Life has a funny way of taking unexpected turns, be they with health, finances, or relationships. Preparing for “life happens” (or sometimes euphemistically phrased “shit happens”) changes is not something most people do on a day-to-day basis. However, having back-ups and some flexibility can help roll with the changes that life brings along. My life is a good example.
In October, 2011, when my spouse and I were out raking the leaves in the back yard, The Spouse experienced an overwhelming sensation of vertigo, including weakness, nausea, and severe headache. I thought he was having a stroke. After a quick assessment, though, with no evidence of stroke symptoms, we calmed down and began a tortuous quest to figure out what was going on.
I won’t go through the gory details, but let’s say that the vertigo event was the first evidence of what was eventually diagnosed as an infection from not one, but two and perhaps three tick-borne diseases. It was a hell of a road for three-and-one-half years of illness, treatment, doctors, more treatments, and tons of caregiving. Neither of us saw this coming.
Fortunately, the spouse was quite healthy going into this, and his robust health helped sustain him during the worst of weight-loss (20% of body weight), fatigue, and inability to care for himself at times. Having a caregiver who knew a thing or two about infectious disease so he could fight battles when health insurance claims were denied was also important. Continuing to be persistent, finding appropriate doctors who helped, and keeping focused on the prize — return to stable health — was our goal.
This “life curveball” was (and is) the most unexpected event that either of us have ever experienced. But wait! There’s more!
Back in 2004, after a series of changes where I was working, I had enough. A reorganization was a disaster. New boss was a complete idiot and clueless. I had done a lot and had pretty much reached the pinnacle of completion of work-life achievements, so I decided to resign since there was little more new that I could do. That was a very hard decision, but The Spouse (then partner) remarked that it was a necessary step to preserve what remained of my mental health. (Yes, it was really “that bad.”)
In order to take this step, I had to have an emergency fund to lean on to sustain me during a time of unemployment. Since I voluntarily quit, I was not eligible to apply for or receive unemployment compensation from the Government. I had to begin paying for health insurance on my own, as well as cover my regular monthly bills (which were my share of routine household expenses and mortgage but no wallet-sucking sillyphone.) Fortunately, I had paid cash for my truck and motorcycle, so I had no other debt like car payments. I had to pay insurance premiums, but nothing more than routine maintenance.
During this “down-time,” I had savings that amounted to about what I would need to sustain myself for about 12 months if I had no other income. Experts advise a minimum of a 3-month “emergency fund.” I had built on that to a 12-month level over time, by “paying myself first” at every paycheck. I put that money in an account that was a bit harder to withdraw from, just to make it a very deliberate decision to use it, rather than spend it by transferring the funds electronically into a checking account to spend it on whims like, “OMG, I’ve gotta have those new boots.”
Some of you are saying, “you lived with your partner. He was working, wasn’t he? Why didn’t you just let him cover the bills until you found another job?”
That goes back to how each of us were brought up — to pay our own expenses and be financially independent, even if we did live with someone who had more resources at any given time than the other. Our parents were children of the 1930s Great Depression, and its lessons reverberated for many years and through and to the “grandchildren of The Great Depression.”
As I was enduring my new reality of not working and not earning income, and as I was attending to an elderly uncle and aunt who lived nearby, I decided (and with The Spouse’s support) to take whatever time it took to help my uncle (who knew that he was dying with about a year or so to live) to fulfill his bucket list, which coincided with the year following the year I quit work. I never had a more fulfilling non-paying job than to care for my Uncle Charlie and share good times with him, his wife, and also do what was necessary to ensure that Charlie’s life was as comfortable as it could be given his failing health.
When Charlie passed away, I continued to care for his wife as I had promised him, but also got back to work. Yeah, I found a job and returned to the work-world. (Turns out it was a “placeholder job,” but nonetheless, it gave me something to do, produce income, and provide health insurance benefits.)
However, these second curveballs of deliberately quitting a job that I had once loved & consumed me to choosing to remain unemployed while caregiving for my sweet old uncle, to sustaining my usual household routine and expenses — all of that — could not have been possible had I not planned ahead by contributing to an emergency fund and continuing to communicate and adjust my new life goals in conversations with The Spouse. I am blessed that he is such a great listener and stood by me always as I went through what was essentially my fifth decade passage (hearkening to Passages by Gail Sheehy).
I have had other curveballs of life too, from more job changes later to a motorcycle crash to having surgeries and broken bones and on and on … throughout it, though, I sustained a rather stable life by being prepared with savings in an emergency fund and shedding unnecessary expenses. I was able to take time off to do something completely unexpected and different, but turned out to be a calling to Caregiving. And I could do that because I prepared for the unexpected.
Some people go on through life thinking that nothing bad will happen. Kids in their teens and 20s feel invincible. That feeling of “it isn’t going to happen to me” continues in most people through their adult lives … until … something happens out-of-the-blue. That curveball hits on the downslide.
Instead of being knocked down, it is then that one pulls himself up by his bootstraps and leans on his personal resilience built through confidence, as well as financial resources built through deliberate planning — and succeeds.
Life is short: sh*t happens. Plan for your own resilience. No one else will do that for you.