In June, my husband and I purchased new phones. This may not seem particularly noteworthy to some, but you have to understand that by the time we finally got new phones, I had had my iPhone 4 for nearly four years. It had a shattered screen, it had stopped saving my text messages, it had never picked up cellular signal in my house, it kept shutting off randomly. A payphone might have served me better at that point. Or a carrier pigeon.
After two years of multiple part-time, low-wage jobs, I had finally found a full time, salaried job with excellent benefits in May. So there we were in June, upgrading our phones, the first of many planned upgrades. We didn’t want to go crazy, we just wanted to take care of ourselves. New phones and a better phone plan. Repairs to my car. A savings account. Paying off debts. A car for my husband, because he had been carpooling with a coworker since March when the mechanic declared his 1998 Mercury Mountaineer terminally ill. Actually *using* our health insurance to go to the optometrist or the dentist.
A few days after my husband and I got our new phones, the weirdest thing started to happen: I started to have a recurring dream that I smashed my new iPhone and couldn’t afford to replace it. Some of these dreams were so innocuous as to seem real–the phone slips off the counter and smacks the floor while I’m making dinner. Or more surreal ones, where the iPhone is as big as a laptop, and I accidentally drop it in a swimming pool while hanging out with friends. Or the phone flies out the window while I’m driving on the highway.
I couldn’t understand why I was dreaming about this. I would wake up, heart racing with anxiety and think, “OMG BETHANY, IT’S JUST A PHONE.”
But one morning after waking up from yet another anxiety dream about my smashed iPhone, I had a depressing epiphany: It’s not about the phone.
It’s about my life.
It’s about my security.
It’s about my future.
And it feels really fragile. This new job, this new state of having enough to move forward, feels like it could be taken away from me in an instant. In my entire adult life, I’ve never earned this much or had this much guaranteed stability. And honestly, I was beginning to think I would never have it. And now that I do have it, it doesn’t feel real. It feels like I’m going to lose it at any second.
It’s been months since I had that epiphany, and I’m still working through it. I will turn 30 later this year, and as I look back on my 20’s, I’m realizing that the recurring theme of the last decade has been Deconstructing the Narratives. And the recurring question has been: What is my relationship to this thing/idea/institution/person/group of people, and what do my recurring interactions say about my beliefs about it/them? Or, what do I believe is true about myself and my life? Where did that belief come from, and is it really true? Is it helpful? Is it good?
Through every transition and new opportunity, I’ve had to ask myself these questions. It’s exhausting work, but it’s transformational, soul-bearing work.
It’s helped me reorient my faith and my politics and navigate my relationships with people and it’s helped me understand myself in new ways. These past several months, I’ve been working on deconstructing my narratives around money and security. For instance, I’m realizing that I’ve always equated those two things. I’ve always been waiting on enough money (whatever that is) to feel secure enough to change my habits. And I’ve always believed that no matter how hard I work, something could get taken away from me, so why bother trying? *Ugh.* Why do I believe this? Where did that come from? It might be because of what our family life was like growing up, and how I saw other people handle money and security. And it’s almost definitely because we exist in an inequitable economic system that thrives on our failure (banks make more money from our mistakes.)
I’m still working out what to do, now that I know this about myself. My temptation is to obsess over making All The Right Choices, as a way of making myself feel secure. But we are two weeks into the new year, and all our resolutions and self-mandates for perfection are starting to crack, aren’t they? Mine definitely are.
My one hope for myself this year, and for all of my sisters reading this, is that we handle our lives with more grace. Let’s pay closer attention to the cues our bodies and brains are giving us. A silly recurring dream may have a lot to tell us about what we really believe and value. Let’s deconstruct the harmful narratives and rebuild with more compassion–more kindness, more patience, better questions and more forgiving answers.
So tell me: what are the narratives you’ve been deconstructing lately? How are you taking care of yourself through it? What are you choosing to do differently this year?