Money for nothin’…

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It’s funny, but I spend a lot more time browsing financial advice websites than I ever thought I would. Money is…a fraught subject. It’s fraught with emotions. It’s fraught with perceptions and assumptions. Sometimes it’s fraught with guilt, or distress, or sadness. Mostly, it’s just fraught.

I’m not going to lie. I don’t remember learning about money much as I was growing up. I think I remember a bit on checkbooks in Home Ec, and I sort of remember my parents discussing it, but I don’t really remember much. I got my first job at 14 (and damn near bombed it, so I’m eternally grateful for Robin at Domino’s Pizza in Diamond Bar for laying down the law on a rather ditzy kid), but I never developed good money habits. I’m not going to blame anyone but me on that. I was a smart kid, I just did some *really* dumb things.

So, college happened (and that entire thing was a financial disaster for everyone concerned, except possibly the college, since they got my parents’ money), and then a marriage that ended rather ignobly, and and and and and…

Fast forward to a few years ago. Maybe 2013, maybe 2014, but definitely in the timeframe of John’s stint in Houston. Things were…stressful. Between his living in Houston doing the awful awful recruiting gig, and my working full time and doing National Guard stuff on the weekends, we were seeing each other an average of nine days a month. Nine. Days. A. Month.

We were supporting two households. We were trying to handle two people who did not live together and did not reconcile their spending moving money around. We were trying to handle being utterly miserable, and failing. It was a bad time, and honestly, there are days I still don’t quite know how we made it, not just financially, but as a couple.

There was more going on- I was in a job that was making me increasingly suicidal, and my performance was deteriorating along with my mental resilience. John hated his job, and had no support structures in place, and he was so very angry all the time. Money was one more thing to stress out about, and so, we just kind of avoided it, until we simply couldn’t avoid it any more.

Because John was so miserable, and he wasn’t really able to keep a good eye on the bank account, he’d handed most of the finances over to me. I wasn’t really in a good headspace, and so, I tended to try to keep it all in my head, which led to John checking the bank account randomly and then calling up asking for answers to money questions.

It got bad enough that I was looking at cashing in that $400k National Guard life insurance policy. If I did, I thought, John could pay all the bills ad he’d be set for a while, financially. The things that were totally in my name might be able to be returned to the creditors, and take a few more things off John’s plate. In short, I was so freaked out about money I though killing myself was a reasonable way out because it would solve a lot of money problems.

To say that was not a good sign is…well, it’s an understatement.

We dug out, with a lot of help from friends (more than I could ever repay), and now, we talk about money fairly frequently. Weekly, usually, in MoneyBox, and I’ve been playing with You Need A Budget (YNAB) to see if it will do what I want it to. Things are perfect- we’ve still got more debt than either of us is happy with, but we’re making good strides, and we’re working as a team, so I’m free to focus on something that pisses me right off when reading financial blogs. These folks are able to make choices that so many other people *aren’t* able to make.

Great, so you managed to sell your vehicle, move to within walking distance of work, etc. and with all that, you’ve got a million dollars sitting in the bank, and you’re living high on the hog on an income that generates itself.

Good. Good for you. But how about you get off your high horse, and, instead of telling me to sell my van (which I wouldn’t have gotten the payoff for) or walk to work (do you have any idea how freakin’ HUGE Ft. Hood is, and how limited the employment opportunities are for spouses?) or buy a bike to bring my groceries home, or whatever, how about we talk about the real stuff that is useful for folks.

No, not cutting out that $5 latte, because really, when I was looking at feeding the dogs or keeping the lights on, I wasn’t *buying* $5 lattes, but actually teaching folks how to look at budgets, how to give every dollar a job, how to refocus.

I know the biggest thing that saved our butts was taking the chance and sitting down and talking to each other. Being honest about the debts and the income and how we were talking to each other about money. I was so scared John was going to walk away from me, and he was scared I’d want out because it was an all over terribly hard time. We were also lucky enough to have a friend who talked me through looking at all the numbers, and used the right words to unlock John’s interest.

I’m not sure what the answer is, honestly. I don’t have the tools to write the blog I want to see, but I know that I’m tired of seeing blogs that are totally not even close to where I want to be, or sometimes, not even willing to admit that most folks *can’t* make the changes they did. A lot of folks *won’t* make the changes, but a lot can’t, and I find it irritating that no on seems to want to admit that.

Ah well, I’m sure I had a point here somewhere but…I really can’t remember it.

Wouldn’t you like to be Hufflepuff, too?

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I’m a fan of the Harry Potter universe, and like many others, when Pottermore was relaunched, I took the Sorting Quiz and like every other time I’ve done it, I was sorted into Hufflepuff.

Now, I know that Hufflepuff is…sort of a laughing stock, because we’re the ordinary folks.

We’re not the brave ones, like Gryffindor.

We’re not the brainy ones, like Ravenclaw.

We’re not the driven ones, like Slytherin. (I don’t see Slytherins as inherently bad, either. They’re possibly the most relentless and ruthless house, but in some situations, that’s what’s needed.)

But we are…helpful, and frankly, I love being helpful. I like being supporting cast most of the time, to be able to give folks a hand, to maybe not have the intellectual obsession or passion, but to have the spark of inspiration to fuel that obsession and passion.

Today, I asked John if he was concerned by the fact that I’m less driven than he is. In response, he booped my nose and told me that there were a certain number of psychological traits and he liked all mine, excepting the depression.

He’s okay with the fact that I’m simply not as driven, overall, as he is. He’s a Gryffindor, but I think he moonlights as a Ravenclaw, because woooooo… that man has a ridonkulous brain. Sometimes I worry that because I’m a type B (at least until the come up with something more chilled out) person, and he’s way more a TypeA person, that he’d be bored.

He kind of gave me this look. You know the one. Well, I know it, anyway. It’s the one that says “Stupid shit is falling out of your face again…”

So, maybe I should just be content to be a helper, to be a Hufflepuff, to be able to help him be a freakin’ genius, and I should accept that I’m happiest in a supporting role?

Anyway, my weird little brain latched on to something that’s going to help John in a writing assignment for grad school and that thrills me to no end. I may not have the drive to learn All The Things, but I can find things when they’re lost and give John a hand finding a direction for his smarts. That makes me inordinately happy.

GO HUFFLEPUFF!

Approaching Lent

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Last Lent, I had just gone through some really rough times, and I found myself affected by Lent in a profoundly…sad way. Because I wasn’t working, I was able to attend quite a few more services than usual, and so, I got to experience the Lenten cycle as I never had.

This Lenten season, I am in a much better place- emotionally, spiritually, job-wise. (I’d say physically, but I’ve been down in my back for a bit and I’m in physical therapy, so…)

Anyway, I hope I’ll do a better job sharing my Lenten journey here, through photographs and entries, and maybe I’ll even get John to add his thoughts.

Ch-ch-changes…

Life proceeds apace here at Chez Weird. It’s been a rather hectic few months- some good, some bad, some just WTF.

In no particular order-

Still working for the University, still enjoying it, but sad that Awesome Boss is now Awesome Ex-Boss. We still keep in touch, though, which is good. I like her as a person, and I’m glad to keep her friendship.

One of the puppies is no longer with us. Louisa, the roomie’s puppy, lost a lot of weight, and was diagnosed with terminal cancer, so we had her put to sleep a bit over a week ago. The other two puppies are adjusting, as are we. She’d been awfully sick, and lost a third of her body weight, so while it sucked and we both cried a lot, it was the right thing to do.

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Louisa, just before Christmas. Taken with my new camera and the nifty fifty.

I’ve managed to finish *most* of my Christmas slipper knitting. Look, I know it’s February. Let’s just not talk about that, okay? I’m getting them done, dammit. I even managed to knit a pair for me!

I’m back on Wellbutrin, thank all the gods and little fishes. It works *very* well for me and I’m glad to be back to a more even keel. Zoloft was…less effective than I needed it to be.

I GOT A NEW CAMERA! John bought a really nice Sony a6000 for me for Christmas, and it’s *aMAYzing!* My dad got me some great lenses and an adapter so I’ve been having fun shooting with the nifty fifty. All of the photos below were taken with the new camera.

John got a new OxxBoxx coffee maker for Christmas. Silly crazy present but it was a fun gift, and he’s really used it. It’s just nice and portable!

All right, I’ve got some Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to watch, and some knitting to do, so I’m going to sign off for now.

Mental Health

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So, one of the more challenging aspects of this journey we are on has to do with mental health. Without going into specifics, we both have things to deal with that can be difficult.

There are a few keys to being in a relationship with mental health challenges. The first, of course, is to communicate with your partner. Don’t surprise them with the crazy, so to speak. Be up front about what challenges you face.

For the other partner, the biggest challenge is to realize that your partner’s mental health is not about you. It’s about them. Their brains are not normal. It is a partner’s responsibility to provide support, but the mental health is not your responsibility. Realizing that I had nothing to do with outbreaks of more severe depression was one of the greatest reliefs of my relationship. I found myself battling the need to ‘do something’ to ‘fix it’ – as a stereotypical husband would want to do. I also would search my own actions and words in the past hours or days, searching for what I did that set it off. It took me years to figure out how to accept that it wasn’t about me.

Of course, it comes back to communication. Treating mental disorders as an elephant in the room that we only address when it is rampaging will not work. You have to address them when you are functional enough to do so. And honesty – sometimes uncomfortable honesty – is the only method of addressing the topic.

Happiest of anniversaries, my love!

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It’s been 11 years since John and I said…well, we didn’t really say much, because that’s not how the Orthodox wedding sacrament goes, but it’s been 11 years since our mutual martyrdom, and honestly, I can’t imagine life any way else. I have definitely embraced the suck and I’m glad for it.

I’m going to share something that I try to share every anniversary, because it’s what has worked for us.

Some of things I’ve learned:

Decide if you want to be right, or if you want to be married. There are times when the two are not compatible. If you have to be right all the time, you won’t be married for long.

Decide which hill you want to die on. They’re not all worth it.

Sometimes, sleeping on it is a good idea. Fighting while you’re exhausted and fuzzy from lack of sleep can make you say things you normally wouldn’t.

Decide on the rules you’ll fight by. Post them on the fridge, or somewhere else you’ll see them regularly.

Don’t drag up things that you said were over and done with.

Forgive each other. Be the first one to ask for it and the first one to give it.

Treat your husband with respect, and expect the same in return. No fighting in public. No backbiting each other with mutual friends.

Don’t hang out with people who are unhappy in their marriages. Don’t hang out with friends who encourage you to do dumb shit.

Laugh with each other. Make time for each other. Remember silly things about each other. Tuck notes into his lunchbox or her briefcase. Hold hands.

Ask for what you need, tell him what you want. DO NOT expect him to be a mind-reader. He probably doesn’t have ESP and can’t know what you’re thinking. Don’t give hints. Most men don’t get them. If you like to get stuffed animals for presents, tell him. Ask him what he wants and needs.

Realize that marriage will change you. You’re not a single woman any more, but half of a whole. Your priorities should change.

Figure out money stuff NOW. Set down rules for spending. Don’t assume you’re on the same page, unless you’re already living together and have worked this stuff out. Money is a huge issue for a lot of people. Set up the rules for big purchases.

Make time for each other. Make each other the highest priority in your lives.

If faith is important to you, practice together.

Cuddle with each other. Not sex, but just cuddling.

Remember sex does not solve most problems. It just lets you hide from them.

OH, yes. There will be days that suck. No matter what Hollywood says, some days will be good, some days will be bad, some days will be “meh.” There will be days when no matter what you say to each other, the birds are singing and the sun is shining and everything is golden. There will be days when you can’t say the right thing to your husband or he can’t say the right thing to you. (For me, I have to be aware of PMS since I get really prickly about everything when I’m about to start my period.)

There will be days when you look at the housework and the velvet Elvis he just *had* to hang on the wall and the laundry and the ice cream dishes on the counter and fortheloveofallthat’sholywhycan’themakethe#$%^*&@bed????? and think that you want to just pitch it all out the window. It’s okay. That’s normal. He’s probably thought the same thing, too. As long as you take a deep breath, go look at the zombie bunny he bought you for a first present (my husband and I are weirdos of the first order, okay?) and realize that this, too, shall pass, you’ll be okay.

Sorry that got long and I hope I didn’t come across as preachy, but these are some of the things I believe in with my whole heart.

A few other things I would add, too.

Don’t try and change your spouse. It probably won’t work. Leopards and spots, okay? If he’s a slob (and you’ll probably be able to tell) he’s not going to suddenly change because you’re living there. He may change his behaviour, but he’s not going to change his fundamental personality.

Unless you’re planning on following through with it, DO NOT toss out the “big D” (and I’m not talkin’ about Dallas, y’all) to get your way. You will be horribly surprised when your spouse finally gets fed up and takes you up on your offer.

Make sure you have hobbies in common and hobbies apart.

Have a similar sense of humor. It helps to find the same things funny, so you can laugh about the things that would otherwise drive you nuts.

Some things I’ll add that I’ve learned since the first writing of this:

Marriage is a team sport and YOU ARE ON THE SAME TEAM. You don’t win over your spouse at the MarriageBowl. You don’t make a good marriage by keeping score. (If you MUST keep points, make them brownie points and try to rack up more than your spouse.) If you’re more interested in how many times your spouse has done “X” in comparison to you, you need to step back and figure out your priorities, because it ain’t being married.

Remember why you got married in the first place. The love, the laughter, the fun you had with each other. Yeah, bills and real life can hurt that, but set aside time to remember that you are married first, and housemates second.

I have to change the story I tell myself.

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We all have a narrative. It’s the story we tell ourselves, the one we star in, the one we write, the one we only sometimes edit. It’s always playing like a silent movie, flickering in and out of our consciousness, that eerie glow distracting us when we least need it to.

My story is usually…not happy. It’s not film noir, because not enough folks die and I really lack a killer girl Friday, but it’s rarely a sun-drenched biopic, either. Usually, it looks more like a found footage movie, complete with trips, falls, and all the shaky-cam footage you could want.

Often, the narration on the story is…not happy. It’s a recap of the way I’ve failed, the way I’ve been too little too late too often, the ways I’m not embracing the suck, but instead, falling face first, leaving all the suck for John to deal with. It’s often a murmur of quiet derision, hushed tones of why the world would be better off without me.

And we’re gonna stop right here for a quick PSA: I am NOT suicidal. I am not having suicidal idealizations, or making plans. This is nothing new. It’s quite literally the white noise in my head. It’s also utterly untrue. That does not stop any of it. My brain is an asshole.

So, when something goes wrong, or I get stressed, I tend to hear the story in my head louder, and it’s always unhappy.

It kind of goes like this:

What John SAYS: “Oh, we need to do laundry. I have no socks.”

What Jen HEARS: “God, you don’t even have a fucking JOB right now, and you STILL can’t get off your ass and do laundry, and why do I have to do everything while you sit around and eat.” (We’ll tackle my food issues at a later date.)

What Jen then SAYS: “I’m trying! I’m sorry! I suck!”

Please notice what John says, versus the story my head tells me. They’re not even remotely the same.

So, I’m working on stopping myself from putting that subtext on John, because he’s not actually saying anything close to what I’m responding to, and freaking out on him because of a story he’s not part of is incredibly not cool.

Brene Brown has a great article on this, on working through what’s being said, versus what you hear as the words interact with the story in your head.

But this unconscious storytelling leaves us stuck. We keep tripping over the same issues, and after we fall, we find it hard to get back up again. But in my research on shame and vulnerability, I’ve also learned a lot about resilience. For my book Rising Strong, I spent time with many amazing people—from Fortune 500 leaders to long-married couples—who are skilled at recovering from setbacks, and they have one common characteristic: They can recognize their own confabulations and challenge them. The good news is that we can rewrite these stories. We just have to be brave enough to reckon with our deepest emotions.

A lot of it is uncomfortable. It involves digging down into your feelings, trying to figure out why you’re reacting so strongly, to things that aren’t being said.

It involves a lot of talking, of communicating with your partner, and a lot of backing your ego up and saying “I’m sorry, I was reacting to the story I just told myself and not what you actually said.”

It’s a LOT of backing up and admitting you’re wrong. It’s a lot of forgiving your partner when the story they’re reacting to makes you out to be a bit of jerk.

It’s a LOT of embracing the suck.

Catastrophic thinking, or how I’ve managed to bury my dog before we’ve actually got a diagnosis

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I remember seeing a comic a few years ago, a simple drawing of a potato-shaped figure, with a mask and cape, and titled with “ANXIETY GIRL! able to jump to the worst conclusion in a single bound!”

Ouch. I’m not going to lie… that smarted!

I am ANXIETY GIRL! sometimes, especially when I’m dealing with nebulous concepts, like why my Muppet has low platelets.

It started out innocnetly enough. I took Zenobia in for her spay. Since we found her on in a parking lot, we had no idea if she’d been spayed and although our old vet was pretty sure she’d found a spay scar, we wanted to make sure, and when she went into heat, well, we knew she had not been spayed.

So, off we went to disable her ability to produce puppies. (Look, I love my Muppet. I adore that silly little dog who thinks I’m the best thing EVER, but I want Muppetlings like I want a root canal without anesthesia.) They did some routine bloodwork to make sure she was healthy enough for surgery, and then mid-morning, I got a call I wasn’t expecting.

Her bloodwork had come back showing low platelets. Normally, the vet explained, they want platelets up around 200,000, because well, platelets and clotting are interdependent and Zenobia’s weren’t anywhere near that. In fact, her platelet count was about 90,000.

The vet was very kind and walked me through a few things, like what might cause the drop- tick-borne diseases (unlikely since we hadn’t picked up anything on her first exam), heartworms (negative heartworm test made that unlikely), or possibly an immune issue that caused her body to attack her own platelets (possibly, but more a diagnosis after we’d eliminated everything else). The doc mentioned it could be something along the lines of it might could maybe be leukemia, but she didn’t think that was the case.

We didn’t do surgery that day. The vet really didn’t think she’d bleed out on the table or anything, but she was concerned that healing would take much longer and be harder on the puppy, so we put it off. I made an appointment for another check, and yesterday, John took her in for another platelet count.

Her platelets hadn’t come up at all, and if I remember her weight at the last visit, she’s lost a bit of weight. (Twelve and a half-ish pounds-ish to 11.4 pounds, which on a dog I can fit in my purse is a fair bit of weight.)

So, we’re going to start her on a 10-day regimen of antibiotics and steroids, to see if there’s some little underlying infection, and to see if it boosts her platelets. Where we go after that will all depend on the bloodwork.

This is where ANXIETY GIRL! comes in. I leaped to The Googles in a single bound and searched for “low platelet count in dogs.”

Don’t do that.

(I’m not kidding. Don’t do that.)

There isn’t exactly a dog-specific equivalent for WebMD’s tendency to diagnose your hangnail as cancerous, but there are some sites that I should be categorically banned from, because while I couldn’t tell you the website names, I can tell you that lymphoma and leukemia are the only words I remember. Also, an immune disorder that I’m pretty sure means my dog’s cells are out to get her. (Look, it’s a really long Latin name that I can’t really remember, but it was Latin and my dog is involved and so, it’s really scary okay?)

John let me know the results via FB Messenger because I’m out in the field, and of COURSE I leaped to “OMG MY DOG IS DYING!”

John had to remind me that Zenobia is not on a fainting couch, whimpering in pain and acting like she’s sick. She might have some weird blood thing that would make surgery risky. If so, we’ll limit her contact with intact male dogs, and shore up the fences so the little weasel-dog can’t get out, and we’ll manage it.

To quote my beloved husband- “Don’t bury her, then.”

So, yeah, need to remember that. Also? I need to stay off Google because I will inevitably find the website to convince me the dog is dead and I’m snuggling with a staggering zombie Zenobia. (Zomnobia? That seems unlikely, unless zombies like to play “Hands,” which is Zenobia’s favorite game. She is uninterested in whether or not it is your favorite game.)

Also, I need to work on my ability to redirect catastrophic thinking. I need to figure out how to catch those trains of thought before we’re going 80 mph on a rickety bridge across a chasm, and we can’t stop even though we KNOW we just flashed by a “bridge out ahead” sign.

Yay. Geez, this whole “fixing my brain” think is still hard and a pain the ass, but I gotta do it.

Wow, my voice sounds SO WEIRD!

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My Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) is 46Q, which is, in plain speak, means that I help accomplish the public affairs mission through news releases, newspaper articles, Web-based material and photographs for use in military and civilian news media. I am SO not a broadcaster (46R), by deliberate choice.

There are a good reasons for this. One, romeos carry *way* too much crap. I can get by with a camera (heck, I could use a disposable film camera if I had to, provided I could find a place to get it developed), and a pen, but romeos have a camera, lavalier mics, and a tripod at the very least. (It’s much better than it used to be, because romeos used to have to carry their video camera, a ton of spare batteries, tapes, lights, mics and a fairly heavy tripod, which makes me want to pass out.)

Two, do you have any idea how weird you sound to yourself on a recording? I mean, I understand bone conduction is a thing but man…until I had to listen to myself during a recorded intervew, I had no idea HOW MUCH of a thing it is. I always thought I had a relatively deep voice for a woman, but when I hear myself on tape, I barely recognize myself.

I sound SO WEIRD.

And with that, I’m going to get back to writing. (Well, technically, waitig for my story to come back after a second editing pass.)