Hard Times and Why Telling Your Business Matters

One of the common criticisms that I have received as a so-called blogger is that I share too much of my personal life, that I tell all my business. I must admit the first few times I heard this, it stung, it especially stung when I heard it from one of my oldest friends of 20+ years.

Yet as someone who is fond of the art of storytelling and whose writing idol is the late Studs Terkel, I am a big believer that sharing our personal stories is empowering both to the storyteller and the audience. So many times when we are facing truly hard circumstances, it is hard to sit down and admit just how rough things are with people who are close to us. I found that out last year when I finally broke down over lunch and shared with a friend things that were going on in my personal life, I will never forget the look and then the judgment, of course said friend tried to adjust her face but it was too late. Yet in four years of sharing the stories of my life, I have found a community of folks that also struggle and I am completely okay with talking about my struggles. Hell, last year I spoke to a packed room about my issues with anxiety. I admit I thought people were initially just being polite when I received a standing ovation at the end of my talk, but I later heard from so many in attendance, that they could relate to my story. I think that’s when the power of stories really clicked for me.

One of the hardest stories anyone can share is the admission that they are struggling financially. In a world where sometimes it seems like everyone has a shiny new igadget and can afford a vacation, when you are simply struggling to keep some food on the table and the lights on, it’s real easy to imagine that you are the only one struggling to hold it together.

In the US, talking money has always been considered impolite. It’s one the reasons no one can really know how many people are suffering from the continuing fallout from the great Recession. Yet as someone who works in social services, I know not all the folks suffering are the old poor people, many are what I call the new poor. See, the new poor in many cases used to be middle class, on the surface they still look middle class but they are hoping and praying they can keep the house which is headed towards foreclosure. They hide their unemployment status under the cloak of being “consultants” but for those of us in social services, we see them even when you don’t.

That’s why it’s so important for stories to be shared. I was reminded of this last night when one of absolute favorite bloggers (if I had a little sister, Liz would be it) admitted that she is struggling and struggling hard. I admit I was blown away, hell Liz to me is like a rising superstar in this blog game, hell she was one of the BlogHer12 Voices of the Year…how is it that she is struggling? Well she is struggling the same way one of my best friends is, who in recent months has come out publicly about her struggles. The thing is these women are not anomalies, this is real life. Just that for most of us if we are struggling, we still live in the struggle closet. I mean to open up and admit that you barely can afford to buy food is hard and then there is always that fear of judgment.

Most of us like to believe that if someone is unable to pay their own way, well clearly they did something wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know so many college educated, formerly employed (full-time with benefits, type employment) folks who are probably 2 checks from the homeless shelter that it’s almost starting to feel like a norm. Hell, even with filing bankruptcy, it recently dawned on me that if the Spousal Unit were to lose his gig we would be fucked. Thanks to the generosity of my father in law, we won’t ever be homeless but in this old house, if we couldn’t pay the $1000+ oil bill in winter months we would freeze to death.

There is no shame in telling your story, fuck, it’s brave, it’s brave to say fuck it! I can’t live in the closet anymore and trust me when you are living with the bone crushing struggle to survive and you are not talking about it, you are in the closet and closets hurt, hell they can kill.

In these hard times, sometimes the only thing that can keep us sane is knowing we aren’t alone therefore your story and your business do matter.

PS: Sometimes people ask well what about future employers knowing your business, look it will take a company less time than it takes you to have a morning dump to know everything about you including your finances. Especially as more and more companies check your credit before deciding if they will hire you, so Big Brother will know if you don’t pay the light bill.

No, really no reason to be sorry

Today, the Spousal Unit and I got up early to drop the last of the paperwork and fees off to our attorney for our upcoming bankruptcy case. In delivering that paperwork to his office it felt like a shift in my personal universe and my soul exhaled deeply. The decision to go bankrupt was not an easy one and I imagine the next few months will be interesting as we navigate a process entirely unknown.

In recent weeks I have received numerous emails from many kind readers suggesting alternatives and while I am deeply grateful that so many people care, I will say for as much as I do share on this blog, there is more I don’t. I will just say the processes that lead to this decision are part of a larger journey that has been ongoing for many years. I rest easy knowing this is not an easy way out and that we tried our best but that we are simply at a point where this is a business decision, nothing more, nothing less. After all businesses go bankrupt every day and there is never a moral judgment attached to it, yet often when individuals make the same choice, it becomes a matter of personal responsibility. In our case my husband is a business as a freelancer, sometimes businesses do well and sometimes they don’t.

Despite my choosing to share with many strangers the decision to go bankrupt, I have only shared the news with a few personal friends. In part because I did not want that uncomfortable pause followed by the inevitable I am sorry that almost always seems to follow. Today, I finally broke down and told one of my close friends as we were en route to yoga of all places. He expressed sadness and in that moment I found myself thinking of all the possible calamities that can befall us, filing bankruptcy is not even remotely the worse.

Looking back on the past decade of my life and the ups and downs, I can say sorrow was an appropriate reaction when 8 years ago this summer, my beautiful vibrant and young mother called me to tell me she had lung cancer. Sorrow was watching her pull through radiation, chemo and lung surgery to return back to the land of the living, only to learn weeks later the cancer had spread to her brain. Sorrow was that call on Christmas morning from my Dad telling me something was up; sorrow was the day after Christmas getting the call requesting I come home. Sorrow was arriving home to see my Mom, a shadow of herself; sorrow was bathing and dressing the woman who once had done these things for me. Sorrow was making decisions and not knowing what the outcome would be. Sorrow was watching her survive brain surgery only to die 7 weeks later because we live in a country where insurance companies have limits and seeing your mother end up in a shit ass nursing home because she exceeded the limits for rehabilitation. Sorrow is reading your mother’s death certificate and seeing she died basically of dehydration because some underpaid overworked human did not keep her hydrated. Sorrow is watching your father become a shadow of himself, sorrow is your little brother having to couch surf for a year after you gave all you could to help him out in graduate school in a foreign country. Sorrow is losing the person who helped you navigate the aftermath of your Mom’s death because they had no support and committed suicide leaving you a clear road map that looking back you can see they had planned it. Sorrow is losing your grandmother 6 weeks after giving birth and effectively making you the matriarch of the family at 32. Sorrow is a 4 year period where it started to feel like every time you answered the phone it was news of yet another passing, another loss.

Turns out realizing you cannot possibly pay back all the debts you have in a reasonable time frame despite your most valiant efforts is not sorrow at all. It is relief, relief that we live in a place where second chances are possible at least financially. Relief that I have learned a lot on this journey and that I carry that knowledge into the future, relief that I can instill in my kids lessons I never learned about money. So please if you know someone in such a situation, you don’t have to express sorrow as of someone has died, most people who get to this point are relieved.

The process of going bankrupt…

This is the type of post when I wonder should I write it or not? While I am a fairly open book on my blog and in real life as I have said before even I have my limits to what I will share, but in the past few days as I prepared for the Spousal Unit and I to meet with an attorney about our financial situation, I realized a few things that I suspect could be useful to someone else out there.

In the United States generally speaking when someone hears the word bankruptcy it strikes fear in their hearts, and some underlying assumptions that if someone files bankruptcy clearly they were a poor money manager. After all if one files bankruptcy clearly they were using credit cards to fund a lavish lifestyle! Turns out though that statistically what really brings folks to the brink of bankruptcy is job loss, illness, and the type of shit that frankly is hard to avoid.

A few weeks ago, I had started calculating out debts, but this weekend I had to finish in preparation for our meeting with attorney #1 yesterday. While the end number scared me, it was when I broke down the amounts I realized oh! Drum roll, our total debt load is….a whopping $243,560.52! Almost half of that are my student loans, ponder that for second. Needless to say like many I do think the education bubble is coming and coming soon. The other parts of our debt broke down to back taxes from the early years of the Spousal Unit’s self employment when to be honest we didn’t have a handle on managing the ebbs and flow of self employment. The remaining debt broke down to credit cards and medical bills. Honestly, I was surprised at the number of medical bills I had, a few larger ones but a great deal of smaller ones, things that weren’t covered by our paltry insurance plan. Yet they start adding up and once again I am reminded of why ultimately we need true health insurance reform in this country.

I was also surprised to learn that I haven’t used a credit card since 2007; I had not realized it had been that long as was the attorney that we met with since most people who end up in her office are still struggling to wean themselves off the demon cards. In my case when I lost my teaching job in 2007, I stopped in an attempt to try and pay them off but it never quite happened though I simply cut the cards up and never looked back. Currently the man keeps one card for his business and my employer does provide me with one for work stuff, other than that we are cash and carry or shall I say debit and carry folks. That said, looking at our files we realized there were a fair number of debts we had made substantial progress on but sadly life happens.

While the process of meeting with a bankruptcy attorney is up there as far as nerve wracking shit, I will say that going in prepared with everything helps. It also seems to help that I can clearly identify what happens that keeps us from getting ahead. In the past decade as we uprooted ourselves to move 1100 miles away we lost our ability to create a nest egg and inevitably when shit happens, such as job loss, client loss in the case of the hubby or even the illness and death of my mother when I helped my folks out we had no true reserves. I am mentioning this because I know some of the modern day zealots of simple living downplay the need for a rainy day fund of even insurance and let me tell you having lived this way for the past decade, I say no. In almost every instance my financial crises could have been avoided if I had had a stash of money to tap into and replenish when times got better.

I must admit that in recent years my decision to work part time rather than full time has not helped since a full time job almost certainly would have come with some type of health insurance but I can only look ahead at this point. So off I go to prepare to meet with attorney #2 today and figure out which chapter of the bankruptcy code would best work for us. Right now we are meeting with attorneys and weighing our options as how to best to deal with this debt and get to the point we can move on and start saving for the future.