When I was on Welfare… 

The other day, my youngest daughter needed to go get a few shots to keep her up to date on her immunizations and while she is nineteen, she wanted me to keep her company.  We had to go to the local health department, where we used to go to another building in an adjacent town in our county for a clinic. It had been years since I had been inside this building. 

When I was 20 and pregnant with my first child, my husband at the time thought it was a good idea to change jobs late pregnancy which suddenly meant I had no medical insurance.  My obstetrician was ready to boot me as I was now uninsured.  And imagine, that marriage didn’t work out.  He only had to work three more months rather than taking a job that paid much less and the insurance wouldn’t cover the pregnancy.  So there I was, sitting in the same chairs I sat in today staring at the same tile floor (though more worn and scuffed today).  Except I was dying inside of embarrasment and shame.  I came from a family that looked down on those who used government assistance unless you were elderly or disabled.  You worked for your living, not take handouts. My husband was sitting next to me, just happy as could be.  He didn’t care that I was ashamed, he looked at it as something he didn’t have to provide.  That’s what you get for marry a narcissist.  

I spent the entire appointment looking at the floor because I was so ashamed.  I didn’t want to face the case worker.  I couldn’t tell you what she looked like today.  I walked out with Medicaid, food stamps (which I used in the next city) and WIC.  Though I was grateful that I wouldn’t have to give up my osbtetrician or have the baby at home because I didn’t have medical coverage, inside I was angry at my husband for putting me through this and the shame carried with me for many years after.  

When we got together, my first husband promised me the world and delivered me to pick up my welfare benefits.  This is why I have taught my daughters to be self-sufficient, get their education, follow their instincts and if it sounds too good to be true, it is.  We had two more children and the marriage ended.  Years of dealing with someone who couldnt’ even show up for his daughter’s kindergarten graduation and other self-centered behaviors took their toll.  As did the infidelity.  I was tired of getting calls from other women giving me bad news that finally stopped surprising me.  My second marriage wasn’t any better.  I was so beat down from the first, that this guy latched on, took me six years to marry him and five to divorce him.  We didn’t have kids together so that was easier to cut ties.  However, he was emotionally abusive to everyone in our home.  I finally woke up and got rid of him.  

Except this time, I didn’t lose my home and all my possessions except for my girls, their beds and our clothes.  (My first husband sold about everything he could so I didn’t get it – he’s a peach isn’t he?)   I planned ahead, paid off bills, bought a reliable car, planned my budget and got a good attorney.  He left with what he came with and I had never been so happy in my life.  Relieved when that monster moved out.  I could support myself, I wasn’t going to need assistance and I had my own medical insurance through my employer.  It felt good to have that control, that plan and to be able to do it on my own.  This time I was smart about it.  The first time I was railroaded because he threatened to fight for custody so I gave him whatever he wanted.  However, I still won.  I got our daughters.  

As I sat there today, I wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed that when I was 20, I needed assistance or that I lived in a crappy 1960’s single wide trailer that was just one step above a cardboard box.  This experience is part of who I am today.  Adversity teaches you to be more compassionate to people, to be less judgmental than if I had never had to accept welfare at all.  I don’t look at someone in line at the grocery store who has well what used to be food stamps is now a debit type card and judge them harshly.   They could be just going through a bad time.  Granted there are always those who take advantage of these programs, but I bet the majority don’t.  Instead of thinking they are lazy, I pray for them.  It could be a single mom who’s child(s) father doesn’t pay support or they got laid off of work.  I figure God will deal with those who are taking advantage of other’s goodness. 

Just a few weeks ago, my husband and I bought a brand new truck.  It’s the kind of expensive vehicle that I would have never imagined myself owning before.  And honestly, if we weren’t a dual income household and I was on my own, I still couldn’t afford it but I could afford the more scaled down version.  My husband now is the antithesis of a narcissist.  He wants me to have nice things that I never had and he takes care of me in a way that sometimes feels very foreign to me.  Driving my new truck that first week, I was in a bit of a daze.  I felt like I was in a dream, that I would wake up and my carriage would be a pumpkin again.  Actually some of the cars I’ve had, a pumpkin would have been a step up.   But the bottom line is, anything is possible.  One day you might be on welfare and the next day you might be driving a new truck that heats and cools your butt.  If only it would do laundry, I’d be set.  Or cook.  

Don’t give up.  Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed if you are going through a rough time and you have to ask for help.  Don’t let a rough time define you.  Realize that these times in your life are what make you a stronger more empathetic person.  You can relate to so many more people as you travel through life. Adversity is a gift, though at the time it feels like hell.  It teaches you to be less judgmental and that you can survive things you never thought you could.  

Your today doesn’t not have to be your tomorrow.  And this too shall pass…  And all that stuff they like to say.  

Ready, Set… No Goals!!!

Have you ever reached a big goal to only be let down once you get there?  Or you ride on the wave of accomplishment only to stand there and think okay, now what?  You feel lost, deflated and you realize you never imagined what you would do next as you have only been focused on the attainment of said goal?  It’s like a person who has worked really hard to lose a lot of weight and when they do, they find their life is a bit different but hasn’t been transformed the way they believed it would be?  Everything doesn’t fall into place because their weight was only a small part of the equation, though us overweight people want to believe that being fit or thinner is the magic equation.  It just isn’t.

Recently, I slowly realized that I have achieved a major goal in my life.  One I have had for years and years.  At least since I was first married at twenty.  I’m not going to elaborate on what this goal is because it will sound like bragging and it’s very personal.  However, I have been workng toward it, with many ups and downs and moments that it seemed I would never reach the pinnacle.  Now I’m here, standing on top of this goal mountain and I have no where to go, so to speak.  I’m just here, arrived, journey over.  I’m sitting on a boulder, with my chin on my fist like The Thinker, trying to figure out what next?  

I was taking inventory of myself this weekend which we spent away in one of my favorite cities.  I could easily live in this city, I love the surrounding countryside, the people, the arts and the culture.  It’s not overly big but offers enough I would be more than happy.  But I found, I just seemed to want to go home.  Which is unusual for me.  I always love getting away, love escaping the day to day hassles and the work pressure, etc.  Except I no longer feel the need to escape my life anymore since reaching this particular goal.  I realized also, that there are aspects of myself, that I really don’t know.  It is like since obtaining this long-strived for goal has left me sitting there trying to figure out a bit of who I am.  What do I want?  What do I really like?  I am not driven by the same things in my life anymore.  It’s like the bus arrived at the station, dropped me off but I don’t know where I’m going from there.

Yesterday I was searching the internet with the phrase, I’ve reached my goal so now what?, hoping to find something that would help point me in the right direction.  I didn’t find much other than more goal setting strategies but I did roll onto a blog about minimalists and Zen living.  One blog post in particular caught my attention.  One about setting no goals.  My entire being shuddered at the thought.  My life has always been about setting goals though many of them, I never quite achieve though I keep striving for.  But I realized after this big let down and change in myself, I wasn’t sure that setting goals was always the best thing.  There is a lot of failure associated with goals.  If you don’t lose X amount of weight, then you beat yourself up or feel like a failure or both.  If you don’t achive X on X date, another failure.  Then there is the usually rigid steps to the goal.  I will work out on X and X and X.  Except Y happened on X so you couldn’t work out that day, so you felt like a failiure and didn’t work out for a week.  In a way, not setting goals was starting to make sense.

How many quotes have we seen about the journey not the goal or end?  You can open Facebook and see a bunch of them floating around in your newsfeed.  I think of people who thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) which is over 2000 miles.  They focus so much on the end goal, that when they reach it, there is a big let down once the excitement fades.  They probably did not focus on the journey as much as how many miles per day.  Just like my cycling goals, I spent most of my time last year watching the miles rack up on my cyclocomputer rather than enjoying the ride.  I wonder what all I missed?  Probably I don’t want to know.  

So these people who advocate no goals suggest adding in habits or systems in your life as part of your journey.  If you focus on healthy eating and working out most days of the week, you will become healthier.  Rather than measuring by the scale, you measure by how you feel, how your clothes fit.  It is a lifelong journey.  You focus on following your passion, like say mine, writing.  Rather than saying I will write 5,000 words this week, you just write.  The one advocate of no goals says he actually ends up writing more than his usual weekly or daily goals because he is just enjoying what he is doing.  And if a week he falls short, he doesn’t feel like a failure, it just happens.  Every single person who promotes no goals says the same thing.  They feel joy, they feel freedom.  They enjoy life so much more.  That’s what made me think.

That is how I conquered (mostly) emotional eating/bingeing.  Focusing on what I wanted to eat, not forbidding any foods and only eating when I am hungry.  I’ve lost some body size but I really need to focus on eating healthier.  And I keep thinking about my cycling goal this year.  Do I change the name to “guide” rather than goal?  I will continue to track my mileage.  But does it really matter?  Shouldn’t I just be doing it because I love to ride?  I may just plug in the numbers into the spreadsheet and not tally the mileage until the end of the season.  Wouldn’t that be interesting?  I will say having the goal of 50 miles a week last year, kept me on the bike but I don’t think I enjoyed the journey quite as much and the moment I reached my goal, I slid on my riding.  Goal met, I was done.  What if I had bought winter gear?  What if I rode in the cold?  Wonder how many miles I would have racked up?  But then again, does it matter?  No one is giving me a new car if I ride 2000 miles this season. 

I’m going to start focusing on habits and systems but mostly I am going to start following my passions and just create and do without thinking so hard on the end goal.  Actually I am going to stop having goals for awhile to see if I am happier.  Not that I run amuk and do nothing.  I will do the things I truly enjoy and see what happens.  I will focus on good habits as well.  I already know that counting calories and getting on the scale every day backfires or that when I focus only on riding for miles, I miss that patch of wild irises growing next to the bike path.  And if I don’t have any goals, then I won’t have the failures and I won’t have the let down.  I can focus on knowing myself rather than just pounding toward a goal.  

Even with all the self-analysis I do, I find that I have to really look at what makes me happy. I used to think that moving south was the end all be all, but now I realize I am happy right where I am.  There is no magic town where I am going to be happier.  What makes me happy is being close to my family and friends.  If I move seven hours away, what do I gain?  A different location.  A different job.  But I’m starting all over.  I would be isolated and miss everyone so much.  I wouldn’t be happy really.  I may love the mountains and love that area but I can always visit or buy a vacation home there if I really wanted.  I often wondered how my grandparents (both sides) seemed content just where they were.  My mom’s parents traveled some but they seemed content where they were for 40 odd years.  I thought how boring.  But now I understand.  

If I don’t get to see the Eiffel tower will my life be for naught?  No.  It wouldn’t.  Not as long as I spent time with the people I love.   Losing my mom has shifted my priorities in life.  The things I believed were so important are really not such a big deal.  I still want to go to Paris but now it would be for a different reason.  Just because I want to and not because I feel like if I don’t, I would be failing myself and not living my life fully.  If I’m lying on my death bed and my family I love is around me, my friends, then who cares if I didn’t see Paris in the rain.  It won’t matter.  The importance of all those things has diminished.  I seem to focus on love, the people I love rather than just living up to life expectations that came from, well who knows.  There is so many books, shows, people, etc. teling us how our lives should be.  We should be setting goals and achieving them!  Otherwise we are nothing.  

So not true.  I’m going to give this no goals thing a try.  Just enjoy the journey and see what happens.  I’m excited about the potential outcome and joy I sense that will find me once I let go.  I’ll post updates as I go along so come enjoy the journey with me.  

Songs and Memories, Looking Back, Looking Forward

The other day, I was going through the local drive thru to pick up a salad for my lunch and a song I hadn’t heard in many years was playing on the classic rock station in my truck.  Fly to the Angels by the 80’s/90’s hair band, Slaughter.  You know how when you hear a song, those old memories just flood back and it’s hard to get it out of your mind?  I downloaded the song and let it play at a low volume on repeat while I worked the rest of the afternoon just letting the memories and the old feelings just wash over me.

I’m not particularly nostalgic and I’m not one to live in the past but I like to analyze how I felt then and sometimes the wrong turns or seemingly wrong turns I took.  The one thing I felt was that I missed the freedom, that life felt like it held all possibilities, my wild self, the hope and endless dreams before life kicked the shit out of me.  Before I had a mortgage, kids, responsibilities outside of myself when I lived for myself.  Everything was in front of me, the tragedies of life hadn’t beat me down.  I was envious of my young self.  To feel anything is possible.

Then I thought about it for a while, what was really different?  Yes I was tied down a bit more, not as easy to just pick up and move or run away with the circus but I really have more resources than I did then.  Most anything is possible, though my age does preclude me from a few things but really only a few.  My kids are grown for the most part, I am not really taking care of someone all the time so really I’m back at square one to a point.  I’m not far from those days.  I’m a quarter century older than when I first heard that song, twenty-five years wiser and I’ve raised my family already.  Again I am almost as free as I was back then as I was living on my own, supporting myself just as I am now.  I do have a few more responsibilities, but really not many more.

It dawned on me that I am in no different place than I was when that song first became popular other than I’ve lived a chunk of my life, raised my girls and been married three times.  I’ve packed a lot of living in that quarter century but I still have all my life ahead of me, albeit a bit shorter but our life is always before us until there is no more life.  Freedom, hope, dreams are all a mindset.  As we grow older, we forget how to dream, we start being more cautious especially when we become parents.  We start having more sense, we become grown ups, adults.  Except in my heart I’m still this wild, adventurous and fearless kid.  Then I realize, I can still be that wild, adventurous and fearless kid.  But I don’t have to stop being who I am because I’m an adult.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in being spouses, partners, parents, employees, caretakers, friends and lovers that we forget to see that anything is possible, no matter how old you are.  All the time I am reading Facebook articles reposted about senior citizens performing feats like gymnastics that we assume are impossible.  If those “elderly’ people believed that they couldn’t do things because of their age, then they would never try.  How many things do we not do because we tell ourselves we can’t, we shouldn’t, or we are too old, too fat, too poor, not good enough or whatever other else we can dream up to stop us from experiencing life to  the fullest or chasing our dreams?  I know I am very guilty of this.

I almost didn’t write this blog be because I thought people would think I’m stupid but I’ve only received positive feedback so far.  Sometimes taking a risk feels like standing naked in front of a room full of people but this is also where you can find the best rewards.  And sometimes the hardest failures.  The only true failure though, is not trying at all.

It truly is all in your mind.  Everyone is going to have limitations, obstacles and challenges.  My opportunities and possibilities are endless just as they were twenty-five years ago.  It’s all in my mindset.  It’s all in how I choose to see the world.  I may be a bit more jaded, hit by life but I can still dream just as I did when I was younger.  And so what if I listen to this old song over and over, I’m using my headphones, dammit!

Darkest Before the Dawn….

This past weekend, I had a few days where I felt really severely depressed.  Might have been due to hormones, latent grief, clinical depression or the fact that winter never ends in Ohio.  Or all of the above.  Worried that my depression had sunk to a point that I could not combat it with my usual exercise and taking care of myself approach, I visited my family doctor who prescribed Zoloft which I had taken back when I was 35 and finally realized what I had been feeling all that time, had been depression.  I picked up the prescription and took half of the first dose.  For the first week, you break the pills in half to see if you can tolerate the medication.

The next morning, I could barely get out of bed, my head was killing me, I felt nauseous and like a zombie.  I did not tolerate the medication very well at all and I hated how I felt.  Finally about one o’clock in the afternoon, I finally started feeling myself again though it took a good two days to completely get rid of that fuzzy feeling.  My husband and I had been talking about my depression and grief.  I had been telling him that I couldn’t understand why I was having such a hard time with the loss of my mother after almost a year.  Some days, it was more than I could bear.  My husband pointed out that because of the close nature of our relationship over the years, which included me working with her for fourteen of those years, that I not only lost a parent but it was almost as if I lost a spouse and child in some ways.  That I wouldn’t just get over it just like that.  

When I thought about this concept, it makes sense.  For some reason, just understanding why I am going through something that doesn’t make sense to me, helps me deal with it better.  Maybe it is the fear of the unknown or fear that I’m going to fall apart.  Once I really grasped that idea, that my relationship with my mom was very complicated and complex, that I had much more to mourn than just a parent, the dark heavy clouds that were suffocating me, lifted and I saw the sunshine again.  I realize, I do not want to take those antidepressants if they make me feel so awful.  So many times, we take pills to “fix” things when it is within our own power to “fix” them ourseleves.  Not that I’m advocating chucking your prescriptions, that all medicine is bad, it’s just sometimes, we want the easy out.  The quick solution and for me, though my depression had spiraled down to a worrisome level, I just needed to understand what I was truly dealing with rather than being afraid there was something inherently wrong with me.  

As they saying goes, it is always darkest before the dawn.  Keep the faith, keep searching and keep hope close.