Social distancing. Financial hardship. COVID-19.
We are living in unprecedented times. Yes, there have been pandemics in the past, but this is the first of the 21st century and despite your viewpoint on how this is being handled, I hope we can all agree that it is horrible and sad that anyone is dying from this sickness. So many people have been impacted by this physically, but many more – if not everyone – have been impacted emotionally.
Right or wrong, agree or not, many of us are currently the victims of the sickness and how our governments are handling the crisis. Businesses are shut down, some to the point of closing their doors forever. Some people are rapidly running out of money and resources. We are under the pressure of social distancing protocols. We are sad. We are alone. We are angry.
I am extremely fortunate to not only be considered an essential employee, but to be able to work from home (though I am working fewer hours and do have less income than usual). So my experience with the economics and physical logistics involved is unlike many others. But I am fortunate in another way. I was prepared for this in the strangest of ways: through my divorce in 2014.
I preface this by saying that I am not comparing divorce to COVID-19, but from an emotional and financial standpoint, there are many points that are the same. And, oddly, I am happy I had the experience of my divorce to help me deal with this crisis.
When my ex left, the income into the household was literally halved as our incomes had been very similar. But I had maintained the house, and with it the preponderance of living expenses (I also had our two children 60 percent of the time), and those expenses did not drop in half. While it was actually cheaper to keep the house and the mortgage than to find a home or apartment that could house my two children and me, the payment itself wasn’t small. I had to purchase a new-to-me vehicle that could accommodate the three of us (the car I was left with in the divorce was just a two-seater). There were several other expenses as well that I would not have expected in a divorce.
To maintain the home, transportation, and any semblance of a livable situation for the three of us, I had to not only dip into but use up all my personal savings. This included personal savings plans and I had to borrow from my savings plan through my work. These were monies designed to use when I someday retired, but I had to use them over the course of several months until I was able to get myself back onto a solid monthly financial footing. Overall, my finances were decimated. To this day I am still rebuilding what I lost over the course of the years following my divorce, and have little to show for it. But I did what I had to do, not so much for myself, but for my children. They were younger at the time of the divorce – aged 14 and 11 – and my entire life revolved solely around them and having them feel the impact of the divorce as little as possible. I wanted them to still feel that my house was “home,” and I believe I was successful at that, even if it meant making my own financial future uncertain. And I don’t regret making those choices.
The emotional breakdown I suffered from the divorce was unlike anything I had ever felt. I was angry and sad and hurt by something completely out of my control. And I was somewhat vocal about this on my private Facebook page. I had a lot of people support me and agree with my thoughts and viewpoints on what I was going through. But there were also those who were not as supportive. I endured many comments of “deal with it” and “get over it.” I also received some private messages actually filled with anger towards me. “Grow the fuck up.” “Quit being a pussy.” “You need to stop with the self-serving posts.” I never comprehended why people – some I had known personally since high school – felt the need to “put me in my place” over simply expressing my feelings.
I had my children, I had a few friends, but I had never felt so alone in my life. It took several months to work through my feelings and emotions – three years in fact. I chronicle much of that struggle and growth in my book “Worry Less, Live More.” It was a strange sensation seeing others happy with their lives, or being able to deal with a similar situation with much more positivity than I was able to muster. The emotional isolation was sometimes nearly unbearable.
Then there was the – albeit self-imposed – social distancing. I did not see many friends. And dating was not something I wanted to even entertain until the divorce itself was finalized (which took several months after the separation). Even though we were no longer together emotionally, I had just felt like I would be cheating on my then soon-to-be ex if I dated prior to the divorce. It was a standard I held myself to until the end. I don’t know in retrospect if that was good for me or not, but I still believe it was the right thing to do. Once the divorce was final, I was slow to try and date again. To this day I am cautious, holding myself and anyone I consider dating to a high standard, which is probably working against me in once again finding “that special one.” So here I am, going on six years now, and I’m still socially distant when it comes to dating.
So here we all are now, dealing with COVID-19 and all the bad stuff that’s come with it. But I’m weathering it. My skin is a bit thicker than it used to be and I’m emotionally stronger. I have a handle on my finances better now than I did before the divorce so – even though the condition isn’t ideal – I’m able to work with my situation and the hand dealt to me better now than I did before. When I see people who posit thoughts and opinions against my personal thoughts and feelings, I am able to be more levelheaded and take it more in stride.
I will get through this. And I have every faith that as a society we will get through this. Nothing is certain except that whatever happens, life goes on. The world continues to turn. There is still sun in the sky. And tomorrow always comes, regardless of whether I will be here to see it or not. But knowing all this gives me hope.
And in these unprecedented times, hope may be all we have.