I can’t get my therapist to feel sorry for me.
Last week, during our weekly session on the third floor of the First Baptist Church, where the Brattleboro Pastoral Counseling Center operates rent free, I tried. In an effort to demonstrate my firm grip on reality, I fired off a list of “incompletes,” things considered desirable in life but not yet acquired.
Here I am, I said, almost sixty years old, with no husband, children or significant other and no immediate family closer than Manhattan (and they happen to be the family members with whom I rarely communicate).
I live alone. In a second-floor apartment. With water stains on the walls so spectacular they once moved a Comcast technician who was also an abstract artist to a state of rapture. (“Look in the bedroom,” I said as he raced about in pursuit of ever greater silhouettes and patterns. “There’s one that looks like Africa!”)
I have no house, no property of any kind, no second income, no stocks, bonds or savings. Wait. I have fifty-one dollars in my savings account. This reminds me of even leaner times, back in college, when I asked at the bank what my checking account balance was. The teller came back with a dour expression on her face and the clipped words: “You have two cents.” Which is just about what I have in my checking account right now. (The difference between then and now is that back then I had my whole life before me.)
I have no pension plan, no IRA, no retirement savings except for a small guaranteed account that I will never be able to cash in. I don’t even own my car and never will. It’s a lease. I have been out of work for a year and a half; I exhausted my unemployment benefits three months ago. It’s time to apply to 3SquaresVT. (Food stamps.) It’s time to start picking up supplies at Loaves and Fishes. And the Drop-In Center. And Brigid’s Kitchen.
Last week I filed for bankruptcy to eliminate my credit card debt. This was grim business. I have always been proud of my good credit. I’ve worked hard all my life to maintain it.
However, bankruptcy does not discharge government debt. So now I owe the IRS seventeen hundred dollars because I couldn’t afford to have taxes deducted from my 2011 unemployment benefits. Just to keep things interesting, I cracked a tooth three weeks ago and I will need several hundred dollars for an extraction. Fortunately, by the grace of God and the great, enlightened state of Vermont, I have premium-free health insurance. (But wait. It doesn’t cover dental.)
I have no career path. And no tangible prospects. I am one of those over-fifty, long-term unemployed that you keep hearing about. I am terrified that soon I’ll be joining another fundamental category of sociological classification: the hapless ones who slipped through the cracks.
I don’t even have the stereotypical spinster’s consolation of cats. (My two substitute children cats died six years ago and I am still too grief-stricken either to think that they could be replaced or to risk experiencing that much pain again.)
Now for the diseases. I am obese. I have Type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, SVT tachycardia, colitis, spinal stenosis, damaged vocal cords, flat feet and plantar fasciitis. I can’t stand on my feet more than five minutes, can’t walk more than two city blocks and I am in serious pain somewhere in my body every minute of every day. Each morning I inject myself with insulin. Meditate and pray.
I have an anxiety disorder. Phobias. And a dysfunctional relationship with God.
You might be asking yourself, why is she telling us all this? It’s too much disclosure, surely an egregious case of oversharing. Most blogs, when they’re not being cheerful, are at least chipper and confident and shy of uncomfortable personal details.
I’m telling you because I want to use my current situation as a baseline.
My therapist was not inclined to pity me. Gravely he asked: You have a roof over your head? Yes. Food? Yes. Clothes? Yes, such as they are. You have a good car? Yes. Family? Well – sort of. Then you’re all right, he said. Yes, I know. Each morning I count my blessings. Set my intentions. And pray.
I left my therapy session feeling confused. By society’s standards, my life is a train wreck, but my therapist thinks I’m doing all right. And in truth, most of the time I feel healthy, happy and pretty much on track. Each morning I do back exercises. I do my tai chi. And I pray.
I’ve decided that if I can’t be pitiable or pathetic, I can at least be adorably imperfect. The adjectival change does not alter my circumstances but it does allow me to feel less irrelevant in the world, not left behind so much as merely out of step. Somehow it makes me feel younger. Like Gidget. Being adorably imperfect leaves me with a fighting chance.
Now we begin. Now we start. This blog is about rebirth. Put me under personal growth – mental, emotional, physical, artistic, financial, spiritual – you name it, I’ll be doing it and watching for your comments. Let’s exchange tips, recipes, similar stories and moral support as I struggle to lose weight, restore my health, confront my demons and dismiss my ghosts, learn to live within my means, mature as a writer, find a job, find an agent, a publisher and an audience, find a mate and find God.
Take heart from my labors and give me reason to hope as we engage in the new great American pastime: reinventing oneself.
Wish me luck, watch me soar. Watch me crash and burn, spread my wings and soar again, propelled by an image from my youth, the dreamer, the seeker. Mad Genius Bohemian. Foolish but fully alive.
Each day I breathe deeply. And pray.
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