Sunday, December 21

Do I need an attitude adjustment?

I was perusing The Wisdom Journal, via Twitter (yes, I have finally taken a sip of the Kool-Aid) and something he wrote was both thought-provoking and immensely irritating.

Under the subheading "Choices," the author wrote:

Where you are today is the result of the choices you’ve made, the experiences you’ve felt, the associations you’ve cultivated, the words you’ve spoken, the ideas you’ve had, the beliefs you’ve clung to, and the habits you’ve created. You are more in control than you give yourself credit because 99 percent of the time, your attitude determines the choices you make, and your attitude is the only thing you really control.

Okay, most of this stuff is deep and basically true. Except for that whole big part about choices.

Here are the choices I have made:

  1. I chose to go to University of WA rather than graduate $100,000+ in debt from Cornell. So you can either argue I might not have been exposed to Guillain-Barre out in Ithaca, or that I'd have died when my respiratory systems failed, because it's in the middle of nowhere.
  2. I chose to keep working. Kind of a misnomer, actually, since it was pure denial and stubbornness more than active choice. But it meant I didn't get disability early on which may have caused some extra debt.
  3. I chose to marry Tim. I knew that, between the two of us, we needed our own little bubble, we're so sickly. So I knew paychecks would never be for sure. And, a month before the wedding, he was fired. So I definitely had a clear view of the uncertainty in our future when I said, 'I do.'

So that it's, really. Those are my choices. Sure, there are lots of smaller ones in the day-to-day stuff: whether to have a drink with friends, whether to fling myself off the couch and cook or admit defeat and order pizza, etc.

But by and large, choice hasn't had a whole lot to do with the last decade or so of my life. I chose to seek therapy, which was certainly better than suicidality. I chose to get medicated (see the last remark). But I doubt my attitude determined my being in a hospital for 4 months. Or any of the fallout from that.

Does my attitude shape my decisions now? Yes -- for better and for worse. Some days, you just can't be chipper. I don't care how many optimists you throw together, when you have a long-term, debilitating illness, you're going to have bad days. If not, you're still in denial.

There are days when you need wail and gnash your teeth. Cry that it's not fair. That you didn't ask for any of this. And then you can get up and get on with life. Except maybe watch some TV and eat a little junk food for comfort. Theoretically, mind you.

But I guess my point is that I've been stuck in a more or less reactive state since the age of 19. Most of my decisions have been made based on a narrower set of choices than healthy people.

And I don't say all this to make a big pity party in my honor. I'm working on making peace with my limitations. Slowly. But I'm working on it.

My point is that, reading personal finance blogs, you'd think Tim and I were out on European vacations and driving two SUVs. We've certainly discussed the fact that most PF blogs are targeted at a very specific audience. But it still gets pretty exhausting when you are looking for support and still leave wanting.

It's not that the tips and ideas are bad. Just that most are completely non-applicable to our life. I've gotten some good ideas off PF blogs, certainly. If I'm lucky, 10% are applicable and perhaps 2% are things I haven't already thought of/tried.

In a way -- actually, scratch that, in every way -- it would be so much easier if Tim and I were the target audience for these debt-reduction blogs. I don't love admitting when I'm wrong (luckily, I never am, right?) but if it were simply a matter of our flagrant over-spending, how much simpler would it be?

How much better would it be to simply bite the bullet and cut back? Not that changing a lifestyle is easy, of course. But it's a hell of a lot easier than already living bare-bones and still being in debt.

If Tim and I could just work more, hell we'd both be thrilled to. (Okay, the joy wouldn't last long. But if it were a short-term solution to getting out of debt, and we could actually effect change? Hoo-boy, you better bet we'd be covered in papercuts from all the job applications we were handling!)

But not everyone gets the same choices in this life. And while, as The Wisdom Journal notes, attitude is very important, it's not determinative. In fact, where you are in life isn't always the result of your choices. Sometimes, your choices are the result of where you are in life.

I'll leave this chicken-and-egg question for the philosophers. No PF blog can be relative to everyone all the time. And I hope I don't appear to be suggesting they should.

Still, it would be nice if generalized statements could take into account more lifestyles than the writer's when they are made. Whether that's a fair expectation, I couldn't tell you.

It's just my attitude on the subject, I guess.

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Blogger Shevy said...

"Still, it would be nice if generalized statements could take into account more lifestyles than the writer's when they are made. Whether that's a fair expectation, I couldn't tell you."

You know, one of the first, best pieces of advice that neophyte writers get is that you should write about what you know.

We're all dealing with personal finance; that's why we're all writing about it. But, more than that, we're writing about it from our own personal viewpoints. At least the good sites are. Sure there are sites that just compile all kinds of information from elsewhere and rebundle it for a new audience, but the best sites speak from the heart.

I've been a single parent, both working and unemployed, I've been remarried, I've been injured in a car accident, dealt with minimal retirement savings as I approach retirement age and done all these things (among many others)from an Observant Jewish viewpoint.

Some other PF writers are 20 somethings living in the midwest, bringing up a couple of kids or living in the Pacific Northwest with cats or a single woman in her 50s with grown kids and no retirement savings, etc. etc.

We all bring something different, unique and (we hope) interesting to our "take" on finances. As you do.

I think we can step out a little way from our own experiences and circumstances but if we do that too much I think the authenticity suffers.

Does this make sense?

December 21, 2008 at 6:06 PM

Blogger Over the Cubicle Wall said...

I believe happenstance, or luck is a big part of who we are. Just being born in the western world is huge. Being born healthy, and staying health is also huge. None of that has anything to do with choice or attitude. It just is. Can ending up on the short end be overcome? Sometimes. Can you lose after being dealt all the good cards? Again, sometimes.

It's easy to congratulate oneself and give all the credit to ones choices if you happen to be lucky enough to be put in a position to take advantage of them. It's just as easy to berate oneself for not ending up on top when the odds were stacked against you.

I also think it is extremely lucky to bumble through and end up somewhere in the middle. It's simply not the end of the world to not be like the way people present themselves in PF blogs. There is much more to life than financial balance sheets.

December 21, 2008 at 8:39 PM

Blogger DogAteMyFinances said...

Everyone has set-backs and tragedies. That doesn't mean that our choices don't put us where we are, generally speaking.

Maybe you didn't chose to be unable to work full time. But you do choose not to work. My fiance works in e-commerce. From home. He's fully able-bodied, but most of his customers don't even know that. No one knows the color of his skin, his maladies, his sad childhood. They don't even know what state we're in until he ships things out.

You chose the city you live in. You chose your friends/spiritual community/other activities. You chose how you dealt with what was dealt to you. No one has a full set of choices. We are always limited. It doesn't mean we aren't making choices. Maybe you aren't even seeing all of the choices available because some choices you have to make for yourself.

December 21, 2008 at 9:44 PM

Blogger Abby said...


Perhaps you've been busy with the holidays, but I think you missed a few key items here.

First, I am currently working part-time. I have been for a couple months. It brings us up to $3,000/month.

Second, when I wasn't working, I wasn't *choosing* not to work. For most of it, I was unable to work. When I finally got my health in balance to the point I could work, there was a couple months spent figuring out what I could do. But I started up the blog as one way to start making money, however slowly.

And, yes, I'm bristling in the off-hand way you dismiss someone on disability as "choosing" not to work.

If I could work any kind of livable wage job -- heck if I could work full-time for more than a month without setting myself back the better part of a year health-wise -- I would jump on it. Very few folks on disability want to stay on it. Who would want to live on $832/month?

I let it go the last time you were casually indifferent -- feeling the need to point out that you don't "earn" disability. Dog, anyone who even *knows* someone on disability knows you earn it. Yes, we're not always working. Because being sick is a full-fucking-time job.

I have five medications, down from six recently. That's not taking into account birth control or normal supplements. And none of them need refilling at quite the same time, so I'm constantly having to keep an eye on what's reaching empty and whether I have any refills available. (Though I rarely am successful, so then there's a couple extra trips to the drugstore as I try and get an advance on my meds so I am not dizzy every second I'm awake, plus the return trip to get the rest of the meds once they're filled.)

I wake up each morning and I take 9 pills (down from 12). And until I take those two pills, I have to use every ounce of strength I have to stay awake. Even so, there are days I have to lie down and/or take a nap. I am constantly behind on my errands because, on a good day, I can get out to two or three done. Some days, I can't leave the house.

Then you have therapy for the depression which almost every disabled person experiences, given how much emphasis our society places on work being a part of who you are. If you're not working, people imply (or you are afraid they are thinking) somehow you're choosing not to work, or that they think less of you. Or perhaps you just wonder if you're worth less, since you can't "earn your keep."

And before you actually get disability, you have at least three forms a month to fill out, all of which are repeating the things you've said for months, but which have to be filed or you lose your benefits. And each of those forms also have to be filled out and signed by your doctors on time, too.

To address your comments, yes, I choose where I live. In that, I choose to stay in Seattle because this is where my support network is. My mother lives nearby and helps pitch in when I'm too tired to run to the store. She also lets me use her car, without which I'd be able to do maybe half of the stuff I currently accomplish. So I could choose to go to the Midwest, perhaps, and rent more cheaply, but both Tim and I are currently reliant on our support systems to get by. So, while we *do* choose where we live, it's very much based on realistic assessments of how we can actually keep going.

And, yes, your fiance works in e-commerce. I guess the point of that statement was that I could work full-time from home. Which, between this blog and my part-time work, I come pretty close to. But what able-bodied people don't really get is that work is work, no matter where it's done.

Yes, it's easier to do work from home if you're disabled. It saves the energy of getting dressed appropriately and the commute. But works still takes its toll.

It's like people who say, "Oh, well if you get tired, you can just get a job sitting down!" It's not always about how or where you work. It's about the fact that work will always take energy. And knowing you have to get work done takes a chunk, also.

In this contract work, I post things on the internet for three or four hours a day. It's not exactly rocket science. But I have to be able to read and understand around 10 articles a day, summarize them, come up with pithy titles, etc. And when I'm done, it's taken something out of me.

Beyond that, just getting around day to day takes more energy for me than for "normal" people, for lack of a better term. All my energy gets funneled into assessing how I feel as soon as I wake up, looking at the errands and chores that have to get done, trying to prioritize based on urgency and my capability that day. I automatically map out the most efficient route, so that I can waste as little energy as possible, driving around.

Then, while out, I have to keep constant tabs on my energy levels, since when I crash it's often sudden and with little to no warning. And I don't know if you've ever tried to drive in regular traffic when you're so tired you can barely breathe, but it's harrying experience, let me tell you.

The rest of the time I spend trying not to think about all the things I *couldn't* get done and trying not to feel guilty about them and trying not to worry about our debt or how I'm not doing much to pay it down.

In short, DogAteMyFinances, I spent less energy working full-time back when I could, than I do now, being disabled. And I am betting you that almost any person you talk to on disability will tell you the same story.

December 21, 2008 at 10:28 PM

Blogger DogAteMyFinances said...

Oh, Abby, I'm not trying to be rude about serious health issues.

My point was, even with serious constraints, you still get to make choices.

You can focus on choices that are made for you, you can focus on the choices you have made, or you can focus on making new choices. Those choices DO matter.

I think it's great to see where you are coming from. We all have a different set of choices and set-backs.

December 22, 2008 at 6:31 AM

Blogger Dory said...

I need to back up Abigail. DogAteMyFinances, to say that a person on disability CHOOSES not to work is not just insensitive, it is rude.

December 22, 2008 at 7:53 AM

Blogger Donna said...

"No one has a full set of choices. We are always limited."
Dog, it's comments like this that make the disabled community completely, head-bangingly furious. Disability makes it damned difficult to find a job in the first place, and finding reliable transportation to the job isn't easy, either. If you need a personal care attendant to get you up and dressed and ready for the van, then every morning you pray that the van shows up on time and that this isn't the day when your day-shift PCA decides to quit with no warning. (The latter happens all the time. In addition, it's so hard to find qualified PCAs that the disabled put up with all kinds of figurative or literal abuse because without an attendant, you're literally helpless -- and nobody wants to go into a nursing home.)
Suppose you do get hired. Once you're there, accommodations at the workplace are almost always insufficient. Service elevator, anyone? Lunchrooms with microwaves set too high up for you to reach from your chair? Disabled bathroom stall that is frequently occupied by the able-bodied?
Any time you're out in public you get to deal with things like a lack of curb cuts, numerous business or buildings with limited or nonexistent access, and the stares and questions/comments about one's disability. You wouldn't BELIEVE what some people feel entitled to say -- stuff like "Can you have sex?" or "If I ended up like you, I'd kill myself."
And if you have an "invisible" disability? When people learn that you are on Social Security, they feel free to point out that you look fine to them so why don't you get a job working a cash register or something?
Every day. You live like this EVERY DAY. It's exhausting. It's dehumanizing. And you can never predict the day in which some able-bodied person will try to "empathize" by talking about his compromised ACL or her extreme near-sightedness and then chirp, "Aren't we ALL disabled in some way?"
No. No, we're not. When your bum knee or nearsightedness COMPLETELY determines not just the course of your life but the way society views you and the way others treat you -- well, then you might have a beef. But the fact is, you're a LOT closer to "a full set of choices" than a disabled person will ever be. Our physical environment and our national mindset focuses on the able-bodied. Everyone else gets to be grateful for minimal accommodations that were so, so hard-fought-for and so, so MINIMAL.
I could go on, but I won't -- except to say I hope you never become disabled because you would likely wind up living well below poverty level because you "choose not to work." Of course, that would leave you plenty of time to eat your own condescending and (possibly inadvertently) arrogant words.

December 22, 2008 at 8:53 AM

Blogger Shevy said...

Abby, Dog's comments are a perfect example of how people who have never been disabled (even partially) generally just don't or can't understand how difficult the simplest things can be.

After my car accident I couldn't lift a kettle with 2 cups of hot water in it to pour into the coffee filter. My 10 year old son had to do it.

I could wipe a counter in a circular motion, but I couldn't do the same thing with a mirror.

But (after the bruises where my face hit the steering wheel faded) I looked okay. So how could there be anything wrong with me? Everybody who hasn't been there is all Nike: Just do it. Depressed? Just do it. Exhausted? Everybody gets tired, just do it. In pain? Take an Advil and just do it. Not able to work full time? Just do it or lose your job.

I used to say it would have been easier (G-d forbid) to have lost an arm in the accident because then people would have understood why I couldn't do certain things. (Luckily, over a period of several years things improved greatly.)

A lot of people just don't get it. They can't step out from behind their point of view and put themselves in another person's place.

Some of us *do* understand though and we know that you're doing pretty damn good.

December 22, 2008 at 11:23 AM

Blogger DogAteMyFinances said...

I'm sorry if I offended y'all, and that I hijacked your blog, especially right before Christmas. I actually do have a health condition. An ADA, mandatory meeting with HR, awkward discussion with my boss, can't get life insurance disability.

I don't doubt that choices, very serious choices, are made for us. But we still make choices all the time in our own lives.

December 23, 2008 at 4:38 PM

Blogger Shtinkykat said...

Abigail's post and the comments left here reminds me, on Christmas morning, how I have so much to be thankful for. It's clear that those who suffer from debilitating health issues have to deal with monumental obstacles that people like me cannot even fathom.
Merry Christmas Abigail and Donna. And God Bless.

December 25, 2008 at 7:19 AM

Blogger Alane said...

WOW! I must say this has been a great eye opener for me. I must confess I googled G-B syndrome and was thinking maybe you were just whining but reading all the comments here I realized I have a lot to learn and just want to say thank you for sharing your life with the world.
I look forward to learning more and changing the way I think and look at other people
( especially those with handicap tags that get to park in the best spots) I understand now looks are deceiving.
Thanks for kicking my ego down a notch.

December 27, 2008 at 4:35 PM

Blogger Abby said...

OK, I've been very remiss in replying to your comments.

Thanks to all for your readership, first of all.

Over the Cubicle Wall, I want to reply, and yet what you said is just a great, complete thought. I wish I had something to add. But, "exactly!" is about all I have.

Shevy, I wanted to thank you for your thoughtful comments and support. I hope you are finishing up a wonderful Hannukah.

Shtinkykat, I actually got a little misty reading your comment. I think I may have let out a bit of a girly "awww" noise too. But thankfully there's no proof of such things. Thanks for popping in and reminding us to treasure what we have. I certainly could be worse off. I have a great support system here, not the least of which are Tim and my mom.

Alane,thanks for taking the time to actually google Guillain-Barre and find out more about it. It's always nice when people don't just assume I'm whining (even though, really, sometimes I totally am). I hope you'll come back and read some more!

December 28, 2008 at 6:05 PM

Blogger Jackie B. said...

You will probably take my comment in a very negative way also.I apologize in advance if it offends anyone.
YES! I do believe you need an attitude adjustment. You tend to blame your disability for so many things and never express any gratitude for those things you are fortunate enough to be able to accomplish still. Just because you have a disability does not make you less of a "normal" person. I, too, have a disability---fortunately I am still able to work a full time job if I choose to. Is it easy? NO. I accept my disabilities and work around them as much as possible. I also believe in positive thinking. This works wonders for my lifestyle. I realized quite some time ago that I needed an attitude adjustment and have been much happier with life since I made my adjustment.

December 30, 2008 at 11:02 AM


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