Most of the time — I’d say about 98% of my waking hours — I feel at least what many people would call “pretty good” about my life. In fact, I think I handle stress and adversity fairly well these days, given my strained circumstances.
In describing this to my psychiatrist yesterday, I said that it was kind of like a lobster being slowly boiled — the heat in my life has gradually increased, and it’s not like the lobster entirely (in that I’m fairly certain stress and adversity aren’t slowly killing me), but there are things you grow accustomed to. If the average person were dropped into my current situation unawares, they would — I guarantee — feel completely panicked and deprived and fearful and certain they were stuck in a hole out of which it is nearly impossible to escape (just as a lobster dumped into a pot of boiling water immediately knows something is wrong). And I know I felt that way for a good portion of my current situation — it is by no means easy to live the way I do (meaning: on extremely limited and unpredictable funds) and learn how to be happy — even content — under such forced simplicity.
One of the several reasons I am forthright about these things to the point of eviscerating myself is to help people in search of a dream (in NYC) learn the things I’ve learned without necessarily having to go through what I’ve gone through. I’ve learned a lot about how to apply certain principles (some monetary, others spiritual) in my daily life, which has (mostly) turned the intolerable into the acceptable.
But I would be lying—and doing my readers a great disservice—to say that once you “figure out” how to “live well” under “austere conditions” that everything is okay. Because that is not true.
Up above I said “98% of the time…” The other 2% is where it gets interesting.
That 2% includes the times when I feel hopeless as well as the ones in which I truly believe that I’ve made such huge mistakes they can never be undone. It includes the moments when I don’t have enough money to buy food—food! even ramen!—not to mention subway fare for my next interview. It includes the semi-rage I feel when I hear people who own cars and condos and are buying $40 bottles of wine say they are “broke.” It includes every moment when I linger on everything I’ve lost and everything I want but can’t have and everything other people have that I don’t think they deserve and every opportunity someone else gets that I think I should’ve gotten instead.
I would be a worthless source of information about frugality-for-a-larger-purpose if I refused to tell you I feel deprived and unhappy and scared and certain I’m going to die homeless about 2% of the time. And that doesn’t even bring into account not being able to see my kids for two months sometimes instead of every-other-weekend, because the money just isn’t there to travel back to Chicago.
I’m mentioning all of this because yesterday and today have been part of that 2%. Not all of yesterday and today, but good chunks. I was supposed to get money this week so I could pay my rent and my cell phone bill and a plane or train or bus ticket back to see the boys. And I didn’t get it because the two sources it’s coming from don’t think it’s that big of a deal whether the money comes yesterday or three weeks from now. And that’s not their problem by any means.
I don’t blame them, but at the same time I hate them for it. I hate the system, the process, the desperation I feel. I hate not seeing my kids and not having a full-time job and having to walk two miles because I don’t have bus fare and being forced to choose between buying food or getting a $5 medication refill of the drugs that keep me from wanting to jump out the window. I hate knowing that I’ll choose sanity over a full belly, because the latter is easier to remedy if the former is intact. And I hate canned goods and ramen noodles and being constricted because, literally, I will have $3 in my bank account after I get my meds today. And I don’t know if I’ll get money today or on Tuesday or three weeks from now (though I’m sure my landlord would like to know).
I am not writing this because I feel sorry for myself, because I do not. I know even in the deepest and angriest and saddest and most desperate parts of that 2% that I am okay today and I will probably be okay tomorrow. I know that things break open in unpredictable ways. I believe in grace and the idea that cracks let the light in. I have an entire lifetime of improbable and accidental successes behind me, and I am confident that I have at least one of them in my future as well. So I am not writing this out of self-pity or because I want anyone to save me (even the people who read this or especially the people whose shoulders have the misfortune of absorbing my tears) but out of honesty, out of a desire to not just talk about how to get out of a spiritual hole or what it’s like once you’ve gotten out but also about the experience of actually being in that hole. And also to point out that the hole is sometimes one you fall back into a lot of times, some of which the climbing-out is easy and others when you have to just there in the muck at the bottom wondering what the heck you were thinking and cry it out and before you can gather the tiny bit of courage it takes to do crawl back up, dirt under your broken fingernails.
I’m in that second kind of being-in-a-hole experience right now, feeling sadder than you know unless you’ve been here and frightened, too, while I wonder what I’ll do next to get back up. Because that’s kind of the whole point of all of this babble I’m writing: talking about the hole only helps to the extent that it makes others feel less alone; talking about the faith and hope it takes to not just suspect but also believe that there’s an escape plan (or can be, or will be, or might be) is the bigger conversation. And I want to say that you don’t have to be in the hole alone; you don’t have to be afraid of the hole because others have been there and know how shitty it is and they’ll listen to you when you’re in your 2% muck—and you don’t have to be standing on top of hole, all triumphant, to either believe those things or inspire them in others. So I am saying them, way down here in the bottom of my 2% hole, stuck in the muck, without a clue in the world, sobbing my eyes out, and still pretty damn sure everything is 98% okay.