“Once invincible, now the armor’s wearing thin. Heavy shield down. Warrior struggling to remain relevant. Warrior struggling to remain consequential.” Tool – Invincible
When my husband was laid off at age 51 one week after September 11, I had no idea what was in store for us. He worked in advertising for 25+ years and after the twin towers went down and the Pentagon was struck, no one was advertising. The world seemed to shut down in a very short period of time…just like it has with COVID-19. We gained some valuable lessons, most of them learned the hard way. It is with a heavy heart, but from my heart, that I share what we learned after my husband lost his job.
LESSON 1: Remember that this is one point in time. One of the hardest things to believe when you’re in the midst of a crisis is that it WILL end. You don’t know how or when it will end, but even though it’s an annoying cliche, this too shall pass. Here’s advice from Theodore Roosevelt to counter feeling powerless: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” What would that look like? Try and imagine how your life will be when this is over and WHERE you want to be. Keep moving forward, however you define forward. It helps quell the panic if you can do something.
LESSON 2: Cut every unnecessary expense. I’m not quite sure when people (men, too) decided they NEEDED manicures and pedicures, facials, massages, etc. I was never high maintenance (my Kentucky roots are showing) and even to this day, I color my own hair. If you can wash your hair, you can color it. If not, go gray. Put any money you have into your health insurance premiums. After 9/11 and my husband’s layoff, we were paying $1100 a month (nearly 20 years ago) for COBRA with a $5000 per person deductible, with a pre-existing condition clause for each of us. This was before Obamacare and even though it saved us, it nearly killed us, at the same time. As it turned out, we needed our insurance because like many troubling times in life, the layoff was only one of the catastrophes that struck. Shortly after my husband’s layoff in the midst of trying to reinvent himself as an ESL teacher and a tour guide, over a 10-year period, he suffered a series of health challenges including two back surgeries, a hip replacement, a leukemia scare, severe asthma, and to top it off, a boil that at the time was thought to be MRSA. Once he was healed and ready to return to working out, he developed a torn labrum that required surgery. I had my own health challenges including an emergency appendectomy and dental issues (several root canals and crowns, probably the result of gnashing my teeth).
We ended up with catastrophic medical bills and even though we tried to pay them by liquidating our long-term savings, we ended up going through bankruptcy. And keep this in mind: according to a recent CNBC story, a whopping two-thirds of all bankruptcies are due to catastrophic medical bills. Our bankruptcy attorney told us she would never have allowed us to liquidate our assets, but we kept thinking we just had to get through this one crisis. My advice: If you have them, DO NOT liquidate any of your assets. Figure out any way to remain solvent. We are in our sixties and are still digging out from our financial challenge. Note: We have worked hard with a credit repair expert and our credit scores have now returned to pre-bankruptcy levels (in the 800s).
Lesson 3: Dig deep. Meditate. Pray. Get therapy. Ask for help. The previous two lessons are practical. This final lesson is designed to save your sanity and possibly your life. I enrolled in transcendental meditation and it was literally a life saver. I was making myself sick with stress and worry.
Don’t go it alone. I have a tendency to retreat to my cave when I’m struggling. Don’t do that. Reach out. My brother and two of my friends (and you know who you are) provided me with lifelines. Because I was a freelance writer, I was reliant on my husband’s job for health insurance and a steady paycheck even though I had several well-paying clients at the time. One friend loaned us money – she came to the hospital on a moment’s notice with her credit card – when we did not have the required four-figure deposit for my husband’s first back surgery. Another friend later helped me get a contracting position which later turned into the full-time job I still have today. My brother helped me lease a car. You get the picture. Ask for help. I found it excruciatingly embarrassing in my fifties to ask for help, but it had to be done.
You will get through this. I’m so very sorry.