Nobody notices the dirty dishes in the sink when the house is on fire.
When we are dealing with a crisis, we focus on the crisis and everything else fades into the background. All of the resources—energy, time, money, attention, etc.—that we normally spend on the every day whateverness of life gets redirected into that situation.
Nearly fourteen years ago, my son was born a few weeks earlier than expected, and there were lots of complications for both of us. His first three weeks of life were quite intense. It was as if the world stopped spinning. I was tending him around the clock, at first as nurses allowed in the hospital and then at home.
His father took time off from work to be there with us. Friends and family came to visit and offer their support. I didn’t run the vacuum or open any mail or worry about the grocery store. I was just with him, this tiny little baby that needed me, waiting for him to be better… until he was, and life slowly returned to a new now-I-have-this-baby-I-didn’t-used-to-have kind of normal. That was me, having a crisis. It came, did its crisis thing, and then went.
There is a huge difference between having a crisis and living in crisis.For comparison, consider a single woman whose 15-year old son has seizures. He’s been hospitalized for them on several occasions, each incident a crisis of its own. The doctors have discussed the possibility of brain surgery, which would be another incidence of crisis. For now, she is living with the reality that at any moment her son could have a seizure with enough power to end his life. That is living in crisis, if you ask me.
The problem is that crisis is supposed to come and go. We are supposed to pool all of the resources and direct them for a day, week, month, or even a year into that crisis to get through it. When a crisis turns into a state of crisis, it becomes a new normal. Instead of getting caught up later, it goes on and on and on. We adapt and cope in whatever ways we can to survive. Meanwhile, vitally important things can be left behind.
Look around. It’s easy to see that many people on this plant are living in crisis. For example, think about addiction and the way that it creates an almost permanent state of crisis for the addict and those who love them. Record numbers of people are fighting cancer, obesity, and other all-encompassing states of illness and disease. Being in a state of crisis like that can last for months or even years at a time, consuming not just the patient but also those around them. Not to mention the economy…
No, scratch that. Let’s talk about money. I meet people all the time who are not just having a crisis financially but are living in a state of financial crisis. It happens for a mind-numbing variety of reasons, some more understandable than others, and last for weeks, months, or years. It can last a lifetime, even generations if no one challenges the emotional inheritance.A few years ago, when the financial situation at my house went from having a crisis to living in crisis, we experienced some of the anticipated challenges – no health insurance, an epic battle with Bank of Satan to remodify the mortgage, cars that needed work we couldn’t do, etc. If a family of four humans and four cats could survive on humble pie alone, we would have been fine but… that’s just food for the ego, right? It was a tough time.
We experienced some other, more elusive consequences of our living in financial crisis. During the (nearly two year) remodification process, the bank almost sold our two bedroom condo not once but twice… accidentally. The first time, it was stopped within a week of the auction. The second time it was the day before the auction scheduled to take place on the courthouse steps. Both times we were completely compliant. The action was illegal but files in two different parts of the bank couldn’t be reconciled properly, and while one office was saying we were fine, the other was saying the house was being sold.
It went on for so long, the threat of losing the roof over our heads so real, that I could no longer discern the terror in my body. I thought I felt fine, that I was coping well. When the bank president’s office finally intervened, honoring our paperwork and finalizing the agreement, I felt that the weight of the world had been lifted of of my shoulders. I could suddenly feel how heavy it all was, how I lived with a constant state of hysteria inside me, because it was gone. That madness had become my new normal.
We all do this. When your partner has an affair, you become so consumed with the prevention of another affair that you forget to want for flowers, or romance, or laughter in your relationship. The crisis state leaves you almost incapable of rebuilding the relationship. When your kid has life-threatening seizures, all your energy goes into keeping him alive. You forget about going back to school for that degree. You forget about how much you love to paint. You forget to live, and enjoy the time you two have together.
And, when you don’t have money to pay your bills and put food on the table, you stop thinking about what you want. You stop wishing. You stop wanting, even for the basics, because there’s not a way to have them.
At least, that’s what I did.I didn’t notice this happening at first but a few months ago, I was coaching a client around her willingness to accept support from others. I challenged her to write a list of all of the things that she wants so that those who wanted to support her could find something on that list they were able to produce. She huffed and puffed and threatened to blow my house down, and then she did what any decent client of mine can be expected to do. She lashed out a bit, “Do you have a list? What do you want, Christy? If I want to do something nice for you, what can I do?”
Of course, I had no such list. I couldn’t even come up enough answers to pretend that I had a list. In fact, when I tried to come up with a few things, and there was nothing but a blank page in my head, the idea of it made me want to scream.
I felt afraid to want things. I felt afraid to desire things and experiences that I couldn’t make possible for myself, so I’d turned it off. If I want for nothing and I have nothing, then no hearts are broken… and I’m safe.
If you’ve been paying any attention, you know I call bullshit when I see it, even my own. So, together that week for homework both of us started a wish list. And you know what? That darn self-imposed coaching homework changed my life. Seriously.
I was so profoundly stuck in my living in crisis (poverty) mindset that wasn’t even open to the idea that the beautiful, inspiring, useful, and sometimes essential things could come to me. Writing the list was like opening a door of possibility. The act of writing it got my brain moving again, knocked my ego out from behind the controls, and allowed me to once again see the endless number of ways that my needs and desires are met by the universe.
It would be so easy for me to tell you that I have all of the secrets to changing your money mindset. I don’t. I could tell you that if you just hire me, it will all get better but I’m not that girl… or that life coach. It’s up to you to decide when and who to hire when you need support.
What I will tell you is that it is possible to change whatever sucks in your life, and this is one thing that made a huge difference in my recovery, in my journey back to a healthy financial life.
So, here’s my invitation to you… set aside a few minutes, right now if you can or later today if now isn’t possible, and start your wish list. Include whatever comes to mind – material things (both basics and luxuries), classes you’d like to take, emotions you want more of (love), experiences you’d like to have, places you’d like to visit, things you want to learn, time with certain people, new career, gift ideas, and things you’d like to get yourself.
Don’t bother with how those things might come into your life, just set that aside and write down what you’d like to have come into your life. As always, I’d love to hear from you. What made the list? Did anything surprise you? How does it feel to let all of those secrets out on the page? Remember to keep adding to the list as you think of more things… and I promise, you will!
Follow Up Post (meaning my world was rocked, too) here… Needs and Desires: Freedom From Shame
Photo Credit: LifeSupercharger via Flickr