I was becoming more independent by the day and my daughter who was still living at home, began to make plans to move in with her boyfriend. Apart from the undeniable fact that I would very much miss her company, I was happy for her. I was also quite looking forward to having my own space and the last thing I wanted was for her to feel she had a responsibility to look after an invalid parent. But I could tell that she was anxious and perhaps feeling a bit guilty.
I really wanted to approach this in a caring, non-judgemental way and this led me back to my own bookshelf. I had loads of spiritual and practical self-help wisdom in my collection, most of which I hadn’t touched since my marriage break up. At that particular time it seemed that the more I followed their messages of forgiveness, empathy, of giving more than is expected, the more easily manipulated I became.
My favourite collection of books was now the Harry Potter series. I often get teased about this because I’m well above the target age for this type of fiction, but ever since the kids persuaded me to buy that first book, I became an avid fan. From then on, it was me who queued up at the bookstore eagerly awaiting the next release. I was the one insisting that we all see the latest movie as soon as it came out. I became known in the Neurology Ward at Christchurch Public Hospital as “The Harry Potter Lady” because I had re-read all the books whilst I was hospitalised. I didn’t mind. Anything that connects me with magic is fine by me and there is probably just as much wisdom in those seven books than can be found in the most solemn philosophical tomes.
My daughter came to terms with her own situation without my intervention but by this time I was on my own quest. I had rediscovered Wayne Dyer whose work had now taken a more spiritual turn and I became hooked on listening to his podcasts and videos on You Tube. This introduced me to other authors – each in turn shining a light for me and all with something to teach me at exactly the right time.
I learned that I am an empath – someone who readily absorbs other people’s emotions and physical symptoms. I had always been aware of something like this within me, but I had never been able to give a name or have the ‘drained’ feeling that can be associated with it, accurately described. I had felt it recently when I’d been living in a flat below someone who had been going through a difficult time that had affected him quite badly. I knew he wasn’t deliberately projecting his anger and frustration onto me personally, but I could feel it. As though an invisible poisonous gas was slowly escaping from the house upstairs and seeping in through the cracks under the doors and into my flat. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough and as soon as I did, the feeling of heaviness evaporated.
Reaching out to other souls to the point where you actually experience their pain, sorrow, behaviours, beliefs, feelings and values might sound like a very caring and noble concept, but it can be a very unhealthy space when you are continually feeling overwhelmed and drained of physical and spiritual energy. Panic attacks, anxiety and depression are commonplace amongst empaths. And so are auto-immune disorders.
Dipping my toe back into the spiritual pool, brought with it a desire to attempt meditation again. Although I have been practicing yoga on and off since I was in my teens, I have never considered myself to be particularly good at meditating. I lack the mental and emotional discipline to clear my mind sufficiently and banish day to day thoughts long enough to attain that inner state of awareness. My ‘meditative’ time was usually spent mulling over matters that were in no way conducive to peace, happiness, or bliss. Despite this, I really wanted to focus on giving it another go.
There are many guided meditations available online nowadays and I decided to start with a sound meditation by Wayne Dyer. I was instructed to make an ‘Aahh’ sound, which he explains, is the sound of manifestation and creation. Strangely I found that I was literally unable to make any noise at all. As hard as I tried, the only sound I emitted was a choked sort of gasp. After these initial attempts I feared the MS might be affecting my vocal chords. But clearly this wasn’t the case because I could sing along to the radio loudly and tunefully with no trouble at all. I wondered if it was because Wayne had a deeper voice, so I tried pitching my ‘Aahh’ sound an octave higher. No dice. Something was blocking me.
Determined not to give up, I did the meditation every single morning for the next fortnight. I simply took in the messages, opened my mouth and imagined I was emitting an Aahh sound. It took me more than a month to find my voice as it were, but before long I was out-Aahhing Wayne. There will doubtless be people who will recognise immediately what was behind my muted manifestations, but I certainly had no idea. I still don’t.
One of the things I would have liked to have been able to manifest as a result of my Aahh meditations was more money. Even if financial abundance was beyond my capability, then at least to have the scarcity removed and have it replaced with a stronger sense of security. But I was a very long way from that happy state of affairs.
Sometimes I would rather do anything than confront the almost indescribable shame that has accompanied certain events and situations that I have encountered in my life. I had reached that point. No amount of chanting, meditating, affirming, wishing and hoping was going to change things. I felt like I was losing badly in a game of Monopoly. When everything you own is mortgaged and you roll the dice hoping like hell you’re not going land on the hotel some bastard’s just put on Mayfair. I needed to face it. It wasn’t just that I was finding it a bit difficult to make ends meet, it was impossible.
Impossible because I had credit card debt that I had no hope of being able to repay on my now diminished income. It was probably my unshakeable belief that all of this was temporary and that it would miraculously come right somehow, that had got me into this pickle in the first place. It certainly wasn’t because I had costly hobbies or habits. I didn’t buy expensive clothes or go away on overseas holidays. I wasn’t using the credit card for unnecessary luxuries. I had used it for all those investigative diagnostic and alternative therapies before I knew I had MS. I had used it to pay the relocation expenses back to New Zealand. I had used it to buy my car thinking I would get a lot more for the vehicle I sold in Australia. I had used it when the engine blew up in the car I bought in New Zealand. I had used it to tide me over when I was on a benefit after I was made redundant and I had needed to use it again when I was on the state benefit after I got sick and was waiting for the Income Protection Insurance to be approved. But it wasn’t temporary and now I was stuck with it.
I had already tried to withdraw funds from my superannuation fund on the grounds of significant hardship. This would have cleared the debt, but they would only release a very small amount to me as they make it abundantly clear that funds cannot be withdrawn for the purposes of repaying credit card debt. As I saw it, the only other option I had was to declare bankruptcy. Mentioning none of this to another living soul, I tentatively searched online to investigate the procedure for declaring bankruptcy. I found to my relief that I had other options available to me. If only I’d had the sense to realistically face my financial difficulties earlier, I could have saved myself a considerable amount of angst.
I qualified for a No Asset Procedure (NAP) as my debt was less than $47,000 and I had no additional money to repay it. I had to provide evidence as to what happened and why, which was easy because this information was readily on hand. My application was accepted, and the debt was effectively cleared overnight. I would be in the procedure for twelve months and during this time I was not permitted to access credit over $1000, take on any hire purchase agreements and my credit rating would be affected. A record of my application would be listed in the insolvency register which is free for the public to search for four years my discharge. I couldn’t have cared less about any of that. I was just so massively relieved that this scheme existed to help people like me who had done their best but fallen into a black hole of humiliating financial desperation.
The morning after receiving the notification from the Official Assignee, I found I had more humiliation to face. My wages had been paid overnight but when I logged in to my account intending to pay my overdue Telecom bill I found that everything had frozen. I phoned the bank and the insolvency had meant that I would have to close my account. I went into a state of panic. Did this mean that the wages that had been paid overnight had been seized? Would I ever be permitted to have another bank account? How would this affect my wages and income protection insurance? Would I have to be paid in cash and keep it in a shoebox under the bed? How would I pay for things like rent, telecoms and electricity?
Then a calm voice inside my head took over:
“Take a deep breath, have a shower, get dressed, eat a good breakfast, get into your car and drive to the nearest bank. There will be people there to help you and by the end of the day it will all be sorted.”
And so it was. Maybe it was because I have an obvious disability, but the teller at my existing bank could not have been more helpful. I could see from her face that she fully empathised with my situation and although there was no alternative but for me to close my account, she withdrew the wages that had been deposited the previous night in cash and suggested a bank where I might be able to open a new account. I had the same experience at the new bank. Of course, I had to explain my circumstances but there was no judgement, only kindness and understanding. I left with tears in my eyes, but they weren’t tears of shame or resentment. I felt like I was starting anew in a funny sort of way and the only tears I shed were tears of gratitude.