Finding Support: When you Just Don’t Know Who to Turn to

I’ve been writing a lot about how I wasn’t supported and in some ways, I still lack emotional support. Luckily I’ve come to a place where I no longer blame those who neglected me. But that sadly doesn’t ease the pain of the lack of feeling supported. I’d like to explore this area of our relationships. The place where we are looking for help from each other and maybe coming up short, but also in connecting as well. What does it (connection) look like and how do we foster the sparks that build them. Let’s start with where it isn’t found.

For me, there wasn’t any emotional support, connection, intelligence or recognition of, happening at all in my family. From what I’m able to tell as for why this was the case, there was just too much trauma floating around in our family. All of it being covered over, denied and ignored. And without support from each other, it would be crazy to dive into all of our badly hurt and unattended, traumatic feelings alone.

Dissociating From Our Emotions

So we escaped from one another. The most prevalent ways we did this was through drinking alcohol. Ways to numb ourselves from what is happening in ourselves in real time while avoiding the emotions we recognized in others that remind us of our own hurt selves. We covered over what the others in our lives were feeling by telling them how they were/are feeling also. This way, we were safe from the unexpected ideas and opinions of others while not challenging our views about what we thought our relationships and ourselves should look like. We wanted control over the others experiences of us.

This was one of the ways we avoided change and growth. Another way was avoidant, dissociative behaviors. Drinking for sure is one, but I’m mostly talking about watching t.v. and reading as a way to escape from our own and the emotions of others. This type of self absorbed behaviour is a way to disconnect from the relationships in our lives and skirt personal growth at the same time.

And as maddening as it is, to be unable to connect with a loved one emotionally, it’s most likely not their fault. This was a hard pill for me to swallow. I had a series of emotional breakthroughs, resulting in my emotional world being more clear and well defined. But when I returned to those I had lost so much time with in neglected relationships, I realized that they were in the same place I used to be. Unable to recognize and attune to their emotional worlds.

This explains why I was never able to make the emotional connections I was seeking, but is still a difficult place to be left. So the question is, how do we start to rebuild the connections we’ve lost so long ago? Or build new ones if we’ve never had them in the first place? Short answer, I don’t know. But, there are somethings I’m trying in hopes that I can start building my relationships a fresh.

Reconnecting to Ourselves and Our Relationships

This has been especially difficult work for me to do. Seeing as how I’ve had no guidance or role models in the relational realm. Everything I’m doing is either something new I’m trying, or blind advice I’ve received from a trusted therapist or source. Here are some of the ways I’m practicing personal connection, in hopes of fostering healthy connections.

Being Consistent

This is an important one for me. I had zero direction from those who were supposed to be there for me in relational role modeling. Which means that I had no one to guide or model for me how to connect in a healthy way. I either took on too much responsibility for the other person, or none at all for myself. Now that I’ve recognized that I’m in control of my half of my relationships, I’m learning to be accountable for myself in them. This is also a standard I set for those I’m in relationship with. They need to be accountable for themselves as well.

For example, I have a standing date with a friend of mine for mondays. We’re both off during the day and it seems a good time to connect. But we’ve been getting a little lax about our Mondays as of late. This usually happens by not acknowledging our standing date and letting them go by without making plans.

So, I’ve set some new boundaries in the relationship. This is a person I want to spend time with, but if the relationship is one sided, i.e. one person doing all the work, it isn’t a relationship between two people. So the new boundaries are, every Monday, one of us will make a plan for the next Monday and we’ll switch off weeks. This way, we both have an equal role in making the relationship work. Instead of one person doing the work and building up a resentment about the lack of shared responsibility. Aka, being actively involved in the relationship.

But this doesn’t come naturally for some people. For those of us who have been severely neglected, the most basic relational maintenance and upkeep are a mystery. This is why practice, patience and persistence are of the utmost importance. We sometimes need these schedules to remind us that there is work we need to do. Because if all you’ve ever looked after was yourself, then there’s a good chance you won’t be able to tell what the subtle nuances are that your relationship with another needs some attention.

This is especially true for those of us who have learned to neglect our own needs. If you were neglected and abandoned as a child, there is no way to gauge how you are being treated. If you haven’t had any guidance, this type of attunement is like putting a puzzle together blindfolded. This is where self-care becomes an important aspect of finding support as well.

Self-Care as Guidance

Showing up for yourself is more than just a trend. It’s a way to give yourself love and respect. To find out who you are and what your likes and dislikes are outside of the expectations of others. In the family I grew up in, we were constantly cutting each other down for not fitting the mold we thought they should fit into.

This was a terrifying and difficult place to try to practice self-care. In fact, it was impossible to do so. We were so busy tending to our wounds, the ones that were being inflicted by one another, that we had no space to nurture the small things that brought us joy. In most cases, we didn’t even know what those things were.

But these were the places of self discovery and care that needed our attention the most. For example, one of my caregivers would tell me I was “fat and lazy” constantly. In a way, they were correct. I was overweight and I had a poor work ethic. But I couldn’t have been more than 13 at the time. Any lessons I learned about weight management and the ability to be productive I learned from them.

So instead of recognizing that we collectively had a weight problem and that we did for others as a way to feel needed and simultaneously resenting those we did for, we called each other names. This however, made everybody feel ill at ease. We were all just reacting to whatever emotion was coming to the surface without asking ourselves, “how can we change the way we’re interacting that won’t result in pain?”

This is where being taught self-care would have been a way for us to heal these wounds and be more at peace in our own skins, together. By learning how to nourish ourselves in healthy activities and connections, such as exercise or how to manage a healthy amount of responsibility and boundaries, we could have framed our goals in a more positive outlook instead of tearing eachother down for not reaching a most likely impossible standard to begin with. The end result being, building up self-confidence and self-worth. Having a sense of being intrinsically valuable. This is the power that self-care holds if fostered.

Reaching Out Often and Fostering Relationships

Another way I’ve been reconnecting with my relationships is a pretty straightforward one. I’m actively looking for ways to connect with the people I’m choosing to be a part of my life. This may seem like a no brainer but it can be somewhat counter intuitive.

When I was in my early twenties and thirties, my friend group was already incorporated into my daily routine. I worked with a fair amount of them, I lived with a few and we usually drank at the same bar every night. This made it easy to find all my friends when we weren’t playing video games together.

But the older we got, the more self contained our lives became. We no longer shared apartments and seldom crashed on each others couches. We worked separate jobs and moved to different cities. These are all natural events over the course of a friendship, but if you let them slip by without recognizing that new effort needs to be expended in order to keep the relationship alive, you could end up as I had. With very few friends.

I found myself without friends to share exciting news or people to grab dinner or lunch with. It was a lonely place that I realized I had built for myself. So, I started where I was. The few friends I had left, I made it a point to stay in contact with them. And the more I reached out, the more they reciprocated. I even began reaching out to people I hadn’t spoken to in decades to find that we were able to pick up right where we left off.

These were welcome connections indeed. I now make it a point to stay connected with the people I’ve been cultivating a relationship with. We share recipes we’re cooking, hobbies we’re interested in, visit interesting and new places together. Make future plans, things to look forward to. Everything you’d expect from a healthy friendship.

And the difference between the relationships of my past and those of my present? In the present, we are all putting in the effort to stay in touch with and foster these connections. The bonds are stronger now that we make the effort to take an interest in what the other is doing. Our common shared interests can no longer be summed up in the phrase, “can you pass me a beer.” Not that there’s anything wrong with sharing a drink together. Only drinking shouldn’t be at the center of the occasion or relationship. Celebrating the friendship should be the most important part.

Sharing Intimacy

There was a lot of time spent in my family on how we thought we needed to act to feel acceptable. As though we needed to live up to some impossible and ever changing standard. One that I’m not even sure where it came from or how we came to a consensus on it, if everybody was so uncertain of themselves all the time. It kind of blows my mind a little to think about the origins of our standards!

But we had them none-the-less and they did a lot of damage in our relationships. So shedding those standards by first recognizing them, and actively working to deconstruct them through self-care was imperative to heal in them. Some examples of impossible standards are, perfectionism, always being agreeable and never complaining. Fostering healthy connections is my new goal to living a more connected life with healthy friendships.

And hopefully, if we work on these places of our relationships with care and attention, we’ll create a shared sense of intimacy. A place were we can open to one another and share our goals and aspirations. A place where it’s safe to ask for and receive help. Without judgement or ulterior motives. To ultimately be ourselves.

It’s difficult work, but it gets easier the more we do it. And the payout is, we have healthier, stronger and self-sustaining relationships. Win, win. So what’s holding us back from connecting in these healthier ways? Take a look at some of your friendships and see where there may be room for improvement and start there. But equally as important, don’t forget to celebrate the places where your relationships are already going well. It’s good to recognize the work you’ve already put in. Peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Cast iron classical” by Darkroom Daze is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When you Feel Unworthy of Love: How Your Relationship to your Parents Shapes your Ideas of Being Loved

This is kind of a big topic. I don’t think I’ll be able to give it the care it needs in about two thousand words, but I’ll go over some of the basics and my thoughts on the subject. I had a life’s time worth of feeling unwanted and unloved by my caregivers. And I know I’m not alone in my experiences. I’ll go over some of the ways my need for love was neglected, how it mirrored the relationships I found myself in later in life and what I’m doing now to help reverse some of the feelings of unworthiness around feeling and being loved.

Like I said, it’s a big topic. But hopefully some will recognize the patterns I’ve experienced in my relationships and not feel so alone. Then we can begin to change. Let’s do some growing together : )

I Love you, Or do I

When I was a child, both of my parents were somewhat affectionate. I’ve said before on this blog that my childhood, up until I was eight, wasn’t all that bad.

But things changed abruptly when a family member lost a battle with cancer and our family fell apart. Though their death only hastened the inevitable. Our family had been on the decline for a while. And when we were put to the test with the death of one of our most independent members, we failed.

We were inconsiderate of one another’s emotional states and needs. We didn’t know how to communicate openly and honestly with one another about how we were feeling. We were always guarded against the next cutting remark one of us would inevitably make. Angry outbursts in the forms of yelling and breaking things were the norm and sex appeal and being attractive were prerequisites for approval and feeling loved.

We were so oblivious to each other that one of my caregivers slammed my thumb in a car door as I was getting out of it, and walked away from me while I was screaming to her for help. I was only four at the time, but these emotionless displays were the norm for our family.

So when we told each other that we loved one another on a semi-frequently bases, what was the message we were supposed to glean from our displays of affection? This was confusing to say the least. Sure, families have disagreements and I’m not trying to say that we can’t get upset with, or be irritated or even angry with one another.

But the underlying current of most of our interactions were based in passive aggressive judgements with cruel intentions. This was a cold and fearful environment to grow up in and one that’s taken decades to wake from the trance of, as well as all the unhealthy message I was being sent. The main message being, “I’m saying I love you because I’m supposed to. It’s my job. But I’m truly and really disappointed in who you are as a person and I’ll let you know every chance I get.”

As a child, I had no idea what to do with this reality I found myself in. I was desperately seeking the approval of my caregivers, only to be thwarted at every turn, every attempt. The slightest comment was taken as prime directive to feel a part of the family, feel wanted. I once made fun of a Doors song that was playing on the radio on one trip to the mall because I wanted to gain the favor of my caregivers by making fun of my other caregiver. They liked music from the fifties and was divorced from the caregiver I was currently with. The Doors sounded like something my caregiver would have liked, so I made fun of them hoping to feel belonging at someone else’s expense.

I was then chastised for not knowing who The Doors were. So I studied Jim Morrison in an attempt to be more like him and hopefully more accepted by my caregivers at the mere suggestion that he was more liked in the family than I was (also my caregivers were living like he was to a lesser degree). This did not bode well for my future life choices. But there was so much contempt flowing so freely in my family, that seeds of love didn’t stand a chance to take root.

Choosing Relationships When you Don’t Know How to be Loved

So no surprise, later on in my life, when it came time to choose a partner I chose people who would always keep love at a distance from me. I did this because it was what was modeled for me, but also because giving and receiving love freely was something that was scary to me. I should also mention that I was also keeping love from my partners. Mostly because I didn’t know how to give love.

There were feelings of fear, getting hurt again by those whom I would let in, but there was also a sense that I was playing with fire. If I didn’t know how to handle letting in love, I would most definitely get burned. By letting in too much too soon, and without knowing how to take care of myself or rely on my resources when the risk of loving got to be too much. Or even know what my resources were. This is a vulnerable place to be.

And being vulnerable while sitting with that discomfort was not something I was willing to do. Nor was it something any of us were willing to do, family or partners. We couldn’t admit that we had been hurt by one another and made it a point to act as though none of what was happening mattered all that much. Even though it was tearing us apart on the inside and from each other. This is what is meant by the phrase in Duran Duran’s, Ordinary World, “pride will tear us both apart”. That’s exactly what it had done to us. These were the rules we had adopted from our families.

Not only that, but we were constantly unsure of ourselves. Where we stood with one another. How we were held in each other’s regard. The uncertainty of whether or not we would be rejected again brought with it a fear as well. It also eroded communication. For me, there was a strange side-effect of being scared to connect, and it was of always having to be right.

When I was being ruled by the fear of being connected, I felt as though I always needed to be right, in order to avoid any uncertainty or ambiguity. If I was certain all the time, especially of others emotional states and intentions, that wouldn’t leave any room to be in the suspense of unknowing, which also made me feel unsafe. So I was vocal about my opinions and projected my observations onto others. It was an unhealthy way of dealing with the turmoil of the emotional world I was avoiding, but it was all I had modeled for me at the time. I just didn’t know any better. Nor the people I was with.

So we perpetuated the cycle of feeling hurt, projecting that hurt onto one another and were hurt all over again in the process. And these were the types of relationships I sought out. Mostly because they were “safe” in that they wouldn’t push me to take a look at the fear that was lying underneath the pride and judgements. Once I broke from that cycle, things got a lot stranger before they got better.

Breaking From the Cycles of Fear, Pride and Judgement

Breaking that cycle was some of the most difficult work I’ve ever had to do. And most of the work I didn’t even realize I was doing until I felt as though I was in over my head. The first thing I needed to do was stop running from all of my relationships. Because relationships were where I would learn the most, about connection in healthy ways.

I wasn’t able to stay locked in my room by myself, hoping to become a healthier version of myself. There’s only so much work we can do on our own before we need to start practicing what we’re learning. The old adage, “start and accept where you are,” is something that was true for me. I was running for so long, that I didn’t have the time to stop and accept where I had gotten myself. For me, it was a lonely place when I realized I had alienated myself from almost everybody I knew.

I didn’t realize the gap I had left in people’s lives when I left either. I didn’t even realize that I mattered to that many people, or to anybody really! I was so used to looking at myself through the lens of neglect and how I had been treated growing up, that I didn’t even think that I mattered all that much. But this was not the case. I had hurt a lot of people by leaving them, and myself the ways I did. And accepting my hurt and how I hurt others, and then trying to reconcile with those I hurt, was what helped me to learn some much needed humility.

Because in a way, feeling as though you don’t matter is arrogant. Not realizing that you have an affect on others is another version of being self-absorbed. But this isn’t as bad as it sounds. The intention, for me anyways, wasn’t to be arrogant, mean or dismissive. In a backwards way, I was being humble. I didn’t think I mattered, so I assumed nobody else was thinking about me. The intention wasn’t malicious, but the effects of how I was behaving were hurtful. And especially towards how I was treating myself.

So, I began taking care of myself and my needs better. I started listening to myself again. Instead of doing what I thought I should be doing because of how I thought I was being judged by others, as I had when I was trying to emulate Jim Morrison. Now I was listening inwardly to what I wanted, what made me comfortable and happy. What brought me joy.

“Find What Feels Good”- Yoga with Adriene

This was when I started doing yoga. I began with my sister years ago. Only I was very hung-over the first and only time I went to yoga in my twenties, and in front of the beaming sun to boot. It was not the experience it has turned into for me. I started again in my mid-thirties, and really took to it. I began at the YMCA, and then later at a few miscellaneous studios as well as on my own. This is when I found Yoga With Adriene.

Doing yoga with her videos helped me to reframe my relationship to and with my body. I hadn’t really thought about how I treated myself before, but it wasn’t healthy, that’s for sure. I was eating whatever I felt like, whenever I felt like it, drinking close to my daily caloric calories for the day in alcohol and led a very sedentary lifestyle which mostly consisted of playing video games among other addictions.

Adriene had such a positive attitude, while encouraging her audience to “find what feels good” by practicing some self-care through exercise, that I found it enjoyable to flow through the assinas. Much the ways I had enjoyed it when I was practicing at the YMCA. With the dim lights and LED candles, it felt like an intimate experience. Sort of the way I feel when I listen to D’angelo, only less sexy : )

Cooking was another way for me to “find what feels good”, and opened me up to greater connections. Thanks mainly to the Minimalist Baker, I learned how to nourish myself with healthy foods, instead of eating and drinking whatever I felt like. It also helped me to connect with some estranged family members as well. By making my self-care Sunday meals, which later turned into my Friday night family meals, I had managed to bridge the gap from learning how to care for myself, to extending that care to others. Win win. I’m also incidentally in the best shape of my life.

So if you’ve found yourself in a similar place to the one I’ve described, do not lose hope. You are not alone. The path isn’t always easy, but finding help from others, accepting where you are and practicing a little self-care goes a long way. Finding role-models, especially when you’ve had little to no guidance along the way has been a huge resources for me. I have a photo of both Adriene from Yoga with Adriene, and Dana from Minimalist Baker, on my phone as inspiration. And speaking of resources, head on over to my Resources Page for more inspiration.

I hope this has been helpful for those looking for a little bit of guidance. Thanks for reading, and remember, you’re not alone. Peace : )

Image Credits: “A green heart for you !! have a sweet and nice weekend.” by Matthew Fang is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Paying your Bills: How Being Buried in Student Loans Can Help You Get a Handle on Your Financial Life

I’m in debt. I’ve talked about my debt before on this blog, but with the COVID-19 student loan forbearance ending at the end of this year, I’ve decided it was time to take the deeper dive into finding out what my best options are for repayment. And I was a little surprised with what I found out. I’ll be going over some of the specifics about my situation, but also what I’ve discovered along the way as I’m researching what my best options are. It seems like a lot, when you’re staring out the deep hole you’ve dug for yourself, but there’s hope. And it’s totally doable. You just need a plan, a positive attitude and a little help : )

What Did I Borrow?

If you’re like me, you borrowed a lot of money during the hight of the student loan lending frenzy. I ended up with close to 85k in student loan debt that I am in the middle of paying back. And I went to an in state school! I was completely clueless when it came to getting my degree. I had no idea what I was doing, what I wanted to do, or what I was even good at. I stopped going to highschool at age 16, but thought I was supposed to go to college to get a degree so I could get a job. So that’s what I did.

I started in community college when I was 19. This was a poor choice given the circumstances I was in. I was past the age of being a dependent on my caregivers and one of them told me to go to school, so that’s what I did. I failed by way of not going to classes, and subsequently was given the boot from my childhood home. I was 19, and as good as homeless. Years later, when I asked my caregiver why they kicked me out with no guidance and with such callous disregard, they responded with, “it’s what happened to me”.

So, with that in my rearview, I drifted around for the next five years in a haze of alcohol, seedy apartments and questionable life events (but some good stories, like the time “one” of the Allman Brothers was at my apartment telling stores), until a friend of mine got me a job at a residential program for at risk adolescent boys. This is when I decided to go back to school, only this time for social work. I wanted to help people who were in similar situations to my own. But I still had no idea what I was doing when it came to navigating the educational system. This is when I started taking out loans.

I would later switch my career focus two more times. First to architecture, but stopped that pursuit in it’s tracks when they said I would be working 80 hour plus weeks for the rest of my life. And second to journalism. This is where I received most of my education and also where I racked up most of my student loan debt.

And I did so with enthusiasm. I didn’t look for grants or scholarships, but this wasn’t surprising as I had no guidance, nor was I seeking any or knew how to ask. I was again adrift, in a financial world where I would soon be in way over my head.

It took me close to nine years to finish my degree. And when I was done, I had close to 85k in student loans and 20k in credit card debt. This was a tough pill to swallow. I fumbled my way into just over 100k in debt, with little to show for it and no idea how I was going to dig myself out of the hole I had worked so hard to get into.

Okay I Give, How do I Get Out Of This Mess?

This, in conjunction with a few other realizations, left me in one of the darkest places I’ve been in my life. This was where I decided to make some needed changes in my habits and the ways I was living my life.

This is around the time I found Dave Ramsey. Here was finally where I found the guidances I needed to take hold of my financial house. This was also a difficult place to be, because growing up my caregivers were consumed with everything finance. Though they never imparted any wisdom to me about how to handle this aspect of my life. I had to stumbled upon Dave Ramsey in my mid thirties by chance before I really began to take charge of my finances.

This was demoralizing. Mostly because I didn’t feel as though I could ask anybody in my life for help or advice. Money was such a sore spot for my entire family growing up, that I felt as though it was off limits to talk about. I spent so much time not thinking about money due to the unspoken lessons I was taught, about how money was something to be feared, that I completely neglected my financial future. This was a difficult and terrifying realization to come to as well. I wrote about this some in my blog post about what to do when you’re starting to retire at forty.

But this is also where I learned that I needed to take the reigns for myself. Because I was the only one in control of my future. This doesn’t mean that I can’t ask for help when necessary. Which is and was the case considering how little I knew/know about how to handle finances. But I couldn’t wait any longer. I knew I had to do something about my future, regardless of how I had been neglected by my caregivers.

As I said above, I started when I found Dave Ramsey and his baby steps, but it took discipline and patience to follow through with the plan. I had been so used to buying whatever I wanted whenever I wanted that when it came time to exercise self control, I was at a complete loss. But there were a few things that helped to fortify my self-restraint.

How Being Vegan, Running, Meditation and Yoga Helped Me Pay My Debt Faster

Of all the changes I made in my life and my habits, going vegan was probably the most effective. I needed to learn how to cook using different ingredients while also making substitutions for staples I was in the habit of using when I ate animal products.

I also had to batch cook for the weeks ahead due to my busy schedule. This taught me how to put a shopping list together by choosing recipes and making a list by shopping from my pantry first. This was just another way to budget, only using food instead of money. But also if I didn’t cook, I had to eat pasta with Earth balance for dinner. I didn’t always want to cook, but I needed to eat, so I did.

Running was another great way to cultivate a sense of discipline. Throwing shoes on and pounding out the miles week after week helped me to build a resilience while also helping me to find a rhythm.

For me, when running mid level milage, the first few miles of a run are the most difficult. It’s kind of like waking up in the morning. You’re a little tired, it takes some time to get your muscles warmed up and head around what your body’s doing. But once you’ve settled into the motion and movements of your body, the miles start to drop away with an ease that’s hard to describe.

It’s similar to when you’re paying off debt. The first few months take some adjusting to. But once you find your rhythm, and recognize that the discomfort of your sacrifices to your new budget won’t last forever, you find that same rhythm.

Meditation and Yoga help in sort of the same ways but from different perspectives or directions. With yoga, learning to be still when you are in the midst of a difficult pose and sensation. And meditation when difficult thoughts and emotions arise, being still and present with what’s difficult builds resilience.

This is the same sort of resilience you need when you’re paying down a sizeable debt. For me it was important to sit with the discomfort of just how much money I owed. About 85k total in student loans alone. If that doesn’t put a seed of fear in your belly you’re either wealthy or in shock. Learning to sit and stay with what’s difficult, while coming up with and exciting a plan is what is most important when faced with a challenge of this size. Now let’s focus on some of the specifics of my loans and what I’ve found to be most useful.

Logistics of Paying Off Bigger Numbers

I have federal loans but when I first took out my loans I had both federal and private. About 9k in private and 76k in federal. I don’t remember exactly what the beginnings of my loan repayments looked like. I was in and out of school for 9 years, so my actual repayment date didn’t start until my mid-thirties. And probably for the best, I wasn’t in the habit of paying my bills regularly or at all before then.

Most of my bills I defaulted on with most likely the intention of never repaying them at all. But I had to start somewhere, and where I started was in my mid-thirties, under a pile of debt. I used the snowball method to start. This basically means paying the minimums on all your debt, but using all other available income to pay off your smallest debt first. For me this was all my credit cards that totaled 2-5k small debts. All together around 14k. Then it was on to my private student loans of about 9k total.

Some systems suggest you pay the highest interest rate percent first. Luckily my credit cards were all high interest and my loans much lower. So when I got to my private student loan, with about a 7% interest rate and my federal at a 6%, I put all available funds towards the private. My federal loans were in deferment, so I didn’t have to start paying them back until later. And with my private loans in the past, I could finally focus on the big one. My federal loans.

When I started paying off these loans, they were in deferment. This means that you don’t have to make any payments on your loan for a specific amount of time for different circumstances. I believe the time available for deferment is 3 years, but check with your lender to make certain yours aren’t different. But what I hadn’t realized was that when my bill came due, I would be making close to 1k payments monthly. I was not making much at the time and definitely wouldn’t have been able to afford these payments. So I defaulted to my default. I planned on defaulting on my loans because it just seemed like too much.

But after I had done all the difficult work of paying off my other loans, I realized I didn’t want to head down the same road I had been traveling for so long. I needed to take control of my financses for my future. So I began looking into what my options were for paying down my student loans.

I Have a Plan… Sort of. Now What?

My plan was to just throw money at my debt until it started to dwindle. But was that really my best option? As it turned out, yes. As we all know, COVID hit about a year and a half ago and since then there have been a lot of layoffs. As a way to ease some of the financial burden of student loan borrowers, the government put all loans on deferment without accrued interest. This has been a Godsend for those laid-off, but for folks like me, making payments interest free has been game changing. With all of my payments going towards principle, my debt is shrinking faster than expected. I’ve paid off close to 25k in principle since the COVID-19 forbearance began.

But I was still concerned with the amount of interest I was being charged. 6% seemed like a high number for such a large loan. So I started looking at private loans to see if I could get a better rate. Turns out, I can. My rate would drop from 6% on my federal loans to almost 3% in a private one. Seems like a good deal. But when I ran the numbers, this only decreased my overall amount owed in interest by 1k over the life of the loan. Not even half a months payment. So I decided to stay in the loan with the higher interest rate.

I should also mention that I plan on paying my loan off in two years, so the interest doesn’t make that much of an impact. But if I choose a more traditional route, of say paying over ten years, I would be accruing up to 17k in interest alone. Then I would look into a loan with a lower rate. But another aspect to consider when thinking about switching lenders is, the benefits of federal loans far out weighs those of their private counterparts.

As we’ve seen with COVID-19, federal loans went into a period of deferment. Something that private loans did not do. Also, if you fail to pay a federal loan on time, you have considerably more time before your loans go into default. I’ve read up to 240 days, and you still have time to pay and be in good standing with your loan. With private lenders, it’s only 30 days and that’s it, default. You also have the option, with federal loans, to pay in an income driven repayment plan. This adjusts your payment to a percentage of you discretionary income. This is not an option with private loans.

Also, you are able to consolidate your loans with a federal lender. This takes all the small loans you’ve taken out each semester and consolidated them into one loan with one payment.

With so many benefits attached to holding loans with the fed., it just didn’t make sense to switch to a private lender. I may be paying 1k more over the life of the loan than if I was with a lower interest, private loan, but peace of mind with the terms of my loan is worth more to me that a little under half a months loan payment. And when I’m doubt, ask.

If you have questions about your loan, contact you bank. Hey, even ask if they’ll lower your interest rate. Through my lender, if you’re enrolled in auto payments, they reduce your interest rate by a quarter of a percent.

And if you’re like me, you like to go hard. For me it’s do as much as humanly possible to pay off my loan in as short a period of time as possible. Don’t forget to practice a little self-care along the way. For me it’s a foot soak once and a while and a ten-pack at my local yoga studio for 175$. It’s good and healthy to take tests along the way. The road can be hard and long, don’t forget to take care of yourself. So incase no one told you, it’s okay to take a break every now and again : )

I hope this has helped in some way. Student loans can be daunting to take in, especially all at once. But don’t be deterred! Talk to your lender often and whenever you have a question, regardless of how silly it seems. They want you to be successful. So, if you have a ton of student loan debt, come up with a plan and have patients. You’ll get out of it, it just takes a little resilience. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image credits: “The Big IOU” by brent flanders is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Trees: Nature’s Cure-All

I recently went for a hike with a friend of mine in woods local to where I live. We got lost, sort of, which was quite a feat since the woods are only about three square miles. The trails are fairly well maintained, but the map I was using on All Trails, was a little off. But regardless of our fumbling around the swampy woods, I was still in a fairly upbeat mood.

This is normally a situation that would lead to frustration. But the weather was pleasant, the company was good, and I was enjoying the outdoors. I’ve been doing some reading on how trees and forests affect our moods, and it may not only have been the company and quality of the weather that was altering my mood.

There have been many studies that suggest that spending time in and around forests and trees are excellent for our physical and mental wellbeing. The flora in our cities and neighborhoods is equally as important as well, for filtering the pollutants that are being emitted by the buildings and vehicles we use daily.

In the following I’ll be going over some of the benefits that trees provide us with, and why they are so important to maintaining a sustainable future for generations to come. Most of the information from this article was taken from four articles I read and will be listing them at the end of this piece.

Trees and Our Mental Health

There has been mounting research that suggests that walking in nature, specifically around trees may improve our moods by lowering levels of anxiety, depression and overall stress levels. Trees have also been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD in children as well. This is quite the feat for these gentle giants.

The reason for these benefit still isn’t entirely clear to scientists, but the results continue to point towards spending time in nature leads to overall healthier mental wellbeing. And it doesn’t take long for the effects to settle in. All the more reason to take a hike in some local woods or go to a local park to enjoy the greenery.

Physical Health

Being surrounded by trees also brings with it a healthier physical being as well as emotional. The leaves from trees filter out pollution particles that affect our lungs and breathing. Mostly, they filter the particles that are emitted from vehicles emissions, or the burning of fossil fuels.

This is especially important in cities. Not only is this where a fair amount of the concentration of vehicles are located, but also the trees best scrub the air that is within 100 feet of where they stand. Trees scrubbing our air works by way of the leaves and needles, and the thousands of tiny pores on each leaf and needle. These pores take in the pollutants that would otherwise affect our lungs and breathing, holding them harmlessly in the body of their leaves.

So the more trees that are located in neighborhoods where more vulnerable populations live, the greater the health benefits could be. Unfortunately, neighborhoods in a lower socioeconomic status are most devoid of the much needed greenery. A catch 22 for sure.

Walking around trees has also shown to improve heart health. In this article by Greater Good, They talk about how walking in nature, specifically around trees as opposed to walking in cities, lowers cortisol levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, lowers the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. According to the article, all of these are markers of greater cardiovascular health. And an overall healthier heart.

It isn’t clear as to why time spent around trees helps to improve health, but the data all points to spending time with trees makes a difference for the positive. There is also evidence that shows that being around trees also leads to better birth outcomes and a reduced risk of diabetes. The health benefits seem to be all encompassing. All the more reason to spend some more time in your favorite park or forest.

The health benefits of being in forests has made such an impact, that countries such as Japan and Korea have been championing forest bathing therapy. This practice is much as it sounds. The person will mindfully spend time in the forest, taking in the sensory experiences that the forest has to offer and receiving all the health benefits as well.

And if all of these benefits weren’t enough, taking in the company of trees also has been shown to improve immune system function as well as prolong life expectancy. And again, the reasons for this aren’t quite clear. There’s a theory that it may be related to aromatic compounds that trees release, but further research still needs to be done to provide an answer with some certainty.

Carbon Sequestering

It’s no surprise that trees help to sequester CO2, one of the major greenhouse gasses leading to the current climate crisis, but the rate at which they do is compelling. First, how they sequester carbon is worth understanding, so we understand why destroying trees, or even why only planting new trees without conserving the ones we have is dangerous.

Trees work to sequester carbon by taking it in from the atmosphere and using sunlight and water to turn it into wood, where the carbon is sequestered for the life of the tree. When the tree dies, is cut, burned or decomposes, the carbon is released back into the environment. This is why planting new trees isn’t the only solution to the carbon dioxide problem.

It takes decades for a young tree to meet the carbon sequestering power of older trees. One tree mentioned in an article by BUR, says that it has sequestered 22,049 pounds of CO2. That’s equivalent to 1,100 gallons of gasoline. This is something that modern science is still having issues reproducing and why pressurving the trees we already have is so important.

Getting Involved: How to Help

So with all these health benefits that trees are providing for us, the question remains, what can we be doing to help save the forests and trees that are so healing to us? There are plenty of organizations that are out there doing good work in this area. Volunteering time, or donating money to these organizations are a few ways to help preserve them. I’ll be listing a few of the organizations below, so hopefully you can find something that matches your lifestyle and personal taste.

The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is an organization that advocates for not only the environment, but also social justice movements. One of their initiatives is to conserve 30% of public lands in the United states by 2030. Currently, only 12% of public lands are protected from being developed from drilling for oil or monocultures like soy or wheat.

Conserving these lands will help to keep the old growth forests that have already done so much in sequestering tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Developing these lands would most definitely be a major blow to climate change for the worse.

And on a positive note, if these lands are protected, then there’s a chance that these public lands could be transformed into public parks, to be enjoyed by generations of people and woodland animals to come. Sequestering carbon dioxide and building new places to enjoy the outdoors seems like a win win. The Sierra Club has a lot of projects that they are working on. So if this one sparks your interest, head on over to their site and check out what they are working on.

The Nature Conservancy

This organization is dedicated to protecting our lands and waters from being developed. One of the ways they are doing this is by carbon markets. Essentially, carbon markets work by paying a landowner who may have had plans to clear cut a section of their land for a use that would be detrimental to the environment, to keep the trees on the land intact. This way, the land is protected against being developed and the carbon remains sequestered.

They are also engaged in helping to keep the biodiversity of our planet from collapsing by way of species extinction. By protecting the habitats that these species live in, they are working towards keeping the safety of these species ensured. So saving the land and habitats of plants and animals will help to ensure their survival and hopefully they will thrive far into the future.

Rainforest Action Network

This organization also helps to conserve land but by focusing on the companies that are profiting off of the destruction of the environment. One of their initiatives is to call for a stop to the burning of the rainforest to grow food crops to be sold at market.

Farmers in the Amazonian Rainforest have been burning large parcels of land to produce foods for the Agricultural industry for a long time. The downside to this, asides from the carbon being released into the atmosphere, is that the land is not very fertile, and the destruction of the forest is taking away what has been called the lungs of the planet from scrubbing the air we breathe. If companies like this aren’t stopped, the consequences could be dire.

It’s Not too Late

You can still get involved and help to do your part. These organizations have places on their sites where you can lend a hand. Maybe donating money is more your speed, or maybe you want to march in the next protest that aligns with your worldview. Whatever your motivation or prefered method, make sure you get out there and make a difference. There’s a lot of work to be done. And there’s no better time like the present to help. The planet needs our help. Be the change you want to see in the world. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Greater Good Magazine

US News

WBUR

The Nature Conservancy

Healing Forest

Image Credits: “Forest” by CECAR – Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation R is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Environmental Self-Audit: Assessing How Green Your Habits Are

I’ve been posting a lot about emotional topics lately so I thought this one would be a little less heavy. I’ve been wanting to do a home audit, something that’s been in that back of my mind for a while, so I thought I’d check them out and let you guys know what I came up with.

The first thing I realized is, there is not a lot of people in this field, doing this work. The first search yielded results mostly from Canada, and a company from Illinois. This makes me a little sad, knowing there aren’t more people out there doing this type of work. With environmental concerns only getting more acute, it seems as though there should be a glut of these types of companies and places to get this type of work done.

Though this just isn’t the case. The sites I had looked at mostly focused on the energy that is being used in the “house envelope”. This basically means that any system that is working in your house, the plumbing, electrical, HVAC systems, that are all working in conjunction with one another and in a closed space. Like an envelope. So an audit basically adds up to an assessment of how efficiently these systems are working.

I’m not sure how well a self audit would work for assessing the workings of more technical systems, like HVAC, but for habits you keep in your day to day household upkeep, you can easily see if things could use a change for the greener. So in this post I’ll be looking at some ways and habits we can keep to make our lives a little greener.

Some Green Habits

When it comes to thinking and acting a little greener, there are a few areas we can focus on. Anything from systems in the home to personal perspectives we hold that we can shift. These are among a few things we can all be doing to help keep things running a little more environmentally friendly. I’ll go through some ideas and habits I’ve been keeping in this post, and maybe help r inspire you to keep your home as green as possible : )

Composting

Composting is a great way to help keep food waste out of landfills or incinerators and in the food cycle. Even if you don’t have a garden, composting is still an option. Even if you’re living in a city, or a place without land. Let me go over the ways to compost, and how you can get involved.

One way to compost, if you have the space and a garden to use it is, a bin composting system. With this system, you can purchase a bin, or convert a container such as an old plastic garbage bin, into a composter. In these systems, there needs to be air circulation, water and an absence of light to let the bacteria grow and convert food waste into useable soil. You can also use a three bin system, where you place the beginnings of your compost in the first bin and move it to the second halfway to promote quicker growth. Finally the third bin is for the finished compost, to be used in your garden.

If you don’t have land or use for compost, there are companies out there picking up people’s food waste to compost it for commercial uses. The company that’s local to my area is Black Earth Composting. They pick up your food waste in a small container they give to you, much like a tiny garbage can, for a small fee. You can then get a voucher for compost from a local nursery, or donate it to one of the projects they are working with.

Where’s the Meat?

Go vegan! Or maybe eat less meat? This graph from “Climate Central” shows not only how many more resources are used by the production of livestock for consumption, but also the amount of greenhouse gasses that are produced by them. Eating less meat is one way to make a dent in your personal carbon footprint.

If you’re not ready to make the plunge into going completely meatless, maybe think about eating less meat during the course of your week. Try adding a meatless Monday to your week. Every little bit helps, and if you are looking for some inspiration, head over to my Community page where you’ll find a link to The Minimalist Baker’s website. There, Dana has loads of tasty, mostly meat free recipes where you will surely find something suited to your taste.

Be a Man by Challenging Tradition

In this article, The Good Trade explains the link between our traditional views of what it means to be a man, and how they run counter to the ideas of what it means to be an activist for the planet. They explain how certain types of socially created norms can seem unrelated to the current climate crisis, but may share a connection. This is called intersectional environmentalism, and one of the examples is toxic masculinity.

The idea is, at its most basic level, that caring for the environment is seen as feminine, and therefore rejected by those who value the tenets of toxic masculinity. Among them being dominance and competitiveness. Caring for the environment and “environmental stewardship is nurturing and cooperative. It’s inherently at odds with internalized, problematic perceptions of masculinity and feminine” writes Zach Thomas of The Good Trade.

This makes a lot of sense to me. As a product of the 80’s, My young mind was molded to the shape of, real men take what they want, use violence to get it, and anything that was seen as feminine in a man was considered “gay”. It took me a long time to come to terms with these harmful lessons that were handed down to me. And it wasn’t my caregivers fault, they were trapped in the same type of narrow thinking that had been perpetuated by society at large.

And though I recognize that it wasn’t their faults entirely, I will say that they could have come to terms with how they felt about the type of violence they were perpetuating. Forming their own ideas and opinions of what was happening around them, based on the information they were receiving. But instead they chose to take the path more traveled and pigeon hole people into certain categories, creating a great deal of suffering along the way.

This takes a whole lot of willpower, to break the binds of what we’ve been taught that may be harmful to ourselves, others and the environment. But it’s possible. Never give up hope and always question whether what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling may have been shaped by those around you growing up.

Carry a Water Bottle

This one is especially pointed. I’m not sure where the need to keep bottled water on hand came from. This article from The World Counts suggests that it comes from a fear of drinking contaminated tap water. I’m not sure where this fear first took root, but another concerning fact in the article says that, “An estimate 1,500 plastic bottles end up as waste in landfills or thrown in the ocean every second”.

This was a shock to learn for sure. But all the more reason to take action. If you drink water, or plan on doing so (which you def should, it’s great for your health in so many ways), carry a water bottle. I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a place or situation, where I was in civilization, where it was unsafe to drink the tap water.

There are also chemicals that can leach into the water you’re drinking, from disposable plastic bottles, that can be hazardous to your health. If you’re looking for an alternative, I like Hydro Flask for their design and ability to keep their contents hot or cold for a longer time than conventional bottles. They’re also made of metal, steele. So you’re bypassing most plastic when you’re filling up your bottle.

Take Public Transportation or Walk/Ride a Bike

With so many cars on the road, this one should be a no brainer. I’m not suggesting that you sell your car. Only to take a closer look at your driving patterns. Where are you going? What are the nature of the trips you’re taking? Is there another way to get to where you need to be?

For me this is an easy one. I work at a place that is a nine minute walk from where I live. It’s also on a public transportation route. So if I needed to, I could take the bus instead. Where are your destinations? Do you work or go to school in an area that has a robust transit system? Maybe instead of taking your own vehicle, you could share a ride with thousands of others, and do your part to lower the creation of the greenhouse gasses that come with burning fossil fuels.

These commutes can be ideal times to catch up on your favorite podcasts or reading. Writing if that’s something you’re in the habit of, or meditating, as I did on my way into work when I worked in the city. Also, this isn’t a call to get rid of your car, only to utilize it with more care.

For example, if you have children you may need to drop them off at school in the mornings, or pick them up in the afternoon. Also, grocery shopping can be difficult if you don’t have a way to bring your groceries home at the end of your shopping trip. You’ll need to rely on your car for certain things, just not for everything.

I don’t have a car, and still manage to get all the things done on my list. I walk to work or when I worked further away, I took public transit which was very reliable. When I go grocery shopping, I take public transit to the store, and take a Lyft home. Of course, I only need to take care of myself. If I had a family that relied on me, I would most likely find another way to provide for them. This is where a car would come in handy. But what I’m suggesting is, to think of different ways to get your needs met when it comes to transportation.

If you live close to a commuter rail station, or subway or bus stop, consider taking them to your workplace instead of driving. Or maybe carpooling with a co-worker who lives close to you. This will help you to save on gas, while using a service that is already running or share a ride with someone who is going your way. Reducing your carbon footprint even further. Do you live close enough to walk or ride a bike? Consider these carbon neutral ways of greening your commute time.

Donate Time or Resources

Are you an avid hiker? Do you use the beach frequently? These are great hobbies to cultivate and ways to relax and destress. But there won’t be many places that are left pristine for our enjoyment the way things are headed now. What to do about it? Find a place to volunteer or donate to that are in line with your interests.

If you enjoy going to the beach, why not join an organization that is cleaning the surf at your favorite place. Can’t find one? Start one. Organize your friends and family, maybe some coworkers. Throw a party on the beach you’re cleaning, but spend some time first cleaning the beach. Then you can all enjoy the the fruits of your labor while cooking out together.

The same idea can work for a particular park or reservation you enjoy hiking. In both cases, it may be best to get intouch with those who are incharge of the maintenance of the place you plan on cleaning. There may be efforts already taken in that direction. Then you could invite people and go instead of organizing something new.

And if you’re short on time but have resources to donate, try finding an organization or charity that is in line with the type of activities and activism you enjoy doing. I’ve donated to 4Ocean, and the Appalachian Mountain Club in the past. If you’re looking for ideas on where to donate time or resources, this post from The Good Trade has a bunch of ideas on where to get started. Also, check your local community. Maybe on social media, or your city or town’s website. There could be something happening already, locally that you can get involved with, taking some of the pressure off of you to organize.

Get Involved

As an old co-worker of mine used to say, “it’s no easy”, and as another co-worker used to say,”that’s how it be sometimes.” I quote these people, not to make light of the situation we’ve found ourselves in, but to bring a shared sense of struggle and hope. We’re not in this alone. It’s good to remember those who have helped us along the way. The people who have lifted our spirits when we felt totally overwhelmed by a situation. Or those who have given us the wisdom to help get us through to the next project or path when we feel depleted. But there’s still work to be done.

I’ll be looking into green, house assessments in the future and if you have any insights I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. But for right now, there is loads of work that needs to be done. Find something that sparks your interest and get involved in some way. Even if it’s something small to start, at least it’s a start. You’ll feel better about being part of the solution, but also connect with like minded people along the way, maybe making some new friends to boot. So get out there and lend a hand. You’ll be glad you did. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “A poem behind my green living room…!!! Un poème derrière mon salon vert…!!!” by Denis Collette…!!! is licensed under

      CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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