Death and financial train wrecks – different types of devastation

While the post title sounds like related issues, in fact they are two separate soundtracks running through my thoughts the past few days. Nothing pretty to see here, so if you are looking for my usual glitter-bombing unicorn outlook, this may be the post to skip.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with my client who lost his 13-year-old son last week; the young man took his own life. While he is a client, most of my self-employment clients are people I consider friends as well, the business just another anecdotal box of experiences we happen to share. Understandably, he is completely broken, destroyed by what has happened. That little boy was the sun and moon and stars in his world, and now he’s gone. Interlaced with grief, though, is this intense, white-hot anger from the circumstances that may time will cool and bring peace. I am not an especially religious person; I offer no platitudes about better places and safe from harm. As a mother who has been through the grief that comes with the death of a beloved child, such statements tend to piss me off even as I know that my children are only on loan, they are meant to grow up and become independent beings well outside my scope of control and direction. But 12, 13 – it is way too soon. Please do not ever suggest to me it’s God’s will, or it’s part of a bigger plan, or they are happier in their place in Heaven. Fuck that shit. Our children – we are good parents; our children should be her on earth with us, getting awkward and hormonal, getting angry and screaming at us, assured in how little we know and growing up into people who again like and respect us for the mere mortals we are as they mature into adulthood and realized that their parents are imperfect, do not have all the answers, but try their best.

In a lot of real and direct experience ways, I am someone who understands. I listened and pretended not to notice when he cried. There are no words of comfort in these situations, and sometimes it is only human warmth that makes us feel less alone and lonely with our tragic losses. As I still think to this day, when there are no words, hugs speak volumes.

Into this profoundly emotional and poignant time with one slice of my life, comes all the bullshit and pettiness of small-ball problems. Comparatively speaking, anyway. There are no universal bandaids that remove physic pain and perceived injustice, and sometimes my patience with those who want to escalate petty grievances into something bigger, badder, much more complicated and time-consuming – let’s just say I’m short and dismissive. Every person I know who works or has any type of relationship with expectation of performance and results has similar stories of such disagreements and less motivated, less first-choice options for bosses, coworkers, worked hired out. So I know I am not the only manager at any level in the world having to deal with people and their problems. And I also know what is a Very Big Deal to them is smaller than small-ball to me. Most of the time, I try to deal with them professionally and compassionately, even while telling them to grow up and get real.

In other words, more drama in the office. And it is not that I don’t care – I care very much, particularly as it impacts perceptions about me and my performance of my job functions – but when you are dealing with a slice of pirated information (salaries) and without complete context, the leg you’re standing on is kind of weak and shaking. When it comes up, I will deal with it. Right now, my head is filled with thoughts of death.

And I hate it.

I hate that my client and friend is suffering so miserably. I hate that another dear friend is thousands of miles away and alone and facing a procedure on his brain. I don’t think it’s just me that gets nervous when people speak of brain surgery, and to not be able to be present and there at this time – it’s really, really hard. While telling myself thousands of times daily that it will be fine, he will be fine, I cannot get my mind to buy the reassurances. Sometimes being a “hope for the best, imagine the worst” version of Pollyanna does not work out all that well for me.

Truthfully, I cannot imagine my life without him somewhere in it. M is far more stoic than I am, thankfully, but even he has his reservations and concerns. It’s BRAIN surgery, and no matter how normal and routine it might be for the surgeon and the specialized team of doctors and nurses, this is someone we love and it is a world-class BIG DEAL to the rest of us sitting on the sidelines and metaphorically wringing our hands and trying not to be consumed with worry.

So yeah, head is kind of stuffed to overflowing out my ears with thoughts of death and what life is like imagining and trying to shut off the imaginings of life after the worst.

Ugh.

Another of my clients asked begged (his term, not mine) me to work with his niece on her finances. I thought it would be relatively straight-forward; after all, my client is very intelligent and sensible, his sister (the referral’s mother) seems the same in the times we have met. I figured at worse she would have student loan debt and need some help with her budgeting.

Oh my, I was so very wrong.

We met yesterday, and after 30 minutes of discussing the state of her life, I put away the green tea I was drinking and order the fully caffeinated, full-sugar version of a coffee-flavored milk drink to fortify myself. It is quite ugly.

She is a college graduate with degrees in chemistry and literature. Her parents paid for college so no student loan debt. Her home was gifted to her from her grandmother along with just over 6 figures in cash. She is employed in the local hospital system, which brings to mind decent wage and benefits. The car she drove up in a later model Camray – nothing fancy or flashy. While she is telling me all this, I am listening and nodding and thinking she needs a financial planner more than she needs a budget coach.

Then she pulls out the sheaf of check stubs, bank statements, credit card bills. I am still thinking, okay, everyone gets into trouble with credit cards; it’s almost a right of passage. I can help her, I’m sure.

It is with the documents that the real story comes out and why her mother and uncle asked me to talk with her and see if I can help her out.

This girl is 29, working at a job that pays about $42K per year, because she only works part-time (20 hours per week) by choice. There is a maxed out line of credit on her paid-off home, she has less than $500 in the bank, and an astonishing amount of credit card debt racked up in just a few years. On top of which – before inheriting her home and money, she had declared bankruptcy because of other credit card debt accrued in college.

I asked her how all this debt came about and got some pretty vague answers about shopping and paying for a couple of fender benders to keep them off her insurance and travel and charitable giving. I asked what happened to her inheritance, and got similar responses, with the addition of … plastic surgery. Did I mention she is turning 30 in a couple of months?

Ugh. Financial train wreck? More like mushroom cloud of financial devastation.

While I suspected this was going to be a huge challenge, I valiantly tried to help her.

Does she have a budget? Yes, but she routinely runs out of money and has to use her credit cards. Okay, can she show me her budget. Well no, because she keeps it in her head. She does pay all her bills when she gets paid and lives on what’s leftover. Except with this much credit card debt, there is a whole lot more living going on than a single person should be doing.

Or so goes the judgmental budget coach in me.

I did not have time to crunch the numbers to even get a sense of where she was, so we set up another appointment for this weekend after I had a better chance to look through her stuff and figure out how truly bad things are for her. And after looking through all her stuff last night, it’s really bad.

Since I know quite a few people in her age bracket, I know it is not just an issue of financial literacy. Yet I cannot fathom how someone could go blow through a just over $100K in inheritance, take out (and then max out) a line of credit on a paid-off home, and run up enough credit card debt to owe just over $150K on a $42K per year salary. And yet, I have seen so much worse through the years.

I know and have heard all the arguments and sob stories about the evil banks and credit card companies taking advantage of the consumer. Bullshit. No one makes us take on debt, although I do know sometimes it’s an uncomfortable only option we have. My sympathy in this is primarily with her family, who – rightly – refuse to bail her out of this mess and merely try to find her resources to help resolve it.

The discord in this is that she is in such a deep, dark place of denial. The typical millennial mindset is stronger than average in this one (and I do apologize to all my very level-headed millennial friends who may be reading this vent).

Either way, she’s in a huge financial bind and it will get worse long before it gets better. I want nothing but success for her, but from conversations with her uncle and her mother, she is not listening to them and is unlikely to listen to me. However, I will do my best.

I think she sees herself as living a life of freedom, whereas I see a young woman anchored by debt and being smother by the increasing interest and monthly payments. She could sell her home – the only assets I see that she has – which would likely clear her debt. But I know already the idea will float like a lead balloon.

At a very minimum, she needs to request a full-time schedule and accept every single hour of overtime that is offered to make more cash. With some negotiation with her creditors we might be able to get her squeaking through each month and with a very strict beans-and-rice type budget.

Buuuuttttt – one of the first comments out of her mouth is that she is unwilling to work more hours. Her debt is a combination of shopping, world travel, philanthropy, and just plain deranged, out-of-control spending. Seriously, I cannot think of another way to describe it.

I cannot save anyone, except perhaps myself. For the sake of my client, I will do my best to create a realistic plan … that she’s unlikely to agree to much less follow through with. When I met her, before we began discussing her finances in detail, I thought she was smart, funny, interesting, and quite physically beautiful. We chatted briefly about fitness – she works with a trainer 3 times per week and does yoga religiously 4 or 5 times per week – and I briefly, VERY briefly, thought she should meet trainer J. Or one of the associates I work with.

No, oh no. I love and adore my trainer, I really NEED my trainer, and I simply cannot do such a horrible thing. And my associates, it’s important to me to maintain my professional relationships. My goodness – what if someone I happened to introduce her to actually likes her? No, just no.

I was actually relieved to find out she likes girls.

The bottom line, at the end of a difficult day on a multitude of levels, what I find almost sadder than the real life agony is this silly, silly girl with the great big entitlement boulder resting on her shoulder.

Some things, some choices, some events are so far beyond my understanding. Where I can help, I try my best to do the right thing and provide what assistance I can. Sometimes it’s out of my realm of expertise, and the eventual outcome is in the hands of others far more skilled and more knowledgeable than me.

I have my hopes for the people in my life – I want what I want for them, whether it peace of mind or recovering their health. When someone new wanders into my midst, if I can help I will try. If they refuse help, I can and will step aside and let nature take its course.

Doesn’t mean I have to like it much, any of it. Sometimes I just wish people did not have to endure so much hardship, and sometimes I just wish people would be realistic and make better choices about their lives.

From nervously glad to horrifically sad in less than 12 hours

Yesterday one of my closest friends texted to tell me he was likely to be undergoing a surgical procedure to correct a brain injury. This has been an ongoing issue for several months, so it was big news that he was finally getting scheduled and ready for it. While happy and excited about it, I am equally terrified of the potential side effects, complications, unexpected consequences. I seem to have no healthy outlet to express that anxiety – after all, it was almost 9 when he texted to tell me and I could not go back to the gym for a third workout. So overnight I was plagued with nightmares and poor sleep and woke up with a blinding headache that pushed me to push back my exercise until after work. Not the end of the world, and I know I will be calmer about this whole process once I have more information, including specific date and time range for the procedure.

Open my email this morning and first thing I read is from one of my private clients – his 13 year old son has taken his own life. I do not have a way to react to that; in the moment of reading the words, having my mind process the meaning of the words, I find catching my breath impossible. Such situations, expressing sorrow is so very inadequate. Nothing I can do, nothing anyone can do. Something I understand all too well, life changes in a blink.

Both events have triggered strong emotions within me, and I find myself flailing around in search of safe harbor. POSITIVE safe harbor. Last thing I want or need is to be seeking out chocolate and soda and things that will make me ultimately feel worse. I ended up skipping out on my practice this morning because of aforementioned blinding headache and tentatively bailing on a Wednesday night thing of practice with a tribe member and friend. But I may change my mind as the day progresses. Or I may go to yoga with one of my friends here in the office.

Choices, healthier choices, are obvious and available to me. I could go to the gym tonight in my crappy mood and mini band walk and do enough lunges and squats to burn myself out and kick-start the endorphin production. I could blog here and at my health and fitness site more. I could turn even infinitely more selfish and ignore the long list of to-do projects at home and read more. Or I could even get more assertive about clearing out that list of to-do projects.

Before all this, I had a post brewing about K and her career stuff. We have become close, K and I, and she confides and bounces ideas with me all the time. I love that. As much as she is enjoying her present job, she has now been there more than 1.5 years and has yet to have the performance review/salary adjustment that was promised year when here hiring supervisor left and she took on that role and responsibility. First it was to be at the beginning of 2017, but it’s now been 3 months and not a word has been said. The job has expanded considerably and has far more responsibility, yet her present supervisor and his boss really have no clear idea of all she does. While compiling that list and preparing to ask for a meeting, she had been doing research for other available opportunities and essentially hit the motherlode.

While not actually serious in her search, she did apply for a couple of other jobs that are similar to her present role and a good match for her experience. For one she was asked for compensation guidelines, and I said to offer a range that was at least 10% more than what she is presently making. The range presented started at $10K more than her present salary and he immediately invited her for an interview. Score! Except she’s not sure she wants to commute to their offices (across town from where they live and through downtown) and she is not 100% sure about the job. But it would be good experience to interview and learn about another industry. Then there is a second job for one of the larger and better employers here in town, applied for on Sunday, contacted for an information pre-screening interview by phone yesterday (passed with flying colors) and now going for the first face-to-face interview today. This job starts at $15K more per year than she is making now, has a better insurance/benefit package, and is less than 10 minutes from home (versus her 30 minute commute now). These are very happy events.

For me as well, while not looking I also acquired another new self-employment client. It is a small job, probably less than 10 hours per month, but potential for more work exists in the future as they grow. It’s interesting project work, though, so in truth I might have gone for a lower hourly rate just to get the work. Thankfully he didn’t even blink at my hourly rates, which is partly due to the glowing referral from an existing client. I am delighted with that.

I recognize how little room I have for complaint in my life. M remains the imperfect guy who is just about the perfect partner for me. I have jobs I truly enjoy and the husband with enough going on in his own life to allow me a lot of room and freedom to pursue my jobs and healthy lifestyle that benefits both of us. Both my kids are living independent lives and blazing their own paths through adulthood.

For every old friend I have had abandon our long friendship in light of my lifestyle changes I seem to have acquired one or more new ones that are more like-minded, encouraging, supportive. Relationships are like living organisms that are left to grown and change organically as time passes. As I have come to understand more fully and continue to learn to management my expectations, I am far happier and more secure in the progression of my days. So when the truly bad days do hit – like today – I am not flailing around grasping at anything that will somehow comfort or make the awful fade even a little bit. Not precisely sure what I am going to do, but I have an associate standing outside my doorway prodding me to join them for a healthy lunch and walk around the block.

As far as choices for coping go, that’s a good place to start.

 

Health news

So I had an appointment with my endocrinologist today. Guess what? I’m a glowing picture of health. Everything right down the line is normal to great, all without any medication. While I am concerned about my A1c, doc says it’s normal to fluctuate, but we will continue to monitor it. The rest of my readings – all comfortably within the normal range.

So we chatted about the possibility of waiting 6 months for my next check in, but I am not quite ready to be let so far off the leash. I will check in again in 3 months, see how things are looking.

While my eating has improved, I know the exercise is a determining factor and covers a lot of food sins. My doc agrees. I know I would not feel as good or be as health on the inside if I was not quite literally working my ass off in the gym and the yoga studio.

Which, since I brought it up, my glutes and legs – completely KILLING me today. And I thought walking out of the gym yesterday that maybe I had not actually worked that hard. Shows you how little I know.

Anyway, best labs to date this month, even if the A1c crept up a little. My smoothie life diet is helping with that I know, so I’m pleased and expect things will be better in January.

One thing we did discuss is weight loss and medications available to help me with that. My doc knows there are drugs he could prescribe that will likely help, but they are not without risks, of course. I am kicking the can down the road, will see what the next 3 months brings or if I can come up with a more compelling reason to approach this again. Honestly, I feel like if I’m not eating tons and tons of crap food and am not actually gaining weight and my test results are coming back so squeaky clean I must be doing a lot right. Right?

But the WORST – I think my scale is messed up. Fully clothed on the doc’s scale, I was 7.4 lbs. lighter than sans clothes on my own scale first thing this morning, and while I worked very hard this morning at the gym (had a fantastic day with shoulders), I seriously doubt I lost more than 7.4 lbs. between the time I got up, drank a protein shake, practiced, and then showered/dressed for my appointment.  I tested my theory when I got home and sure enough, I was nearly 8 lbs. heavier.

I told M I need another scale, because his cannot be trusted either.

So … now I’m doing some research for the most accurate home scales, because mine is obviously not good. I could just subtract 7.4 lbs. every time I hop on it. But even then, I’m not sure I will ever believe it again anyway. Or maybe the doc’s scale is off. It makes me feel better that I’m not just delusional about this weight stuff.

And while I would like to just pitch it and forget about it, I’m not sure I can do that either. Ugh. Maybe I’ll wait for a less emotionally volatile day to search Amazon for replacements. These kinds of health measures – chasing weights and measures – make me crazy. My doc says while sure, he’d love it if I dropped some additional weight (I’m actually down almost 10 lbs. since my last visit a few months ago … seriously? Seriously? How come I don’t know this?), my test results are impressive and he feels I am on a good track to better health without medication.

He’s the doc, right? I should just shut the f**k up and listen to him.

And drink my smoothie for dinner.

 

A rare Friday night practice, friend J baby gift shopping, medical scheduling

I wrote this post last night after getting home from the gym, but then I forgot to hit the publish button.  

Since I could not drag my sorry ass out of bed on time this morning, I made an alternative plan to go to the gym tonight instead. It’s an unusual enough of an occurrence to warrant its own post.

I figured, at least since I am going in the evenings, I would not cross paths with the weirdo member who races around the group fitness room barefoot. And thankfully I didn’t. But apparently I am still sensitive enough to the change in atmosphere to be bothered by the different vibe of a Friday evening. Or maybe it’s just the day’s food digesting that made me feel weird about the experience. Or both. Nothing really wrong, no one bothered me, but I was upstairs doing Monday’s new leg routine and it just seemed off kilter to me.

Because I am such a creature of habit, this was outside my comfort zone. And I was not particularly enamored with it. And for the first time in months, thoughts of disconnecting from my routines drifted through my head. I recognize it for what it is – a flare-up of my gym crazy – and I also know that returning to my roots of my regular practice schedule will cure me of such thinking and feelings. There is a tiny bit of disappointment, though, because I thought for sure I was past all that by now. Apparently not.

Since I was upstairs anyway, I had an opportunity to read J’s trainer bio posted on the wall. This many months of training and practice and this is the first time I have actually stopped and read what it says. I actually think he may have written it himself, because it sounds just like him when we first met and started working together. Seems like another lifetime ago right now.

Earlier today I had numerous telephone calls with friend J, having a social event crisis back east. Seems one of his best gym buddies and his wife are expecting their first child and having a coed baby shower this weekend. Friend J was in Babies R Us looking for a gift and called me seeking advice. I said, are they registered? Yes, but everything is checked off the registry. Okay, how about a gift card? He does not want to get a gift card this time; he wants to buy an actual gift. Okay, how about some diapers and a gift card? Diapers are good – what’s the best brand? Me, putting phone away from my ear and frowning at it, then putting it back to my ear and reminding him that G will be 30 next year, and while I myself may seem pretty damn ageless, it’s been quite a few years since I utilized disposable diapers. Friend J starts reading labels to me of the various brands. Is the most expensive one the best, he asks? Deep breath, I ask him if there is anyone else shopping in the store? Yes, he says, a couple of ladies with babies. I suggest he ask one of them which brand they use, because they will have a preference. But they’ll think I’m weird, he says, or worse. Turn on the charm, I say; tell them you are a terminal bachelor, never going to be a father yourself, and throw yourself on their mercy and beg, nicely, for their assistance. They will be unable to resist and want to adopt him. As an immediate afterthought, I ask him to have them take a photo of him with the diapers and send it to me. Friend J, terminally childless friend J, in a Babies R Us buying diapers, probably for the first time in his entire life. PRICELESS!

Needless to say, he was not amused by my request.

An hour later there is a text. Diapers purchased. Employee wrapped them for him, even put the fancy tissue in the gift bag. But he still did not want to get them a gift card for shopping, because new baby, shopping seems like the last thing they want to do. What else should he get?

Rather than banging my head against the desk, I had had an hour to think about this secondary inquiry, because I knew it was coming and was ready with an answer. Meal delivery services – surely they have them in your area? A gift card for that would be wonderful for brand new, sleep deprived parents.

I am a genius, he says, and another half hour passes before he texts me yet again to say he has secured the gift card for a meal delivery service of 2 weeks of dinners where they can pick what they want on the internet and order it, have it delivered, and then just heat the entree in the microwave. Perfect, I agree. But of course, he will be lapping up the kudos tomorrow at this baby shower, and I’m absolute fine with that; I have built an entire career on making other people look good. Thankfully the disquieting impact of discussing baby shower gifts with my child-free friend was finally over.

And finally, dealing with Kaiser and their crazy scheduling protocol is shortening my life. Maybe that’s how they keep their insurance more affordable – they drive their members so insane they stop trying to utilize services.

After 5 phone calls and 2 messages to and 3 replies from my doctor, I finally got a supervisor and myself scheduled next Thursday for my biopsies. They did offer me sooner appointments, but for goodness sakes, if I go at 8:45 in the morning I am like done for the balance of the day. I would like to be somewhat productive, so I really wanted a late, later, latest afternoon appointment. Best I could do was 3:10 on Thursday, so I took it. I would have vastly preferred 4:10, but I guess they do not schedule that late. But the way things have gone thus far, I will not be surprised to be still waiting in the ugly gown at 4:10.

There are worse things, I’m sure. At least I have that off my to-do and onto my calendar. M starts to tell me he has something else planned that day, but hastened to assure me that he would cancel or reschedule, because it is recommended that I have a driver. The marital death glare is a thing; M does not see it often, but he is a smart guy and knows it when he feels it.

 

Is it me? (no, apparently not)

Between my earlier post and now, I had an appointment with my endocrinologist. He is very happy with my labs and my progress and delighted that I at present no longer need insulin or even oral medications to manage my diabetes. However – and isn’t there always a “however” or a “but” in these happy situations – this may not last forever and requires that I exercise consistently and be very careful with my diet. That said, he sees no problems on the horizon and recommends that I continue to test, although I could do so randomly a few times per week rather than daily if I wish. I don’t wish, and I told him that being obsessive about tracking my blood sugar is the one number I am obsessive about that directly benefits me and is one of the controls necessary to keep me focused and on the right track. He’s fine with that. He wishes all his patients were even half as obsessive and focused on their health.

Other than that, the rest of my numbers look good. Blood pressure is normal, although I am apparently nervous about doctor appointments because it’s always a little high the first time the nurse takes it. Every. Single. Time. Second time, when I have been there awhile or after the appointment is concluded, it’s perfectly normal, even a little on the low side. I’m maintaining my cholesterol at positive levels without any additional cholesterol-lowering drugs and everything else looks good. We will likely ultrasound my thyroid again later this year – it has had some sort of nodule that we’re watching – but I am poster child for good health right now. Unless I radically alter my habits, this trend should continue.

I am due back in 3 months for more labs to ensure everything is still stable and my numbers remain this good, and of course I can get in touch if I have any low events or concerns. It went unsaid that if I lose my mind and start binging on sugar and carbs and stop being consistent with the gym that we will be having a completely different conversation in June. He also says we will do this check in every 3 months for at least the balance of 2016 and maybe stretch it out to 6 months in 2017, and if I continue to do so well, it could go annually after that. For now, I am looking forward to checking in again in 3 months and still having a nice clean bill of health.

My doc appears to be an obvious gym-going guy himself, being sort of muscle-y under the lab coat. He does hit the weights and is a cyclist, as I learned today. We did talk quite a bit about exercise, with him saying that if most patients even went to the gym twice a week and did one of my programs (I share my Lists with him) he’d be so much happier. The only additional comment about my exercise load was that I may want to consider tossing in some cardio – maybe 10 to 20 minutes a couple of times per week – for variety. Not absolutely necessary, because I am officially drug free and it is obviously working for me, but something else to consider.

And he’s primarily a vegetarian. He does eat eggs and fish very sparingly, but other than that, he is primarily a plant-based foodie. So that was an interesting fact to learn as well. Does not really recommend I try a vegan or even a vegetarian diet at this point in my journey, especially since I am just hitting my stride on the “eat more protein” campaign. Still, it’s interesting chatting with others who pursue different choices. It gives me great new ideas to consider.

That was a happy visit. It also improved my overall day and my mood. For a few several hours today I was really afraid that I somehow invite people to be not very nice to me. Honestly, I’m a decent, caring person. I do not seem like someone people should or would bully, yet it happens with old friends (one in particular I have since left on the curb) and now a stranger – just because, I guess. M has been wrapped up in other stuff all day – our neighbor who just lost his partner had an accident at home and needed a ride to the ER and bunches of stitches to repair a gash on his leg – and therefore unavailable to tell me that it’s not me telling the universe that I need such weird judgment befalling me. J has been wonderfully kind (as always) in his ferocious condemnation of asshat guy and reassurance that I am fine.

Plus my awesome coworkers were universal in their disdain. No, I do not have some sign on my back that says SPEAK CONDESCENDINGLY TO ME! My associates made a strong case that there are ignorant and insecure people everywhere, a very bad combination that makes them do really dumb things. They also presented the theory that gyms also attract a larger share of narcissists who believe everyone wishes to be blessed with their opinions on anything and everything. Between those rallying conversations and texts, I felt and feel much better. Hopefully a few days of normal, peaceful practice and he will be a very distant memory.

So the end of my Very Good Week has concluded on a high note. While I know one eye will be peeled and watching for asshat guy when I am at the gym, I will not let it ruin my days any further. I will just keep reminding myself that he’s the one being discourteous to me, not the other way around, and the only one I take direction from on exercise is J.

But I am still hoping our paths never again intersect.