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“I am officially broke” were the words I used as I began a long and profound post on Facebook one morning.
“I am struggling,” I continued, “I don’t own a house, I have no savings, I am struggling to make ends meet, but I am happier than I have ever been.”
I can’t say what prompted me to write that post. I wasn’t searching for sympathy or attention, and I wasn’t asking for help. It was merely an acknowledgement of my current situation, it was me taking ownership of it, it was a statement of my reality, but most of all, it was a conscious affirmation of the practice of gratitude—that despite my dire financial status, I felt richer than I ever had been.
It stings when you are faced with the reality that at almost 38 years of age and with three children to support, you are starting right from scratch.
I have worked since the age of 16. I qualified as a nurse in 2005. I was married for 13 years, we never owned a house, and we divorced recently. The lack of financial ties meant a quick and easy divorce, stress-free and seemingly painless, an email of confirmation that the marriage was over—just like that.
My ex-husband’s career always took precedence over mine, and that was fine, as I was happy to take a back seat, work part-time, and spend more time with the children. I supported his career acceleration and was proud of him and what he had achieved.
His career remains solid. I now work when I can, plus juggling day-to-day life with children and all the many roles that come with being a mother—taxi driver, chef, organiser, cleaner, psychologist, friend, foe, and the list goes on.
And as any parent knows, the financial outgoings never cease—dance lessons, drama lessons, school lunches, school uniforms, food, and clothing.
So when did I realise that I was officially broke? Maybe it was when we had to cut the end off the toothpaste tube to get the last bits of toothpaste out, maybe it was when I had to ask someone if I could have some of their spare toilet rolls, or it could have been when I actually questioned if I could afford to feed myself—when the idea of using the local food bank was actually becoming a possibility.
I would look at my bank account and see “NIL” on every account. Jotting down paydays on my calendar and meticulously planning what we could eat until the next date that a payment would go in.
The realisation that at almost 38 years old, and despite working as a health care professional for the past 16 years, I was left with nothing. The last lot of my savings are gone, I’m living in a rented property, and I’m terrified that my already precarious car is one day going to die beyond any hope of resuscitation.
This is now my reality, but I am not ashamed to be here in this situation. Financially, I am at rock bottom, but I am actually on top of the world. I see this as a transition, a reset on my life, a turning point, a new beginning, a blank canvas. Maybe I am too positive, maybe even delusional, but the only way is up from here.
Financially, I have nothing to show for my life, but now I live in abundance. Where once there was barren land, there are now meadows of hope and possibility.
Once repressed, now blooming.
Freedom, real authentic freedom, whispers in my ear like a balmy breeze on a July evening, “I am real, now stretch out your wings and fly.” The containment that was once my life has lifted, my future has now outstretched like an avenue paved with gold and lined by blossom trees, their fresh soft petals nod to new beginnings.
There is something strangely liberating about being at rock bottom, a vulnerability that leaves you with a humbleness, which in turn becomes a life lesson. A new scope of understanding, a shift in perception, an extension of empathy and compassion toward others, a new insight into the reality that rock bottom does not discriminate. “We are only one paycheck away from homelessness.”
You sink or you swim, and I have chosen to swim. I won’t lie: I can feel the anxiety knocking on my door, its heaviness filling my chest like acrid smoke, its grip tightening around my throat, a feeling of dread dripping into my stomach like a broken tap, rhythmically and relentlessly breaking the silence of the night. I’m having fleeting moments of panic and flushes of despair, but I am choosing to close the door on these feelings and leave them outside.
Instead, I will breathe in love, hope, faith, strength, patience, and dignity. I’m filling my lungs, heart, and soul with gratitude for the health of myself and all those whom I love. I’m grateful for my continued dreams, goals, and aspirations, and that I was chosen to live this life, right here, right now.
I have accepted my past and all that it was; I have grieved for the future and all it could have been. Now there are endless possibilities of where that gold-paved avenue takes me with its blossom trees and soft, balmy breeze whispering of freedom.
Right now, the present is all there is.
My bank account is devoid, barren, desolate, but my soul isn’t. I see more colours now than I ever have before; my life is rich, and I have everything.
I have learnt more from being at rock bottom than any official form of education has taught me. There are no degrees in humility, hope, or vulnerability.
Gratitude is often learnt through suffering and despair, through pain and turmoil. Gratitude is more than a practice of turning thoughts around: it is a surrendering, a softness, an exhaling of bitterness and anger, and instead an inhaling of kindness and love.
It is a surrender to peace and to the silence. It is choosing to acknowledge the birdsong over the din of traffic, to smell the earth on a rainy day, to smile at a stranger even on your worst days.
At rock bottom, I have chosen gratitude.
I am thankful, and I am strong.
And I am richer than I have ever been in my life.