Saturday, February 27, 2016

You Can Go Home Again. A Story of Financial Heartbreak and Success.

*I am writing about some of our past hardships for those who are struggling. By putting mine in context, I feel that people can maybe learn from both our mistakes and our accomplishments? Ideally...And remember this is in Canada...I do realize that 600 a month is A LOT of money in other countries...context is everything.*

It took me quite awhile to come home to myself. I always had great intuition and I loved myself but I didn't understand some of my impairments and abilities within context. I spent my early twenties struggling to create HOME. Our finances were a mess, we were so poor that we made 600 dollars a month. Yes, you heard right. SIX hundred dollars a month for a family of four (at the time.) We lived in subsidized housing that was included in our job. Four hundred went to pay our living cost and we were lucky that it included utilities- an ideal situation. We would have not had a home if we hadn't been provided that little shack with our job. We had 200 dollars for all of our other needs. Needless to say, spending quite a few years like this put us heavily in debt. Our debt wasn't on cars, vacations, or jewellery. Our debt was for FOOD, basic clothes for the kids and a few necessities like the cheapest toilet paper and shampoo. Once I took more toilet paper than I needed to use at the moment... home from a restroom... because I did not want to hit up my parents again. We took out a VISA so we could eat and looking back, I actually don't know how we were approved? When that VISA ran out, we went to the food bank, ate at group functions whenever we could so our children could get some balanced meals, and showed up at our parent's houses near mealtimes. It wasn't because we were lazy but because we had already consumed what little we had. We tried not to be over the top about it, but it was a desperate time and we tried not to mention it because we did not want to be burdens. We also received a lot of flack for our early marriage and we didn't want people to think we were failing. Call it pride but some of this gumption of ours to make it despite the odds, pulled us through to where we are today. Sometimes a little pride is what is needed. Poverty is a humbling experience on it's own. Each human being has an innate right to dignity and we fought hard for ours.

We asked for help at the church once and we were shamed. We were also asked to give a lot of our time in exchange which was impossible with three tiny people under the age of four at home. Needless to say it was another strike that brought us closer to not needing the church anymore. Looking back I am glad it happened. We had no other choice but to dig ourselves out from our own messes. It was a tough lesson. The other side of it was learning to accept help and ask for it. We received some surprises because we asked. Our current house only happened because we took a chance and asked our boss if we could get a discount because my husband worked for the company. We asked five different banks and only one would take us with conditions. We barely made it in to our home, but persistence and determination paid off. We will always be thankful to my husband's boss at the time because if the asking price had been higher, we would have never had our home.

It broke our hearts to give up many goals, dreams and wishes. We spent some evenings crying and holidays re grouping. We stopped my husband's school mid term (and mine online) because we knew we couldn't sustain our budget. We learned we could achieve wisdom through free books and sources and other people instead of higher education (the book Dumbing Us Down helped with this thought process.) We quit a higher paying job because my husband never saw our kids. We made paradoxical choices and found ways to live that we would have not naturally chosen. Today, we own most of our dreams and they look very different from what we would have thought.

I feel we have paid our dues. We spent at least eight years of our marriage in poverty. The kind of broke that if someone had a birthday, we either re -gifted something we loved or we didn't go. This is okay once in awhile, but several years in a row made it tough on the soul when our kids were receiving brand new gifts from others. We knew what we looked like, but we still tried to give when we could. It was the type of desperation that found us often searching the couches for milk money. There were a few times when our hands came out empty and I wept because I had two tiny children asking for milk. We did ask for help when we most needed it, but if we had asked each time we needed it, we would have been asking all the time. We wanted to not only make our own way and not be burdens on society, but also feed our own children sometimes. It was a fine line. Sometimes we asked for too much and sometimes too little.

My husband took extra jobs where he could. I barely saw him. He put many dreams on hold and decided to get his carpentry ticket so we could make more money eventually. It was a sacrifice for all of us. Looking back, I am relieved we made that decision. He may not work at the job of his dreams, but he gradually became amazing at carpentry. Carpentry school was fairly cheap and trade codes need to be taught hands on. This enabled us to make our starter home into a custom home and it also enabled us, years later, to earn a wage that covers all of our costs.

Is it a job that suits his ENFP personality? Sometimes. He suits relational jobs, humorous or philosophical vocations...his deepest passions belong within the thinking/ relational realm. But you know what? It took us a few years, and a deep depression for him working through being at a job he did not love, but years later, we are on the other side and grateful we chose this. He has learned that his passions can still be fed during his free time. We found a way to earn what we need, cut back on our spending and work hours, so that he can also enjoy free time and life at home (thank you Mr. Money Moustache ) Does my husband love his job? On some days yes, but the more important factor is he no longer hates it. He no longer has to medicate to be in his life but that medication was crucial for awhile. He has come to a place of acceptance where he realized that it doesn't matter where he works, as long as he can make the best of it and meet our basic needs and have plenty of time in after hours to do what he desires. Right now we are benefiting from an amazing construction team that meets some of his socializing and philosophical needs with good discussions at work breaks. Not what one would think of when pondering construction crews but it's a great situation for him on many days.
At the same time it is important to tell your stories and embrace some madness!

In my early twenties I wore my sister's and cousin's hand me down clothes (they are a decade younger than me.) I did not buy a new outfit of my own until 2009. Even then, it was a birthday gift. My beautiful cousins would often make gifts out of their clothing and once, my twenty year old cousin bought me more than a hundred dollars worth of clothes. I was 28 at the time and so humbled and happy. Anything we owned was given to us or made out of boxes. I made so many furnishings in our home from crates, pieces of wood and cardboard. Truthfully, I loved making something out of nothing. I loved my creativity and the challenge of making something homey for free. That taught me thrift and my budgeting skills slowly blossomed out of my ignorance from yesterdays. My children had a lot of toys due to our multiple family connections which was a relief but it didn't match what they were eating. Some weeks we lived off of cheerios three times a day. We were just grateful we had that. It was tough. Yet so beautiful too.

I didn't get Internet until 2009. I spent my first few sessions in tears trying to figure out how to type. It is almost a foreign concept to me now that we managed to live that long without a computer or device in the home. Some of it was beautiful without the distractions but I think the lack of it heavily contributed to my depression and anxiety.

After learning the ways around the net, I spent hours hashing out my existence, my depression, my anxiety and my differences. I put a lot out there and found a second home in some blogging connections I will be forever grateful to. I found myself slowly by writing. I found out I had Asperger's syndrome. I have been to therapy for over eleven years, once a month.

I made sure that I was putting in the work to make myself the best version of me, for my family and for myself. I researched ways to budget online and self taught the tricks we have today. Considering I have Dyscalculia this took many tears of frustration. I see most numbers switched so 53 is 35, I can not memorize math facts, and I still use my fingers to do basic equations like five plus four. Math is messed up for me. I still take two hours per week to do my budget. I go over the budget at least seven times plugging the numbers into the calculator. Out of six tries I come out with different numbers, until finally, at the 7th or 8th try my numbers match. My brain buzzes for awhile and it takes a couple hours to stop seeing numbers floating in my mind, but I feel proud that I can work with my impairments. Despite a legitimate disability, I am ABLE with my own tricks, extra time and determination to do what I believe I need to do. But it didn't happen overnight and I would have never believed years ago when I was failing math, that I would be the one to make the financial decisions and not only get us out of a debt mire, but to actually help us thrive.

When our kids were younger, at christmas we asked for necessities. We never asked for wants. If I received a piece of jewellery or something expensive I would almost always ask to exchange it for a gift card to somewhere where I could buy needs for the family. If someone wanted to give us a gift I would strongly hint at grocery cards or subway meals. Nice shampoos, make up, accessories...those were all luxuries. While I knew there was an importance in self esteem and I did make sure I could always buy cheap eyeliner, I had to learn what I could live without. Turns out there are is a lot we can live without when we have a change in circumstances or live under a certain budget line. For a mother under twenty five this had some depressing elements.

I wanted to feel young sometimes. I wanted to be able to go out and not feel guilty. I wanted to look good, young and energetic...and I wanted to be able to give my kids more. Looking back, I can honestly say that we did give our kids a lot for what we had. We also learned about scrimping, thinking up creative ways to get by, and how to keep dignity and a marriage in tact while struggling with almost every aspect of life.

I would NOT go back because those were the toughest years of my life. I also struggled with health and didn't know myself. I had post partum depression and I was also dealing with poverty. During this time people thought they would give me advice, but I was already down in the deepest place and their advice was simply a foot stomping my face into the mud. Words were the difference between hope and devastation to me. Too often people assumed they knew our context and chose the wrong words. Maybe they thought they were acting out of kindness to "better" me? Most of it was judgement. They did not understand the circumstances which is why I can forgive but unfortunately I will never forget those moments that I literally hung between desperation for hope and complete darkness and someone chose to push me. My husband says that to forget is to not forgive...because if you forget there is nothing to forgive at all...I suppose this is so.

The beauty in some of that mire was that we kept dreaming, we found hope in unexpected places and we crawled out of the mire and found ourselves in tact. For a special occasion once we decided to splurge and eat out. We budgeted it carefully and when we were done our meal, the server came out and said,"Rusty took care of it for you." Rusty was my old high school chum that I had not talked to in over a year. I went home and cried because not only did we get to eat out with our kids, but we also were able to buy some extra groceries that week. The kindness of a high school buddy was unexpected.

There were many instances when kindness took care of us. When we were at our end and someone would come along with unexpected aid. Then there were times when no one showed up...for months...and we would make our own way as best as we could. We needed those times too. However, if we would have had them longer than we did I think they would have broken us. Too much poverty and struggle easily leads to despair in the strongest of people. We were one of the lucky ones. On the flip side, I am grateful I experienced some of what we did.

I know we will struggle again in different ways. I struggle with health every day and know what it is like to sometimes despair. I also know the dangers of hope. I used to believe hope was the answer but instead of making me feel better, it layered my despair in grief, perfection, striving, guilt and living in the future. I learned the key to my survival was in a moment. Moment by moment.

Survival is in a song played over and over. Sometimes idealism is what gets us through life. I have had to learn, that everywhere I look, THERE IS a place to come home to...even if it is within myself. If I remind myself to open my eyes, I can see the beauty in a blade of grass swaying in the wind or the bubbly sound of alive bliss in my child's laugh.

I have known despair. I have known what carrying the world on my shoulders is like. I have also known depression...deep, gut wrenching, mind destroying depression. Chills run up my spine when I get flashbacks of the thoughts I used to have. Not of destroying someone else or even having others destroy me, but the images I saw flash in front of my eyes. I never could watch horror shows as I am too sensitive but my brain played horror shows for me. I witnessed the worst news reel of human history flashing through my mind as I rocked my newborn to sleep. The weight of history and future moments rested on little lashed eye lids.

I have known what it is like to be hungry (not starving luckily) and to feel that raw heartburn for days. I would still give up 3/4 of my portion to my kids but I ravenously ate my portion. I have known what it is like to wish for food or to start seeing food opportunities even though I did not love the taste of food. Food at that time was a necessity- carbs and sugar felt the best because I felt full for the first time in awhile. I would walk out of my way to friends in hopes that someone would offer my kids something. They would not realize it was the only food my children had eaten besides cereal all day because our food bank options were full of worms. I remember being desperate enough to consider the worms but not quite enough to risk it...and I wasn't even starving compared to most.

We put the house that we loved on the market three times. It never sold. We tried renting it out so we could move back in with my parents but no one rented instead we fought to keep what we had. We put all of our money into our mortgage and basic bills and even when our wage was higher, we did not have much extra.

Imagination was also key to my survival. I have a practical side and an idealistic side. I leaned into my idealism and imagination during these years. I often pretended we were better off than we were. My inner imaginings mimicked Sara Crewe in the Little Princess. That book shaped me when I was little and stuck with me as I aged. Imagination was my coping mechanism. I lived within books, movies, people, films, beauty, art, music...I found bliss through the beauty of creativity, magic and imagination.

Those I loved did their part to keep our family out of the deep end, but I also owe a lot to myself, and my husband to his self. Our collective inner wisdom and attitude...that voice that whispered. "Kid, don't sell that dream so soon." Brave, naive, sweet grit was what got us through clinging to each other despite all the odds. We did almost break up, twice. It's not easy when a marriage is a string and weights are added in succession. I think we owe a lot of our marriage factor to my tenacity and his dedication. My husband agrees. I forced us to read marriage books, attend therapy, and hold hands during fights. I was brutally honest and when he felt he hated me or I felt no feelings for him, we would still intentionally find ways to see the beauty. He supplied for our basic needs working harder than anyone I have known, and I held up the home front by using less than we needed and keeping our family tethered together. He developed physical muscles and I developed new cognitive pathways to work around some of my disabilities and impairments. I also taught him about some of his impairments and he finally was diagnosed with ADD. At first this almost broke him, this realization that he was different in his thinking pattern, but after some time, it made him a healthier version of himself with understanding.

Within all this context, let me say that I know we were not beyond hope. I know there are many worse circumstances than what we had. I have been to the mountains of Nicaragua and experienced heartbreaking, beyond hope, poverty. I witnessed starvation and disease, abuse and neglect. When I came back from that trip I never took for granted things like toilet paper, food, or warmth. It stuck with me. But our form of poverty for North America, struggling in minus 30 weather celsius, and having to buy winter coats and boots was a legitimate struggle. Sometimes I convinced my wonderful mother to buy my kids their needs. Sometimes she just showed up with what we needed. Other times it was my grandma. It was a consistently humbling process. At moments I would frequent thrift stores and would tear up victoriously when I found the right size for my children. They would wear their outfits too big or too small if needed but a perfect fit was nice. If a minor cost came up like fixing a luxury item like our washing machine, it would drive us to desperation. We were lucky because my husband's parents offered to cover the initial cost (having newborns, chronic illness and six months of freezing cold made it very hard for me to think of hand washing all our clothes.) His parents allowed us to pay them back over three months. That saved us. I think, in that moment, I would may have given up. A broken down appliance can do that when a family is already breaking.

We are fourteen years into our marriage. There are many more desperate and beautiful moments within our story. Some are my private treasures or fragmented shards of glass to keep for myself. The parts I have shared with you just give some glimpses. My point in sharing, is to say, that after fourteen years, we are finally at a good place. We have been at a good place for almost three years now (lol I guess we struggled for more than eight years but the first eight were the toughest.) We have a home full of stuff we love. We are now able to buy wants at Christmas, clothe our children, take them to their appointments without worrying about fuel money every time (although we still budget our fuel), and eat nourishing food.

Nourishing food is a luxury. It's an unfortunate fact but it's true. I didn't want to live off of Mac and Cheese or cereal but those items filled our bellies at what we could afford. Nourishing food should be a basic human right, but even with a home garden, it isn't always possible with the best of intents. For a few years we felt lucky that our bellies stayed semi full. Sometimes, you have to choose what isn't the best in life's contextual circumstances. Now, I am beyond exuberant every month when we come home after our Costco cart was overflowing at the till. We get to snack on veggies and fruits. Now, I am able to decorate my home with some store bought choices, even though I still try to buy at thrift first. I am careful with our budget because of our history but I also allow us to splurge on the stuff we love because finally we can.

I also know, if we go back to that place again in our future, we will be okay. I don't want to go back, but I have learned how to work with less, and I know we could manage again. At times, I have noticed that people look at our house full of stuff and think we are beyond rich. The truth is- we are rich, but not completely in a money way. We are still considered slightly under the poverty line but we have learned to live within our means, without debt, and we have enough to get by. Our house is full because of hard work, sacrifices and our own creativity. We may have a library and beautiful rooms but we worked over hours to build our own dreams. Our home is also full of other's gifts and love.

Sometimes having a choice- is a luxury. We were lucky that most of the time we had that luxury.  We were taught perspective and the power of it. We had to learn between needs and wants. We also learned that sometimes a want has to out power a need because life needs a little beauty...but this was the exception and not the rule.

We have made a home out of a place we never thought we could belong. Our standard starter home looks completely different inside and it often awes strangers who walk in. Many people tell me that it is a place of welcome, magic and creativity. We have infused ourselves into our surroundings. We have also made a home of ourselves. This did not come easily and I have no compunction saying that I am proud of us. I learned I was Autistic. I learned about my autoimmune diseases. I learned about Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia. I accepted what I couldn't change about myself, and worked around what I could. I learned that there is immense beauty and pain living a disabled and ABLED life. I have both and I LOVE who I am. My husband has learned how to work around his edgy ADD and embrace his ENFP needs. He has learned boundaries and compassion for himself.

We had to learn our own ways and each person will have unique lessons, challenges and victories. Some people need to stay in school, some really don't. Regardless, in most cases- you can do it. You can go without for short periods but do not go without creativity and imagination. You can choose the hard choices. You can give up and by giving up you may have a whole new door open up to you...You can also choose what victories are important and strive towards all that is good.

No one will come rescue you. Some people will help, but you are the main protagonist in your story. You have to rescue yourself by making some very tough sacrifices. It is possible that you can go home again to your deepest soul even if your outer world is in chaos. It's also possible that if you are struggling now, you may not later. Regardless of the situation, there are moments of beauty to be had when we train our eyes to look. It's not easy.

If you have never been in that place, know that your words and stories matter. A story like mine will be hopeful to some, depressing to others, but it's authentic in what it is.

If I can besiege you to keep one thing, please keep your eyes open for the smallest of lights. There are 'light' moments everywhere. Keep perspective in what is needed but also hold on to imagination. Know yourself to become your future.

I hope each one of you, despite circumstances, can find a home within.

 *"Clouds as mean as you've ever seen and a bird that knows your tune. And a little voice inside of you whispers, "Kid don't sell your dreams so soon." Everywhere you look there's a heart and a hand to hold on to, Everywhere you look there's a face of somebody that needs you... Cuz how do you know where you are going if you don't know where you've been? Everybody eventually says that they are as lost as you, so everybody shout it together, "hey don't sell your dreams so soon!" When you're lost out there and you are all alone, a light is waiting to carry you home. Everywhere you look."

If you are looking for practical tips on money and debt, read this blog and his top rated articles- Using his ideas we got out of debt: Mr. Money Moustache 
*I love this song in it's original form and it's new one. I am not going to assess the new Fuller House. I agree with the critics on many points but also find some of it comforting, but the song has been uplifting to me the last few days being sick and has helped me in the past. It's happy and idealistic. Sometimes I need my media to reflect sad reality but more often than not I want something with a snappy, happy ending. I want the laughs, the charm and the magic. I want loads of nostalgia with nods to the past to honour the now. I believe in bliss despite the odds and milestones...which I why I DID tear up at part in the new Fuller House's first episode and it gets better mid way through and finds it's groove. "It is no small thing to celebrate a life." Even a fake one, on T.V., that was part of the greater lives around.


Anonymous said...

I've always been inspired by your tenacity, honesty and generosity over the years. ~K

Kmarie A. said...

Thanks so much. Means a lot. You are also part of home to me and I could NEVER accomplish what you have and participate in the travels and advocacy you do ...and risk so much - I deeply admire you.

FlutistPride said...

I'm an ESTP. It took me a while to figure out that I was a sensor since MBTI communities don't like sensors and because people think gifted=intuitive. (No, just no.) My ESTP type was harder to embrace than my autism, ADHD, anxiety, and depression that resulted from said anxiety. I had somewhat of an exisential crisis because the thing I used to excel at for so long and to such an extent (academics) ended up not being for me. ESTPs are a "want it all" type. When given the choice between first in a village and second in Rome, the ESTP denies both and wants to be first in Rome. ESTPs, past our brazen audacity, are caring and empathetic people with a strong sense of justice. Our raging waters rage intensely.

Kmarie A. said...

It's just means a different processing- I process in patterns, impressions and abstracts...and you process through the five sense, in the present in concrete terms. I could see how it would be hard to embrace if there is pre conceived notions and people's ignorant thoughts surrounding it. :)

Ashe said...

There is no shame in using fingers in math! Nor other tricks. I do it all the time. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do, and if it gets the job done and done right, who has a right to complain about how ya did it?

Whee, poverty! Made doubly awkward to compare or understand due to cost of living expenses, household size, and national differences like weather. One of the most annoying things about living below the poverty level of your country is the blasted attitude other people have toward you! Being broke does NOT automatically make a leeching bum. Some are and are just wanting a hand out, but most of those I've met are simply needing a hand UP.

Er, my family included. Poverty and health woes, fun fun. Such situations demand that the Drill Sergeant / Task Master INTJs take the helm away from those Procrastinator INTPs and retire them to the role of babysitter. ;) (My husband and I have been ragging each other ever since I got him to take the test for the first time.)

Faith and tenacity are a must when you're struggling. You gotta have the faith and hope it'll be all right, and you've also gotta have the determination and flexibility to see it through. Looks to me like you've done fairly well for yourself in the end. Or the middle? Old age is still quite a ways off! But from my very far away position, y'all look like you're gonna be alright since you've found a good pattern/template for managing things. And that's no small feat. =)

Kmarie A. said...

Ashe: Thanks...Yes you do")

Yes it is so different in every country...To be honest I feel very rich and our poverty line probably stretches further than the US...and we also get our kids covered for dental and health ( we are not but they are) which helps a lot...yes the attitude is weird at times but we know we work very hard....that attitude I think is more for people on EI that could get jobs or don't ( but I think that is also wrong as one never knows the situation) Below the poverty line here does not mean any government hand outs beside the kids medical and a little more in their government childcare stuff.

Lol yea- I hear you:) Too funny on the roles...My bestie is an INTJ...I used to get the letters mixed up and thought she was a guardian but she is actually a rationalist... we make an interesting pair!:)

Oh yes, we are doing very well for us now and if we keep up our living style we will have our mortgage paid off in our mid forties...not too shabby I say:) We have learned what we need to earn to live well ( by live well I mean afford basics, nourishing foods, some fun stuff and lots of time together) To me, it feels like we have made the grade...I am very happy with where we are and hope to stay in it for the future...Its a really nice balance right now and I feel so rich. I am a little bit down home country with a lot of hippy attitudes and likes thrown in there with my very practical aspie this lifestyle suits me.

S said...

I read this post and felt your heart -that heart when it was going through the struggle. You are right in saying that too much poverty and struggle easily leads to despair in the strongest of people. To survive with dignity, we need to have our basic needs met.
I am happy for you now as you have overcome these struggles to a great extent and reached a place of comfort and safety.But yes, the journey was not easy, that too with little children to be taken care of. If I was living near you, I could have at least comforted you in those trying times. Your journey will inspire many people who are going through life's difficulties.
I am also happy to know that neither you nor your hubby gave up your dreams in the most trying times. It is very essential to keep our dreams alive as dreams and imagination are the soul food of the idealist. Even though in difficult times, we tend to lose our perspective,that you hold on to yours, is encouraging and inspiring.
What you wrote in this post felt very real as if I was taking the journey with you but also heartbreaking in many ways...By writing about these experiences,you are letting us know about the conditions that human beings are forced to face and how to deal with it...
I am happy to realize that your soul will never be poor in spite of trying circumstances, in spite of circumstances beyond your control and that is what keeps you going.
take care,