A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way

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When Social Media Hurts More Than It Helps

Without a doubt, this year is the most difficult year I've ever had. I say this knowing that other people have gone through MUCH tougher situations than simply having to isolate in their houses with their kids and spouses, but from a mental health perspective, it's wrecked me. 2020 feels lonely, hard, and sad. It feels like purgatory, suspended animation, lost time. I try to identify when things will probably start to get better, and I can't. 

Because I'm an introvert and generally like being alone, I always assumed that I'd do just fine if I had to become a hermit. But a) actually, I never get true alone time anymore, since all of us are always at home and our home is rather small, and b) I underestimated the importance of my infrequent interactions with other humans outside of my family. Although I've never been big on social events, I enjoy being out and about. In the past, things like going to the local brewery on the weekend and sharing dinner every couple of months with my book club filled my cup and made me feel like I was part of a community. Now, even those simple activities are fraught with worries about mask wearing and whether the tables are far enough apart and is that person coughing because of allergies or because of COVID?!? 

Thanks to the pandemic, I feel like I'm living on an island. It's a perfectly nice island - at least I'm ON an island and not on a raft out at sea getting circled by sharks - but I'm sick of the coconuts and the incessant burny sunshine. I want to get off now, please. 

In some ways, social media represents lights blinking from the other islands, reminding us we're not actually alone. Since March, I've spent plenty of time in digital communion with friends on Instagram and Twitter. It's served as a sort-of substitute for what I'm missing in real life.

Instagram isn't much of an investment for me. I like the pretty photographs and watching people's kids and dogs grow up. But it's kind of shallow and silly, and I wouldn't be particularly heartbroken if it went away.

Over the last four years and especially in the last eight months, Twitter has become my social media venue of choice. There, in the personal finance corner of the site, is where I found encouragement and inspiration when we started paying off our debt. It's where I discovered that it's okay to start saving before paying off every loan. It's where I've been able to share my blog posts and generate some traffic. 

I've made real friends there. I've learned a ton about various issues and gained new perspectives. It's also the one place where I can find people who are still taking the pandemic seriously. In many ways, Twitter offers the community I need right now.

But lately, being on Twitter also just makes me feel bad. Like, really, really bad, at a time when I don't need to feel any worse than I already do. 

Some of it has to do with politics. Given that it's election season and every day is like a new circus act with this administration, there's a neverending flow of panicked commentary on Twitter (which makes sense, I suppose, since Twitter is so popular with reporters and politicians). It's easy to get sucked in and suddenly find myself holding my face and screaming, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" (It often is falling these days.)

So yes, the politics alone means that scrolling through Twitter can be anxiety-inducing.  

But the political posts aren't what's making me feel bad about myself. Weirdly, it's the money Tweets - the whole reason I started a Twitter account in the first place - that are gutting me.

To be totally transparent, it is hard to surround myself with so many people who are doing so well right now when it feels like we're not. Does that make me a jerk? Maybe. An honest, vulnerable jerk.

Like I said, this year has been hard. At some point down the line, I'll probably go back to therapy and unpack all of the trauma surrounding the pandemic, and there will be a whole host of issues to pull out of the bag I've been lugging around, the bag that feels heavier and heavier every month: the general impact of the pandemic on our society (I will never, ever get over the number of people who have needlessly died), the fact that my partner quit his job because he didn't feel safe going back to work, the way one of his coworkers tattled on him before he was ready to resign, the major drop in salary that has us feeling like we're on a gut-churning financial roller coaster, the weirdness of freelance income, the fear surrounding health insurance (the expense, whether we will even have access to it, etc.), the job applications that get sent out and seemingly disappear into nothing. The uncertainty about what we'll do when our lease ends in May (if we can't afford to live here, where will we go?) 

The sense that we're trying really hard and getting nowhere. 

The constant, gnawing feeling of failure.

There's so much in that bag, and the only way to deal with it is to put it down in a corner and ignore it so that I can get through each day as best as possible without losing my mind.

I keep treating Twitter as if it's some kind of balm to all of this - it's where my friends are! - but as much as I love the Twitter personal finance community, I've come to the conclusion that it's better for me to limit my time there. On Twitter lately, all I can see is what other people have that we don't (job security, fair compensation, health insurance, travel, homes they own in full, second and third rental homes, yards, early retirement). It seems like everyone else has their shit together. It leaves me feeling like a total loser. 

That's not on anyone else. The comparisons are all on me, but what can I say: I'm human, and humans make comparisons. Admitting to being a "grass is always greener" type seems to be something of a taboo, but I've watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix and learned that companies like Twitter and Instagram feed off of this innate tendency. There's no way I'm alone.

When I step back and look around my Twitter community, I realize I am in a room full of exceptional, financially well-off people who are living well outside the norm. I've spent so much time in that room now that I've started to believe everyone's lives are like that - or if they're not, they should be. My sense of what is normal has been completely recalibrated by Twitter. Although that was kind of helpful a couple of years ago when we were doing well financially, right now, it isn't. I don't belong in that room.

I've started limiting my time there. Deleting the app from my phone seems to help. Without it, I can go for whole days without checking my Tweet feed. The more time I'm away from it, the less loser-y I feel, the more clarity I have, and the easier it is to recognize what's going well (or at least okay) in life. On the flip side, I also feel more isolated. I've tried creating lists, blocking people, muting people, all of the typical things one does on Twitter to make it more tolerable, but there's only so much I can curate.

I don't know if I'm going to leave entirely. Probably not. I think once things aren't as difficult, whenever that is, it'll be easier to be back on Twitter.

Leaving comments open for now, but as always, I am really not looking for advice, so please don't give it. I'm just sharing my experience as a) a form of catharsis and b) a way to reach out to others who may be feeling this way.
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Everything Is Difficult And I'm Tired

Let me preface this post with the following disclaimers:

1. Yes, I am grateful for the things I have. Requisite gratitude list available upon request. 

2. Yes, I am genuinely happy for your successes and happiness. 

3. Yes, I understand that there is good everywhere. Cute dogs and puppies and kittens and children and ice cream, yaaaayyyyyy. Also The Great British Baking Show.

4. Before someone tells me I just need to try harder and think more positively, please note that at this point in 2020 I am practically the second coming of Tim Ferriss. I am controlling and maximizing and optimizing everything I possibly can. I work out for 45 minutes every day, write for 45 minutes every day, submit 2-3 job applications every day, check my bank account balance every day, get outside every day, drink 70+ ounces of water every day, eat a healthy diet every day, and have all of my work done before noon EVERY DAY. 

Moisturizer and sunblock? Yup, every day. 

My house is as tidy as it's ever been. Oh, and I stopped drinking, which means I'm getting 6-8 hours of high-quality sleep every night (but honestly, I question the sanity of this decision).

5. I'm fine-ish, so please don't tell me to find a therapist. Also, I can't afford a therapist.

Now that we have all of that out of the way for the bootstrapper crowd, the main thing I want to say is that I'm tired of pretty much everything in this fucking timeline. Done. 

I am tired of all of the extra emotional labor that has come with 2020.

I am suuuuuper tired of the emotional labor required to explain emotional labor to people who don't get it.

(I'm not alone. Every woman I know has had it.) 

(Really cannot overemphasize how much I want to dump the emotional labor off a cliff.)

I am tired of being in my house all the time.

I am tired of the way I talk to my cat like she's a person who wants to listen to me, because I'm 85% sure she doesn't like me as much as I like her and 99% sure she wants me to find someone else to yammer at.

I am tired of feeling like I can't trust other people to be responsible and protect the health of those around them.

I am tired of hot weather in autumn.

I am tired of my allergies.

I am tired of the McMansion construction next door.

I am tired of living in a place that I love but can't afford and will never be able to afford.

I am tired of this stupid job search, tired of not hearing back about almost all applications, and tired of feeling like a failure even though I'm a hard worker with a Ph.D.

I am tired of landing in shit jobs with shit managers and shit policies.

I am tired of feeling expendable at work.

I am tired of heartless, incompetent people earning more money than the good, competent people below them.

I am tired of the personal finance people who have so much cashola that none of these events affect them and therefore they're confidently spouting the same tired, smug advice circa 2012 (and often getting paid for it).

I am SO TIRED of worrying about money.

I am tired of worrying about healthcare and health insurance.

I am tired of feeling like I'm working hard to get nowhere.

I am tired of terrible men and their terrible behavior and their incessant talking. Please, man, SHUT UP.

I am tired of people flying their racist, sexist, misogynistic asshole flags and then trying to justify it with gaslighting tactics, as if we can't see what you're doing, CHAD. 

I am tired of rich people having to make zero sacrifices while the rest of us make alllll the sacrifices.

I am tired of the way this pandemic has been handled. It has caused so much suffering - the illness itself, yes, but also the economic, social, and personal fallout.

I am tired of people dying needlessly and tired of the way we're now acting like it's no big deal.

I am tired of crying as often as I cry now. It makes my eyes puffy. Tired of that, too.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk. Fuck 2020.

Rants of commiseration welcome. Lectures will be deleted.

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