Living In Fear

I guess I pretty much live in some state of fear or anxiety most of the time. I suppose I always have. Some part of my brain is always on alert; listening, watching, trying to stay one step ahead of the world in an effort to see things coming, and plan a way to avoid or survive them.

It’s kind of exhausting, and occasionally somewhat crippling to boot.

As a kid, I would do routine inspections of the border of my bedroom to ensure nothing was close enough to the heaters to catch fire in the night. In the event of fire, I had an escape plan in place, and a mental list of the things I would try to take with me or toss out the window, along with saving the animals and family members in the house, too, of course. Somehow, in my head, that was all up to me. In the event of tornado, I also had survival plans in place. We didn’t have a basement, so I had to get creative. I wasn’t too worried about a tidal wave, being land-locked and all, though I did still have nightmares about them from time to time. But then again, zombies or alien invasions were also not out of the question, so I had to have plans for those, too.

As I got older, I started packing more on instead of less. Concerns about walking alone at night, having things stolen…I mean, stuff actually happens, and while there’s no way to be fully prepared, per se, it is possible to just be afraid and alert all the time as a way of lessening the chances it’ll happen to you.

Then I got Kate, and suddenly a whole other life depended solely on me. Keeping a roof over our heads and food in our bellies got added to the concerns, along with general financial worries that go along with unexpected expenses popping up suddenly. As unexpected things do.

It’s hard to expect everything, after all.

When we no longer had roommates and it was just the two of us, I started worrying that something would happen while I was at work; when I wasn’t home to take care of us. Every morning before I left the apartment, I would give the same little speech to her, and that became a superstitious kind of mantra. If anything bad had happened while I was out, a part of me would have blamed myself for not doing enough to prevent it, even if simple words do nothing specific at all.

As it turned out, what happened to Kate wasn’t while I was at work, but rather when I went away on vacation. I figured out pretty quickly after I got home that she was sick, and I hadn’t been around for her to let me know any earlier. She was euthanized within a few days of my return, and part of me will never forgive myself for giving up so many of those last precious days I could have spent with her, let alone the 5 months I’d left her in Colorado without me. Part of me will always believe it’s my fault she got sick to begin with, too, though.

Anyway, that’s how it was with one cat. Now I have three and a dog depending on me to take care of them. Depending on me and no one else, at least in day to day life. So now when I leave the apartment, the anxiety is the same, but multiplied by four. Some of them (I won’t name names because it’s not important) are less self-sufficient than Kate was, in that they need more care and attention from whoever is looking after them. So it’s harder for me to decide to leave, even when it’s just for the day. So many things can go wrong, even when I am there, but when I am not, the worry – the fear – is almost overwhelming sometimes. Usually before I leave and in the moments right before and after I get back home, but yeah. It’s always there, to some degree or other.

I guess it’s good we don’t really realize how out of control things are. We’d all go mad, I think. We’re on a rock, spinning in space, with plates shifting and mountains moving and the oxygen around us all we have to breathe with. At any time, another much smaller rock, hurtling through space, could slam into us and end it all in an instant (or in a slow, agonizing way, but I’ll be hoping for the instant, personally), yet here we are; all of us trying to bend, twist and force order into the chaos. Trying to assign it all meaning, and leave our mark to prove we were ever here at all.

Making plans can feel stifling sometimes, but not nearly so much as realizing that there can never be enough preparation. There will always be something we can’t predict; something we can’t avoid with forethought.

Sometimes we have to let go and see what happens. It’s really the start to living.

But it’s also really freaking hard.

I was watching an episode of a TV show wherein an artificial intelligence had taken on the voice of a human who had passed away. Hearing that voice again was hard for those humans left behind; those who mourned. And yet, at the same time, it’s a comfort. I thought of all the voices I’d give anything to hear again; voices from the past. Voices of those who helped shape who I am. A laugh, a curse, a playful tease, a story told just once more, even though it’s already been told a hundred times. What wouldn’t any of us give for the 101st?

A lot of a person is contained in their voice; certainly as much as in their appearance. That we communicate without voice so often now is a bit of a detriment – we text, we email, we comment on Facebook and Twitter. But it’s not really as much of a connection as when an individual’s voice is included. Even with Hudson the polar bear, the last time I saw him was also the first time I’d really heard his voice, and I was almost in tears when I made the realization. I know each of the cats voices; how they differ from one another and from other cats in the world.

Yet I really hate using the phone. Maybe it’s just easier to stay hidden behind a keyboard. As though taking our faces and bodies out of the mix isn’t quite enough most of the time, we also feel the need to remove our voices from the world at large. It just feels safer that way, somehow.

Safer, even as we cling to life and everything around us is shifting and spinning, spinning, spinning through space – until the day comes when we decide to sound our barbaric yawps over the rooftops of the world – and make our voices heard for all time.

What the hell am I even talking about? I think it’s time to eat lunch.

Bankruptcy

I guess you could say my credit issues started right around the time I first got credit. Well, unless you count student loans, which I don’t. The first time I got credit by myself as an adult was after I was accepted to teacher’s college.

Prior to that, I’d moved out of my happy little home into the home of the person with whom I was in a relationship at the time. I gave away my bed and stored a bunch of my stuff in the spare bedroom, and chipped in what I could for rent and bills and the like for close to a year. When I was accepted to another year of full time education, though, I knew things had to change, as I wouldn’t be working for the majority of the year.

I was told not to worry about getting a student loan; I’d be taken care of.

I was told not to bother getting a credit card; I’d be taken care of.

I was told a student line of credit was unnecessary; that I’d be taken care of.

I was assured that I could quit my job outright, rather than stay on for a day or two a week through the school year – because I’d be taken care of.

I decided that I would rather have all of those options and not really need them, then need them and not have them, so I applied for everything, and – being a student – I was approved. I figured I could at least build a great credit rating by making small purchases and then paying them off each month, and if anything came up over the year I was being edumacated, I had back-up.

Turned out something came up pretty quickly, before school even started. I’d quit smoking when I’d learned of my acceptance, and then the blatant cheating began, the relationship ended, and I moved into a spare room in the apartment a good friend shared with his girlfriend. I paid rent, chipped in for bills, bought my own groceries, and basically lived off credit for the entire year.

You know, since I wasn’t being taken care of.

I also worked 1-2 days a week at the job I didn’t quit, and went back to full time after I graduated.

Over the next several years, I continued to build my credit rating by making regular payments and carrying a balance. Most of my credit limits were raised occasionally, to the point where I had an absurd amount of credit to my name. Like, more than I make in a year. That worried me some, but I figured I was getting good at the whole system, and so long as I stayed responsible, I should be okay going forward.

Then I tried to move in with the next person I was in a relationship with – who was in the US – and maxed everything out over the course of two and a half months of not working at all. I couldn’t find a job quickly enough in the diving economy of the time, and in my desperate attempt to keep trying right up until the last minute (well, past the last minute, if we’re being honest here), I’d spent pretty much everything I had left by the time I returned to Toronto. I had been under the impression that my being here was a short term deal; that I would just couch surf and work for a month or two and then head back once things settled down, recession-wise. I knew that, so long as I could earn enough to make minimum payments, I could just cycle money around and still stay afloat until I got back to where I wanted to be.

However, I was informed two days after my return to TO that I had over-stayed my welcome, so to speak, and of the demise of that relationship, as well. There was no chance of me going back any time soon, if at all. And since I was now stuck where I most certainly didn’t want to be, I had to find a way to make a go of it somehow.

I went back to work in a different position from the one I’d left, and slept on a generous friend’s floor for a couple of months. I had the opportunity to stay rent-free in a house way out in the east end, so long as I could leave no sign of my having lived there. It was an amazing deal, but the house was also full of spiders, which was my own personal horror to live with, so I was just as happy to leave there when the time came.

Since I was failing so fully at life, I found one of the worst apartments ever to sublet, and kept the majority of the things I had with me still packed, while leaving everything else in storage until I lived somewhere that felt safer. I started seeing a therapist, and got my cat back (though I apologized to her for giving her such a cruddy place to come back to), so at least we were together again.

The main problem was that, since I was paying rent and bills again, I could no longer make even the minimum payments on my maxed-out credit. The calls started coming in regularly, and I felt worse and worse about my very existence with each one. I tried going to my bank to see if I could just consolidate everything into one payment, but they would only cover their own stuff, and I was on my own for the rest. Since I couldn’t even make that work out, I finally broke down and went to a trustee.

I filed for personal bankruptcy that summer. And the person I was subletting the shitty apartment from got evicted, so I had to move out or sign my own lease, meaning I was stuck in that hole for over a year, all told. 2009 – pretty much the worst year of my life, thus far.

It was humiliating, and difficult – I had to keep very close tabs on every single bit of income and every single expenditure. I’d under-estimated how much I’d need for food and other basics each month, so I juggled with the other areas of permitted spending and made it work out. It was super stressful, though, because I had to give the trustees everything else, and justify whatever I didn’t hand over.

At least the collection calls stopped, though.

I was eventually discharged, and the trustee told me she never wanted to see me in there again, to which I heartily agreed. I still had my student loan from teacher’s college to finish paying off, but I worked out a payment plan with them that I could afford, and made that my first priority – after finding a better apartment.

That would, of course, prove to be hella difficult, too, because no one wants to rent to a bankrupt person, even if they’ve recently been discharged. I couldn’t get accepted back into the building I’d left when I tried to move to the US – and it had a sweet pool. I couldn’t get accepted to any of the places I’d applied, and I was starting to get desperate when I tried a Hail Mary with a little 4-story building in the neighbourhood I most wanted to live. I knew walking down the street that there was no chance, but I kept the appointment, anyway, and as soon as I walked into the space, I was kind of in love.

I flat out told the guy I’d recently been discharged from bankruptcy, and that I had a cat, and he said he’d seen people with worse credit move in, and that many people in the building had cats, so hope suddenly came alive.

Days later, I got the apartment. I still live there now, and I am staying as long as I can afford to, because I know how difficult it can be for me to find a new place now. And I still kinda love it there. It’s still home for now, a place for me to heal.

Plus, Kate the Kitten died not long after we moved in (she barely got to enjoy the non-shittiness of it, unfortunately), and now I live with three cats and a dog. It might be even more difficult to be accepted in a new place now, in some ways.

I was discharged from my bankruptcy on April 22, 2010. At just over 6 years ago, it should be purged from my credit report for one agency, and has just under a year left on my report for the other. I have a secured credit card, upon which I continue to make regular payments and carry a balance and, at $500, it’s low enough to not be a huge worry in comparison to my salary. It reports to both credit agencies, too, so I am already re-building my credit rating, albeit very slowly. It’s still better than nothing.

Am I gun-shy about ever having to file for personal bankruptcy again? Absolutely. When I was already feeling most worthless, that was the nail in my proverbial coffin. My failure at life was complete. I don’t ever want to feel that way again, if I can help it, especially since it’s never really gone away. I carry my failure around more than my successes, in part because I don’t think much of myself, but in part so I can hope to learn from them. I still can’t pinpoint exactly where I went wrong, but I think it might have been a series of mistakes on my part, and I am terrified of making any of them again, lest I lead myself back down that same self-destructive path. I can’t fool around with this stuff anymore. There are now 3 little lives depending entirely on me – and a 4th who depends mostly on me – for their survival and for the quality of their lives.

And then there’s me. I depend on me for all of that, as well.

If I can help it, I don’t intend to let myself down so completely again.