Friday, October 17, 2008

Coping with Financial Loss

I've been thinking a lot about how people are losing money, these days. I'm a few years ahead of you, in that I lost everything several years ago. I lost my very well and carefully tended 401K in its entirety due to extreme medical bills above and way beyond my coverage. I had to cash it out to pay them and to pay for medicine. Then I lost my home. Of course, before all that happened, I lost my health, my way of life, and my career, due to my extreme disability. I lost my ability, even, to control consciousness. Now THAT is a loss of control - not knowing from one moment to the next if I'm going to slip into a coma and wake up 3 days later on the hall floor. Yep, it happened something like 130 times. Once I was pulled out of my truck, unconscious, and packed off to a hospital. I had known I was going into a "phase" and had pulled into a supermarket.

The only thing I had control of was that I did know when I was going into a "phase" because about 1/2 hour before it happened, I would get blue sparkly spots in front of my eyes. It didn't mean I was necessarily going to go unconscious, but it meant I needed to get somewhere safe. It took me awhile to figure this out, of course.

Those of you who've read the book know all about this part of my life.

The thing is, though, that I lost all that and I'm still here. My mom stepped in and let me AND WESLEY move in with her (which was not easy for her. It was terrible for her). But we made do and I did find doctors, after a long and difficult search, who could figure out how to manage some of my symptoms to the point where I haven't had a coma for quite some time now, and I've learned to pad every event with days of sleep. I do mean DAYS of sleep. My publisher is careful to schedule any event so that I have tons of time to sleep before and after. Sometimes I have to hire a driver, but that's ok!

And I have to take a lot of medication to get through any event, and then cut back on my meds and sleep when I'm not doing an event.

In order to write the book, I had a rule: If I was able to get out of bed for any length of time, I had to write. Just write! And I did, sometimes for only 15 minutes before going back to bed. But little by little, the book took its form.

So why am I reiterating all this? Because it's not the end of the world when you lose everything you've worked for all your life. Really. I'm not joking. I thought it was the end of the world when it happened. I thought, and was even told, that there was absolutely no light at the end of this horrible, painful, dark tunnel. And I was in excruciating pain most of the time (still am, but have meds that keep it to a dull roar).

What it comes down to is that you can lose everything and still not lose EVERYTHING. You can lose the ground you had thought you'd covered, the progress you thought you'd made, the level of professional success you thought you had achieved. I labored hard to punch my way up the corporate ladder, to get to the point where I was very high up in my field. But then I lost it all.

But if you're not dead, and if you're not literally permanently homeless, you really have not lost it all. You may have lost what you thought was your identity, but it's not all it was cracked up to be. Trust me on this.

I thought my accomplishments, my way of life, my careful savings, all that, even my level of physical fitness, for pete's sake, was part of my identity. When I lost all that (geez, I even lost my looks. The meds all say "weight gain" as their number one side effect and they are not kidding!), I finally realized that my worth as a human being was none of all of that. My worth as a human being is my ability to love and be loved. And if it came down to it, really, it's my ability to love that makes me worth having in this world. That's it!

Now, I realize I was lucky to have a place to land. But it's not what I had in mind for my life! Living in my mother's house? No! I was on my own by age 16, in college, going strong, financially on my own, even, because of growing up in show business and making my own nest egg. I paid for my own education and housing, food and clothing, cars, etc. My parents never had to pony up for the expenses that most parents take for granted such as college and clothing and books and cars. Nope, not me! My sister and I took our MOM to Mazatlan when I was 16, rather than being taken there by our parents.

So I took "pride" even in that. Now here I was, waaay too old to be living with my mommy, totally stuck and dependent. Oh sure, I had the golden parachute but the big long term disability policy? They defaulted on millions of people, including me. And I did not have the strength for a lawsuit - and they knew that.

I'm saying that we/you will survive this financial crisis. People will regroup, People will have to consolidate and possibly even live together when that's the last thing they ever thought they'd have to do. They'll have to learn to put up with each other, be less stuck in their ways, compromise, let go of that house in the Hamptons (as IF we all had THAT!), pool their resources w/ family and friends possibly even for food.

We need to think that way now. But it's not a nuclear bomb, after all. Yes it's a terrible loss. People very close to me have lost their homes in a very unfair situation. And no, they were not "unqualified in the first place". Shit happens to good people.

I'm hoping that people will realize, though, that they can survive this. It's not something to commit suicide over. People who went through the depression, for example, went on to live very fulfilling lives. My grandparents on both sides have thrived and lived very exciting, meaningful lives, in spite of the depression.

If people pull together and are willing to compromise, we can all get through this. It just requires a return to the basic values that we perhaps knew about when we were much younger and much less invested in the career paths, the financial portfolios, the luxuries, the things we take for granted that we can no longer take for granted.

Most of us, though, are still not living on the level of, say, a child born in the worst slum of India to parents who have leprosy and no hope of anything, sold into prostitution at age 5 so that the parents can eat. Think I'm being ridiculous?

I sponsor kids all over the world through Compassion International and have been doing so for about 25 years. I tell you, those kids keep me humble and keep my perspective. A little girl in Bolivia who, when they got to her, was barely alive. Her father and all the animals had already died of starvation and she was nearly dead from starvation. But they did get to her and she did get an education and is now a math whiz and a teacher in La Paz. She's done extremely well! I've sponsored so many of these kids and their letters are inevitably cheerful and upbeat. They are so grateful for an education, nutritious food, medical care, clothing, even though they live in the worst slums in the world.

I have spoken to many of them. What I do is arrange to be able to call the project out of which the services are rendered, then they run down the "street" (really these are not streets. They are piles of shacks, some made of cardboard, with effluent running down the center of the dirt tracks between shacks), and the kid comes to the phone and we talk. And talk. And TALK!

I speak Portuguese (N. Brazilian) and Spanish, which of course makes this possible.

But if they can manage to be happy, to get up every morning and see opportunity, then so can we. Seriously!


Anonymous said...

You are so AWESOME! I loved that.

I read your book from cover to cover last night. I could not put it down. It was wonderful and I am VERY glad to know that Science is finally realizing that we can communicate with our animals telepathically, and that animals are little people with thoughts and emotions.

I too have had some very hard things happen in my life recently and I am so glad that I am 47 and learning that there are infinite possibilities.

If you have time to read, I think you would like "My Stroke of Insite". It is a great book and your situation reminds me of the experience that the author had.

Hang in there, and I will be watching this blog.

I say again, you are AWESOME!

Chick Engineer said...

I bought your book after a too short but incredible relationship with a raccoon named Sam. Your book was very enjoyable however I almost fell off my chair reading it at the end when you revealed your illness.

About six months ago the company I am working for hired a female contract engineer to help out on a big project. She was a very solid, reliable engineer and we all began to realize just how good she was at what she did for a living. About 2 months ago she uncharacteristically just didn't show up to work at all. After many calls she finally sent a message that she was in the hospital.

Long story short, it sounds like she has the same illness you have (this is where I fell off my chair reading your book). I bought your book never knowing this illness happened to you. I bought it because I was interested in the commitment you had made to Wesley after I had made that same commitment to my Sam.

My friend/coworker is in the early stages of dealing with this - she has told me this is a pretty rare illness. She says she is doing fine however my e-mail to her three days ago goes unanswered. She is by herself just like you were when you found yourself in this situation.

What words of encouragement can I give her? I have offered to help her in any way but her my offers of help are ignored. What have you learned about this illness that I could pass on to my friend? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

In the words of "Joe Dirt" (don't know if you've ever seen the movie but it is good for a laugh), "Keep on keeping on". Your book was incredible. Somehow I think you were meant to go thru the journey you are on for a reason.

Robbin said...

Dear, dear Stacey,

Thank you SO much for your thoughts on both financial loss and your shift in perspective of your life. You have had a much worse time of it than I've had and have given me hope that I WILL find a place again in my community.

Thank you for sharing Wesley and your life both in the book and here in your blog. I have more hope today than yesterday...

Reginald Tucker said...

Sometimes, it's in the management of resources. Otherwise, it's external disruptions such as a crisis both internal (i.e. domestic) and external (i.e. stock market crashes, etc.). Ultimately it's all about keeping your head up by dislodging troublesome weight to keep afloat. That's why declaring bankruptcy is sound and wise. You don't have to carry the whole weight of the implications of your financial case. You can help it eased by appealing to practical consideration.

Reginald @ Portia Douglas