The Crisis is Over. Now What?

This last year has been terrible in many ways. Quite honestly, I never expected to live through anything like that. And I never expected to survive it.

The truly terrible thing about the Cov-SARS-2 virus (hereafter known as COVID or the coronavirus) is not that it is deadly or causes severe sickness in some situations. That’s regrettable, but it’s manageable. We know how to deal with that. The problem is that, by its very nature, it strikes right at the social meat of the world. Almost overnight, people became afraid to touch, afraid to come close to each other, afraid to even look at each other in some situations. If you encountered someone in the street, even wearing a mask, you’d give them a wide berth. People became distrustful of each other, because everyone you saw personally could be a carrier – or, even worse, you could be a carrier.

And not only did the social distancing and PPE requirements strike at the social meat of the world, the fact that people didn’t even agree on whether it was a problem, and how much so, was an issue. So some people refused to wear masks, and people who fell on different sides of that debate became enemies. For the purpose of this discussion, I don’t even care who’s right. The fact is that people started going at each others’ throats. Quite frankly, if you wanted to come up with a more effective way of turning people against each other, I can’t think of one.

Personally, I’m kind of an introvert, so it bothered me less than many. But it bothered me. I tried to be strong, I tried to be supportive, I was probably even annoyingly cheerful about it. But it took its toll. I was just affected by it as everyone else – there’s a silent, semi-deadly killer lurking behind the masks of every person I encountered, and will this be the day where I get sick and maybe die? Maybe I’m comfortable with social distancing by nature, but that took a toll on even me.

Now the crisis is over, at least for me. I am fully vaccinated. I don’t have to wear a mask many places if I don’t want to, I don’t have to be looking around every corner to protect myself from a silent killer, I can go places and do things and not worry. and, to be quite frank, I have rarely felt as emotionally fragile as I do now.

Crises do an interesting thing to people. While the crisis is going on, it’s really easy to push everything aside. You are focused, you are paying attention, you are doing what you can to help yourself and everyone you might care about get through it as unscathed as possible. It could be a global pandemic, but it could be a hurricane, or a tornado, or a fire, or a myriad other things. While the crisis is occurring, you push all of it aside.

But it will come due. It always comes due.

The crisis ends, and all the stuff you pushed aside comes to the fore. I was scared. I would never have admitted it at the time because it wouldn’t have done any good, but I can admit it now. I didn’t particularly want to get COVID and die in the way that people who get COVID die. It was kind of traumatic going into the grocery store and seeing everyone glancing furtively at each other, wearing masks, trying their hardest to just get in and get out. Seeing those lines of socially distanced people waiting to get into the grocery store hurt. It was one of the most scary times of my life, and just because the crisis is pretty much over for me doesn’t mean it was any less scary.

I don’t have any children, but if I had one, what would I tell them? For about a year, I saw the best and worst humanity had to offer (and in many cases, the worst thought they were the best and the best thought they were the worst). I saw society literally shut down. I saw people scared of their neighbor, scared of their friend, scared of their loved ones. I saw society reorder and reorganize itself in ways we still don’t fully comprehend. I saw a lot of fear, and not a whole lot of love.

I saw what happens when society collapses. Thankfully, not a full collapse, but it was a collapse nonetheless.

This is not something you can just turn off. I saw things I will be processing for quite a while. The crisis may be over for me, but what I saw, what I experienced, still hurts. And it will for quite a while. Watching the world turn against itself is something that will always leave a mark.

The Story of how I was once Nearly Homeless

I may have mentioned this, but I did not have a good childhood.

My father barely worked – partly through no fault of his own, but mostly through fault of his own. My mother had basically minimum wage jobs. We had federal assistance, and help from our church, so we never truly starved, but some days and weeks it was a close thing. We never truly had what we needed, and having something like, say, a bicycle or other toy was a luxury.

Basically, I grew up in poverty.

Now, I’m aware that the poverty I grew up in is not the same as, say, the kind of poverty that the Filipino girls I sponsor live in. We had an okay house, running water and electricity, etc. It could have been worse. But the point of this story is not to “check my privilege”, so to speak. It’s to tell my story. You want privilege checking, go to Mother Jones or some other crappy rag like that.

Anyway, that’s the environment I grew up in. But I was smart. And I got into computers. That was at the same time the smartest and stupidest thing I ever did. I won’t go into why it was stupid, but it was smart because it gave me the opportunity to make enough money to live on. And I have had a fairly decent career, all told.

But twenty years ago, I was just starting out in my career, and I made some very bad choices. One of those very bad choices was to take work at a rather unstable start up at the height of the dot com boom. I was not in the habit of saving anything, because in my background of poverty, I had never been taught good money management.

Let me stop here to tell you that there are two different kinds of poverty. They can both be extant at the same time, or it can be one kind or another. The first kind of poverty is simply not having enough resources available. This is found in some African countries, or other third-world places. This is the kind of poverty you usually think of when you think of poverty. It’s bad, and I have sympathy for those in that situation. But the other kind of poverty is self-inflicted – coming about because there is enough money and resources available, but those who are in it are making such bad financial decisions that they are unable to lift themselves out. The people who prioritize getting their nails and hair done over feeding their kids are an example of this kind of poverty. I have some sympathy for that, but much less so, because it’s something that they are able to lift themselves out if they choose to take the necessary steps. They don’t choose that.

I grew up in the first kind (though from my parents’ perspective, it was probably more the second kind), but the story I’m telling you is about the second kind. I made some bad decisions.

So the dot com boom came in 2001, and I wasn’t prepared. The company I was working at folded, and I’d saved nothing. I couldn’t find another job. I was completely mentally incapable of lifting myself out of that situation, so I ended up staying with some folks in Colorado Springs for a month while I tried to find a job.

I failed.

Now, with regards to the people I stayed with, they were nice to take me in. For that alone I will always express gratefulness, because they didn’t have to. But at the exact same time, they weren’t very nice people, and we clashed. I had found a minimum wage job at a local buffet-style restaurant, and then they kicked me out. I came home and found my stuff all packed up, they gave me a little bit to get a motel for the night, and I was gone.

I managed to somehow make it to Toledo to live with my parents for a few months, and then slowly started to drag myself out of that morass. It took a very long time, and I continued to make similar mistakes (but thankfully with much fewer consequences) over the next twenty years.

I was literally one day from being homeless, and it is pretty much literally by the grace of God and one or two of his followers that I was not.

I don’t ever want to repeat that.

So lately I’ve been trying to dig myself out f some bad financial habits. I’ve started making a budget, which I’m not terrific at keeping, but I’m holding to it pretty well. I’ve saved a very sizable nest egg – enough to keep me in my style of living for nine months to a year. I have a significant 401(k) account as well that I’m contributing frantically to. I’m in better shape financially than I ever have been.

And I’m utterly terrified.

See, I’m not really learning how to manage my finances because I want to take the next step in life – though that is one reason and certainly the one I’m working towards. I’m learning how to manage my finances because I don’t ever want to end up one day from being homeless again. Even the idea scares the crap out of me. I am terrified of someday running out of money and having no choices or options other than those that I simply can’t imagine making.

I want to invest, but every time I do, I’m terrified of seeing that number drop. I want to make money, but I’m terrified of losing it. I want to be financially independent, but I don’t know how to get there and I’m terrified I’m going to screw it up and end up in the same situation I was in twenty years ago.

Right now, I’m doing okay. I think I’m going to do okay for a little while. But that can easily change in literally a heartbeat, and what do I do then?

I’m scared. I don’t really know what to do.

But this is what happens when someone who has lived in poverty their entire life gets some money and has managed to shift their mindset just enough to know how to keep it and maybe even grow it a little bit. All of the old traumas come back, and what them? Guess I have something to work through.