Back in April I filed for unemployment benefits so for the last six months I’ve been getting weekly checks. They’re equivalent to about 40% of my salary but they help me pay the bills and, more importantly, mean I don’t have to dip into my 401K to stay solvent. In short it’s been my safety net. I’m not proud of it but neither am I ashamed as for 30 years I paid into the system and now, unfortunately, I need that money. It’s simply a fact.
Thursday I got the letter saying that my benefits had run out. I guess I’ve been the queen of denial because for some reason I thought they lasted a year. Yes, I know, it’s embarrassingly stupid- expecially for someone whose profession is research. When I finished reading I had to put my head between my knees because I thought I would pass out. Fear lodged itself like a lump of coal in my throat- hot, hard, choking. The physical sensations were as painful as the howling in my head and yet I couldn’t move. Some primal function in my brain stem felt that if I stayed very still this would go away. This, of course, means I have as much chance at survival as the bunny who freezes in the grass when the hawk flies over.
All my thoughts of the new adventure of turning 50 and perhaps changing directions flew out of my head in an instant. Whimsical, new agey paradigms are hard to hold onto when you’re afraid you can’t pay the mortgage. Or, you can but only by dipping into your retirement funds. Since I’m on a full emotional luge run to disaster I’ll remind you that my fears about retirement run deep thanks to my MS. There is absolutely no way to predict when my ability to support myself will be gone and when it is, it’s likely to go in a big way. Enough said.
Thankfully, after 45 minutes on hold the next morning I was told that I qualified for extended benefits so I have another 5 months but at a reduced rate. As I paced the house for those 45 minutes waiting to talk to a human I thought what it must be like for those who are about to be evicted, foreclosed upon, have small children to feed…so many people who have moved beyond fear to desperation. I’m not there and for that I’m grateful but saddened for all those who are.
My only (belabored) point here is how close to the precipice I feel. Getting that letter was like the ground giving way beneath my feet and knowing that once I start falling there’s no way to stop. Keeping fear at bay and staying open to life gets harder as the safety net gets smaller.