I Am That Girl Now

Friday, August 24, 2007

Kidding myself is a luxury I just can't afford

My Hub would sooner put a fork in his eye, I think, than do any kind of financial tracking. (Let me pause to offer a fervent prayer to my deity of choice that this does not turn into another thing that will bite us in the ass.) When he has money, he spends it; when he doesn't, he stops spending and mopes; tracking or analysis of his spending would give him the chance to even out the bumps in the road, but he holds to a general rule in life that if a thing involves self-exploration or analysis of any kind, it's not for him; he prefers to be unencumbered by such. He'll take the trade-off of having days-- occasionally weeks-- in which he doesn't get to spend money and has to sit around feeling poor and morose.

I, on the other hand, adore tracking, but only so long as it tells me good things. The history of my financial tracking efforts dates back to 1999, when, freshly installed in my first solo apartment here in Chicago, I set up a complicated tracking system for all my receipts, used it for about a day and a half, and then watched out of the corner of my eye as it gathered dust until I finally ditched it after six months. I clearly remember feeling strongly that I ought to organize my finances, but I didn't have a clear idea of why, and I was really not good with how, since I really had no idea where I was headed.

My second shot at tracking occurred in 2001, although, having learned from 1999, I compromised and made it so that I would divide all my money into two accounts-- one that would automatically pay all the set expenses, and the other that I could use for the ATM. Which wasn't so much "tracking" as "well, at least this way the bills will get paid." In retrospect, it was a very rudimentary form of the Mvelopes system I've got set up now, but with only two sections: set expenses and everything else.

After things got complicated when me and my Hub moved in together and got married, and I ended up in charge of money because I was the less-flighty of the two of us, I sought the services of a financial adviser. Note to everyone considering this: this solves fewer current problems than you might think, because while they're setting you up for the future, financial advisers don't do much to sort out what you're doing now. This mostly led to us adding on more and more bills for insurance, IRAs and the like, with a twice-yearly pattern of collapse and digging back out again via tax refund or bonus check. We'd get frustrated with the tight noose of the budget and the "I'll pay it off right away on payday" credit purchases began, which quickly turned into balances on the cards, which we'd "solve" by throwing all of our tax refunds or bonus checks at the balances, and then we'd be good for a few months before it would begin again. Every time, I'd start to avoid doing the math because it would tell me things I didn't like.

Apparently in order to keep us from going under, I have to pay a service to do all the math for me. Well, so be it.

The lesson learned here, I think, is that we have a vast ability to kid ourselves, which kicks in right about the time that the empirical data coming in stops telling us good things, stops making us feel proud of ourselves. It's easy to track information when the bottom line keeps improving; when it stalls, or starts going sour, that becomes difficult-- and that, I've found, is the most important time to keep tracking, keep your eyes on the empirical data, and avoid the huge temptation to start kidding yourself. Which sucks.

We are the children of the good times, folks, and it's hard to learn to restrict yourself when there's no outside force that makes you learn. Our generation (and yes, I'm generalizing about the United States again) hasn't had to learn self-restriction, hasn't had to learn to make do, because more is always available-- and, worse, more is the culturally accepted method of making yourself feel better. More credit, more clothes, more house, more food. Less, then, is not something we're accustomed to doing. Less feels not only restrictive, but embarrassing; with what seems like the whole world spending money they don't have and eating tons of food, restricting yourself to necessities looks freakishly monkish by comparison. So when reality strikes, and the alarm bells go off that say "something's gotta change", it's so, so tempting to avoid thinking about it because you just want to stay in that dream of denial a little longer, that dream where you're not that far over, it's not so much of a problem that it can't be fixed right away, so the strict rationing doesn't have to begin again quite yet.

Gotta tell ya, folks, my vast ability to kid myself has led to project "take off that depression fat" turning into project "oops, put on another 10 pounds on top of that". Which I can blame all I want on my Hub and his bulking diet (and oh, I do), but at the end of the day there has to be a point where I stop and say, "Okay, that didn't work. Try something else."

The trick is finding a happy medium between a) spend ALL DAY keeping track of shit (i.e., which is what my time on Weight Watchers turned into) and having any break from that unbearable load make it incredibly unlikely that I'll get back to it unless forced to, and b) spending no time at all keeping track of shit, which means I can kid myself all the damn time until, again, forced to admit that something has gone awry.

For finances, Mvelopes takes the middle option for me, since after the herculean task I had of setting up eight months' worth of finance tracking by hand (my one gigantor complaint: they do not let you upload past info from your bank and sort it, which means no reports for pre-Mvelopes months, which... WTF, dude, I NEED that in order to sort my shit out in the FIRST place, otherwise I'm just putzing around moving things into envelopes with no concept of what my real budget is)... er, after my initial giant task, it's actually been very very low-maintenance, just takes a few minutes of the day to handle, and thus I don't have a real excuse to "take a break" every once in a while. I am pondering low-maintenance options for food intake at the moment (please, don't try to sell me on anything right now, due to being uncomfortable with the process in the first place and demand-resistant in the second, it would probably just send me into another round of avoidance), and have given myself a mental deadline of next Friday.

It's odd, trying to hash out something that's low-maintenance that will give me enough information to keep me from kidding myself. Everything I've seen from commercial diets is pretty much an engraved invitation to an eating disorder, or a one-way ticket to malnutrition, or utter crap, or two out of three, or all three. I'm sort of leaning toward a combination of tracking my weight (like, daily, on a spreadsheet, with graphs), keeping up the exercise, keeping up the meditation, and making a vague effort at "eating better", because frankly I know what my problem is: I've got a moderate amount of OCPD, that I've soothed the tension and stress from that by indulging in mindless eating, comfort eating, comfort purchases of large containers of junk food which then gets eaten mindlessly because it's right there, and other food-related crimes against my stomach.

That's it.

That's the main thing.

That's what has buggered me after every diet, that's what makes each diet such an effort in willpower, that's what makes my mind drift toward thoughts of chocolate whenever the tension levels start creeping up. That's what drives me toward shopping for clothes and books and electronic doo-dads when I manage to avoid the chocolate.

I've mentioned before that it's been almost impossible for me to focus both on weight-loss and financial solvency at the same time, but since in this case the root of the problem is the same damned thing, I'm going to do something very foolish here and tackle both at once. Neither my body nor my bank account can continue to pay for the problems that my head is creating. It's time-consuming to spend 40 minutes doing walking meditation on the elliptical every other day, and to spend 40 minutes in a prone position on the off days, doing a body-scan meditation, and it's time-consuming and awkward to have to stop in the middle of things and re-focus myself and just breathe, because I can tell I'm getting wacky again. On the up side, it costs nothing and it's calorie-free, and it does make me feel better than a chocolate bar or a shopping excursion, so there you go.

If I can get into the habit of eating mindfully 80% of the time or more, and practice non-food-related calming methods, and track my weight (I put together a spreadsheet with a "scatter" graph on Google Docs where today I started tracking my daily post-pee, pre-breakfast weight), and keep exercising, I should be okay. I don't think I have to spend all day tracking things; I just have to stay fucking well calm.

Example: got to work this morning and beheld my desk, covered in paper, including three notes from my boss delivered after I left yesterday. I'd already had the vague idea brewing in the back of my mind that I ought to go get candy or something, but the desk really made that thought stand up and wave its arms around for attention. Did a minute of meditation, and that seems to have settled down, but I'm guessing that my project for the morning is going to be catching myself every few minutes and re-focussing, re-calming.

That's just where I am. No good kidding myself about that.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bacon + chocolate = pure evil

I walked home from the doctor's last night (I'm fine), for the sake of a little time to clear my head. Walked by Whole Paycheck Foods and thought, "Well, I'm out of awesome chocolate, I should pick up another bar."

Lo and behold, I came face-to-face with this.

Yes, that is what it looks like. It's a gourmet chocolate bar made with bacon.

I stared at it for a while, and then, because my Hub has often claimed that there is nothing, nothing that cannot be improved by adding bacon, I bought it to bring home to him. (And a bar of Green & Black's Maya Gold, because there was no way I was staking my entire week's chocolate future on something that looks like a photoshopped joke idea.)

He was astonished. And intrigued. And a little scared. He made me take pictures of the entire process of him tasting a piece of the chocolate, and the faces he made were just priceless. I asked him how it was, and he just kind of blinked at me with this blank look on his face and shook his head. "I don't know. The chocolate was good, but it was... I don't know."

About an hour later, he convinced me to try some. This was a mistake. You know how the taste of bacon kind of goes up in your sinuses and lingers? Imagine that, plus salt, plus milk chocolate. If you can imagine that, you're a brave one, and you're also short of the mark because it was SO MUCH WORSE THAN I THOUGHT. On the one hand, there was nothing wrong with any of the ingredients. Good bacon taste, good chocolate taste, but as Xander Harris once said, "THESE ARE UN-MIXY THINGS." It made my brain hurt. It wormed its way into my sinuses and stayed there. I couldn't stop tasting it. I had to drink some hideously dry wine to get some other kind of taste up in that region, because the longer it stayed with me, the worse my brain-pain became.

People: don't do this. Just don't. Vosges does some awesome mixy things, but this is not one of them.

In other news, I kept my equanimity all the way through my doctor's visit, which was good. Then I went home, which was likewise good. Then I called my parents, and that's where things went haywire.

People in my family are under a lot of stress these days. There's a wedding that may or may not happen, and the open-ended question there is dragging all of us through a lot of tension, along with trying to figure out where the line is between "helpful advice" and "pushy busybody". There are several family members-- not immediate family for me, but close enough for my folks-- who are having a lot of health issues, so there's a lot of guilt and exhaustion flying around, along with the worries about care and money. My folks are within a few years of retirement, and of course the stock market promptly started going haywire-- hopefully their financial advisor was following proper procedure and had them in low-risk bonds and whatnot, because otherwise this is going to be bad-- and some serious bad drama is happening at my dad's workplace that is making him seriously consider turning in his keys and never going back. Which, frankly, I'd support, because he'd probably make more money going full-time with his much-beloved side gig, but the idea of such upheaval is making my mom's gray hair even grayer.

In short, these are not soothing conversations, and I never come out of them well. There's something about parents that will push a child's buttons, no matter how little the parents intend to and no matter how old the child is. When my parents are tense, I get tense. It has a lot to do with associating that tone of voice from my father with bad news for Meg, like I've disappointed him, or I've crossed him, or he's just generally pissy and is going to take it out on me. (Ah, childhood.) I ended up in knots by the time I finally prised myself out of that phone call, and it took a lot of deep breathing, a little bit of crying, and some quality cuddling to undo most of those knots.

I'm still kind of tense, and I'm recognizing the particular brand of tension as my "What? What did I do? How am I not good enough now?" tension. It sets me up to overreact to everyone else and feel like the world is out to get me, which is really not the case. Well, not so much "out to get me" as "vastly disapproves of me". So I start withdrawing and avoiding contact with people, which... is not good. Ah, fragile self-esteem, complicating everything. Yeowza.

Also, saw a picture of myself which I did not like. My Hub said, "But, you're gorgeous!" and I said, "Yup, no question about that, but there's a bit more of my gorgeous self than can fit into most of my favorite clothes, and this is photographic evidence which I cannot deny." I'm trying to hash out what to do about that, because I am not down with the idea of going whole-hog on a diet, and to add to the fun my Hub is still on bulking rations and eating hamburgers twice a day. Difficult to live with that. Also bad timing by falling in a budget-tightening time. You'd think that since both budget and diet = belt-tightening of a sort, that this would match up well, but that's... well, it's never been the case for me in practice. Hoping to change that by doing a LOT of deep breathing. A LOT.


Well, on the up side, tests of the Mario Badescu Drying Lotion have been done, since my Hub had a lovely pimple appear over the weekend and I pounced on it immediately (much to his horror). Seems to reduce inflammation and take care of the juicy white center of the whitehead overnight, leaving a lurking red spot in the morning. I could not get my Hub to agree to a second treatment, so I can't speak to whether a second shot of the stuff the next night (or, under makeup, in the morning-- it is pale pink and definitely does not blend with most people's complexions) would eliminate the red spot over the next eight hours. Further tests to come! Onward and upward!

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Walking meditation, budget brain.

I've been back on the elliptical machine at the gym these days, and since I am not by nature okay with cardio (in the past, I've watched DVDs of TV shows to bribe myself onto the machine), I've been trying to do what Jon Kabat-Zinn refers to as "walking meditation". In his books, he seems to assume that this would be walking around in circles in one's place of residence, or around a track or some other set thing where the scenery is not a big deal and the surface is unchanging; personally, I find that it's perfect for the treadmill or the elliptical machine. I can close my eyes and spend 40 minutes ignoring the rest of the gym, ignoring the lights and buttons on the control panel, vaguely hearing the music from my headphones, and just concentrating on being right here with my body, step by step by step.

Sometimes it works better than others. Yesterday it worked exceptionally well, as I tried to unwind a nasty tension headache (and if you make it through the rest of the entry, you may understand why I had that headache)

Five days through our first pay-period on Mvelopes, and all's well thus far. More than well, actually; I'm hugely relieved that when my Hub asks, "Hey, how much do we have left in the budget for groceries?" or "Do we have any extra cash in the budget for gas?" I can open my account, point at the screen, and give him precise answers. The embarrassing thing is how much better I feel to have the numbers coming from somewhere else; it's like when I was doing the math, it was somehow my fault that we didn't have more cash in the budget for gas, but now that I can point at the Official Numbers a la Mvelopes, I am blameless, 'cause it's just the way it is, no arguing with facts. I don't have to freak out about my math maybe being wrong, but more than that, it gives me a feeling of having Authority behind me.

I think what this means, mostly, is that I am a wuss, and am not really that good at being the iron hand o' the law at home because, in my head, it seems to be less important to have all the books balanced than to have my Hub like me. So sad. Ah, well, at least we have something in place that works, you know?

I am enthralled at being able to see how much money is left in each envelope. If I look in the checking account, it'll say $1,000, which I know in a vague way means money for X, and Y, and Z, and all that, but it's so absolutely, uncompromisingly clear in Mvelopes what that money really means. This is for life insurance; this is for the phone/internet bill; this is half of the rent that's not due until the first, but which the paycheck on the 31st won't be able to handle entirely; this is for groceries, and no, it's not equipped with a great deal of wiggle-room. It's like having a little imaginary account for each one. My anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive side is in ecstasies over this, but mostly, it's just such a relief to have it all laid out like this. I don't have to go back to our Excel budget and do math every time I want to know if we have money in the account for such-and-such. I just know. Every time.

Totally can't lie to myself anymore, or conveniently forget after a while and thus miss the trends. If I have to transfer money from my Clothes envelope to fund my splurge-y purchase of Mario Badescu products (I totally bought some, will let you know how that works out), then that notation is still there next month when I talk myself into buying frozen pizzas and beer, and the month after that when I ask "hey, why do I never have money for clothes?", I'll know why. Oh yes, I'll know.

I'm looking forward to showing this to our financial advisor. I am such a kid; something in my head is longing for approval, praise, and possibly a gold star on my chart (gold star = an elementary school thing, at least in my experience). This is the hardest thing about being an adult; no praise for doing your homework or washing the dishes, it's just expected. Phooey.

Re: this week's groceries, I brought the thing in under-budget for the first time in... well, as per my records, at least eight months. (Probably more like five years. Oy.) This took a strict list, striking several things off of said list because we didn't really need them this week, adding up an estimate before I left the house, and (I am such a geek) crouching over my grocery cart in a corner and doing some feverish work with a calculator before bringing everything up to the counter, still holding my breath. About eight bucks under budget! Hooray! I did a little dance right at the check-out counter. AWESOME. Best part: this included bacon and spinach, which had been on the list provisionally "for if we have enough money".

I do wish we had more money. Apparently part of the reason I avoided getting the budget this detailed was that I didn't want to know just how tight things were, and now I do. An extra $500 coming in every month would let us step up the repayment of my Hub's student loans (er, more on that momentarily), put a little more into savings, and give us a little more leeway so I could budget in some non-essentials like Christmas gifts and birthday gifts. An extra $700/month would make it so that we could do all that and handle something like, oh, say, child care. I'm considering the idea of a second job, since the headhunter hasn't called me in three months (grrrrr) and it seems like there's no new job for me on the horizon. I have to admit I'd prefer to make money off my small talent in writing instead of doing retail work; perhaps I should put up a sign that says WILL BLOG FOR $$. (Seriously, I would. If anyone wants to hire me, e-mail me and we'll talk. I can swear less and make more sense if called upon to do so.)

My Hub is adjusting to the current regime, which at the moment is the most I feel comfortable asking for. I did get him to add his student loan info and his 401k info, so now I can get a much more accurate look at our net worth, and for that, I am grateful. (It may take a strong stomach to deal with watching our 401k accounts in the current market, but I gotta remember, long term.) I asked if he wanted to put his checking, savings, and credit cards on Mvelopes, and he snapped that he was just going to assume that his fun-money was being "frittered away on parking, restaurants and video games." Which... well, fair enough. He seems to have sniffed out my clever scheme in which I hoped that, by tracking his expenses for a few months, he'd eventually start to see patterns, and start planning ahead a little, and maybe, maybe decide that he was spending entirely too much damn money on parking and restaurants.

Note to self, #1: Remember, he's not dumb, and he can read me like a damn book. My subtle little schemes are nowhere near as subtle as I think they are, and he doesn't like it when I do that. Say it all out loud, or don't say it at all.

Note to self, #2: It's enough for the moment that he's no longer being backed up and/or occasionally subsidized by the shared account. He's doing more thinking about things now. As long as this doesn't turn into a credit card issue, which would impact both of us, then it's his money and if he isn't ready to deal with being responsible with it, then he's not ready, and that's fine.

Note to self, #3: Get him used to checking Mvelopes for info. Do not answer questions anymore or look info up for him; tell him to go to Mvelopes and look it up his own damn self. If something happens to me, he's going to have to know how to find this information.

I complained to one of my buddies on Friday that I still kind of resent the whole thing because before we got involved, I was pretty flighty when it came to finances, myself. It was finding out about the balances on his credit cards and his student loans that shocked me into the realization that he was even more financially flighty, and that this meant that if I wanted to avoid a 21st century Dickensian fate, I was going to have to step up and not just get my own shit straightened out, but his, too. Deep down, I'm still kind of mad about that-- about being so alone in this, most of the time, and feeling like he's undermining my efforts or, at best, being a heavy weight that slows me down.

Even more, I resent the student loans. More to the point, I resent the years he spent not paying them, back when he was with his ex (who is even worse with money, if you can believe it), and the extra year of deferment he took during the first year we were living together, that I couldn't talk him out of taking. Particularly the part with the ex, because the money those two wasted together could finance a small but well-equipped army. I know the money this woman makes, and even though I know that they're both financially retarded and that actually paying down the balances of those student loans would never have occurred to either one of them, on days like Friday-- when I got access to his student loan history online, and saw just how much interest racked up over those years-- I am still pissed. It's not right of me; he's apologized, hundreds of times, and I really need to be able to forgive this for my own sake, if nothing else (unforgiven stuff just burns in the back of my head and adds to the stress levels). For some reason, though, I feel like I need some kind of big extravaganza of an apology and a thank-you, from both him and his ex, for shouldering this where they couldn't. I feel like I deserve a parade, and flowers, or at the very least an acknowledgement of what a shit deal it is, and how much they fucked over the future by making those decisions, which eventually became fucking over me.

I know I'm not going to get it. Most days, I'm okay with that. Friday, I was not okay with it, which made it an exceptionally unfortunate day for us to have dinner with his ex. (Which is a thing that we do, 'cause we're all still friends, mostly due to her exceptional grace and generosity of spirit.) To make it even less okay, we had a flat tire, and this led to some friendly advice from her direction on how old the tires were and how I ought to put some room in the budget for all new tires. I managed not to say the first three things that came to mind, all of which had to do with ancient history and her less-than-stellar track record with money and all of which were really not acceptable, but I did snap at her that I really wasn't comfortable with financial subjects tonight and could we please change the subject?

I didn't exactly avoid being rude. I have mixed feelings on the subject, because current-her didn't deserve being snapped at when we were just having a friendly evening, but past-her deserves a lot of ire for putting me in a lousy situation, in spite of the fact that I walked into this with my eyes open, and that by anyone's standards, as her ex's new wife, I owe her apologies just for existing. It's complicated. I'm still hashing out how I feel about it. The long and short of it is that all the complications came, once again, from not relating to someone on a purely here-and-now basis, and by over-thinking things and letting my head get in the way. Gotta work on that. I can't fix the past, I can't change it, I gotta let go-- and, apparently, I gotta let go every day, because it seems like I don't have the mental oomph to let things go for good.

In other news, off to the doctor's today, to ask some questions about some funny stuff going on with one leg (this somehow makes me feel like a horse) and a weird spot in one eye. I'm hoping she'll just tell me that this is nothing to worry about, but if either of them is something to worry about, I'd rather I actually told her. Besides, it's a good point to check in; three weeks off Zoloft. So... well, we'll see how that goes.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Money may not make the world go around...

...but it does just fine at brewing a shitstorm here on the home front.

I've spent three days uploading our financial histories for the year into Mvelopes, a fine bit of online financial software which I highly recommend. It's like Quicken and that sort of thing, but it lets you divvy up the cash per paycheck before you spend it and keep track of how that budget works for you-- including which Peter you end up having to shortchange to pay Paul, as it were. I've divvied up everything into specific "envelopes"-- categories, such as groceries, rent, yadda yadda yadda.

Ran some reports.


Well, that explains why we keep running out of money. That lovely budget that I put together works very well when it comes to some things, but others-- like groceries-- it does not. After some scrutiny and discussion, we've concluded that it's because some stuff is just not a monthly expense, it's a weekly expense, and that budgeting for being paid twice a month is not the same as budgeting for being paid every two weeks. There are some things that we need money for every weekend, such as grocery shopping and quarters for the laundry, and there are many occasions when we end up having three weekends in one pay period-- which is one weekend over the budget.

Also: a short rant. Here's the thing: both of us have a certain amount of "fun money" per paycheck. My Hub gets twice as much as I do, which happened not so much because I am a self-sacrificing sap but because I'm trying to keep him from going into debt. If he gets X amount per paycheck, then he can put some into savings and then when the next big thing comes along (and it will always come along) that he desperately MUST HAVE RIGHT NOW, then he can take money out of his savings account instead of putting it on a credit card. So this is an improvement over before, really.

Currently, in order to deal with stress, he comforts himself with driving to work instead of taking the CTA a few times every week (absurd parking fee every time), frozen pizzas (which is a large reduction in expense from when he used to order out all the time) and beer (or, more often, diet soda with a shot of liquor in it, which he deems more financially prudent), and more occasional things such as purchasing video games, books, and whatnot. This is where finances get dicy, because any reduction in his "fun money" amount per paycheck means that he either goes ahead and puts expenses on the credit card (TOTALLY NOT WHAT I'M GOING FOR, ARGH), or is sad, and miserable, and broken, and pissy, and cranky, and altogether not a joy to live with, and there's really only so much of that I can take before I can't stand seeing him like that and give in, as I always do, and fund these things out of my accounts or the shared accounts.

We just can't fucking well keep this up, you know? It's not a major financial issue at the moment-- we're not going into debt, at least, but this stagnation is not good-- but we absolutely can't add anything more. Like, say, kids. So that makes it an issue. More importantly, though, this is really not a healthy way to deal with stress.

I know well the way of external-object-based stress relief. Bad day at work? Pizza for dinner! Cranky at the Hub? I deserve to buy a bag of baked Doritos! (Which is sad because they totally taste like cardboard with Doritos dust on them.) I deserve to go out with my friends and get plastered! I deserve to go shopping (oh, Ann Taylor, why must you have sales? why must your store be located between me and the El?) and get a new outfit! I deserve to go wacky on Half.com and order an entire set of mystery novels from an author I just discovered! I deserve this bag of mini-Snickers! DAMMIT, I AM STRESSED, I NEED THIS.

...Which, wait, hold on. "Need" is a very strong word. Seriously, do I really need this stuff? I can't fit any more books in our apartment, I really don't feel like working off the extra calories of the Doritos or pizza or mini-Snickers, and while I do kind of require new clothes, it's not exactly prudent to go and spend $45 when that means I'll have to avoid spending any more money until the 15th, just so I can afford to go out to eat with my buds on Friday. It is not cool to be desperate for some object that I feel will soothe my problems. Particularly when I'm pretty sure it's not so much the fact that these are great things to have, as that I want them, I'm cranky, and the act of buying them somehow proves my worth. Today, I am worth the extravagance in money and space and calories! Today, I am so important that my whims mean more than the budget, or the meal plan!

Well. That's just not healthy. It's also not as effective as you'd think.

I'm starting to break out of this, I think. I've been able to recognize those moments for a while now, and I'm trying to combat them by giving myself other ways to calm down.

Which... okay, I can remember very clearly that back when I first started this blog, I was trying to figure out this sort of thing. And, in retrospect, it was pretty funny. I would read how a nice-smelling candle would make me feel better, or a nice bubble bath, and I would march out and buy candles and bubble-bath liquid; I have a very clear memory of stoically soaking in the tub, covered in bubbles, lit by candlelight, still tense as a board and wondering how long I was going to have to do this stupid pointless shit in order to feel better. Shortly thereafter, I recall, I ended up weeping all over my Hub. This period of time was also when my binge-eating kicked in again-- shocker. I could not fucking well relax. I didn't know how. I read all these articles on how to relax, and I tried out tons of stuff, but nothing ever really worked and I'd end up binging some more.

That was the summer of 2005, which ended with Hurricane Katrina, my catastrophic meltdown spurred on by seeing something so horrific happen, my diagnosis of depression, the Zoloft, and therapy. Now that I'm off Zoloft (one week and two days and nothing bad has happened; huzzah!), I'm pretty clear on one thing: relaxation is crucial for my mental health. Cruicial.

Budget-wise, I'm also clear on one thing: if we don't find some relaxation techniques that aren't tied to spending money, we're in trouble.

I think I'm improving on this. The first step was being able to recognize that I was having those moments, AS I was having those moments; the second step was to develop a way to deal with stress without requiring external input (for me, it's meditation, but as they say in fandom, your milage may vary); the current step I'm on is being able to recognize in those stressful moments that I do have a choice in what technique I use to deal with it, and that one version is totally free. I don't hold any illlusions that I'll get myself into a 100% healthy stress-management level, but I'm shooting for about 75%. Also hoping that, over time, continued mindfulness practice will lower my overall stress levels so I don't hit quite so many "peak moments", but instead will be able to dissolve little pockets of stress along the way.

The problem is that I'm not there yet, and the much, much bigger problem is that my Hub isn't there at all. Okay, that's not quite true; he's taken the first step of realizing that there are other ways to deal with stress, thanks in part to me using him as a sounding board about my meditation project. He has, on a few stressful occasions, asked me what he's supposed to do in this situation; I talked him down and got him breathing and rubbed his feet. Lately, I've been trying to explain that it's a long-term project-- that meditating every night is, literally, practicing for those moments, getting it ingrained as a reflexive response the way that fighters have to get moves into their muscle memory so that they don't have to think of what move to use to defend themselves. So... I gotta remember, these are big steps forward, and modern boys are not known for introspection. This is going to take some time. Lord knows, I've been working on this since March and I feel like I'm still scratching the surface.

So as things go, I feel like I've got kind of a plan. I want to get my Hub to have-- and manage-- his accounts on Mvelopes, so at the very least he's assigning his transactions to the appropriate envelope and will get a basic knowledge of how much he's spending each month. And I want him to start investigating alternate modes of relaxation, at times when he's not stressed, because trying a new form of relaxation in the middle of a stressful moment is just not useful at all. Which means that for the forseeable future, he'll still be responding to stress with money, and will still be spending that money... so I must be patient and not flip out over that.

On a side note, I was on the phone with my sister for two hours the other night and read her the chapter on demand-sensitivity and demand-resistance from Too Perfect: When Being In Control Gets Out Of Control, because some stuff she'd been saying led me to believe that her fiance' is very demand-resistant, especially considering that his mother is one seriously pushy broad and any sane human being would need to develop demand-resistance to survive her presence. She's written down the info for the book and is going to check it out. She's also concluded pretty much what I did-- that our family, both sides, is riddled with obsessive personalities, and the problem is that they feel very justified in being so, because of THE DEPRESSION. Seriously, it's 75 years later and any "why/why not" argument about obsessive traits like frugality and cautiousness is automatically won by somebody talking about "well, back in THE DEPRESSION, this and that, which is why I'm right." Most of these people weren't alive during THE DEPRESSION. Including me, because I've used that argument. It's like my family's version of Godwin's law. Gads.

Anyway. More later, probably; it's been too long and I have much built up. ;-)

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Let the fun begin

I've got two half-finished posts sitting in the queue, so I'll try to finish this one, at least, and get it up. I have not forgotten you all, I'm just getting all scattered this week. Bah.

So, I took my last bit of Zoloft on Tuesday. Since I've been taking half a pill every third day for the past month, today (Friday) would have been when I was supposed to have the next pill, and I didn't. Haven't. Which I'm pretty sure means that if anything is going to happen, it may well start happening today.

Trying my best to stay calm. I've talked myself out of a few trees already, spent more than half my allowance for this pay period in an hour's time (but, you know, AWESOME CLOTHES, so I'm kind of okay with that), doing my breathing, trying to get a little one-minute meditation in whenever I have a chance. I think I'm okay, but I've got this strong sense of impending financial doom going on that is kind of hard to pin down. It's tied in with my recurring freak-out about how the hell we're ever going to manage to afford kids; we're pretty much breaking even right now-- not managing to save any more, but not going into debt-- and I'm not only irritated that we can't manage to get money saved, and am pissed that our nest egg, safely ensconced in a brokerage account, is apparently LOSING money, but add the concept of affording kids to that and... I break. I kind of feel like giving up, selling all my belongings, and moving into a nunnery. Pretty sure that we're actually fine and that this is just my stress-generator talking, but at the same time, it's kind of uncomfortable.

Also: Lollapallooza is now in full swing, two blocks away from our office building, and it's so fucking loud that not only can I kind of hear the music, but the windows-- fifty-plus stories up-- are SHAKING. I would say that this means I'm getting old, but I've always been averse to ongoing sessions of very loud noise, so I'm still just as cranky as I've always been, I guess. Still. If this was our downstairs neighbor at home, I'd be banging on the floor asking if possibly he didn't need to make it so that the entire apartment complex could hear Sexyback for the eighth time. As it is, I'm feeling peeved at a large swath of humanity congregated in Grant Park. GRRRR.

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