This post got really personal really fast. Thanks for letting me share it with you.
As you might remember, my husband is in school full time. He jokingly claims he got himself a sugar-mama so he could be a stay-at-home-husband, hahaha, but that´s pretty far from the truth.
Michael and I started dating our junior year of high school. After high school, we went to different colleges, both on full scholarships. This is a very long story for another day, but I´ll give you the abbreviated version: That first year was really hard on both of us for many reasons. It wasn´t hard for the traditional reasons of being away from home, etc, etc (in fact, we met at the boarding school we went to for high school, so living away wasn´t new to us), but for a slew of other, bigger, sadder reasons that I won´t really detail here.
Michael started one semester and withdrew, losing his scholarship, and battling the onset of mental illness. He started a second semester at a different university and withdrew. Then he took some time off, we broke up after 4 years of being together, and he moved to New Zealand. Just like that. He lived there for almost 2 years and I didn´t hear from him at all.
I had withdrawn our second semester as well, but because I was able to get a medical exception, I didn´t lose my scholarship. I went back to school right away, and graduated in 8 semesters–though it took me 4.5 years.
While I was in school, I double majored in international marketing and German. I just happened to take enough hours to get minors in both math and French. That is to say, I took a lot of hours, every semester. My very first semester, I was foolishly duped into only taking 12 hours. Every subsequent semester I took 21. Yes, this is a lot. Yes, I went to a good school. Yes, it was hard–but I loved it. No, I did not have straight A´s. Not a chance.
Well, back in 2011, Michael and I got back together after 5 years of being apart. In that interim, he had come back from New Zealand and was working as IT Director for the county government. He´s smart and great with computers. He never finished his degree. When we got back together we knew basically instantly that we wanted to get married and be together always. After we started dating again, he lightly asked me almost every day how soon he could marry me. What was the appropriate waiting period? How long did we have to date, and then how long did our engagement period have to be–in order for people to still think us decent?
We spent many long nights talking about our plans and dreams, and catching up–telling stories from those lost 5 years. It was plain to see that Michael longed to go back to school. He wasn´t driven so much by the desire to get a degree as he was by missing academia. Boy, could I relate! I miss academia every day–whenever someone asks me what I would do if I won the lottery, I always say I´d be a perpetual student.
Once we officially got engaged, and started planning our real lives, I decided in all of my benevolence (sarcasm) to allow Michael to quit his job and go back to school full time. At the time, I was making way more money than anyone else I knew my age, and figured this was surely plenty to support the two of us, in addition to his tuition bills. This was all the “financial planning” we put into the decision. We didn´t even look at how much tuition cost. I had a feeling that we´d be fine. A feeling. Where there´s a will, there´s a way, and all that. That´s it. This is only one piece of my getting-into-debt puzzle, but it´s an important one.
He didn´t restrain his joy as this plan turned into reality. A month after our wedding and honeymoon, he started, as a freshman. He started school with all the vigor and joie d´vivre I´ve ever seen on anyone, and school did not disappoint. He got “academic amnesty” which allowed him to wipe the slate clean of those 2 bad semesters now almost 10 years behind him, and start fresh. He declared himself a math major with a Spanish minor and got to work.
He´s taken 15 hours every semester and soared on through with straight A´s, earning himself fancy awards and letters from the university president. He´s approached school with the diligence and earnesty his adulthood has brought with it. He knows this is his “full time job” and that I´m working hard to pay for it, and that he´s not unemployed–his job is to do well in school. Initially, I was concerned about his ability to manage his illness and the added stress of school, but he’s done fine. I could not be prouder. He reads chapters in textbooks weeks in advance, does all his homework ahead of time, and has befriended all of his professors because he takes full advantage of their office hours. All the time, I´d think I´d come home from work and sneak upon him playing video games, but no. Every time I´d come in the door, there he´d be, bent over his books. He was so happy.
Until this semester. While his work ethic hasn´t dwindled, this semester he took 18 hours instead of 15. Of these, 12 were 4000-level maths. His happy-go-lucky math-filled days have come to a screeching halt and have been replaced with anxiety, sleepless nights and regret. He´s certain that if he had more time in the day, he´d be fine, but as it stands, he´s up til 2 or 3am every night doing math, and waking up at 6am to continue working. These classes each assign so much work. He does not have it in him to let the homework slip by undone. He knows better than anyone that doing the homework is the key to acing tests, or simply understanding the material. The last couple of weeks I´ve heard nothing but sadness and exhaustion in his voice as we talked. No traces of that glimmering love of math. To say he hasn´t been feeling well would be an understatement. I’m sure he’s spent half his energy keeping his illness from becoming debilitating. He´s been so sad that he can´t do it all.
I´d seen this coming for a few weeks. I knew it was going to happen. I´d been begging him to drop one of the classes. And finally, he decided to, last Friday. Still, I was shocked. I never once dropped a class in my collegiate career, and deep down, I was hoping he´d find it in him to power through. I always had, when I was in college. When he told me he was going to drop a class, my gut yelled, “how much money are we losing?!” and then I felt nothing but shame.
Instead of being glad that my husband was putting his mental and physical health first, all I saw was dollar signs. I was shocked at myself. The thought passed in an instant, but I am still filled with embarrassment that this was the first thought that popped into my mind. I immediately told him to do it, fill out the paperwork and sleep. My poor, poor love. I know he did not come upon the decision lightly, and I felt like I could hear the weight of the demons being lifted from his mind as we finalized the plan.
And then I drove home for the weekend. Oh yeah, we also hadn´t seen each other in 3 weeks. On both Saturday and Sunday we slept past noon, and when I left, I left elated with relief. He looked so much better after just one weekend of having so much stress lifted off of him. Again, I am so proud. But this time, not for him doing well in school, but for him having the courage to put his mental and physical health above finances, and all else. For taking care of himself. It´s what I asked him to do when I left for Houston, and he´s doing it.
And so, a few lessons learned: 1) NEVER go 3 weeks without seeing each other again. We were trying to be frugal (you´ll see below that we´re spending more on gas than anticipated) and the timing of events we had planned this month was weird–doesn´t matter. Going forward, 2 weeks apart–max. Period. 2) Money and financial savvy are important, but never more important than happiness or health. By the way, in the end, we only “lost” $30 for him dropping from 18 to 15 hours. No joke. Totally worth it. 3) He knows what he´s doing. As much as I worry about him, and as much as we miss each other, he´s okay without me. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn. He still
battles lives with his mental illness daily, and while my support, and the comfort, love, and stability I provide all help him–he´s okay without me.
And so, it was a good weekend. 🙂 We went to his cousin´s wedding, and had fun getting dressed up, drinking, dancing, eating delicious food, and seeing everyone. And then we slept, so much.
Oh, and I´ve lost 15 lbs since I got to Houston. It´s been about 6 weeks. Yay me.
And so, without further ado, here is my progress report for February:
That’s a total success of $3,375.77.
Did you drop classes when you were in college? I know a lot of us weren’t so financially-minded then. Have you reacted to a hard decision with dollar signs instead of with the heart? Do you want to talk about a loved one
battling living with mental illness? Email me–I’m happy to share thoughts and experiences, always. Thanks for reading, friends.