When I got the job that I thought was the key to my success I was elated! I had no problem committing to the long hours, the erratic schedule and the “think outside the box” boss that was anything but conventional. I poured my heart, soul, time and life into something that was both an adventure and an investment in my future and I loved living the upward curve of my professional dreams.
And then I got laid off. Damn.
Since I didn’t see it coming, there was no backup plan and in turn, no sense of security or confidence in my future well being. It was a change in pace, in lifestyle, in culture and in my bottom line. Also, it was a massive blow to my self esteem and confidence in my judgment. I had gone from ‘hit the ground running’ to ‘full stop at the cliff’ and I wasn’t prepared in any way for it.
The job loss happened in October and by December I’d used up my savings to move, to job search, and to try to sooth my battered pride through ‘treats’ that would make me briefly happy. By the time January rolled around and I had to reconcile my previously stellar employment experience with the taxes coming due, I wasn’t prepared and I hit a new low.
The taxes that accrue through contract work are stiff and a regularly scheduled jolt if one does not take the time to make a financial plan and have the discipline to stick with it. At that time I had neither created a plan, nor was I in the state of mind to be disciplined. What I planned on was having that job and paying my taxes out of that income and then probably buying a dress, some shoes and a nice evening out with my friends.
Instead, I saw what I owed and knew I wouldn’t be able to pay it and I… ignored it. I had a good cry as I filed the paperwork down as if I’d written the check and I consciously pushed it out of my mind thinking, “by the time they catch me, I’ll have more than enough money to pay whatever I owe and the interest will be worth my peace of mind now.”
Here’s the part that I didn’t anticipate. By not paying my taxes I was being irresponsible yet again and that would compound the feelings of defeat I was already struggling with. I wasn’t just shirking my responsibilities to my government, I was persuading myself that feeling guilty, deficient and incapable was easier than picking up the phone and piecing together a structured payment plan. Maybe in the moment it didn’t feel that way, but the longer I went in arrears it certainly did.
It took so much psychic energy to avoid the mail, avoid the phone, avoid acknowledging days involving taxes that it began to wear on me. Almost like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, I felt I couldn’t’ get away from the shame and the anxiety I felt. No, I clearly hadn’t committed murder, but paying taxes is to a certain degree about engaging in a healthy society and by not paying my share I was withdrawing from my community.
When I finally got myself together and ginned up the courage to address the issue, it took facing a lot of layers of denial. I had to face the loss of that beloved job all over again, the sense of shame I’d developed over my irresponsible behavior, I had to call someone and tell them all those things… it was unpleasant. BUT, it soon became clear that because I was not the first person to go through this, there were people and programs designed to help me. In getting the help and making the plan I experienced less shame than I had subjected myself to by keeping it all secret.
I won’t say that paying taxes is a joyous experience because it’s not, however, as I paid the debt down I got closer and closer to the edge of the dark cloud that had been hovering over me for way too long. By the time I was done I had my sense of pride back, both in myself and in my community. Yes, I look at well maintained roads and healthy green parks and I think, “I helped do that”.
Now that so many years have passed it seems like just a growing pain; a phase I had to get beyond in my adult development; but understanding that it wasn’t just the money, it was the depression too, makes me know that it’s an emotional and mental health issue as well. Running and hiding from your obligations will trigger whatever depressed, negative emotions that you may have. Yet conversely, as big a nuisance as it may seem, doing what is expected of you in the social contract can also be gratifying, if not esteem building.
Lizabeth Wesely-Casella is and advocate for people with binge and impulse control disorders. She is the Founder of BingeBehavior.com and she uses her experiences with binge eating, binge drinking and trichotillomania to support others through writing and speaking. Stay current with the latest information and join the forums at www.BingeBehavior.com or follow on twitter at @BingeBehavior.