This afternoon, I was tap-tap-tapping away at my keyboard, when my phone buzzed with a text message from Adam.
ADAM: Honey, I’m sorry, but can you help me clarify something about fertility stuff? Is the $5,000 cap for ALL fertility drugs? I thought the financial aid person at the clinic said it was just for IVF.
ME: She did, but she was wrong. The nurse at the insurance company told me that it all comes out of the same allowance. Why, is it crazy expensive?
ADAM: We reached the cap, so the copay for FSH is $600.
For reference, we have done ONE other cycle so far. ONE. And it required $120 worth of fertility drugs, because we did Clomid, which is so old, it’s what Mary took to conceive Jesus. Just kidding, Mary was a teen, and everyone knows that the best way to get pregnant is to be totally financially unprepared to have a child. Which is excellent fucking news, because after we’re done burning through the rest of our cap for two entire cycles, we will have none dollars and none cents left, it appears. I assume I’ll be pregnant with octuplets by Halloween.
I mean, yeah, we can find 600 bucks, and I realize that we’re lucky that this is the case, but who knows what the next thing will be? “Oh, sorry, we only cover one actual IUI procedure. After that, we ask that you earn out the rest by dressing up in a chicken suit and standing at the corner of the street that runs past the clinic, holding a sign that says, ‘CLUCK, CLUCK. ARE YOUR EGGS WORTH A BUCK? INQUIRE WITHIN.'”
So, we’re about to embark on a new round of horrifying science experiments designed to get me pregnant, a set of circumstances I have tried to avoid all my adult life and am honestly dreading like it’s the Hantavirus.
It’s really strange to be going through all of this as a person who has never wanted to be pregnant. To be honest, for years, I assumed that all women felt the way I did: that the thought of gestating a creature in their body made them feel like Ripley in Alien 3, and that they’d consider jumping in lava to rectify the situation.
Don’t ask how I missed the pregnancy enthusiasts, because I really couldn’t tell you. I think I just figured everyone was lying, so their husbands and boyfriends wouldn’t feel bad about doing this to them. But no, it turns out that some women really have spent just as much time looking forward to being pregnant as I have punching myself in the stomach when my period was six hours late.
My mother, for instance, once suggested that surrogates might do their job in part because they enjoy being pregnant.
“I’m 100 percent sure it’s the money,” I said.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “I could see doing it. It’s just so much fun to be pregnant.”
This was honestly a revelation to me. Fun to be pregnant?
“I feel like you’re just trying to con me into producing another grandchild for you,” I said.
She looked at me with what can only be described as great pity. “Oh, honey. I don’t care what you do. I just want you to be happy.”
Unfortunately, I believed her, which was nice but also aggravating in that it deprived me of the opportunity of blaming her for my ambivalence. I called my sister.
“Did you like being pregnant?” I asked.
“Eh. It kind of sucks,” she said. “Everyone treats you like you’re disabled and crazy and your body does a lot of weird stuff. For example, there’s a lot of extra moisture in your underpants zone.”
“YES. And no one tells you. No one tells you anything.” She paused. “But it’s also kind of romantic, because you don’t know who this little person is yet. At least with the first pregnancy. By the second one, I was like, ‘Please let me nap.’”
I started polling friends who had been pregnant, and discovered that there are three main types of pregnant women:
The ones who love it. These people are often very healthy and on the young side. Also, anecdotally, they’re more likely to go for a natural birth, possibly in a tub, attended by doulas and unicorns.
The ones who hate it. These are my people. They range from pasty hypochondriacs like me, who are terrified of the physical risks and unpleasantness, to marathon runners irritated that their training is being interrupted by their incipient spawn.
The ones who don’t enjoy it, but consider it a necessary evil.
Prior to fertility treatments, I was hoping to join the third camp. Now that I’m spending so much time with my feet in stirrups, I can tell you with certainty that I’m going to be in Group No. 2.
It’s not just that I’m fat and old and have a lot of health problems. It’s that I’m a crazy hypochondriac on the one hand and what the IRS terms a sole proprietor on the other. I spend half my time worrying that my body is going to fail in some exotic and horrifyingly painful way, and the other half the time congratulating myself that at least no one can really tell me what to do, in a professional sense, as long as I meet my obligations.
Pregnancy is going to be a challenge, she said to herself, in the understatement of the year. Picture The Yellow Wallpaper, only with more crying.
The only upside to needing fertility treatments is that it’s prepared me for how fucking unfair pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting are for women. For instance, my husband is not a patient at our fertility clinic. I am. That seems obvious, since I have the parts we’re dealing with most often, but in practice, it stinks.
I was prepared for attending a lot more doctor’s appointments and understood that I’d be taking on all of the risk and most of the unpleasantness, due to the fact that I’m the one with the uterus. But I wasn’t prepared for how the sole responsibility would be on me.
For instance, I have to:
Track my cycles.
Make the doctor’s appointments.
Eat, drink, and rest in a manner consistent without becoming pregnant.
Fight with the insurance companies.
Fight with the pharmacy.
Fight with the office staff when the insurance companies and the pharmacies claim that they never received Paperwork X,Y, Z … generally only to discover that the staff did send it, and that I’m yelling at an innocent person who’s trying to help.
That’s not even going into getting blood tests every few days and transvaginal ultrasounds every other day for a week, or the horrifying diagnostic tests that got us to this point. Bottom line, in order to get my paying work done when I’m “doing a cycle,” I basically have to cut out all leisure time. Which, as many of my mom friends have pointed out, is excellent practice for becoming a mother.
Halfway through preparing for this next cycle, I realized I was really pissed at my husband, and couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t his fault that he didn’t have a uterus, after all. (Although I’ve begged him to try real hard to grow one, and he refuses.) Then I realized: I have no time to myself, but he still does.
Before you wag your finger at me and ask me why I thought becoming a mother would allow me anything so frivolous, let me make one point: leisure is not frivolous. Leisure is where all great thought comes from. Every invention that’s made your life easier, every piece of art that’s made your life better—all of those started out because some guy had the time to take an extra-long shower and wonder, “Hey, what if….”
No unstructured time, no neat new thing. Which is why it’s usually a guy taking that long, inspiring shower and why there aren’t as many famous female inventors and artists as there are male. It’s not just overt sexism: “No girls allowed in the lab!” It’s also covert sexism: “OK, you can use the lab, Cinderella, but only if your chores are done. Also, I hope you aren’t giving that baby formula to steal back a little time for your art project. What kind of a mother are you?”
The solution came to me as we were leaving the clinic with our new plan of attack.
“I want you to make all these phone calls,” I said to Adam.
“OK,” he said, eyeing me with cautious terror of someone who’s wondering how he got in trouble, just walking through a corridor in a clinic in Westchester.
“Because I have to have all the shots,” I said. “And then I have to have a million horrible ultrasounds. And then, if I get pregnant, I’m the one who could die or wind up peeing myself a little bit forever. So I want you to deal with the insurance companies…”
“OK,” he said, more firmly. “OK. I’ll call them. I’ll make all the calls.”
And this morning, he did. Only to find out that he can’t deal with the insurance companies on my behalf unless I call them first, because of HIPAA. This makes perfect sense, of course, but I still felt defeated.
“Also, I’m pretty sure the doctor’s office is going to call you, not me,” he said. “I have a feeling.”
They did, sort of. Well, they emailed me. Adam called them back, which I’m sure will start a new cycle of them emailing me and him calling them and them suggesting that I call them and me emailing myself a list of all the reasons I’m sure I want a baby, so I don’t forget. BECAUSE IT WOULD BE EASY TO FORGET.
All I know is that in order to “make things equal” by turning over the insurance haggling to my husband, I had to make a list of telephone numbers, write out my cycle, call the insurance company and the doctor’s office and the pharmacy … and then deal with the fact that everyone is probably going to call me anyway. Basically, to even things up, I’ll have to make the process twice as much work as it needs to be. I’m inventing new work so that Adam is as annoyed as I am.
I’m not going to lie, at this point, it seems like it’s worth it. I know it’s a pretty shabby way to treat my friend and traveling companion, a man who would cheerfully walk through fire (or wait on hold with the insurance company) just to make me cry a little less. But look at this way: there’s a zero percent chance anyone will be sticking an ultrasound wand into his person in the near future.
Sometimes, we have to make our own version of equal, you know?
I purposely didn’t post this over Mother’s Day weekend, because I didn’t want to be that person — you know, the one who “congratulates” you on running the marathon by reminding you that running isn’t all that good for you, or who quotes divorce statistics at your wedding, or wonders aloud about the calories in the birthday cake. I don’t think other people should have to hide their joy because something’s hard for me. But man, Sunday was a bitch.
You see, I’m infertile. No one really knows why, although age is probably a factor. I also have thyroid problems, although the battery of bloodwork I’ve had over the past year suggests that I’m treated appropriately and should be able to conceive, from an endocrinology perspective. My other hormonal markers are also good, for the most part — better than they have any right to be, considering that I’m old enough to have graduated from high school without owning an email address.
My husband is also fine, as far as labs go, although technically we both have a placeholder diagnosis of “male/female infertility unexplained.” No one really knows why we’ve been trying to have a baby for so long, with no luck.
Last month, we did our first IUI cycle. Also known as artificial insemination, it’s a good first-line treatment for infertility, especially if timing is an issue or if hostile cervical mucus is preventing fertilization. (I have no idea if that’s the case, or even how they would diagnose that, to be honest with you.)
This will sound naive, but I sort of thought IUI would be easy. I started off our fertility journey saying that I was willing to try almost anything — up to, but not including, IVF. This was based on several things:
Expense. In our neck of the woods, IVF costs $20,000 per cycle, and there’s no guarantee that the first cycle (or any cycle) will work. So, you could spend $60,000 on three rounds, and wind up with nothing.
Terror of medical procedures. When I was a kid, my appendix ruptured and was removed. Afterward, infection set in, and they had to open me back up … which they did without anesthesia. So, I’m a little nervous about invasive procedures. When our reproductive endocrinologist said the words “egg harvesting,” I literally saw spots swimming before my eyes and thought I’d pass out.
Possibly legitimate health concerns. IVF is not without risks. Mayo Clinic has a terrifying list, including things like birth defects and ovarian cancer (although the latest studies rule that one out — but as my middle name should be “Possible Side Effects,” I’m still nervous about those early studies).
IUI, in contrast, had fewer risks: multiple births, from the Clomid, and infection from the insertion, for example. So that seemed like the one to do.
Well. First of all, nothing is easy in our healthcare system. What I had to go through to get my insurance to cover $120 worth of Clomid and Ovidrel (the trigger shot that releases the egg) would take a whole separate post, but frankly, I’ll probably never write it, because thinking about it raises my blood pressure and makes me feel like I’ll finally lose my tenuous grip on reality.
Then, once I got the drugs, I had to take them. The Clomid was easy to administer, because it’s a pill, but the side effects were gnarly. I had a headache for five days, the kind Tylenol won’t touch, and I was very aware of my ovaries in my body — something that generally doesn’t happen, and does not feel healthy and fine. Also, I was mentally ill: anxious, depressed, crying, very occasionally elated — it was like a thunderstorm of hormones in my brain.
Next, came the Ovidrel, which only took a minute, not that you’d know that by my reaction, because the shot — while subcutaneous and a very small needle — has to go in the abdomen, and as previously discussed, I’m not great with things happening to my midsection. Adam administered the shot, thank God, or I would have passed out and crashed through the coffee table like Chris Farley. He says I was the biggest baby he’s ever given a shot to, and I’m sort of proud.
“Shut up,” he said lovingly, preparing the needle. “I give like two of these a day, PER PATIENT.”
“This is terrible,” I whimpered. “If I ever have to go to the hospital, please suffocate me with a pillow.”
“No,” he said, sticking the needle in. It didn’t hurt at all.
But the worst part, the absolute worst, was the monitoring phase. Between the Clomid and the shot, the doctors watch your ovaries to see how the eggs are coming along. Your midsection doesn’t have a window, so they do this via transvaginal ultrasound. This is embarrassing, and invasive, and if you’re on Clomid, it can also hurt. (Honesty compels me to further admit that the male doctors were not as good at avoiding the cervix as the female doctors were, causing me to feel very sorry indeed for any and all potential lady partners.)
Oddly, I found it somewhat traumatizing to have strange men hurt me with a dildo every other day for 10 days or so. Throw the Clomid on top of that, and I was basically ready for the bin.
I’ve never been happier to get a phone call than I was to get the phone call from the clinic nurse, telling me that it was time for the IUI procedure. Adam and I were in Nyack, a cute little town across the river from us, eating cake pops and walking around, and my phone rang in the middle of the coffee shop.
“OK!” the nurse said. “It’s time for the shot!”
I hung up and told Adam that if it worked, we’d have to call the baby Cake Pop Luckwaldt. OK, I conceded: Cake Pop Daniel Luckwaldt. After his grandfather.
The procedure itself was no big deal: less humiliating than the ultrasounds, and about as uncomfortable as a pap smear.
But it didn’t work. The day before my blood test, I got my period. I had to run out for supplies, because I hadn’t bought any — superstition, I guess.
So now, here we are on the other side of Mother’s Day, not pregnant and not sure we ever will be. I don’t know that I have another cycle in me — the drugs were pretty rough, and the ultrasounds shredded my sanity, and let’s not even get started with another round of negotiating with insurance — and we still don’t even know what’s “wrong.” Maybe my body is rejecting implantation. Maybe our genes are a bad combo — unlike us, the actual humans, who are the best combination — and nature is wisely choosing not to combine them. We don’t know. We might not ever know.
Right now, I’m just grateful that I’m going on vacation in June, and don’t have to decide about another cycle right away. And I’m glad Mother’s Day is over for another year.
Ladies of the earth, in order to move forward, I fully believe we must take inspiration from menfolks, and demand that our needs be met. For starters, we deserve to have our physical pain taken seriously, and not ignored like the natural consequence of our wombs roaming free all over our bodies.
For example, every medical test for women is horrible: squish this between two plates, scrape that with a stick, etc., and if you ask if it will hurt, you’ll hear, “It’ll be uncomfortable.” (Which means yes, and shut up.)
Do you think for one second that men would put with this shit? They would not. If you told a man, “We’re going to screen you for testicular cancer right now. The process for this is to put your nuts on this plate and wait for them to be squashed by this other plate. No crying,” what do you think he would say?
I think his response would be a resounding, “Fuuuuuck yooooou. I’m gonna get out of this dump, and do anything else but that. In fact, I’m going to race out of here, still in my plastic-paper gown, and head toward the nearest woods. There, I will fight a bear, and if I live, I’ll take that as a sign that I don’t have ball cancer … AND IF I DIE, I SHALL GO TO VALHALLA WHERE THE BRAVE LIVE FOREVER.”
(See that, dudes? I like you a bunch. Don’t believe what those MRAs tell you; we hostile feminists don’t want to destroy you, we just want some of that cultural acceptance mojo. But I digress.)
My point is, women’s pain needs to matter. It’s not a question of male doctors vs. female patients, because all genders have to deal with unconscious bias, since it’s apparently part of the human condition. But for God’s sake, if you’re a healthcare provider, please ask yourself one question before telling a woman that a procedure will be “uncomfortable”: would you say the same thing to a man? And even if you would, might you not offer him some pain relief to go along with it?
For the rest of us non-doctors and non-nurses, the way forward is equally challenging and necessary. Women, we’re going to have to demand to be treated and taken seriously. And men, when your favorite female people tell you that they’re in pain, you’ll have to believe them.
Because I am old, I was recently listening to Gerry Rafferty on Spotify. Because I’m not that old, I only know two songs of his: the one from Reservoir Dogs, when the one guy cuts off the other guy’s ear, and what turned out to be “Baker Street.”
I was pretty excited when I found out it was called that, because the mister and I are pretty much obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, in all his incarnations: Sherlock Holmes as a modern-day Londoner, Sherlock Holmes as Angelina Jolie’s ex-husband, Sherlock Holmes as Sherlock Holmes. We’ll take whatever Sherlock Holmes you can give us. And, I suppose I should mention, Sherlock Holmes lived at 221b Baker Street — although if you don’t know that, I don’t know why you’re reading this, as I’ve only got about five readers left and they’re all friends and family. My point is, Mom, why don’t you know where Sherlock Holmes lives? That’s my point.
I discovered the song’s name by Googling snippets of lyrics on the Metro North, on my way into the city. The only part I could remember was, “Give up the booze and the one night stands.” Pretty typical, as you know, if you’ve ever been at karaoke with a bunch of people who think they know all the words to any song from the ’70s or ’80s. It’s a lot of, “Blah, blah, BLAH BOOZE AND ONE NIGHT STANDS.” That’s a pretty A-plus line, anyway, but some of the others really struck me:
This city desert makes you feel so cold It’s got so many people but it’s got no soul And it’s taken you so long to find out you were wrong When you thought it held everything
You used to think that it was so easy You used to say that it was so easy But you’re tryin’, you’re tryin’ now Another year and then you’d be happy Just one more year and then you’d be happy But you’re cryin’, you’re cryin’ now
Well, holy shit. I wish I’d done some pre-Spotify Googling earlier. This could have been my theme song during our last year in the city.
When we left Brooklyn, we got distinctly mixed reactions, depending on the location of the person with whom we were speaking. City dwellers tended to act like we’d announced that we were joining Scientology, while suburbanites were most often relieved, like we’d shaken off a debilitating fever. Both had a point.
Personally, I don’t feel like we switched teams or something. We lived in the city for a long time, and enjoyed it for a while, but then the city changed and we changed and it was time to go. Last weekend, I went into Manhattan to have drinks with friends, and the subways were screwed up. That in itself was no big deal — it almost made me nostalgic. What was a big deal was that I walked 16 blocks from Union Square to Nolita, and didn’t see one single bodega the whole time.
This isn’t yet another post declaring New York over. As long as you or I or anyone we know can remember, New York has been expensive, dirty, scary, tough, and just plain not for everyone. But more to the point, it’s not for everyone forever.
In the new place, we have a few things I forgot about during my time in New York:
Appliances. So many appliances! Appliances to wash dishes. Appliances to wash clothes. A working refrigerator that was built during this century, and a microwave that lives in the wall above the stove.
Central air. TBH, I never had this before in my life, but it is magical. Yesterday, a friend IMed to ask me if it was hot out, and I wrote back, “I DON’T KNOW! ISN’T THAT GREAT?” I’m basically a rich person now, let’s be real.
Quiet. I used to have insomnia. Not since the move. I sleep like I’ve fallen into a well filled with hypoallergenic down-substitute quilts.
Friendly people. Everyone says hi here in our new town. It only took me two months to believe that they weren’t trying to recruit me to a cult.
Grocery stores. Hubley family lore goes that years ago, Great Aunt Tinka arrived from Slovakia and wandered into a grocery store … and nearly refused to go home. Whenever someone asked what she wanted to do today, she’d ask to go to the grocery store, where I assume she fondled the produce until she was asked to leave. Fuck Disney World, Tinka wanted to go to the A&P. I am now Tinka.
It’s pretty nice here, is what I’m saying. It’s been four months, and I have no regrets at all. I’m not saying you should move. I’m just saying, if you do decide to move to suburbia, there’s some pretty nice stuff here.
It was hard to move to New York, and hard to leave. Both took six months, thousands of dollars, and enough tears to fill a Slurpee container (one of the big ones, the kind that are making Americans fat). Ten years after the first big move, and three months after the second, I can say both were the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Moving to New York gave me my career, my husband, at least half of my closest friends. It shaped my character: I’m trusting and enthusiastic by nature, and living in New York allowed me to build some much-needed defenses. I’m not a soft touch, like I used to be, although my face still tells people I’m interested in what they have to say. It’s the best of both worlds: people rarely hit me up for money, but always tell me about their painful divorce when we’re standing in the checkout line.
Moving away from New York gave me back my time, allowed me to relax, and appears to be improving my health. I do yoga here, and ride my exercise bike 50 miles a week. (Go ahead and laugh, actual athletes. That’s pretty good for me.) I go for walks. I go outside every day, no matter what the weather. This afternoon, I worked outside on my laptop, but didn’t fall into the screen like I usually do. I spent long minutes watching the clouds go by. It would be interesting to see what my cortisol levels are.
I’m glad I moved to New York, and glad I left, and even gladder that I live close enough to go back whenever I want. Maybe the best kind of escape is like when I used to run away under the dining room table when I was a kid: enough distance from the noise to encourage peace, without a major life upheaval.
Over 45 million Americans lived in poverty as of 2013, according to the Census Bureau, and I have never been one of them. There’s a big difference between poverty and what I’ll call, for want of a better term, sort of poor, which is essentially temporary financial embarrassment. The former means that you live with food insecurity, exploitation, chronic fear and danger; the latter means short-term anxiety and, hopefully, long-term empathy. I’m trying my hardest never to forget what it was like to not be absolutely sure that the rent money would be there when I needed it. In the meantime, I’m writing down a few things a learned while I was less well off than I am now.
First, a little background. For three years, my husband and I were sort of poor. How did that happen? Well, I got laid off, like many of us did over the past few years, and then I decided to go freelance. It took a while to build things up to the point where I made as much money as I did working full-time for an employer. Just prior to that, Adam went back to school. I’ll always be grateful that he didn’t look at me like I was nuts when, a few short months after he embarked on the education phase of a new career, I told him I wanted to start my own business.
Without getting into numbers, being sort of poor meant that we were living, in New York, on what amounted to one salary — and that salary was a normal salary, not a normal-for-the-city salary. (I make that distinction, because The New York Times often runs pieces featuring “middle class” folks who moan about not being able to pay private school tuition on a quarter of a million dollars a year. Those were not our circumstances. We survived on what would have been a nice middle-class salary for, say, Pittsburgh, not Brooklyn.)
In practical terms, it meant that we could pay the rent and the grocery bill and our health insurance and our other expenses, as long as nothing ever went wrong. We couldn’t go on vacations or out to dinner or buy a lot of stuff, which didn’t bother us much — neither of us is what you’d call spendy under the best of financial circumstances. The problem, of course, was that something always went wrong.
Which is the first lesson I learned, while we were sort of poor:
1. Something always goes wrong.
For example, about two years ago, my back went out. After several specialists and X-rays, it was determined that physical therapy was the best course of treatment. Fortunately, I was still on COBRA at the time, so I had physical therapy appointments included in my coverage. Unfortunately, I need two of those per week, to the tune of $30 in copays each time, and my PT office was an hour away and took an hour to complete. That meant that each session cost me around $150-$200, between the copay and the lost wages. Good times.
2. Being poor is expensive.
I did not bounce a check during our temporary poorness, a fact of which I’m inordinately proud, but I did go into cash reserve a few times, and I had to charge some things, like the aforementioned PT and occasionally, groceries. I could add up what all that cost me, but it’s too depressing and I don’t wanna. Let’s just say this: I spent a lot more than a rich person would have on the same services, and not through lack of planning or the inability to save. There was just no way to avoid it, at times. We’re lucky that we lived in a place where we didn’t have to have a car, or we might have found ourselves in an even worse situation.
3. No one wants to hear about it.
Listening to people complain about money is like listening to them talk about their weight or the dream they had last night. It’s just not very interesting to anyone but the person who’s speaking. Not to mention, in the last couple of years, everyone’s had their own problems. Still, it’s hard not to talk about it. When you don’t have money, it’s hard to think about anything else. Every thought, every brain cell, is focused on how to scrounge up what you need to survive and avoid running up bills you can’t pay.
4. Being poor is bad for your health.
During the past three years, I’ve had insomnia, weight fluctuations, heart palpitations, panic attacks, depression, and anxiety. I also wore the enamel off my teeth by grinding them while I was sleeping, and at various times, I probably drank too much. I put away massive pots of coffee, trying to stay awake after nights of not sleeping. I quit my gym membership, and tried exercising at home, with limited success. Not to mention, when you’re on a budget, you’re not eating the finest organic produce and sprouted grain bread. And, of course, being poor is stressful; stress is bad for your health.
5. It’s hard to get by without luxuries … or vices.
How many times have you heard someone say, “I don’t want to give that homeless guy money. He’ll just drink it away.”? After three years of fake poverty, I can tell you that I will never say that again. I would prefer that the homeless have access to services that will enable them and every person on earth to have a warm, clean home, a healthy lifestyle, and whatever therapy they might need so as to avoid behaviors that harm them. In the meantime, if that guy wants to drink up my dollar, he can go ahead. Look that one up under “Business, Nunya.”
By the same token, people love to pick on anyone who says they’re broke, but is wearing lipstick or clothing without huge cartoon hobo patches. I went a long time without buying anything when we were skint, and then every so often I’d have a sort of consumerist breakdown and drop $50 at Sephora and feel like the worst person on earth. I’m sure there are folks who are perpetually responsible in our position, but I don’t think they’d be much fun at parties.
6. Appreciate your friends and family.
One of the things that separates the temporarily financially embarrassed from the truly poor is a personal social safety net. Adam and I were lucky, in that we had family members who would send us larger-than-normal birthday checks or float us loans when we needed them, and we were also fortunate enough to have friends who did things like give us furniture and recommend us for apartments when we found out that we were getting kicked out of our place. (Not for anything we did, I hasten to add. See earlier re: something always goes wrong.)
Without our people, I don’t know how we could have made things work. Certainly, the whole experience was humbling and awe-inspiring in equal measure. Adam and I are not people who enjoy asking for help, and we were continually amazed at how many folks came forward to offer help before we could even ask.
7. Ask for help.
This was perhaps the best personal lesson. It was hard for us. It’s hard for almost everyone. But there are no people on the earth who can do everything by themselves 100 percent of the time.
8. Remember that everyone needs help.
Along the lines of the empathy I mentioned earlier, I’ll never look down on anyone who needs assistance, financial or otherwise, whether it comes from family or the government. Whenever a politician starts talking about the takers and the givers, remember that most of us are both at one point or another in our lives — if we’re lucky.
9. Dream big, but don’t get bummed out if you can’t do your dream job right now.
The whole Do What You Love dealie is problematic for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that it’s pretty much geared solely toward privileged middle-class people with access to education and leisure time. If you’re not Doing What You Love right now, don’t let it drag you down. It took 10 years of work for me to get to a point where I could freelance, which is what I always wanted to do, and then maybe two years of that to figure out what I was good at and what I wanted to spend the bulk of my time working on. And then I had to figure out how to earn enough money at it. DWYL is a fine goal, but it ignores not only whole groups of less-privileged people, but also a fundamental fact about work: namely, that sometimes, it’s going to suck, even if you love nearly everything about your job. There will always be paperwork to do and meetings to endure, no matter how successful you become.
10. It’s important to care.
There were days when I was adding up numbers and trying to make my finances come out right and everywhere I turned, there was another article about how the U.S. is now an oligarchy and pensions are being cut and there’s no hope of having what our parents had at our age. The instinct was often to give up, lie down, roll over, and take a nap.
Instead, we have to keep fighting and voting and writing and working and trying. And while we do that, we have to remember that we’re all on this bus together, and that it’s a terminal route. Empathy, compassion, refusal to judge one another — those are the best weapons against a world that tries to make us believe that the people who have things, deserve them, and the people who don’t, don’t. I’ll try to remember. Will you?