Friday, February 27, 2015

My Albatross

They say seeing is believing.

In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a sailor kills a friendly albatross, and as punishment, is forced to wear the carcass around his neck. This gave rise to the phrase of 'an albatross around the neck' being used as a metaphor representing psychological or emotional burdens often seen as overbearing, or as a curse.

I've had such an albatross hanging around my neck these last few months, though at times it felt more like an anchor weighing me down. The value of my house went up this last year, and with that, so did the property taxes. In fact, the taxes are the highest they've been since I bought my house eleven years ago. I've been cutting out any unnecessary expenses as I've been trying to save every penny to be able to pay the new taxes. I've also been concerned about whether my income tax refund would be enough to help with the property taxes, and if it would come in time to avoid penalties.

Come tax time, I gathered all my documents, scheduled an appointment with my tax preparer and waited anxiously for the (hopefully) good news. In the end, I was getting a decent refund, meaning I'd get enough for my taxes and have some left over. Now, all I had to do was wait for the actual money to be deposited into my bank account, so I could actually write the check to the county tax collector.

Within a week (!) of my preparer filing my forms with both the state and federal governments, the refunds from both sources were deposited, the check was written and mailed off. Now, like an anxious child waiting for Christmas, I'm waiting to see that the check has cleared the bank, and the tax collector has certified my account as 'current.'

While in my head I know I have paid my taxes, and I realize it's just a matter of time for the system to catch up and I know my other financial situations are improving, I just can't let go of this dead weight that has been hanging around my spirit weighing me down.

How do you let go of something like this? I know my situation is changing, and yet, I'm not in a place to accept it, to feel the impact it will have on my life; physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

I've even created a spreadsheet of what my monthly finances will look like once my debt management plan is over. It looks wonderful. So, wonderful in fact, I'm beginning to make plans on what to do with the increase in my budget. It's hard to imagine that I will be in that position, soon.

Maybe it's because I haven't seen it yet. I haven't seen the evidence my check has cleared the bank. I haven't seen the evidence on the tax collector's website that my account has been stamped 'current.' I haven't seen the evidence that my payment to my debt management company has been stopped. I haven't seen the evidence that my bank account is growing.

But, I know I will. Maybe that's when I can let go of this heaviness.

 And then I can feel that my albatross is finally gone.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

That Sinking Feeling

It's beginning to sink in.

I'll be debt free soon.

Except for my mortgage, that is.

I'm watching my progress on my dashboard at the debt management program's website where I'm enrolled. While I am embarrassed to state how much I owed before, I am proud to say I have paid off 96% of  that debt. One more account will be paid off in a month, and the last one the month after that. Visually I can see the progress as they show a bar graph with one bar showing what I owed when I started, and the second one showing what I currently owe. I love watching that second one shrink! I often check in on the website just to give myself a boost when I'm having a rough day.

I share my progress with some very close friends who congratulate me and I beam with pride, yet I can't quite internalize what I've accomplished even though I'm watching my progress.

And yet, I'm writing down lists of things I need or want to accomplish, once I am no longer sending that payment.

I need to:
  • clean or replace the upstairs carpeting;
  • replace the dishwasher and stove;
  • redo the front flowerbeds and back garden;
  • buy new pots to transpot my houseplants;
  • attend to small household repairs;
  • rebuild my savings.
I want to:
  • continue to make my mark on my house with artwork and other furnishings that reflect me;
  • replace the curtains in my office as they're faded and need replacing;
  • replace the curtains in the guest room to match the other drapes upstairs as I have a theme going;
  • replace the living room sofa as my dogs ruined it;
  • replace my camera;
  • replace my laptop;
  • update my wardrobe by replacing the clothes that are worn out or stained;
  • live a little! Okay, maybe live a lot!
I think the fact that I'm making lists is proof that I know where I'm going, I know what's happening. And that's good.

I think the fact that I can't feel good about the success is a bigger issue. And that's not so good.

I think that comes from never feeling good about my successes before, because they were never acknowledged for what they were, "Very good, but you can do better."

I just don't know how I can do better than paying off all this debt. On my own.

Well, I can do better by learning to better live within the means I will have, while making the necessary purchases I need and want, yet not all at once. And by truly asking myself if it is a 'need' or a 'want' and if it's a 'want', can I live without it? Then act accordingly.

I can also do better by taking time to just sit with the emotion I get when I start to see what I make of my house and as I see my bank accounts grow. In other words, as I make each repair or purchase, just sit and reflect on the fact that now I can do it, I can make the necessary repairs, or desired purchases.

And then appreciate it.

I'll just take it one step at a time.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

My Oxygen Mask

I did something unusual this past week.

I took a sick day.

Yes, I really was sick. I rarely take them, even if I am sick; which is rare, anyway. My district gives me ten days a year, and they accumulate over time. One of my former principals once advised me to save them as we never know what may happen in the future, i.e., hospitalization, severe illness, etc. When my first partner died, I used three weeks' worth as bereavement, since my district didn't recognize same-sex couples then. Ever since then, I've been collecting them, yet taking only one or two a year for mental health. As a bonus, if I have enough days saved when I retire, I can cash them in for extra service time, meaning I can either retire a year earlier than my current target and get one more year's credit for a full 37 years credit, or retire as planned in 2020 and get one extra year for 38 years. So, there's a plus to not using my sick days.

I do see the need to take them once in a while, at least for my mental health, if not for my actual physical health. This class has been exceptionally challenging this year. It seems each class has been more challenging than the prior since my ex left me. Maybe it is no coincidence; after all, my divorce has turned my life upside down-emotionally, mentally and financially, so as I'm coping through the changes, I'm not as 'on' my teaching game. My colleagues tell me otherwise. The students are just getting more challenging in their behaviors, and that my class is indeed a 'unique' group.

It's very stressful to take a sick day, planned or not. I need to make sure my lessons are up to date, I try to have everything ready for the substitute to make his/her day as easy as possible. Plus, I like to find a substitute I can rely on. In my years of teaching, I've encountered many substitutes who are very competent, as well as a few who leave a bit to be desired. I hate returning after taking a sick day to find out that the substitute didn't cover any of my plans and I have to reteach what I left for him/her to do, or that my class ran all over the substitute. I like to have a regular substitute or two who get to know my students and who my students get to know. It's easier for all concerned. Therefore, I keep a list of my preferred substitutes. It took me a while to find one, as many of my preferred substitutes were unavailable for the day I wanted, a Monday, as I guessed a few other teachers wanted to extend their weekend. But, eventually I did. So, I called the Substitute Office and reported my absence for Monday.

I've been feeling down a lot lately. A number of things have contributed to my feeling down, and ultimately to my getting sick. I've felt overwhelmed with all the changes in my life combined with the difficult class I have this year, the general workload that accompanies teaching and the continued demoralization of the profession. I must have looked so bad that when I walked into the faculty room yesterday, a friend told me I looked like I was about to implode. On top of all that, a number of friends have shared some of their concerns with me and like a good friend I've tried to be there for them. And yet, there's one friend I've ignored a lot lately.


Once I got over the fact I was actually taking a sick day, and ignored the actual cold I had, as well as the teacher guilt: will my class be okay? Did I leave enough work for the substitute? Will he survive? I knew I'd done the right thing. Yes, physically, I still felt miserable, but I knew my class was in good hands, though I feared they would they run roughshod over him. But, isn't that what he's being paid for? To manage their day and try and maintain my educational program?

A friend once reminded me of what they say in those airline safety demonstrations, "If you're traveling with a small child or someone else who needs your assistance, put your oxygen mask on first, before assisting others."

So, I slept some more after I woke up to phone the school telling them I wouldn't be in; then, I read a bit, I wrote some, chatted with a friend, read some more, wrote a few more lines, continued chatting, took a nap, forced gallons of fluids, and noticed my general mood beginning to elevate ever so slightly.

I actually felt better emotionally. As this was a Monday I was taking off, I'd also slept and rested most of the weekend which contributed to my physical improvement. Yet, the one day off from this class did me a world of good. Okay, maybe a small world, but it felt good to take the day. For me.

Maybe I'll use my oxygen mask a couple more times before the end of the year. Just don't tell my principal.