July 29, 2023

Releasing the Shame of Learning how to Adult at 45 Years Old.

It’s been almost 21 years since I’ve paid the bills.

It’s a vulnerable thing to admit out loud. Sharing this makes me feel exposed and ashamed, embarrassed that I haven’t balanced a check book since I was 24 years old.

I’ve simply never had to. Once I moved in and married my husband, he’s naturally taken care of all our finances.

He is a numbers whiz and I have always harbored a limiting belief that I am not. For the better part of our marriage, he was also the sole breadwinner. He had a sound money management system that only he understood. It was harder and slower to teach me and easiest to handle the financial chores himself.

With my subconscious unworthiness shaping an easygoing personality, I was happy to give up control and not pay attention. I gratefully allowed him to take charge of everything.

The years have gone by, and I have never learned our finances. But now I need to learn and it’s not just for me. He needs me to.

I get easily overwhelmed and struggle with confidence in myself, especially in the finance arena.

I’ve tried to gain my independence in other ways besides paying to live in this monetary society we’ve constructed for ourselves. Having a job, having my own money—I didn’t need any of that. I had it in the beginning years of my marriage, and it wasn’t fulfilling.

I was fortunate that I didn’t have to work because my husband made enough money for the both of us. At first, I stopped working to be a full-time caregiver for my mother-in-law with dementia. After she was gone, I just stayed at home.

It’s interesting how willing I was to play the housewife, ironically a product of the marriage between patriarchy and capitalism, not realizing how it might affect my worthiness and mental health in the coming years.

I didn’t make the money, so I had no interest in managing the money.

There were times I felt I didn’t have a right to the money or ownership of it. I didn’t feel comfortable having a say in how it was spent or saved. I didn’t spend a lot of money on myself.

My old grocery bills and farmers markets’ receipts can prove that most of my money went to taking care of my husband too.

I left it all up to him, thinking I would never have to be financially responsible someday. You don’t expect your forever person to have a severe, incurable, and essentially terminal illness in his early 50s.

Life has a way of waking you up to your foolish choices.

I’ve confided in my best friends, telling them that I feel like a teenager going through a rite of passage to adulthood, having to relearn how to manage money and make my way in the world.

Another dear friend told me I shouldn’t feel embarrassed; she, too, lets her husband handle all of their fiscal matters. Hearing that made me feel less humiliated, like maybe I’m not the only one out there feeling so feckless.

While encouraging me to learn our financials, my aunt told me a story of her recently widowed friend and it scared me. “He felt like a 1950s housewife with no idea what to do and it was extremely hard for him. He didn’t even know the password to his husband’s computer,” she cautioned.

That conversation prompted me to nag my husband for his passwords, so I’m happy to at least have that piece of the puzzle ready to play when I need it.

I may be intimidated to learn something new and might not be perfect at it, but I don’t want this hanging over me if the worst should happen. I want the space and time to grieve my husband’s passing without the stress of having to figure out where the money is and how to pay my mortgage.

Life has been a roller coaster of health problems for us most of this year. My husband has end-stage Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and has battled bronchitis and its complications for so long we hardly remember what life was like before.

Before—when just six months ago, he was able to ride his mountain eBike on the trails, wash our trucks, and clean the kitchen most days. Before, when he wasn’t tired and forgetful all the time. Before, when he could take a shower without having to wear an oxygen cannula in his nose.

Life is harder for him now. And he’s desperate for my help.

He needs less stress—less pressure of carrying it all on his shoulders, and I need to know how to handle our finances anyway. I should have all along, but I’m letting go of this and accepting the divine timing of things these days.

It doesn’t matter how it’s always been; I can work to change things now.

My husband’s ailing lungs have triggered a lot of fear for me. I often worry about our future and how much he may suffer. Not being able to breathe sets off panic attacks for him even now. I worry that one day his already damaged heart will get too tired to go on.

Fear of his sudden death has taken up a permanent place setting in the dining room in my head. It’s threatening to eat up my peace of mind until there’s nothing left but crumbs of hope.

Sometimes, I allow the fear to overcome me, and my depression sets in. When he gets sick and can’t get out of bed for days, my world shuts down. I stop paying attention to everything; life just stops. I don’t answer the phone. I don’t leave the house. I stop taking care of myself. My only function is to take care of him, and I’ll even fail at that.

Forget trying to learn the finances when I’m experiencing a depressive episode!

But this is precisely why I need to learn how to manage them, and I need to learn now. I know it will help my mental state by empowering me to feel less overwhelmed when sh*t hits the fan.

I need to keep working on my healing so that I have the strength to pick up the slack and take care of things as he gets sicker. I cannot allow fear to continue keeping me in a freeze or fawn state of mind each time he experiences a health crisis.

They are not going away; there’s no pretending he can be cured; there is no hiding from the inevitable.

My fear isn’t unfounded. It is real, so I acknowledge and accept it. It exists because of the reality that his chances are higher for dying at any moment.

But I do need to stop resisting it, pushing it away when I want to crawl into a dark cave and wait to deal with the consequences later—consequences that could cause me to lose everything that he’s worked so hard to give to us.

Later is worse, now is best. I am determined to learn how to manage our finances.

I know I can be scared and do the thing anyway. I can be brave. I know I have the power to rise above the fear and help carry the burdens my husband has shouldered since we joined each other’s lives.

I do not need to be ashamed that I am learning how to be an adult in middle age.

I can embrace that timing is everything, and now is the right time for me to finally grow up and learn how to pay my bills.


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