Why Losing Nearly Everything Was the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me

This past year, I’ve called it quits on an epic level I never expected or anticipated — and not willingly.

I called it quits on my freelance career in an ill-advised foray back into the 9-to-5, hoping it would salvage our precarious financial situation.

My sanity called it quits on me as I quickly remembered why the 9-to-5 is not the place for me, while watching my sacrifice do nothing for our bank account because one income and a disabled spouse’s medical bills don’t play well together when said spouse is four years into a benefits battle.

I called it quits on working altogether when the depression this caused plummeted me into the scariest and most encompassing black hole I’ve ever experienced — and made me very nearly call it quits on existing.

We called it quits on our life as we knew it, selling our house as well as most of our earthly possessions except those that would fit in the two rooms we’re now occupying in my in-laws’ basement.

We also lost both of our elderly dogs within months of each other, lost the ability to foster dogs (one of the lead reasons I hung onto our money trap of a house as long as I did), lost regular contact with most of our friends given our new location, and very nearly lost our marriage to the strain major depression puts on a relationship. (The thought of losing my husband, and not the wish to stop existing, was surprisingly the one factor that actually made me decide all the other losses were worth whatever it took to get better.)

If we owned a pickup truck, we’d have been one lost pickup truck away from the worst (or best?) country song ever written.

It was also the year I called it quits on giving a flying fuck about anything but the stuff that really, truly matters to me on the most basic of levels. Because when you’ve hit your rockiest rock bottom, you lose that ability altogether. Not in a deliberate, “I’m self-improving” way, but in the way your vision focuses when you’ve realized your building is burning to the ground: suddenly you know there are only a few things worth grabbing as you hightail your ass out of there, and all the rest can go up in smoke for all you care.

Sometimes clarity comes through long, intensive years of thought and work and struggle. And sometimes you put in long, intensive years of thought and work and struggle, and you teeter-totter between flashes of clarity and long hauls stuck back in the mud of mundanity. And then it all goes to hell in a handbasket and there clarity it is, waiting for you in the rubble with a sad little shrug that says, “Well, I’d hoped we wouldn’t have to meet like this, but here I am anyway, so hello.”

So that’s where I am now. With a newfound perspective I’m quite thankful to have, although the means of obtaining it weren’t anything I’d prefer to go through again.

A Caveat Before The Feel-Good Bit

People jaw on a lot about the notion that from great pain and great suffering come great lessons, wisdom, opportunity, etc.

And that’s true. From the epic shit storm that has been the past year, I’ve emerged a wiser, leaner, meaner butterfly than any mofo that ever left the chrysalis.

But I make no mistake that it was, in fact, still shit, and even the most optimistic of results can’t make it otherwise.

I am grateful for the positive things I’ve mucked out of the past year, and happy with what looks to be the glimmerings of a new chapter dawning, but I still mourn all of our losses, and there are plenty of pieces of me that are the worse for wear and will be for some time now.

It feels frivolous and dense to brush over a dark period and move on to the bright side without first mentioning that pain and suffering suck super fucking hard, and if you’re smack in the middle of them, this post may help to show you there can still be good — but it’s not meant to diminish or make light of the bad you’re currently going through.

I’m all too sensitive to how hollow and crude wisdom like “everything happens for a reason” and “things will get better” sound when you’re facing down the barrel of the worst-case scenario you never wanted to learn you were strong enough to face. So let me say this now to anyone in the midst of that:

You have a right to feel the suck. You have the right to not want to fight right now. You have the right to hate, and resent, and mourn, and take all the time you need until you actually feel the new strength you’ve found in yourself. Because shitstorms are exhausting, and there’s going to be a delay before the lessons you’ve learned catch up to your ability to feel anything about them.

So go easy on yourself, and don’t let this sound like some sort of unicorns-and-rainbows attempt to gloss over how hard hard times can be.

Cool? Okay. Then, that disclaimed…

What Can Be Learned on the Other Side of the Suck

As Mark Manson (one of the few bloggers I still follow in my new lean, mean refusal to waste energy on anything unnecessary) put it perfectly:

“The truth is that transitions between the life stages are usually triggered by trauma or an extreme negative event in one’s life. A near-death experience. A divorce. A failed friendship or a death of a loved one.

Trauma causes us to step back and re-evaluate our deepest motivations and decisions. It allows us to reflect on whether our strategies to pursue happiness are actually working well or not.”

And that’s precisely what’s happened to my husband and I as a result of all the things we were forced to let go of this past year: they made us realize the seismic shift our priorities needed to take to ensure our next steps were happy ones. As a result:

We called it quits to most of our debt. We had built up just enough equity in our home that our proceeds from its sale were enough to settle some outstanding bills and wipe the slate clean. While it’s incredibly hard to keep afloat of things with our lopsided income-vs-needs equation, we are hellbent on only incurring debt again in cases of absolute, unavoidable need. (Read: medical treatment to keep us alive, etc.)

We called it quits on the “wants” we considered “needs.” My own health post-breakdown has made my return to the writing world much slower than I’d prefer. It’ll be a while before I’m back to the productivity level I was at when I left, and in the meantime, the only way to keep our restricted income on pace with our needs is to radically slash what “needs” we allow ourselves.

Fortunately, letting go of as much as we have this past year has made it pretty crystal-clear what “needs” we actually need. A bathroom and kitchen of our own, the discretionary income to go out to eat with our friends, the self-respect of having our own place? Things we really, really wanted, but not needs. Not when the shit hits the fan and it’s slash or burn.

Our relationship as a couple, our health (such as it is), the breathing room to let ourselves heal and re-strategize? Needs. The few things, actually, that we do need without question. All the rest is just noise, and expensive noise — financially, mentally, physically and emotionally.

We called it quits to the burden of homeownership. When we got engaged, buying a house just seemed like the next logical step in the timeline. It was what everyone did; it was “better than pouring money down the drain,” as the conventional wisdom goes. (At the time, I was still naive enough to believe in the validity of conventional wisdom.) And for a little while, it was nice. We had lots of space. We got lots of dogs. My husband had a man cave and a practice space in the basement and I had a home office with a door I could close.

But then he got sick, and sicker, and the collective monetary and energy burden of maintaining a home and property began to weigh much heavier in our minds than the fact that our monthly mortgage bill was roughly the equivalent of rent for an apartment in our market. Finally letting go of our house, sad as it was, was like letting go of a breath I’d been holding for nine years without realizing it.

Maybe things would have been different if we’d kept renting after we got engaged; maybe they wouldn’t have. We can’t really know, and we can’t beat ourselves up over what’s done. We can only know the path we need to take going forward, and start walking.

I called it quits on my pride. This may sound like a horrible thing, and it was that belief that this is a horrible thing that led us to the point of near ruin. I held onto the house for too long, I tried working a job I knew would break me, I kept working that job even when it was clear it wasn’t doing us the financial good I thought would make it “worth it”… all because I was absolutely dead-set on never, ever having to tell anyone (least of all my in-laws) I couldn’t handle the situation on my own and needed help.

My focus in life has been all about Making Things Happen and Never Giving Up and harnessing the sheer power of hustle and determination to make the impossible possible. To admit defeat felt like admitting my entire life had been a sham. But sometimes the impossible is just that. And when your own bullheadedness prevents you from being able to admit that, it isn’t strength or independence; it’s just foolishness.

I called it quits on any of the remaining fucks I gave about what a “successful” life is supposed to look like. Shitty luck and steep odds have landed us in a place I’m not happy with as a long-term situation. Of course I’d like to have our own kitchen and bathroom. Of course I’d rather be surrounded by dogs and have room for all my books. Of course I’d rather not depend on others for some of my most basic needs. Knowing this was the right step to take doesn’t make it any less painful or humiliating.

But I’m also, in an odd way, more content than I’ve been in a long time.

Because admitting we needed help and being willing to take a temporary loss has given us a chance to turn a page and start over. And I now that I know the only things our story really, truly needs to be a good one, I’m cautiously optimistic about what this new chapter will bring.

What This Means for CCIQ Going Forward

When I started this blog, I was a starry-eyed, gungho dreamer who owned a home, lived on two full-time incomes and the accompanying benefits, and had the ability to summon boundless energy through tenacity alone. (I envy that energy now. It seems otherworldly.)

Now, I’m six years older, battered and scuffed in some places I wasn’t before, and in circumstances I still can’t quite fathom because nothing in any of my planning or imagination ever prepared me for this sort of thing.

I am not the same person I was at the start of this, and my life is not the same life it was. I don’t say that in a grab-the-tissues, cue-the-violins way, but in a realizing-how-things-have-changed way.

So it only makes sense that this blog change to reflect that.

Expect more about simplicity, living outside the lines and radical choosiness in a way previous Quits have only hinted at.

Old Cordelia was all about escaping the cube, being an entrepreneur and hust-hust-hustlin’.

Cordelia today is more about tiny living, calling shenanigans on “the American Dream,” and figuring out what this whole hygge craze is all about.

I hope you’ll be with me for the newly reformulated CCIQ. I’m as curious as anyone to find out what’s in store…

Image:  Unsplash / Pixabay