Monday, July 30, 2018

Back from the brink

I'm tentatively breathing in the sunshine deeply right now.

This is big. BIG big.

I think I looked into that abyss on Saturday, and then somehow managed to scoot back from the edge on my own.

I didn't self destruct.

I didn't do anything reckless.

I didn't run away.

Instead, I may have coped. I know, I'm surprised as well.

Saturday was darkness. I gathered up my boys and fled my family to the comfort of our home. I went through the motions of helping the boys video and text a goodbye message to their grandmother. I comforted as best as I can, which isn't very well. Then we each retreated to our own corners of the house to process in our own ways. For me, I faced the abyss.

I though about going and getting beer, but I'm not an alcoholic and the idea of drinking to forget turned my stomach. I thought about running away from everyone's grief. If it can't touch me it can't pull me down. An enticing thought.

So, I drafted my blog post in an effort to make myself at least recognize my actions for what they were. Then I opened up a new tab and began searching trails. I found a likely escape but needed more information, so I checked the library to see if it had a guidebook. A branch across town had it, so I decided to go get it right then and there.

I couldn't go home. The urge to keep driving off the edge of the earth was too strong. I loaded up an all time favorite album (Counting Crows, August and everything after) and headed out of town. Stereo full blast, letting the music's story of sinking down into mental illness wash over me. And somehow, I started to see beyond the abyss.

I'm not sure, but I think that cold abyss of no meaning is bottomless in one dimension, but that you can jump over it to the other side. The y-axis is infinite, but the x-axis is not, if you will. As humans, we travel linearly along that x-axis until or unless we slip off into the infinite abyss of the y-axis.

I suddenly realized, I don't know if we slip onto the y-axis when we die. I know we can do it when alive, I've nearly done so many times. But is death really the abyss? I'm not about to go all religious or new age or even very philosophical. My mind is better suited for science and reason and perhaps even math than those silly things. But matter is matter which can't be destroyed, as far as we know. It can change, it will change, but that ability to persist and to change must mean it isn't in the abyss.

Is our consciousness matter? Energy perhaps? Shit, too deep for me, but I'm just barely wise enough to realize that this line of thought -- jumping over the abyss -- gives an inkling of hope. A reason to laugh at the darkness. A reason to run back instead of run away. A reason to keep dreaming and doing and living -- all without hiding.

So I went home. I cried myself to sleep (shh, don't tell anyone). I woke up, and I laughed and lived and achieved.

This morning my Mother-In-Law passed away. Thank you, Scarlet, for being a momma to my one true love. Thank you for creating consciousness out of matter so that we can keep this train careening down that x-axis from one generation to the next. Thank you, for helping me finally overcome the abyss.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Hello darkness, my old friend

I'm a horrible, selfish human being.

And it is what it is.

My love is too far away facing down death, and I have retreated, as I do, when the darkness threatens. I can't do death. I can't look into that abyss, even tangentially from afar as I am now. Because when I am reminded of the abyss that awaits us all, of the end, I lose drive. I lose hope. I begin to wonder why, which then becomes why bother. And then I why bother myself into very bad decisions.

Right now, my urge is to run. Cut ties with all those I care for and all those that care for me. I keep this number low anyway. Is this because I want to keep my escape routes open? Possibly, probably. Mo is going through the most gut wrenching of losses right now, and I'm looking at trail maps. Wondering how long I could survive living in a Prius in winter and hiking long trails each summer. Planning routes and meals, mentally paring down the few objects I'm even remotely attached to.

In my head I am running away from the abyss that awaits me.

Because deep down inside I know there is no reason. No point. We are here simply because of an evolutionary fluke that gave us both form and consciousness, but not enough of either to make a dent in the slow burn of the universe. All that awaits each of us is death. All the meaning we think we amass in our lives will be nothing in the great time span of the universe. For even the universe will one day end, rendering even it's very blip from big bang to last eclipse forgotten.

Yes, I'm selfish. For when others die it isn't their death I mourn. It's my own. And from that rises my most primal instinct -- fight or flee. You can't fight the abyss, so I simply seek to flee it for a little while.

I'm sorry.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

My Compact: The No-Buy Half Year

Doing things like a "no-buy year" always seem kind of gimicky to me. Yet, looking at our finances and everything we have going on, it may be a good time for such a challenge. I want to treat it more like the Compact (a la the Nonconsumer Advocate) rather than a gimmicky buy everything I need the day before starting and then save up all other purchases for the day after the challenge ends.

So why a half-year, then? It seems like a gimmick, true, but I have some reasoning in there. I like, nay crave, logical beginnings and ends, and July through December is exactly 6 months. Further, beginning in January, our life of the last 10 years will begin the drastic transformation of listing and selling the house. I will need to make adjustments to our Compact, but I want the experience of living it for six months first so it can help guide me through what is sure to be a challenging time. Finally, I believe we can do anything for a short time, and psychologically it can be easier to create a habit in small increments. In this case, the habit is not buying it.

The Compact differs from the No Buy challenge in that the Compact is not specifically a no buy, but a not buying new lifestyle. What both have are exception lists. Here is my current exception list, combined to meet the differing aims of these two challenges:
  1. Bills, of course. Although, I will assess monthly to look for ways to save costs.
  2. Items that bring down fixed costs permanently. For example, we will be buying new phones to save money in the long run. As much as possible, though, these will be second hand purchases (in the above example, we're planning on refurb phones).
  3. Necessary clothing -- used with the exception of underwear/socks. No random clothing buying though, purchasing only occurs after a closet purge proves the item is actually needed.
  4. Pet care, medical needs, toiletries -- obviously!
  5. School supplies and books -- second hand or digital as much as possible.
  6. Limited entertainment -- generally, the Compact doesn't limit experiences. Yet, to me some experiences are a true consumerist activity as well as a financial drain. So my stance for my challenge is to limit experiences that cost money. This means coffee out becomes a rare treat instead of the norm. I'll buy passes to hike or camp in fee areas, but we won't drive into town for a restaurant meal. Nights out for a movie or a drink will be rare treats and done as inexpensively as possible. Beyond my $5 student Hulu/Spotify subscription, we won't pay for movies/TV/music at home.
I don't want to set strict budgets -- strict budgets don't necessarily make new habits, as I've learned in the past. Instead, the goal is to be mindful of where we spend money and why. This doesn't mean I won't be monitoring expenses -- we are technically living well below the poverty line, after all.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Thoughts on stuff

I'm in that pre-dawn time of life, that period when things are still stable and predictable, but I have the knowledge that in less than a year everything will be in flux. Rarely in my life have I been afforded such a long period to prepare for the flux, so I feel I should take advantage of it.

Minimizing everything I own seems like a solid first step.

Once upon a time all of my possessions fit into an old Geo Metro (A Toyota Corolla knock-off). Everything that really mattered to me, except my cat, could be whittled down even further to fit into my trusty Kelty external frame backpack (Ah, the 90s)! Flux periods didn't matter because it took less than an hour for me to change my living situation or to even couch surf for awhile.

I truly, truly miss that freedom. I'm a spouse and a mother now, so I can't force my spartan predilections on my family. I can however, enforce them in the realms where I am in charge. To this end, I wish to make a list...

Items I need to Function and/or Be Content

1. My laptop
2. My dissection microscope and associated equipment
3. Field guides and floras
4. Plant press
5. Lab journal, planner, and field notebook 
6. Basic office equip.: Zebra pen and pencils, ruler, hole punch, paper cutter, calculator, binder clips.
7. Assorted chargers and a power pack

Outdoor gear:
1. Day pack
2. Water bladder
3. hydroflask
4. Hori hori, pruners & hand lens
5. Pocket knife
6. Camping pack
7. Tarp tent
8. Pad
9. Camp stove and pot
10. Sleeping bag
11. Favorite hat
12. Sundry items: First aid kit, cordage, tick key, etc.
1. Saute pans: 1 lg, 1 sm
2. Pots: 1 sm, 1 lg
3. Metal spatula, whisk, soup spoon, wooden spoon, tongs
4. Table setting for 4
5. French press
6. 2 baking sheets + non-stick baking mat
7. Stick blender
8. 10 piece Pyrex storage bowl set (doubles as mixing bowls)
9. Rolling pin
10. Pastry blender
11. Chef's knife and bread knife
12. Veggie peeler
13. 2 flour sack towels, dish scrubbie, 2 dish cloths, 2 hand towels

 1. 2 towels and a pouf
2. makeup bag: Powder, tinted moisturizer, mascara, chapstick
3. Moisturizer, shampoo, bar soap, conditioner, deodorant stone
4. Hair scissors
5. Comb and brush, hair ties
6. Contact lens stuff/glasses

1. Week's worth of underwear
2. Hiking pants/shorts 
3. 7 t-shirts
4. 3 capris/shorts
5. 2 jeans/cargos
6. 5 Sweaters/long sleeve tees (incl. 1 cardigan)
7. 10 pair socks
8. Rain/snow boots
9. River sandals
10. Hiking shoes
11. Winter coat
12. Light coat
13. Rain coat
14. Fleece pants
15. PJs: 1 summer, 1 winter
16. Workout clothes: 1-2 leggings and 1-2 quick dry shirts
17. Slippers 

1. Reading pillow
2. Reading light
3. 1 set of sheets, 2 winter blankets, 1 comforter, 1 pillow.

I won't even consider the furniture in detail, because so much here depends on the type of space. I would at least need a work station of some sort, preferably a narrow, long table. Oh, and an adjustable office chair. Also a bed of some sort, whether mattress, futon, air mattress, or hammock.

If it was just me walking into the future, I'd probably build a $500 DIY yurt, trick out a shed into a home, or opt for #vanlife (I don't think it's legal to say "van life" without a hashtag...).  In that case, I'd need to add some sort of cooking and bathing "furniture" to the mix. I'd probably cobble together a nice solar shower and cook off a camp stove and be perfectly fine. Most of my cooking needs revolve around using a saute pan or boiling water for coffee, after all! If in a permanent location, a composting loo would also be a need if there wasn't full service facilities available. Trust me, I'd rather give up a flush toilet than give up wifi access. Priorities, people!


I've even given thought to food. I'm relatively content with a simple diet at home, much to my family's chagrin. I eat the same breakfast everyday -- a chickpea "pancake" stuffed with vegetables. Same lunch, too -- a fully loaded salad tossed with sweet onion mustard. Snacks are fruit, raw veg, or hummus or avocado spread on wasa crackers or Dave's bread. Both of these meals and the snacks can be made without the need for refrigeration. 
I tend to eat bowl meals for dinner -- salad greens tossed with a tahini maple mustard dressing, some cold cooked quinoa, roasted or sauteed vegetables of choice, and some marinated tofu. Sometimes I change it up with a veggie burger or a veggie sausage instead of the tofu, or I play around with dressing ingredients to better match the flavor profiles of the vegetables.  

Tofu would need refrigeration, as would any veggie "meats." My almond milk I use in coffee also needs refrigerated. I seriously wouldn't need much more than the smallest of the dorm fridges, though. 


This all seems like a dream, and for the most part it kind of is. I lived a very similar life almost two decades ago. I was almost content, but very lonely. When I met the person that was to be MY person, I sort of walked away from everything else that I was happy with to ensure they were happy. While Mo will never be the shunner of stuff and permanent addresses that I am, she is much less high maintenance than when we first met. As long as Mo has her fancy computer setup, her fancy desk that houses said setup, and her collection of crap, she is happy. Fortunately, her collection of crap (a tongue in cheek name we use for her stuff) currently fits well into her 12x10 foot studio space. She even has a love seat and most of her clothes in there!
The other "other" is Boy2, as Boy1 will be launched next year and off on his own. Boy2 has a few needs, but not a lot. Internet, laptop, a comfy chair, and the ability to go off and tinker, build, and pursue whatever grabs his fancy is sufficient. Right now all he needs to be content is a chisel, hammer, and a permit for fossil hunting. At home he only needs a small space to call his own, as he rarely utilizes more than a 5 foot square section of the living room.

So where to from here?

I wish I knew. Bellingham is expensive compared to where we are. Rents on a comparable sized home are nearly twice as much as our current mortgage payment. We will definitely be going smaller. 
My goal is to be prepared for any alternative. Parking an RV on land, staying in a mobile home, tiny apartment dwelling -- we can't rule anything out at the moment. This means we have to be ready for anything. So my goal is to get ready for this upcoming flux period with some major purging.

I know what I need and I have a list to guide me as I pare down my belongings. Mo is prepared to do the same. Boy2 is hesitant, but willing to try. By having little, we open up our options because it makes us more flexible. I think this is the key.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A rambling ramble

It feels like forever since I last posted!

Things are actually going relatively well here at Chez Mo-Li. (Don't ask about the nickname ;D )We almost have a few of our spending dragons thoroughly slayed. How about a quick rundown about those first?

1) Entertainment
This was the biggest and baddest dragon we struggled with. In fact, it was the conquering of this dragon that has lead to me having less time to blog! It's no secret that I am a long time lover of the outdoors. Mo, not so much. She does enjoy a good game and a treasure hunt, though. We discovered geocaching, which means we now spend out weekends hiking and "hunting treasure" to trade. The treasure is mainly little handmade tokens, so cheap or free.

We take a picnic dinner on our hike, which usually takes us four or five hours. We then hit a brewpub on the way into town, where we enjoy one beer and split an appetizer. By this time, we are exhausted and ready to Netflix and chill. Our $50+ date night has morphed into a $10 to $15 tops date day! Plus we get entertainment value out of the week by planning our weekend excursions, researching trails, and even grabbing urban caches if we get bored on an evening. We did splurge and purchase the $30/yr premium membership for geocaching, but we've already got our money's worth out of it on weekend savings.

This one still up for debate. We all got a bit of spring fever and didn't use the membership much in April. Plus, I've had a hell of time adjusting to spring quarter, as well. We are paid up through May. If we don't use it, I have the option of putting the membership on "hold" for a few months. I may do that and then try again in the winter. This may be something we only need for winter months.

3) Phone service
Our phone service has been inching up. We've been doing research and bought one of the kids a Google Project Fi phone to test it. At some point this summer (AKA, when I get a grant check), we will all be switching to Fi. This will be major savings. We just need to wait because we have to buy three more phones outright. You can finance them through Google, but we'd rather not as they are less than half the price used.

4) Food
Groceries are barely a blip in our budget now that I am vegan and the rest of the house is nearly vegan. For example, tonight's dinner of Asian tofu salad and a baguette is less than $5 for four people, and it makes enough that at least two of us will have it for lunch tomorrow. Plus, this sort of diet requires less intensive cooking, so meals are simpler and easier.

5) Odds and sods
Internet is still too pricey and I can't find a cheaper option in our area. My laptop finally died, piece of shite that it was, but I found a new one for less than $300 and am much happier and less frustrated on a daily basis. Mo did something insane to her back, but our insurance coverage actually covers PT with no out of pocket costs. Our main drain is full of roots and we have to figure out a strategy to address it soon.

There's some stuff I want to talk about. That's what brought me back to the blog, really. It seems my sense of self is still evolving (or perhaps devolving back to its true state?), and although most of our major, joint plans are the same, some of my personal drives have...not really changed, but morphed slightly or become more fully realized.

This space has worked really well for me when it comes to "thinking out loud," so I plan to continue to use it on my quest to live my best life.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Minory dietary tweeks: Healthy AND budget friendly!

So, I guess I'm a vegan now! I actually prefer plant based, simply because I don't want to get wrapped up in the politics/ethics side of the whole sordid affair simply because I don't think that eating animals or animal products is unethical. I think many of our current factory farming techniques are unethical from an animal treatment and environmental standpoint, but I also think there are ethical choices for those that can afford them.

I also can't be considered 100% vegan because I still enjoy local honey or may taste a bit of fancy cheese when the opportunity presents itself! Eggs are a go as well, if I happen to be in a place where they raise their own chickens/ducks. I also can't promise I will be seafood free when fresh catches are available on the coast. But overall, I have gone plant based as has the family.

The result?

Less spending and easier meal prep! This is less stress on me, the primary cook, because there isn't really any involved cooking required to have a healthy vegan diet.

Our dinners now tend to be highly diverse salads featuring a ton of veggies, tofu, tempeh, or legumes. Or, we have grain bowls featuring quinoa, rice, barley and the above veggies and proteins. Wraps are also a popular choice. All that's needed is to chop a few things, throw them on a silpat mat, and roast it all for a half hour or so before filling a bowl or tortilla.

Sauces add variety, but they are still inexpensive. Vegan cheeses have come a long way, and a small amount goes very far flavor-wise.

I don't think everyone is cut out for this kind of diet, but I do think everyone can cut down on meat and dairy. Those two things have some of the largest environmental impact as well as the largest grocery budget impact.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

A February Update: Odds and Sods

I meant to make several posts this month, but it wasn't to be. I'm still working on my food post. I need to update our budget posts (there have been some major updates), and I have a few more things to share. Instead of doing any of those right now, I'm just going to present a simple list of February updates. The "odds and sods," if you will.

1. I've lost 6 pounds this month. I credit this entirely to my diet change.

2. The highlight of the diet change? I went 95% vegan. Family went 95% vegetarian. Better health and lower budget for all. More details to come.

3. I shaved almost $500 out of our "fixed" expenses budget. More details to come.

4. We got a gym membership to the YMCA. I think it makes good financial sense. More details to come (sensing a pattern?)

5. I've been chronically behind this month on my two most important responsibilities: work and school. Yet, somehow it is working out. (Still passed exams without studying, unexpected bonus from a client to make up for missed work.)

6. Filed taxes for free using CreditKarma. Amazing, since most services charge if you are self employed.

7. I've had a bad month for anxiety. A really bad month. It's been awhile since I've had this much anxiety without an obvious trigger. This is likely why I am behind. I think it's finally turning around. I hope it is.

8. I joined the Frugal February challenge on the MMM forums, then promptly stopped updating. I probably hit my goals, but I don't have the mental space to go back through this month to create an update. Maybe next month.

9. I had to face the reality that last year was a very bad year financially when I actually saw our AGI, and this year may only be slightly better. We have dropped below the state poverty line and I need to adjust plans accordingly. Oddly, this realization coincided with my anxiety subsiding. Perhaps this was a subconscious trigger?

10. I've planned and pretty much paid for a four day/three night birthday extravaganza trip to Glacier National Park for my mom and ScienceKid. Cost: $150 for cabin accommodations. Gas in our little Prius will be less than $50, and we'll bring groceries to prep meals in the cabins (mainly picnic meals to take into the park). We consider our NPS annual pass a required expense, so park entrance is free. You guessed it, more details to come.

After the sunshine at the beginning of the month, the snow and bone chilling single digit temps moved in (that's Fahrenheit, folks). I'm a pretty deft winter driver, yet I almost killed ArtKid and I on the way to campus one day thanks to shitty roads. Hopefully my sanity is resuming and I'll post more in March!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

How We Saved - Week of February 5th

It's felt like spring this week. Lovely from a personal standpoint, alarming from an environmental standpoint. Early spring=lack of snow pack=bad fire season this summer. Not to mention this is becoming the new norm....

Regardless, I did take advantage of the weather to go on two mid-length day hikes!

So, how did we save money and work toward our goals this week?

  • All meals prepared at home from inexpensive ingredients.
  • I have maintained my new vegan diet, which has resulted in both money savings and pounds lost. The family has maintained a vegetarian at home diet.
  • I made lunches and took snacks for both hikes. One hike/adventure took the place of the weekly cafe date I have with DS2, thus saving me about $10. (It did cost about $2 in gas, yay for owning a Prius!)
  • Did a combined 13 miles of hiking at two different state parks this week. It was effectively free because we buy the annual pass - which pays for itself after 10 visits. We visit a state park area at least 50 times a year, so the pass is long paid for!
  • Picked up three "free Friday" items at Fred Meyer before they expired. Not items we normally buy, but nice for treats!
  • Hosted a board game night with friends. We supplied home-cooked pizza and chips, they brought a stack of board games! (Our entertainment spending is crazy low this month. We may finally have a handle on this problem category.)
  • Cheap date night listening to live music at the hippie store deli and eating cheap tofu wraps, followed by darts at home. Also enjoyed a long walk downtown along the river.
  • Filed our taxes for free via Credit Karma (most so-called free filing services charge ridiculous fees for self employed peeps.)
  • Turned in a (huge) scholarship application, plus one smaller app!
  • Family movie night at home, watching a free movie via my student Prime membership (a necessity for renting cheap textbooks.)
  • Been saving up items for an Amazon purchase. These are household things we need and can get cheaper on Amazon -- toilet paper, cat food, etc. Many of the items are add-on items, so I have to spend at least $25 to get the really cheap add-on price. Waited until we had $25 of necessary items instead of adding on fluff to hit the minimum. 
  • Received two checks in the mail for a total of $26, and put them right into savings. These were for some class action lawsuit against the company that issues our mortgage and them making calls at odd hours to the wrong mortgage holders, or something weird like that. Oh well, free money!
  • Went to a meeting for a board I sit on -- free coffee! 
  • Solved a problem for free -- we used to dry the water bladders for our hiking packs with paper towels, which we no longer use. The cloth towels leave lint in the bladders, yuck. Instead of buying the expensive plastic bag drying system, I made two bag dryers from old wire hangers we no longer use -- free

Friday, February 2, 2018

Mental illness and financial security-- mutually exclusive?

On February 2nd of last year my wife was on a plane to go and say her final goodbyes to her father, who had just been transferred to hospice. My eldest son was busy pushing through the last of his high school year so he could start college the following fall as an early admit student. My youngest was at his grandmas working on a project.

I was alone. Just me, my work, and a body covered in hives that had no cause.

Actually, that last part is a lie. The hives are a physical manifestation of my anxiety disorder. I had been in fight or flight mode for at least three days nonstop, and off and on for at least the previous two years. I was also in the midst of a depressive episode, but I didn't know it at the time. Please note, my depressive episode was situational, it was not the result of a depressive disorder.

Anxiety is odd on the spectrum of mental disorders. While all mental disorders seem to have a stigma attached in our society, anxiety is even stigmatized by  many that have mental health issues. "Oh, you only have anxiety?" <followed by a long list of the speaker's mental issues> "you're so lucky not to have a real mental health problem. Try yoga or some breathing exercises!"

If only it was that easy. I need medication to manage my anxiety. It's not about chilling out or relaxing. There often isn't even a trigger for the anxiety. I'll be kicking back, reading a book, not a care in the world, and BAM! My heart starts pounding, my throat feels like it is closing up, my shoulders and chest start to hurt. If I can't get it under control, the hives begin to break out and I completely lose the ability to think clearly. Even worse, it can remain at this sustained rate for hours, or even days. The longest I personally had a panic episode last was 6 days, and then I ended up in the emergency room. (Coincidentally, this is also when I was diagnosed with anxiety when all other health tests came back showing there was nothing wrong with me. For the previous 30-odd years of my life I thought everyone had these episodes regularly and that they were normal.)

February 2nd looked like it would be another severe, unending episode. We were in deep money trouble, which I had only hinted at with my spouse. I'm normally very organized and responsible, but I hadn't been the last few months and I had been hiding it. A final notice had arrived from the bank, stating we had 10 days to contact them before foreclosure proceedings started. Why? I hadn't sent in a payment on the house in four months. In my ongoing state of anxiety and depression, I had got it into my head that the house was to blame for everything. If we lost it, we'd be forced to go somewhere better, somewhere away from my problems.

How it started
A little background is needed here. In 2010 my father and mother moved across country to live in our town. My mother quickly insinuated herself into our life, undermining us as parents because that is what she does. Fortunately, my dad could manage her and kept most damage to a minimum. My mother is controlling, paranoid, and passive aggressive. There is a reason I moved 500 miles away from my family as soon as I turned 18, and never willingly lived in the same state as them again.

In 2014 my father passed away. I was not given space to grieve or process my emotions. My mother decided it was my job to become her personal secretary and social committee, thus taking over the responsibilities that had been my father's. She also began a smear campaign on my wife, most likely in an effort to wedge us apart so she could secure me as her permanent servant. Another part of this was tearing me down, especially in front of other people, as another tool to weaken me so I wouldn't leave her.

The above sounds awful, and it was, but I need to clarify. My mother does these things, but they are subtle. I do not even think she realizes that she is doing them. They are not done out of malice. It is more like a child, trying to manipulate the adults around them to get what they crave or need. My mother suffered major trauma at a young age, and in many ways she has emotionally never grown beyond the age of six.

Regardless, I had a breakdown in 2015. Everything from the past year caught up to me and I ended up going through a six day panic episode. It culminated in a Starbucks, where I was trying desperately to relax with my spouse. My heart rate and blood pressure soared, my throat closed up, and I passed out. I was carted off in an ambulance to the hospital, where I was run through a battery of heart tests and blood tests. I was healthy as a horse and now that the attack was finally subsiding, I felt silly. That is, until the lovely ER doctor brought in a mental health professional who performed there own version of a battery of tests and informed me that the things I had felt my whole life, which had finally hit a peak, weren't normal, but that there was help.

This is help?
Help wasn't easy, though. The meds were better than nothing, but they didn't always work. I'd be great for months and then the anxiety would hit again. My brain didn't function right, my logic core would shut down. I was in a fog. Once it was determined that I didn't suffer anything beyond anxiety, the only treatment that was covered was my meds. By early 2017 I was falling apart but no one knew it. The death of my father had finally hit home, and I was angry with him for moving my mom here. I had finally realized he did it on purpose so I would become her mental caretaker, and IT WASN'T FUCKING FAIR. My dad, who I had always adored, had knowingly done this to me and I was angry with no one to take it out on. The rest of my life was laid out for me -- walk on eggshells, try to keep mom sane, withstand her criticism, lose myself, die.

No wonder why the idea of losing the house and running away seemed so enticing.

Fortunately, the foreclosure warning wasn't the only thing in the mail that day. There was also a flyer from the local college, advertising that registration began on April 3rd. I smiled, that's my birthday. I tossed both the foreclosure warning and the flyer in the recycling bin and went back to organizing the field guides in my office (an unnecessary task I was doing instead of work).

Later that night, unable to sleep and trying to distract myself from the anxiety, I went to the college website and began looking over programs. Then, I filled out the application. Hmm. The distraction was working. So I filled out a financial aid form. Weird, anxiety still not resurfacing. What's this? I need to take an entrance exam? Oh, look. I can schedule it on the website. Let's do it.

A week later my test day came up. I made excuses about running errands to my wife and headed down to the school, fully expecting to flunk. Then a funny thing happened -- I didn't flunk. I passed and was handed the piece of paper that said I could register. Well, there was still a chance for failure. I walked to the financial aid office. Aid packages hadn't been assigned yet, but the nice woman informed me that it looked like I would get a full aid package as long as no felonies or unpaid student loans popped up on my record. Weird.

Feeling strange, I walked over to the counseling department, waited 15 minutes for a walk-in appointment, then sat down with an advisor. When she asked me what I wanted to major in, I blurted out "biology" with no hesitation. Now this was really weird. When I was a kid I wanted to be a scientist. An astronomer, geologist, ornithologist -- whatever subject had grabbed my imagination. But middle school had beat it into me most cruelly that I didn't have the brains for the math involved.

Why the hell did I say biology? Sure, I read field guides for fun, collected bits and bobs of nature on my hikes, and studied things that piqued my interest online. But biology is a science and I can't do science. My teachers, all those years ago, told me so. Yet, this advisor doesn't seem concerned as she is plugging in the classes I need. Huh, she just asked if she should press ok on the registration button. Why the hell not?

Afterward, I sat in the parking lot and called Wells Fargo. I pushed the button to be put through to the home preservation department. We discussed options. Even weirder. There were options. We weren't going to lose the house. I then drove home, sat down with the wife, and told her everything. More weird! She wasn't upset, not even about the house. She could give a fuck less about the house. She was ecstatic about school, though. 

On my 40th birthday, I started as a college freshman. The few credits I had wracked up 20 years before had expired, so I was starting from scratch. My biology prof was known for being tough, yet I thrived in her class. I thrived in all my classes. I finished the quarter just shy of a 4.0. Oddly enough, I had felt almost no anxiety, even with the full schedule, the money issues, and the challenging classes.

I finished the quarter feeling strong and most importantly, AWAKE. I carried that energy into summer, were we had epic adventures as a family like I had always planned but never could pull off. I lost 25 lbs. I caught up all of our bills and we were almost not living paycheck to paycheck. I finally set boundaries with my mom and developed our exit plan. Don't get me wrong, there were still anxiety episodes, but they were brief and my meds worked as they should. I have no qualms that our choices, my choices, right now aren't "normal" for this stage in life, but that they are the right choices none the less.

This is the part that scares me, though. Mental illness almost tore down my -- our -- life once before. In retrospect I can see it was the anxiety, which masked the symptoms of the situational depression, that lead to the problems in the first place. Hell, the untreated anxiety probably had been negatively impacting my decisions since my first attempt at college decades ago.

But what's to stop it from happening again? Next time something big goes wrong, will I melt down like last February? Will I try, and possibly succeed, at throwing it all away? We are financially ahead for the first time in ages, and it scares the shit out of me. We have something tangible to lose. I could throw away every hope and dream, every goal, every chance at a life well lived because of the vagaries of my oh-so-human mind.

Fortunately, I am not writing this from a place of mental illness-induced anxiety. I am writing this from the fully lucid state of someone that is, for the time being at least, mentally "normal." I hope that this will be our saving grace -- I am recognizing the tendencies I have when I am mentally off kilter, so that we can have an action plan to quickly recognize and maintain until control is once again regained.

So for now, I am going to say no. Mental illness and financial security are not mutually exclusive, unless you let them be.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Uber Frugal Month: Day 31 The Finish!

A bit of a misnomer in the title -- this isn't the finish, but the beginning!

Today’s mantra: When you reach a place of tenable, enjoyable, lifelong frugality, you won’t worry about an end date for your frugality. You’ll have arrived.
Today’s action: Reflect on what this month was like for you. What was difficult? What surprised you? Could you live like this for the long-term?
Today is a day of reflection instead of a challenge. For me, the month really was no different than any other, except we were more consciously aware of some of our spending (namely entertainment).In fact, cutting back on entertainment spending was the single most difficult thing to do.

What surprised me is that it can be done, but we have to remain very mindful. A few things going forward:
  • Goodbye bus. Maybe when spring rolls around and I have a later class I will revisit the bus, but after one month enough is enough. I have to get down to the stop a full hour early because I can't depend on the bus to be on time, so I must get an earlier one. Then, I may be stuck at school for up to an hour waiting on a bus. The parking pass is worth it to get that lost time standing on a curb back.
  • Goodbye alcohol. I can't be trusted after more than two drinks -- I'll order pizza, decide to go out for food, or do something equally dumb with money. One drink on occasion at home or at a dinner at a brewery is fine -- it doesn't trigger the eating/spending binge. 
  • The major diet change I hinted at a couple of weeks ago is a keeper. More details in February, but this should bring down the grocery bill a bit.
  • I can't give up fun outings, particularly with DS2. Almost-13 is a hard age, and we really connect when we have one-on-ones. A weekly treat -- inexpensive, but $ none the less -- is staying in the budget.
  • I need to bring down some "fixed" bills. February is the month I tackle internet, the phone bill, and insurance. No more excuses -- I figure there is about $150 there we can save a month.
  • I need to up my winter game and get outside no matter what (unless it is waiting at a bus stop).
  • Saving more is great, but the simple fact is Mo will need to earn more. I'm at my limit with school, and I really should scale back work somewhat. This is something we are planning to work on over the coming months. 
We are definitely in this for the long haul -- perhaps forever! But something tells me it will get even easier once we have everything fine tuned even more. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Uber Frugal Month: Day 30

The mid-winter blahs hit me every year in late January and February, and it appears that this year is no exception. The dark, the biting cold, the ice -- every year I come face to face with my own mortality and anxiety steps up the game. The horrible, frenzied anxiety, not the dull, plodding type that is often lurking below the surface. The only shining point is that it doesn't seem as severe as usual. I like to think that is because I am healthier AND I am taking control of life instead of letting circumstances control me.
My beloved Pacific is not perfect. It just is.

The UFM challenge is about perfection today.
Today’s mantra: Imperfection is not only frugal, it’s also liberating.
Today’s action: Acknowledge, and embrace, your imperfections. My favorite way of doing this is by making a list of all the things in my life that aren’t perfect, but that make me happy anyway.
This is fitting, giving my anxiety and the fact that trying to achieve perfection is one of the things I repeatedly do even though it triggers the anxiety! I'm trying to foster a "good enough" mindset, but the fear of failure runs deep. Combine that with the normal background of aging anxiety, and there is then severe anxiety that this failure will be my last chance. I know, a vicious circle. So, things that aren't perfect but that make me happy?
  • My children and spouse, of course ;)
  • My silly old puppy
  • My fluff-butt cats
  • Sometimes myself
  • My schooling, in general
  • My desk in particular, and office set up overall
  • My Prius(nicknames "freedom car" for reasons best saved for a different post!)
  • My outdoor gear - used, sometimes ugly, but always serves me well.
  • My library
  • My moleskine planner
  • My beat up hydroflask
I know there is more, but on this cold January morning the above will have to suffice. So another thing that not perfect but makes me happy? This list!