living within our means. Overnight we became our worst nightmares—irresponsible spenders living beyond our means.
If I could find a better paying job, things would improve. I’ve been looking for six years and was incredibly fortunate to find the job I did. My husband has been looking just as long, but he’s discriminated against because of his age and his advanced education and experience. If we could sell our house and downsize, that would help but we don’t have the money to bring to the table in a short sale. We can’t afford to buy “healthy” food, so we’ve both put on weight, which created the additional problem of clothes not fitting and that only worsened our depression.
I’m whining. I’m complaining. I’m pathetic.
And I’m trapped. All the old methods I knew of to pick myself up and get back on the right path no longer work. The knowledge and skills I have are considered outdated but I cannot afford to go back to school, and at my age I’d never see the return on that investment. The confidence that once allowed me to give speeches to crowds of six hundred people is so lacking now that I have allowed myself to be bullied at work. I’ve been living with so much stress that two weeks ago I spent an evening in the emergency room with chest pain thinking I was having a heart attack. I wasn’t, but I’m thinking I will for certain when the bills come in the mail.
My parents and grandparents passed over many, many years ago. Yet nearly every day I wish they could impart their wisdom gained from having survived the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl Years, and two World Wars. They’d probably laugh at me and tell me what I’m going through is nothing and there’s no reason I can’t rebuild my life. “Why, when I was a kid, we didn’t have ….” I can hear my cranky German grandmother say.
So I am wandering, lost, in a desert of my own making. Much like Moses and his people, I keep praying to God to provide a path out. I try to make good choices and do the right thing, but I don’t see any progress and have no idea if I’m doing the right thing or not. Every day I remind myself that I still have control over my attitude, but at the end of some days I know I have failed in even that simple task.
For the last couple of months I’ve been thinking the secret is in changing my perspective. Instead of riding in a sinking boat, I need to jump into the water and find the oars to row to shore. If I only knew how to swim.