Finding emotional balance on the brink of poverty: One mom's survival story
My life collapsed a few years ago after a divorce, and I found myself living on the brink of poverty. I had gone from an upper-middle class lifestyle where I was a full-time stay-at-home mom with 5 children to a situation where the kids and I were left homeless with $78 in the joint checking account.
Not only had I seen friends of mine go through a divorce, but I had also been divorced before, so I understood the process: you hire attorneys, you put all the financials on the table, you divide it all up, and then move on to a new, down-sized life.
Except things were different for me this time. Dramatically different.
After my husband and I decided to separate, he admitted that he hadn’t been honest about our financial situation, and in fact, all of our savings, investments, and retirement funds were gone…depleted over a few-year period.
He told me his Managing Director job at an investment bank had been affected during the financial meltdown in 2007, and he had gone from a 6-figure income to 1/10th of his earnings. He had been sure the markets would recover, so he bet the odds and covered our lifestyle with our savings and investments.
His expertise was in financial management, so I completely trusted him with all of our family financials and never really paid attention. I was too busy juggling 5 children and the homefront, so I let him handle everything else. He never gave me a household budget, so I spent as I thought appropriate, but I never understood the totality of our financial situation.
I will always remember that moment, while sitting in a café, when he put the financial spreadsheet in front of me, and the unbelievable reality of what I was about to face hit me. I could feel the floor give way. I was about to fall into a life as a single mom without financial support and no immediate career to turn to in order to support my children and myself, and I didn’t know what to do.
Panic set in. Then anger. I cried the whole way home. I had to come up with a plan…and immediately.
For the prior 10 years, I had functioned as the planner of all planners. I chaired fundraisers, organized class parties, booked and set all activities for family vacations, and managed the entire home calendar coordinating sports, cheerleading, tutoring, birthday parties, social events, and babysitters. I always had a plan, as well as a plan B, and a plan C. Life with 5 kids had taught me to be prepared.
But not for this. I was without a plan and was scared. How was I going to completely reinvent myself and become the sole breadwinner for my children and me?
Without a home of my own, my parents stepped in to provide a financial safety net for the kids and me. We moved in with them and for two years my father took on the financial responsibility of providing for the kids while I put my head down and began my transformation.
The kids made the adjustment very well. They were always very close to my parents so living with them was fun and exciting.
I had a more difficult adjustment. Moving home after 24 years of being on my own left me feeling stripped of my adulthood. I had to not only battle my own depression and anxiety, but I also had to combat a bitter divorce fueled by an ex-husband and an attorney who wanted to win at all costs.
My parents had their adjustments as well since taking on a family again with all of the chaos and financial responsibilities was not anything they had envisioned for their 60’s.
As I navigated through launching a full-time job search, working odd jobs to bring in an income, researching community resources for low-income families, and putting together all of the tactical steps I needed to get on my feet, I could not escape the 3 a.m. anxiety attacks or the pull of complete and utter hopelessness about my situation.
The emotional struggle was often unbearable.
Today, I’m proud to be the primary breadwinner for my kids and me. I only receive $200/month per child for support (about to be reduced due to my income), so the bulk of the financial responsibility falls squarely on my shoulders.
But I’m doing it. I have found success, and I no longer fear what tomorrow will bring.
If I had to pick the most important lesson I’ve learned along my journey, it would be to always believe in yourself and your ability to do great things with your life.
Keeping a positive, emotional balance is crucial in order to succeed when life has pushed you to the brink. You have to actively keep your mind in the right place in order to continue moving forward.
These 5 daily mantras and rituals helped me from falling into despair and giving up on my journey to an independent and self-supporting life.
5 Keys for Emotional Balance While Teetering on the Brink
1) Believe in Yourself. Period.
When I moved in with my parents, my sister-in-law sent me a coffee mug printed with the simple words, “Believe In Yourself.” I started every day with this thought in my head and came to realize the monumental importance of those words. If I truly didn’t believe in my abilities, why would anyone else believe in me? Start each day by putting that thought firmly in your head. You need to do this every morning, as your day will often beat it out of you.
2) Set Small Goals
Finding success while facing adversity is a critical piece of moving ahead. But, you have to start out small. Think big, but give yourself room to succeed. Trust me, I didn’t start out saying, “I want to land a 6-figure communications job in Silicon Valley.” My initial goals were things like finish 3 loads of laundry, send out 2 resumes, research 5 companies, or write 1 blog. And yes, sometimes, one of those was a weekly goal.
3) Choose Your Friends Wisely
Surround yourself with only those people who build you up and want to see you succeed. I am blessed with a core group of girlfriends who have been with me every step of the way. They have understood the silence, and they have continually reached out without judgment. They have believed in me as much as I as have believed in myself. It is important to have this support for the days when you are convinced you will never be able to find your way.
4) Learn to Ask for Help
Giving back and sharing what has been given to me has always been a cornerstone of my personality and a strong belief I hold about our collective responsibility toward each other. However, when my life shifted, I had to learn to ask…and it made me feel ashamed. I never had thought about the gift in receiving. For me, learning to ask for help was a challenge but something that allowed me to see the generous spirit in so many people and gave me the opportunity to practice gratitude in a way I never had. Reach out and don’t be afraid to admit you are struggling.
5) Deal with Your Feelings
When you are in survival mode, you don’t have time to deal with your emotions. However, the problem with burying your feelings is that they don’t go away. They ooze into other areas of your life. You may find yourself short-tempered or drinking one too many glasses of wine at night. You have to get a hold of your feelings. Why? Because once you get a hold of them, you can let them go. I had my ‘aha’ moment when a girlfriend sent me this quote attributed to Buddha: “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” I still have my angry moments, but I now understand the importance in letting them go.
This story originally appeared on MariaShriver.com, where you can find more information on the The Shriver Report.