You know me, I always need to make a pun out of something. Hence this post is dual-purposes – my life of luxury (NOT) and my ligament laxity the orthopedist just told me about the other day. Sometimes I don’t always roll with the punches well and this is definitely one of those times.
I got my 60-day layoff notice from my job at the end of March this year. Along with an immediate 15% paycut, which really hurt. I was trying to pay down some bills and get a little more financially solvent. So much for that idea. Prior to the layoff and paycut, I had filed my tax returns and was looking forward to a pretty decent combined state and fed return of about $8K – nice! Showed me that even though I’m paranoid and pay in at too high of a rate most of the time (on purpose), there would now be some rewards. I was planning to pay off a couple credit cards and put $1500 or $2000 each into my two sons’ college savings funds, which have been woefully underfunded by me in the 5 years since divorcing their Dad. And I wanted to plan a couple trips with the boys, maybe up the coast to stay at some kid-friendly hotels, go visit my friend Mary and her family, a trip to Legoland, an overnight weekend at The Crystal Pier in San Diego, just because I’ve always wanted to sleep over the waves down there. Nothing extravagant, just nice little getaways during the kids’ summer break.
Then I get hit with this pronouncement from my boss. My company is a group of contractors to a larger company, and the CEO of that larger company has basically run it into the ground and blown through 3 years’ worth of venture capital funding in a little over a year. On expensive dinners, an excessively huge office, new furniture, polo shirts with logos, a tradeshow booth that was way more than they needed, hiring too many staff at salaries way beyond what they deserved (including his fresh out of college daughter being paid the same rate that I was earning, plus she got sales bonuses even though she didn’t sell a damn thing). At any rate, I could easily go on for pages about this stuff but I don’t want my bitterness getting in the way of my point (if there is one!). As the cheapest one at my company, I was let go first.
Since then, I’ve cut back on a lot of the things I was enjoying with earning a decent salary. I laid off the kids’ part-time nanny, cut back on the cable, the electricity, watering the yard. Cut out the monthly monitoring for the security system since eventually I was here all the time. Netflix went on hold. All the little things you kind of take for granted. I applied with my mortgage lender for their federally-backed “Borrower’s Assistance Program” back in late March, hoping to get my mortgage re-assessed to a temporarily lower payment. I’m still waiting to hear from Chase, even though I have a Fannie Mae mortgage and supposedly those are the ones they’re helping first. Yeah, right. It’s August now and I’m still waiting.
I’ve been looking for and applying for new jobs since the end of March. Even very promising ones where I knew someone there or had a connection there who would get my resume directly to HR or to the hiring manager … poof! Nothing. A job search even three years ago with half as much effort on my part would have netted me at least a couple of interviews within weeks, preferably a job offer. And I’m not just looking for permanent work. I’ll take contract or temp jobs – I have my own health insurance, bloody expensive as that is (just went up to $336 a month, thank you, Aetna), but the job needs to be paying a *little* bit more than my current unemployment rate of just over $10 an hour – otherwise, what’s the point in getting out of bed?
As for that $8000 tax refund – it has gone into paying my mortgage payment these last few months. Plus my car insurance renewal. My car license renewal. Payments toward my remaining balance of the brain MRI I had last October. Now here we are in August. Chase has yet to touch my loan and as of this month, I will not be paying it. I don’t make the decision to not pay it lightly but I refuse to have to borrow more money from a dear friend to do so (he already has helped me so much with my credit card debt, I doubt I can ever repay him), and according to the Chase folks, I shouldn’t be borrowing money to keep making my mortgage payments. Well, the clock has run out on any other financial options, so the mortgage is not getting paid in August.
I hate this. It’s not a decision I make lightly. When I moved back into this house in 2005, it was after my divorce had settled and after I had spent a good six months remodeling the place. This house in Santee was the first house my husband and I bought together in 1992, when we married. We moved out in 1997 when the market was down and held onto this place as a rental. Our Scripps Ranch house did well and shot up in the market in 3 years, and much as we loved that house, we hated the neighborhood. So we sold it and moved to Mt. Helix. When we split up in 2004, my ex kept the Mt. Helix house, and I got the Santee rental and the difference in equity between the homes. I also borrowed on the equity against this house, and rolled all that money into making this into the home I wanted. The outside looks more or less the same – new entryway door and windows, new paint, new windows throughout the home – but the inside is a completely different house than what I had left, and I love it here. Really can’t think of a place where I feel more content, especially when I’m alone. Since I only have my kids 50% of the time, I’m alone here a lot every other week. It suits me.
For the heck of it, I took my kids out today after running a couple errands to go check out the new homes by Lennar up at Sky Ranch here in Santee – new development high up on the hillside overlooking the 67 freeway. Great view from up there, nice breezes, nice decor inside. We only looked at the townhomes, didn’t get up to the single family places as the kids were running out of good behavior by that point (I’m sure anyone with kids knows how that goes!). Came home afterward and realized how much more I love my house. The only differences between the nice sparkling new townhomes and my place here were a) a hell of a lot less clutter (!) – not an insurmountable obtacle and b) nice landscaping, what they had of it (bearing in mind these are townhomes with no yards), and c) more air conditioning. Also not a big difference, I just don’t feel like shelling out $300 or more a month on my A/C bill to keep my place down to 72 degrees. (I can live with 79 or 80). I can only do so much about my landscaping with the current water restrictions and my inability to pay my water bill, so I’m letting my backyard grass die, with the intent of eventually ripping it out and replacing it (in better financial times) with something low maintenance and low on water requirements. So odd as it sounds, this particular outing cheered me up about my house. I love where I live. I wish I could do more with it but I can’t right now. I need to remind myself that this won’t always be the case. Please. Don’t let it always be the case.
And that is what I struggle with. As stubborn as I have always been about making my own way, holding my own, being about to support myself, never owing anything to anyone (well, okay, credit cards, mortgage, and car payments not in that category), to find myself in the position where I have to not only ask for but accept help from others for the first time in 4+ decades is humiliating.
On top of this, my knee has been acting up on me. Or rather, one of my knees has. It varies from week to week, honestly, which one is going to decide to hurt more or screw with me. I had arthroscopic surgery on both of them back in 1999-2000 (first one, then the other, six months apart) because of excessive grinding, cracking, and pain in the joints. Doctor went in and cleared out a bunch of torn-up cartilage and such, and they felt better for awhile – although I was never really a candidate for marathon running anyway, but it was livable after that. Until the last couple years or so when they started to hurt again, give out on occasion, and grind on downward steps. I’d make a lousy cat burglar, you could hear my knees on a flight of steps from three blocks away. So a couple weeks ago, I’m walking down the steps in my house to retrieve clothes from the dryer (my house is a split-level) and the right knee goes out, like I’ve just ripped some major ligament or something. But I didn’t, thankfully. They just do that, unpredictably. But this time, after hobbling around and wrapping it up for two weeks, I decided it was time to get it looked at. Conclusion from the orthopedist was the following: excessive ligament laxity (a genetic thing, I’ve always been this way), chondromalaica patellae (which I think is another term for pain in the knee or runner’s knee, even though I don’t run), and arthritis of both knees, which will only increase over time.
Now I always knew I was “double-jointed”, as the term goes. I could sit down with my knees bent out to the side, and my hips can pop out of joint, I can bend my thumb back to my wrist, and all those other gross carnival tricks. I’d never quite heard it termed as “ligament laxity”. What’s more, I’d never been quite so depressed at the outcome of a doctor visit. I kept thinking that surely there was something that was torn that could be fixed, right? No, not really. Physical therapy will, in theory, help strengthen the tendons and muscles and such in the opposite direction(s) from the way the knee is being pulled out of alignment. Which I will do. I’ve done it before and it seemed to help, although it was part of rehab from surgery and I was in so much pain, it was hard to tell how effective it was. On the other hand, I also have 40-something years of muscle, joint, and bone alignment to try to counteract – at this point you might as well ask me to learn how to walk again. There really is no ultimate cure or treatment and it will get worse over time as the joint deteriorates with arthritis and age and at some point I will probably need knee replacements on both legs. On top of that, when they flare up like this, I need to wear a more substantial knee brace than just an elastic wrap, but more like one with the vertical stabilizer bars on either side of the leg. All the while the doc is telling me this and I’m just thinking, “oh, that will be attractive”. Vanity, thy name is Cathy.
Yes, I should be grateful for many things (and am, believe me), including the fact that I can walk, period – many people cannot. It’s hardly a death sentence or anything and it’s not like I was training for the Boston Marathon. But still to me it feels like it is crippling nonetheless to realize that while I can expect some improvement from physical therapy, the issue will never really go away. Then I get home and start researching on the computer about “ligament laxity”, or hypermobility. First off I read that people with this condition frequently injure their ankles and have other joint injuries because they have a poor sense of joint positioning and literally can’t tell when the joint is in a position where it is about to be hurt. I can’t tell you how many times I twisted my ankles in my youth, up through college (when I started wearing high-top sneakers, they came into fashion; then at some point I must have gotten stronger ankles). I could be walking down a corridor at high school, twist my ankle, and fall over, looking like a complete dork the whole time. Small wonder I didn’t have too many friends! I sprained my ankle at some point in 10th grade, I think, practicing for a routine in my PE dance class. Not only did I land wrong on a jump/twist when practicing at home in the living room, but I sprained the ankle, fell over and smacked my head on the side of the piano in our family room when I came down. After an hour or so when the swelling didn’t go down and the ankle was purple and 3X normal size, I finally called my Mom, I was home alone that night because she was staying at her boyfriend’s house in La Mesa. All I remember was that she was pissed at having to come home and take me to the emergency room and ruining her evening. Yep, that was Mom.
So I read up a little more on ligament laxity and run across this: “Many hypermobility patients suffer from osteoarthritis, disorders involving nerve compression, chondromalacia patellae, excessive anterior mandibular movement, mitral valve prolapse, uterine prolapse and varicose veins.”
Well, there’s the chondromalacia patellae business. “excessive anterior mandibular movement” – so what does that mean? I can unhinge my jaw? Hmm, I’ve never tried that but it could make me very popular in some circles … or maybe it just encourages me to talk too much (this blog being a primary case in point). I do end up getting a sore lower jaw when I chew gum sometimes and I think my jaw can move side-to-side more than most people’s can, although I’ve never gone out and taken a survey or anything. But I suppose the laxity there could explain why I’m good at … ahem … certain oral talents, or so I’ve been told. Not sure. My Mom had varicose veins and had them stripped, that rather barbaric surgery they did for them back in her day. I don’t have any that are sticking out above the surface but definitely have some that I would term nasty and that I’d like to get rid of, so let’s add that one to the checklist. I hope I never end up with mitral valve prolapse. Uterine prolapse is the most interesting one on the list, because lo and behold, that was the reason I ended up having a hysterectomy back in 2003, at the age of 39. My doctor told me I was too young to have a Stage IV uterine prolapse, but there I was, wondering the same thing myself – why am I here? It’s not like I went through 16 pregnancies or anything. If you don’t know what uterine prolapse is, Google it and look for stage IV. I’m not going to describe it here. Let’s just say it was unpleasant. I’m not thrilled at having to have the whole business taken out but it beats the alternative.
Reading all of this about ligament laxity was both enlightening and depressing. Certainly enlightening about the prolapse business, it had never made sense until now. Given that the uterus is held up by ligaments just like other stuff in the body, it would make sense that a tendency to excessive laxity in would result in collapse of that structural support much like my knees. Kinda makes me wonder what else is next to go. Thank heavens I’ve always worn underwire bras, otherwise for all I know I’d look like I belonged on the cover of National Geographic by now.
It was depressing because it felt like one more wrench being thrown in my path lately. I like to try and keep up a strong and brave, and yes, humorous front most of the time. It’s just the way I am. But the unemployment thing sucks. The inability to pay my mortgage scares me. There have been times lately when I’ve wondered why in the hell couldn’t I be one of these women lucky enough to marry someone who earned enough money that I could have afforded to be a housewife, a mom, and eventually a woman of leisure when the kids were grown … even though I know full well that would have driven me nuts, especially the full-time Mom part of it. I love my kids but if I stayed home with them I would probably be sharing a cellblock with Charles Manson by now. I need to work and I need to be able to provide for myself – hence the reason the job thing really, really sucks, no matter how much help anyone might offer me.
And now this, adding insult to injury (no pun intended) and having to go around wearing a knee brace and looking like I just got out of the surgical ward. When I have plenty of leisure time on my hands thanks to being unemployed and could be spending some time exercising, shaping up, losing weight, and so forth – now I get hobbled and stuck on the sidelines and barely able to walk down the street without pulling up short in pain – all in the midst of desperately trying to find another job so I don’t end up losing my house.
So that’s all. This too, shall pass. But I guess that’s why my blog is here, among many other reasons for me – serving the place of an electronic diary. I don’t need anyone jumping on me to count my blessings and reminding me that so many others are worse off than I am – I’m fully aware of that. But maybe, just once in awhile, I need to feel a little sorry for me, too. Thanks for listening.