Day 24 – Wednesday, Dec. 28: Tackling the fear

This morning I was reminded to stop letting fear get in the way and to tackle the adversaries of my confidence. It was a timely reminder. This was the day I had set aside to take care of my student loan paperwork to address the very real (for the time being) situation of not having money to pay loans that would be coming due next month. Just the federal part of my loans from only one of the two companies I’m working with is scheduled to begin payments that are literally about 95% of my take-home pay. Needless to say, action on my part is required!

I started to work on this a few days ago, then realized I needed some files from storage. Yesterday, I went “shopping” in my storage units and picked up those papers and several other items. (I’m trying to not go out and buy the things I know I have in storage. I already have too much “stock”!)  Since I needed to find some information, then submit the form online, I went to the office to use my computer there.

Right now, my loans are in deferment because I am considered “unemployed” by their standards. When I first applied for deferment, I was told that I needed to have at least six interviews for fulltime positions during that time if the deferment would need to be extended. I’ve only had two. Many of the positions I’ve applied for (which is admittedly not an impressive number) have not even acknowledged receipt of my application. So goes today’s job market…

Then I had this idea. What if I simply asked if I am eligible to continue to have them in deferment? If I’m not, I can continue the paperwork I had planned to do already. But if I am… As it turns out, there is no requirement of “six interviews” for either the federal loans or the other loans with this company. I was told that yes, I could submit the request to extend the deferment. The online form for the non-federal loans did, however, ask if I had made at least six diligent attempts to find full-time employment. I nervously checked the “yes” box. My efforts feel so feeble compared to people I have met who are boldly out there submitting five or six applications a week. I don’t know how they do it. Clearly they are not ACAs struggling with things like fear of rejection or, worse, uncertainty about the kinds of jobs they even want.

I’m beginning to think that some (many? most?) people really don’t care where they work as long as they have a job. I’m afraid I do. It actually matters to me that I like the those with whom I work and for whom I work. It matters to me that the job pay me enough that I’ll be able to stay there rather than to immediately begin looking for a position that pays more. Yet at least one person I spoke to last summer about my student loans suggested that any job, even a minimum wage job, should be on my apply-to list. Call me weird, but I prefer a job I look forward to going to each day and a company whose mission I am pleased to support.

So, long story short, the anxiety I felt about qualifying for some kind of “you don’t have to pay on these just yet” status turned out to be a simple process that took only a few minutes (once I had the answers to my questions). Whew! Breathing room.

Today’s action step(s):

  • Taking a 40-minute walk with LOTS of uphill stretches. Oy! (But it breaks the sitting-on-my-assets-all-day cycle.)
  • Taking care of student loan situation. YAY!
  • Organizing the chaotic array of items I had to bring with me to my temporary abode. It feels so-o-o much nicer to walk in the room and not feel depressed, guilty or overwhelmed by this mess, even if most of the stuff is still there.
  • Putting a few items in my car to take to storage. (I made a wee bit more space when I went “shopping” there yesterday.)
  • Scheduling a “play date” with a friend! Tomorrow, we’re going to go to a movie, probably grab a bite to eat, and enjoy catching up. (I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure this qualifies under the “have fun” category – you know, one of those things ACAs have difficulty doing. 😉

Day 19 – Friday, Dec. 23: Small steps, progress and momentum

Too often I’m in a rush to have things happen. I don’t just want change, I want it now! I’m learning that most things don’t happen that way.

This morning I was thinking about the small shifts and progress I’ve noticed this week. Nine days ago I had a massage. I had not realized how tight my muscles had become until I finally felt them relax near the end of the session. The odd thing was that the moment I headed back to my car, my low back felt like it was going to give out. I wondered if my muscles were finally so relaxed that the lack of support had become evident. The following morning, the simple task of bending over felt alarmingly unstable. I was motivated to do something.

The next morning, I did just a few minutes of core strengthening exercises before I got in the shower. It took probably less than five minutes. It was short, simple and repeatable. I’ve continued doing this each time before my shower and I can already tell a difference. I’m keeping it short because I know it won’t remain repeatable if I do my usual thing, which is to start pushing it and trying to get a whole lot done in a short period of time. I have been addicted to the “quick fix” for any number of things for as long as I can remember. But I finally get, truly get, how unhelpful the quick fix can be. Perhaps over time, I’ll even stop being tempted to seek it.

A networking techniques workshop I went to at JVS yesterday was packed with helpful information. Among the many useful things the instructor said were two words that seemed to capture what I was feeling this morning. The words were “motivation” and “momentum.” My back pain had provided the motivation; now I was experiencing some momentum.

This morning I did just a bit more during my short core “workout” (if you can call five or so minutes a “workout”) and it was rewarding to discover two things: one was that I could actually do things that I know I couldn’t have done even a week ago; the other was that I had enough wisdom to still not push it. It’s when I feel a bit stronger that I’m most tempted to start pushing myself. “Oh! I can do more now – let’s go for it” pops into my brain and I overdo things, suffer the consequences, then give up entirely.

Sound familiar? Naw! You’ve probably never ever done anything like that!

There were other small-step progress noticings as well. This week, I was at a gathering with both familiar and unfamiliar faces. What I realized this morning, probably because of what I learned at yesterday’s networking workshop, was how much more I had talked to people I didn’t know than usual. It wasn’t a huge difference, but it was a difference. I’m considering the possibility that networking might also be something I can learn in small steps. I hadn’t actually thought of it as “networking” while I was chatting with people, but that’s what it was. Maybe if I keep up the baby steps, it won’t feel so scary when I’m intentionally networking.

None of these were big changes, yet they felt significant because they were noticeable. Maybe there’s such a thing as gently-increasing momentum. I’m not sure yet, but what I’ve experienced this week feels good, and repeatable.

Today’s action step(s):

  • Allowing myself to be flexible with my schedule and my plans. In that letting go, errands were surprisingly easy and I enjoyed many moments of grace.
  • Finishing up the tasks at work that would allow me to enjoy some much-needed time off next week.

Day 11 – Thursday: Sneak attacked

Sometimes fear does a sneak attack when I’m not looking.

Yesterday I made a small payment on one of my credit cards. I closed all three accounts the first month I couldn’t make my minimum payments. I plan to catch up when I can, but the going is slow right now.

This card company called yesterday evening and I told them I’d made a payment. I’ve talked to them before. They know my situation and my intent to catch up and to pay what I can when I can.

This evening, they tried calling again! Less than 24 hours after we spoke? I was driving and couldn’t take the call. I started getting ticked off! My other CC company calls me regularly – every 5 days. That’s not great, but they keep trying to work with me and are, at least for now, willing to hang in there with me while I try to find more work. But they wait to call again until it’s been 5 days.

It has been mildly anxiety-producing to talk to the “nice” cc company every five days, but it’s manageable because they have actually been nice. Apparently they understand that you can’t get what someone doesn’t have to give you. And I appreciate them for it.

What I noticed this evening, though, is that just knowing the other card company had tried to call left me feeling anxious, frustrated, angry and fearful. It triggers for me the experience of bankruptcy some 26 or 27 years ago. Back then, I was terrified of the creditors and avoided them completely. The accounts were quickly handed over to collection agencies and things got worse. It was not fun…at all…for a very long time.

This time, I’ve tried to keep the communication open. It’s a little scary at times, but I know that avoiding problems doesn’t make them go away and sometimes it even makes them worse. So, I’m trying.

I’m not quite sure how to respond to the “other” company – whether to return their call (they never leave messages, but I recognize the number), to send them a letter (certified mail) or both. I have a website to check out to learn more about my rights. I’ll check it out and then make my decision.

The thing is, I want to do things differently than I did 27 years ago. I want to meet my responsibilities and I want to catch up on my bills. I may not be able to do it right this moment, but I’m not willing to blow all this off. It’s scary trying to do this, but it’s still what I want to do. For now. For as long as I can. I’ve been down the other road and it’s a road I don’t need to take again.

Just for tonight, I’ll do my best to let this go, to leave it in God’s hands. I may have to remind myself a few times (or a hundred) to leave this in God’s hands. It’s possible, just a teensy bit possible that I might worry, you know, a teeny, weeny bit.

Maybe it’s time to find that nifty flyer put out by a classmate’s church that has different “numbers” to call when you’re dealing with different things. Like “call” Psalm ## when you’re worried, and so on. I think I could use a bit of encouragement this evening.


Today’s action step(s):

  • Meeting with my sponsor.
  • Throwing away (with growing ease) papers at work once I’ve entered the information. (This is instead of hanging onto them “in case.” I have an annoying stack of those kind of papers already.)
  • Waiting to respond to the “other” cc company until I have more information.

Days 6-8 – Saturday-Monday: Discovering grace

Today (Monday) I experienced what it’s like to make room for grace.

This weekend, I hit a wall. When I imagined doing this project, I had a Pollyanna vision of daily sorting through this box, working on that job application, and generally being “productive” in some way toward the goal I set for myself. I anticipated endless energy, as if things would suddenly be different simply because I had set a goal that was far enough out to give me time to get somewhere, not realizing I would become a task master, fearing that a single day missed might become two, then three, then more. I figured that pushing myself was the answer. Except I forgot one tiny thing – I respond poorly to being pushed, even when I’m doing the pushing.

Because I had been blogging late each night, knowing it was late but determined to push through, I got up Saturday morning, showered, had breakfast, then ran out of steam! I went back to bed for two hours, then felt fuzzy for most of the day…and weekend. I did go by my storage unit on my way to a meeting, however, and picked up some things to sort.

Fortunately, I had a built-in reprieve on Sunday. After church, I helped my aunt finish spiffing-up the house before my cousins arrived for a family dinner. I enjoyed the visit, but kept yawning. They left early (around 8:00) and I was asleep shortly after 9:00.

The post I had started yesterday (Sunday) was startlingly different from my experience of today. My impatience was evident: “You see, I want all the stuff in the room next to me to be cleaned up, cleared up, organized and either in storage or neatly accessible for me now! I don’t want it to take a few weeks. I don’t want to have to have this messiness right next to me where I see it every time I open the door! I want to be surrounded by the order and neatness that has virtually never been a part of my surroundings, except in isolated instances (like before I move in and live for a few days) and I keep wondering why things aren’t happening faster!”

That’s how I was feeling – and I was exhausted from the constant pushing. But today, things shifted for me. By the end of the day, I had discovered how much more gracefully things go when I take time to listen, to let go, and to be gentle with myself.

I was wait-listed for a workshop at JVS this afternoon. It was full, but you can show up early and hope to get in. So I totally let go of expectations around getting in and made the trip to the City. If I didn’t get in, I would only be out some time and about $7.80 of BART fare. It was when I was driving home from the BART station after the trip that I noticed just how much grace had accompanied me this afternoon.

  • I found close, free parking.
  • I had a short wait for the train.
  • I had a delightful conversation with a stranger on the way to SF.
  • I got into the workshop (and it was pretty full).
  • A classmate next to me alerted me to the Linked-In II class next Monday.
  • I immediately registered and got in!
  • I got to the BART station quickly after class and had barely a 2-minute wait for my preferred train.
  • I easily got a seat – facing forward!
  • And I was greeted by carolers near the station exit – singing one of my very favorite Christmas carols, no less.

I even had easy traffic driving home.

Where does grace start? Was it the decision to follow my intuition to attend this workshop? The releasing of expectations around getting into it? Or was it in choosing to be kind to myself for the last twenty-four hours?

Every day this week, I have something scheduled and each ‘event’ is something that moves me in a healthy, helpful direction. Today, it was the workshop at JVS. Tomorrow, my first appointment with my employment specialist. Wednesday, a massage. Thursday, a meeting with my sponsor. Friday through Sunday, (InterPlay) Life Practice Program. Maybe I can carry what I learned today into the rest of my week…

(Btw, my mouse, which has not worked to scroll both directions for months now, is suddenly working properly. Who says miracles can’t happen every day?)

As for “progress” on my project each day (or each blog), I’ve decided to put those notes at the bottom each time. They aren’t often interesting, although I rather like keeping tabs so I can appreciate my progress.

My “action” step(s):

  • Saturday I picked up three containers of herbs and vitamins from storage to sort and clear out what I no longer want or need.
  • An ongoing step: to use (up) the lotion in the partially empty bottles I’ve been hanging onto to consolidate into a single bottle.

Day 5 – Friday: Is it just me?

Today, I let myself sleep in and decided not push myself. I needed to do laundry and I wanted to go through something – some box or bag – to get rid of some things. In and of itself, going through stuff doesn’t necessarily feel scary. But that’s the tricky part – I don’t always know what will trigger fear or simply lead to my feeling overwhelmed by life again. Sometimes the clearing out of some box becomes exhilarating. It’s a toss up and I’m never certain which side of the coin will be face up once I throw it in the air.

This evening, I found myself wrestling with fear again (and not necessarily winning). I did a bit of throwing things out earlier in the day, once again enjoying tossing some things I used to think I needed to hold onto. Once I was done with the one small plastic tub, though, I didn’t quite know what to do. I’ve been thinking more about the need to again start looking for employment opportunities, but couldn’t quite seem to get there. My uncle’s frequent presence in his office (did I mention he’s 91?) inhibits the freedom I have in hopping online to see what’s out there. It can be a convenient excuse. I vaguely thought of rewriting my recent cover letter – the one that didn’t get me an interview – to see how I might improve it, as practice for future letters. I just couldn’t seem to get there.

When I was later enjoying a long phone conversation with one of my best friends, something about looking for work came up. I was soon in tears, feeling completely overwhelmed by the whole process. Was it really so simple to look for work back in 1998 when I landed my last full-time job? Is it actually harder now? Or is it just me?

I keep hearing that things truly are different, that with the economy the way it is there are simply more people looking for work and employers are overloaded by the sheer volume of applications. If your application isn’t dazzling, it quickly gets tossed in the reject pile. Yet even in hard economic times there are people finding work and people making money.  There are opportunities out there.

So, how do I stay afloat, buoying up my courage and confidence (make that developing the confidence) to learn the things I need to learn to find the work I need to find to be able to provide myself with such mundane things as a roof over my head?

My friend tells me I’m doing a lot of hard work right now. She means the deep inner work I’m doing. Sometimes it feels like I am; sometimes it feels like I’m just avoiding doing what seems like the “hard” stuff – like looking for work. I’m not a “pavement pounder” and the thought of “knocking on doors” to see if people are hiring scares the peewaddlin’ out of me. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, if ever. But I can put one foot in front of the other. I can take tiny, baby steps in that direction. The tiny steps feel manageable, especially when I don’t think too far ahead.

Maybe the real work is to resist the temptation to turn tail and run when I feel scared and overwhelmed and completely intimidated by the daunting task of stepping into unfamiliar territory, learning to “network” and “present” myself well in an interview (should I be fortunate enough to reach this stage of the hiring process). It’s much easier to go through a box and dwindle its contents down to the things I truly want to keep than to think about looking for work. Of course, I’ll have to remind myself of that the next time going through the “stuff” feels overwhelming. Then again, it usually feels overwhelming because it’s all connected – the too-much stuff, the skinny finances, the stepping out into the “job search” arena, and so on. I’m not sure, but I think it’s called “life.”

So when and why did life become so dang scary?

Day 4 – Thursday: Bumpy beginning – gentler ending

Here’s the challenge I’m discovering about this blogging process – at least in my present circumstances. I am what might technically be called “homeless.” Although I have a roof over my head (thanks to the generosity of my aunt and uncle), I do not have a place I can actually call “mine.” My stay here is temporary and the room I am using is partially occupied by my aunt’s things. My uncle has a computer I can use when he is not in his office (and he enjoys doing things in there often), but I have no internet access on my own computer. Thus, I end up doing my posts at odd hours – most often while my aunt and uncle are enjoying their dinner after eight-something at night. (And I thought only people in books and movies ate that late!) Then, in part because of the neuron-activating nature of being on a computer and in part because of the mental activity of writing the blog, I end up getting to sleep much later than my norm, which makes getting up in the morning that much harder. (I prefer the 5:00-6:00 window for arising – preferably closer to 5:00 than 6:00.)

That said, I may end up writing my blogs on my computer – as I did with this one, then transferring them and/or writing them a day late. Of course, writing them a day late challenges my memory! 😉

Today, my day became about self-care. I began my morning with a most interesting event at work. I leaned on a shelf, apparently with too much weight. The shelf broke, I smashed my nose on a glass-sphere paper weight (I realized later) and hit my head on I-don’t-know-what. Fortunately, no one was around to see or hear the ridiculous chaos, including my shriek of pain as I clutched my nose.

After grabbing some paper towels to apply to my battered nose, I made my way downstairs to the bathroom to apply a cold compress (i.e., a wet paper towel) and to clean up a bit. (Thank goodness, my hands and the paper towels had kept my clothing safe!) I then went upstairs, cleaned the few small drips of blood from the carpet, and wondered when someone would arrive to be properly sympathetic to my ordeal. Naturally, it was a late day for everyone but me.

It actually wasn’t an ordeal at all, though it was startling and startlingly painful for a short bit. I took a few ibuprofen and approached the rest of my day with due caution. It was odd to discover how battered I felt.

To be quite honest, I’m not the least bit certain I tackled any fears this day. In a peculiar kind of way, the painful experience with my nose (which, fortunately, barely evidences the earlier trauma) freed me from feeling overly anxious about breaking the shelf. I’m still puzzling how exactly it all happened in the first place. I know I have leaned on that shelf before. Perhaps this was simply the straw on the camel’s back. (I don’t think I’ve gained upper body weight…)

Something interesting is happening though. I am noticing small ways in which my journey out of the fear is manifesting at work. I find myself tossing things into the recycle bin more easily, rather than hanging onto them “in case.” And today, after the morning’s excitement, I found myself willing to set a healthy boundary. I was concerned about getting certain parts of my work done today, especially after having missed all of last week while I moved out of my apartment. Yet I knew I needed to go home earlier, rather than later. So, I did all of one type of correspondence (the more urgent kind) and organized the remaining correspondence to be done next week. The truth is, there is no end to the tasks at work – too little time to do too much work tends to work that way.

After heading the wrong way on the freeway when I finally headed “home,” I ended up buying some foods my body needed and giving myself permission to treat myself gently for the rest of the evening. That has included a long phone conversation with a friend, watching a movie that makes me both laugh and cry, writing these blogs, and letting go the obligation to “work” on this project. Is that a letting go of the fear of not performing the “obligatory” fear releasing activities? Could be…

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