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Learning to Trust My Instincts. And God.

You know how I had a horrible day last Monday? Well, things got even worse as the week progressed.

In my list of crappy things that happened that day, I did not include my oil change fiasco. I should stop going to this place because every time I go there, they screw something up. But this time, it could have killed me.

I heard a noise underneath my car after I got an oil change on Monday. At first I thought that they forgot to tighten the skid plate again, but after a few days it got so bad that I thought something was seriously wrong. Like my wheel was about to fall off or something.

I tried to put off going back until Saturday so that I wouldn’t have to miss any work, but by Thursday I was too scared to drive and decided to tow my car to the dealership. But when I asked the towing guy if he saw anything underneath the car, he said the skid plate was loose. So I took my car off the tow truck and drove back to the oil change place and told them to tighten the skid plate. And to renew my inspection sticker and rotate my tires. Even though this was the 3rd mistake they had made.

But the car was making the same noise after they supposedly fixed it. By then I had already canceled several appointments, and if I called the tow truck again, I would have to miss an entire day of work. So I took my chances and drove to the dealership, although it felt like I was risking my life to do so. But I didn’t know for sure. When I dropped the car off, a part of me was afraid they would tell me that they couldn’t believe I drove down there, but a part of me was afraid they would say there was nothing wrong with my car.

It turned out that the former was true. My wheel was barely hanging on, just as I suspected. And somehow, the mechanic who rotated my tires did not notice. All that time I was worried about spending more money, inconveniencing my clients, and being accused of overreacting. Now I am just thankful that I am alive. But this experience has reinforced some important lessons for me:

1. The “fool me once” expression is true. Giving someone a second chance is sufficient to prove that they won’t make the same mistake again.

2. I need to trust my instincts. I put my life at risk because I was afraid that I was making a big deal out of nothing. From now on, I’m putting my well-being first.

3. I need to have more faith in God. The night before I took my car in, I decided to trust that God would look out for me and to stop worrying about money. And even though my faith was shaky and my decision-making was questionable, God kept me safe on the road.

 Thank goodness God gives us multiple chances to believe.

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Smile: It Gets You Free Stuff. And Followers.

Appearances can be deceiving, even when you’re trying to be honest.

Today was a terrible day. I don’t want to waste an entire post on the details, so I’ll just hit the highlights:

1.  I spent 2 and 1/2 hours hanging out with the cable guy. This was after having a different cable guy show up at 8 a.m. yesterday and after multiple conversations and chats with customer service reps whose only troubleshooting advice is to tell you to unplug your cable box and turn it back on again.

2.  The office where I get my allergy shots randomly closes fairly often. So often that, to avoid getting into trouble, they’ve asked me to call ahead to make sure they are there. Which is ridiculous, because their job is to be there when the clinic is open. So today I didn’t do it. And guess what? They were closed!

3. I had to spend a bazillion dollars on a mattress today. OK, maybe not that much, but you know how I am about spending money. I have been sleeping on the same cheap mattress for 17 years. I only gave in because my back and hips hurt. And since I’m doing this whole self-care thing, I figured I should invest in a good mattress. Plus I had to get the reclining thing because of my stupid GERD, which was also expensive.

OK, that was a little more ranty than I meant it to be, but I had to give you some context about what my mindset was when I walked into the mattress store. When Mr. Salesman asked me how I was doing, I told him about the cable guy, the doctor’s office, and how he was robbing me of my savings. He told me that I didn’t seem like I was in a bad mood because I was smiling. Which is true. I’m always smiling, no matter how upset I feel. I told him not to be fooled.

After our transaction was complete, Mr. Salesman asked me what I do for a living. I told him I was a psychologist, and he was surprised by this. He said that all of the psychologists and psychiatrists he knew were super uptight, and I was super laid back.

What the hell? I don’t think I could have possibly had a worse attitude when I came into the store. And I’m pretty sure I’m just as uptight, if not more so, than most mental health professionals, given my various mood and anxiety disorders. Can my pathological smiling response really make me seem laid back and happy when I am actually pissed off? I don’t get it.

But I guess it’s a good thing. Because I made him give me every possible free thing he could throw in. Plus I told him that he needed to start following my blog. I also told him tonight’s post would be dedicated to him. So here you go, Mr. Salesman!

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The Ebola Rule

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I just spent $1000 on a new water heater. Yay! Not.

Yesterday I slept in because I was exhausted. By the time I willed myself to get up and take a shower, there was no hot water. Which was puzzling, because I live by myself and I’m pretty sure I didn’t use any hot water in my sleep. So I had to take a cold shower–which is probably not a big deal to all of you rugged, outdoor types who do stuff like bathe in rivers, but it is to me.

In order to put a stop to the part of me that was whining about how I’m being punished for sleeping in by having to take a cold shower, I reminded myself that it’s not like I have the ebola virus. I know Richard Carlson’s immensely popular self-help book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff claims that it’s all small stuff, but that’s not true. Ebola is a big deal. But in his defense, I don’t think he knew about ebola back then.

By the time I got home last night, I was hoping that the hot water problem miraculously resolved itself, but it did not. So I looked at my water heater and saw that it was leaking, which was probably not a good thing. But since I know nothing about water heaters, I called my ex, my neighbor, and my brother just to make sure, and woke up at least one of them in the process. Which I kind of feel bad about, but who goes to bed at 9:30? My ex, that’s who.

So then I was hoping that it was going to be some simple solution like flip this switch or turn this knob and it will all be OK. But no. I had to get a new hot water heater, plus a few other adjustments that are required by law. Something about having the gas line at least 18 inches from the pilot light. Which the plumber wasn’t able to do because of how they built the space. I wasn’t really listening that closely because then I would obsess about how I could have died in a gas explosion all this time.

Because I obsess about not having enough money for emergencies, I reminded myself of the ebola rule again while I was writing the check. I have refined it a bit since yesterday. It goes something like this:

Step 1: Do you have ebola?

If Yes: Oh my gosh! You are so screwed! Get to the hospital!

If No: Get over it and pay the man $1000.

So that’s what I did.

I realize that this may not seem like a deep and meaningful post to many of you, but the ebola rule helped me to put this little inconvenience into perspective, so it was kind of an epiphany for me.

Disaster Preparedness

Disaster Preparedness

A few years ago I went to the Titanic Museum in Knoxville. When you enter, they give you a card with a description of a person who was on the Titanic and you can find items related to that person as you walk though the museum. At the exit, there is a list of the people who survived and who did not. The people who were the most likely to survive were in first class because they had cabins at the top of the ship and had more time to get out, and the crew members because they were the first people to know that the ship was sinking.

I’ve heard of many similar scenarios, and the evidence is pretty convincing that having money increases your likelihood of survival. That’s one of the reasons why I obsess about having enough of it. I worry because I am single and don’t have someone else’s income to rely on if something were to happen to me. I worry because I am not able to save the recommended 6 months worth of salary in case of emergencies. I often have to use my savings just to cover my monthly expenses.

I am the kind of person who takes every safety recommendation to heart. When I went to the Philippines when I was 5, my aunt told me that I was teaching my 3 year old cousin about the dangers of playing with matches and how to stop, drop, and roll if you’re on fire.

After my first divorce, I realized that one of the reasons that I follow every recommendation about how to avoid disaster is because I didn’t have faith in God. I never had that exact thought, and I prayed every night that my husband and I would grow old together, but deep down I believed that making my marriage work was mostly up to me.

Part of the reason why I decided to go on the trip to Germany and Switzerland is because I realized that no amount of money can protect me from disasters. Since then, I’ve been telling myself what I tell my clients who worry about the future: I can have faith that whatever happens, I will have the strength to get through it.

I’m also taking a leap of faith that God will look after me if something bad happens to me. It’s a scary thing to do, because I know that some people lose faith in God in the face of tragedy. But God has always been there for me, so until I’m proven wrong, I’m going to keep on leaping.

Living with No Regrets

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Today I went to the Verizon store to order my new iPhone since the one I have mysteriously started acting up right around the time the iPhone 6 was released. So clever of them to make cell phones that only last 2 years so that you have to buy a new one when your contract is up.

Because I obsess about spending money, I grilled the Verizon guy about every extra expense. Will I have to pay for postage when I mail my old phone in for my rebate? Is there a catch to getting the rebate? Do you make commission off the $10/month insurance policy? Is it possible not to pay the $30 upgrade fee? He seemed to take my questions in stride, even though I accidentally drank his bottle of water.

Despite my dad’s protests about not going into a more money-making career like medicine, I chose psychology, anyway. I wish I could have willed myself to do something that made more money. I just had a student ask me what career I would have chosen if I had not become a psychologist, and I honestly couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do.

On the one hand, not making a lot of money means I don’t have to feel guilty about living an extravagant lifestyle. But I am still envious of my friends and family for being able to afford things like nice houses and vacations in exotic locations. Although I don’t need those things to be happy, I am still materialistic enough to want them.

I admit, some of my anxiety about money has more to do with my uncertainty about my worth rather than my paycheck. Like a yo-yo dieter who is ever at war with her body, my attitude towards spending ebbs and flows. Once I spent 10 minutes obsessing over whether I deserved to buy a $1 candle. (I didn’t buy it.) Other times I’ve gone on $800 shopping binges to rebel against that part of me that says I don’t deserve a $1 candle.

I am trying to find some balance between these two extremes. I am trying to reflect on what things are worth buying because they make me happy. I hate cooking, so I’ve decided that eating out is worth it. And I love tennis, so I don’t limit how much I can play based on cost.

Last night, after obsessing for 7 months about whether or not to go on a tour of Germany and Switzerland this summer, I decided to take the plunge and go. I can’t deprive myself of experiencing the world until I make more money, because I might not ever make money off my blog. Plus, when I imagined looking back on this decision, I figured that the likelihood that I would regret going was low, but I am almost certain that I would regret it if I didn’t go.

I like the idea of making spending decisions based on regrets. I think I’ll have a much better relationship with money this way.

Choices

When it comes to money, my mom and dad are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. My dad loves to buy things and does so often and freely with no regard for cost. My mom, on the other hand, doesn’t buy something unless it’s “half of half of half” off. Depending on the day, I can be on either end of the spectrum, but most of the time I am more like my mom. As a result, my relationship with money is plagued with anxiety and guilt.

For example, when my ex and I were at the airport on the way to our honeymoon, I bought a neck pillow because we had a long flight ahead of us. It had one of those tags that they have on mattresses that you aren’t supposed to remove under penalty of law, but it was annoying me, so I ripped it off, anyway.

Apparently this law exists for a reason, because after I ripped it off, all of those little white things started coming out of the gigantic hole I had created and were spilling all over the place. I had to throw the darn thing away. I was distraught about destroying my pillow less than 5 minutes after purchasing it and wasting $15. It was only fitting that I should have to spend the next 10 hours on the plane with an unsupported neck.

While I was berating myself for my obsessiveness, my ex bought another neck pillow and snuck behind me and put it around my neck. Unlike me, he did not obsess over buying stuff. This became a source of many arguments later, but at the time it was a sweet and loving gesture. He was not great with words, but this one action said everything I needed to know: it’s OK by me that you’re obsessive, and you still deserve a neck pillow.

When memories like these pop up, it activates the same cycle of thoughts. Am I doing the right thing? Is there anything more I could do to make things work? I go through the scenario of what it would be like if we got back together, and I always come to the same conclusion: things would be exactly as they were before.

I wish choices could be more clear-cut, like on a test. But life isn’t like school: answers are rarely 100% right or wrong. I have to remind myself that with any decision, there are things that I will lose. I can’t make the perfect choice. I cannot escape the sadness of having to give up the good parts of our relationship.

Memories like this one make me want to cry. But at the same time, I am also thankful. Even if things didn’t work out, he was a good guy. He was a good choice for many reasons. And even as we finalize our divorce, he continues to be kind and helpful. Not many people can say that at the end of a relationship.

Good Fortune

Money can’t buy happiness. Beauty is only skin deep. Age is just a number. It may be an illusion that wealth, beauty, and youth bring happiness, but I have to admit, sometimes it’s still a convincing one.

Earlier this summer, when I was stranded in South Carolina waiting for my car to be fixed, I had the good fortune of staying with a friend from graduate school and her family. At the time, I had been on this kick about destiny, so her daughter recommended that I read Holes, by Louis Sachar. It’s about a boy who is sentenced to work at a camp for delinquent boys for a crime he didn’t commit. Although it didn’t seem like it at the time, he was exactly where he was supposed to be. I was working hard to stay positive about my situation, so I wondered if my reading “Holes” was meant to be, as well.

I asked my young friend what else I should read, and she recommended Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin. It’s about a Chinese girl named Minli who goes on a long journey to try to change her family’s fortune. In the end, she learns that family is the greatest fortune of all.

Every year my college friend and I have an Inner Child Reunion. During our first reunion a few years ago, I introduced her to Sophie and she realized that she had a part of herself that was not allowed to play. So we make it a priority to get together for a few days over the summer for an extended play date. This year we could not find a mutual time to meet, so she decided to bring her son and meet me at my brother’s house because I had to babysit my niece. So it was a double reunion since she, my brother, and I all went to UVA.

As usual, my friend and I lamented over the very adult burdens of money, weight gain, and aging, but without the same level of obsessiveness as before. Perhaps it was because spending several days with 4 adults and 2 actual children, in addition to our inner children, left us with less energy for lamentations. Or perhaps it was because being together helped us to be more grateful for what we have.

I’m not gonna lie. We did not become enlightened beings over the past few days. We would still like to make a little more money, lose a little weight, and slow down the aging process. But we were also reminded that we are blessed to have family and friends who enjoy singing and recording “Let It Go” for hours on end, several days in a row. How many other people can say that? (I would post one of the videos but it’s kind of embarrassing.)

Perhaps it is no coincidence that I finished “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” last night, at the conclusion of our Inner Child/College Reunion. Grace Lin was right: gratitude brings good fortune.