Running in circles and getting nowhere

Running in circles and getting nowhere

As I write this I’m standing in line at the Illinois Social Services Office in the Humboldt Park section of Chicago. I’m here because something went off track in my effort to transfer my health insurance from New Jersey. Last year at about this time, I applied for insurance through the Healthcare Marketplace. The ACA was supposed to be a great benefit to the self-employed like me. And it was – until I moved.

The marketing of my business was largely put on hold this year because of my pending move. My part-time job doesn’t include healthcare. My lack of substantial income has made me eligible for low-cost or free healthcare through Illinois Medicaid. Lucky me. Sort of. I wasn’t given any other option. I received my notification of the determination from the Healthcare Marketplace in mid-August and was waiting for the specifics from the state (like I had received from New Jersey last year). When October rolled around and I still hadn’t received anything, I called. While the kind woman on the phone said she’d file a complaint, she said the best thing I could do to expedite my coverage was to come down here.

It should be noted that while I still have healthcare coverage with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of NJ that was obtained through the marketplace, participating doctors are only in New Jersey. Doesn’t do me much good here in Illinois. The finger that was injured almost eight weeks ago when my dog saw a squirrel isn’t healing and I need to get it examined. This is why disadvantaged people are kept down. Problems aren’t as easily solved, and life has a way of spiraling downward.

My “Mallet Finger” almost 8 weeks ago. Waiting to see a doctor.

This is an important lesson in how the disadvantaged live, what they are subjected to and who makes up this group. Of the 50 or so people sharing the line with me and the few dozen sitting waiting for the next step, I am one of only four Caucasians. Other than that it’s a pretty diverse group of shapes, sizes, genders, and generations – toddlers and pregnant women and the elderly. Everyone is being patient and quiet. No one is angry or boasting a sense of entitlement to anything.

I’ve been here for a half hour. There are eight people still in line ahead of me.

This was not what I wanted to be doing today of course. I’m trying to focus on my business plan and creating a strategy for execution. I am trying not be distracted by the sense of despair I tend to feel at this time of year. The anniversary of my husband’s death is coming up on Saturday. I’ve learned over the last few years to ride the waves, and that yes, this too shall pass. But knowing that still doesn’t make the negative feelings or the depression go away. And times like this – waiting in line at a social services office – makes me long for everything I feel I let go – my six-figure income, my four-bedroom house in the wealthy suburbs of New York City, and yeah, employer based healthcare that didn’t require I wait on line to prove my eligibility.

Finally seen by an agent, I explain my issue; she tries to give me the number I called yesterday when I was told to come here. I was assertive and was then told to sit and wait for my name to be called. I’ve now been here for almost an hour. I am wondering if all of these people will be assertive to get what they need, or have they been beaten down enough by the system that they will backdown when confronted with a challenge.

I’ve been on edge and overly sensitive over the last week or two. I ran the Bucktown 5k on Sunday and felt really sad, homesick I guess, longing for the races where I knew so many of the other runners and race staff. I thought of the Cheers theme song, “where everybody knows your name.” No one knows my name here.

And yesterday, I needed a walk in the woods, to be surrounded by tall colorful maples and oaks, to climb to the top of a mountain to uplift my soul and embrace all that I still love about autumn. But that is so far away; I am so far, too, from anywhere I want to be at this very moment. Waiting.

I don’t like waiting. I’ve always been a doer. I’d rather drive out of my way than sit in traffic. I feel so much better when I’m moving. Movement makes me feel in control or at least like something’s happening – forward motion, accomplishment, miles logged.

After my name is called I explain, again, what has brought me here. I am told that there is a 60-day backlog on applications, and that providing a copy of my pay stub (why didn’t the woman on the phone yesterday tell me to bring that?) will assure that they have all they need to process my application. So after investing two and a half hours here, I have to return home to retrieve it and bring it back, and start over. They said at 3:30 the line might not be as long.

My daughter still needs to get her Illinois driver’s license. Tomorrow I was planning to take her to DVM. LOL.

Fall on the Prairie. About an hour away. Long Grove, Illinois. October 2017.
The truth about the move

The truth about the move

As I write this I am sitting at DMV. West Randolph Street. Chicago, Illinois. So far doesn’t appear to be all that different than New Jersey. They are telling me I need to take the written exam even though it’s technically not a requirement (“agents do reserve the right to choose whether or not you take one”). So much for 36 years of driving experience. They took my picture already, so I guess they’re assuming I’ll pass. I’ve been here for a half hour.

Atrium at the Thompson Center. Home to Chicago Central Illinois Secretary of State Facility (aka DMV). September, 2018.

Moving is almost as bad as losing your wallet…with over $10,000 in it! Every card company, every financial institution needs to be contacted. As well as insurance companies (still not sure when my medical coverage in Illinois goes into effect; still covered in New Jersey until it does, although that’s essentially useless now – my only complaint about the ACA). 

My move wasn’t completed until August 25 when I finally had the last vehicle and last person (my daughter) in Illinois. Last week I got her moved into her college dorm, did one last sweep of organization in the apartment, and sat down on my new sectional sofa and declared myself done. It took two months. A few trips back and forth. It was very expensive. And at times, very stressful. I held off writing about it until I could get my thoughts together, calm down, and come at it from the best perspective possible.

I’ve still only had my documents reviewed and picture taken. I’ve been here for an hour.

Moving sucks. I realized this in college when it seemed every few months I was packing to go one way or the other. As a married adult, I moved five times in less than 20 years. They were all local moves no further than maybe 10 or 15 miles at best and I finally had resources to hire help. I didn’t know what real moving stress was until I moved 800 miles as a single adult.

The moving company I hire to do my previous moves wasn’t available on the dates I wanted to move and neither where the companies friends recommended. Who knew June was such a popular month to vacate the land of high property taxes? I found another company with mixed reviews, but availability.

Okay, finally my number is called. Quickly moved to the testing area (only after paying for the license, so again, it appears they have confidence in my ability to pass).

My stuff was loaded up without incident on the 26thof June.  My stuff arrived in Chicago a week later. What happened in between I’ll never know. Some of the boxes coming off the truck looked like they had been thrown down the side of a mountain. Plastic bins marked “fragile” crushed. China, crystal, my mother’s tea sets. My running awards and the dining room table. I was devastated.

As I opened boxes I was surprised to see some fragile items actually made it (stuff I packed of course!). A few other things didn’t make it and the dining room table needed to be replaced. Some boxes in storage I haven’t had the courage to open. I have nine months to complete my claim.

The driver’s license process took a total of one hour and 45 minutes. I’ve seen worse in New Jersey. I passed the written exam, getting 28 of 28 questions correct.  On to registration and plates…

I will be happy when this is all done, although I do realize giving up my visual New Jersey identity is a big deal. I have been a New Jersey resident since I was two years old. It’s such a part of who I was. Beyond letting go, there is also fear of the unknown that lies ahead, finding the courage to take risks, networking and reestablishing myself professionally when I’m feeling overwhelmed and, at times, completely lost. It’s been a lot. I will admit that it’s been tough. But here we are.

And I am happy. I love my neighborhood and how homey my apartment finally feels. I’m making some nice connections among runners and Rotarians, Let Me Run colleagues, and I’m taking on a new volunteer project (more on that to come). And of course, I have the benefit of love and support close by now. So, there are lots of good things to balance the stressful times.

Journey from the Garden State to the Land of Lincoln is complete. September, 2018.

Getting all the right documentation for the car registration took a total of two hours and 45 minutes (which required three separate calls to Volkswagen Credit each of which included sitting on hold waiting for a live person for over 20 minutes). That was balanced by some very nice people behind the counter and on the phone trying to do their jobs within a challenging system – although at one point I was ready to drive the car into the lake and take the train home.

There are probably a bunch of lessons learned from the move – and my four and half hours at the DVM – that I could share. Yet it all boils down to this: be patient; with yourself and others. Do what you can do and try to find a good story in the rest of it.

Finding happiness at the end of a long winter

Finding happiness at the end of a long winter

This week signaled the start of two 5k beginner groups and my longest training run since the NJ Marathon almost 2 years ago. And while I turned my focus to those priorities, I felt like I was neglecting others. I have been beating myself up a bit for not maintaining my standards. Read more

Let Me Reach Out!

Let Me Reach Out!

This is another one of those weeks where I struggled to figure out what I’m going to say here. I have lots of ideas of things that I want to write about, but some weeks none of my ideas seem appropriate. Like many parents, I am shaken by another school shooting. 29 mass shootings so far this year, the 18th at a school. I ran hard yesterday morning. Running relieves stress.

“Not just exercise, but a way to get in touch with and reclaim myself in an often fragmenting world, running also serves as a powerful antidote to clinical depression, a metaphor for the creative process, and, in its most profound moments, a spiritual practice.” – Poet Alison Townsend

Read more

The benefits of simplicity

The benefits of simplicity

A couple weeks ago, I found myself spending a weekend in a hotel outside of Philadelphia. Why? Because my daughter was visiting a friend in college, didn’t want to drive herself, and I certainly wasn’t going to make the four-hour round trip twice in one weekend. Sure she could have taken public transportation…but yeah, that’s the kind of mother I am.

There was something in it for me, though. I had a bunch of paperwork and other laptop-based tasks to get caught up on and I saw this as an opportunity to focus without the distractions found at home. It was an efficiency room, residence-type hotel that could accommodate the dog for an extra $10 (a bargain considering the added expense of a kennel or dog sitter for two days). Plus I brought food and could prepare my own meals.

A room with a view. Horsham, Pennsylvania. October, 2017 

So for two whole days I was self-contained and self-sufficient. Didn’t have to leave the room (except to walk him), which was a good thing because Enzo would not have been happy if left in the room alone and would surely have made enough noise to have us evicted. The weekend went as planned. I got my work done and also learned something. Simplicity feels good.

“Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.”
— Frederic Chopin

Having everything I needed – and only what I needed – in one room was calming. It reminded me of being between houses when my daughter was a toddler. We lived for nine months at my mother-in-law’s home. While the situation was understandably stressful, it was balanced by the simplicity of having everything but necessities in storage and not having the responsibility of being the homeowner.

These are important lessons to draw on as I prepare my house for sale and my daughter and I for a move. A friend who did it last year advised me to spend the time I had in the year ahead to weed out the clutter so it didn’t become a huge job at the last minute. Good advice.

Not long after my parents became empty nesters, they sold my childhood home and began the process of downsizing. I remember finding them one day sorting through their belongings, which had been tucked away in the attic for decades. My father was tossing his WWII Army Air Corps uniform into a big Hefty bag. Horrified, I stopped him. “That would be like mom throwing out her wedding gown!” My mom looked up from her pile and said, “Threw it out two days ago!”

I didn’t understand at all how they could part with so many precious symbols of their lives that they had held on to all these years. I couldn’t understand it then. I understand it now. As I start to think about my own empty nest and moving to a smaller place, practicality takes over to a certain degree; but it’s something else too.

By middle age, we’ve experienced so much more and learned to value simplicity. We also have a lot more clarity about what is important, what is worth saving, and where it’s okay to let go. I have a plastic bin in the basement labeled “Sheehy”. It contains a few bits and pieces of what’s left of my parent’s lives that they, and ultimately, I, still regard as important. I guess that’s a good thing to remember. Our lives will inevitably become a box in someone’s basement or attic. So only hold on to what’s really important so it’s simple for someone to keep.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” 
— Antoine de Saint Exupéry

I am following my friend’s advice. I’ve started weeding through the clutter and discarding a lot. Making donations. Contemplating another garage sale. I have china and glassware inherited after cleaning out my mother’s and my aunt’s homes, sentimental knick-knacks, and too much furniture. I think parting with meaningful things will be less of an issue than trying to consolidate the contents of a four-bedroom house into a two-bedroom apartment.

I went looking for help on the Internet and found some great ideas worth passing along…This is a great how-to: The Four Laws of Simplicity, and How to Apply Them to Life. And if you’re having trouble starting there, maybe read this first: 7-Steps to Inner Simplicity.

It has been my experience that simplifying my environment will calm the mind and move me closer to an inner peace. Less is more is a philosophy I have applied to my training as an aging runner. Keeping it simple assures my running continues to be a stress reliever, and does not add stress, both physically and mentally. The older I get, the more I realize how true this is for everything.

Tyler State Park. Newtown, Pennsylvania. October, 2017.

And here’s an idea for runners looking to clean-out T-shirt drawers. I have run close to 270 races, which mean close to 270 race shirts. As soon as I get the shirt home I take a picture of it. Then I place it in one of three piles: Keeper (will be added to my wardrobe), Donation (nice shirt for someone else), Tosser (usually long sleeves and sweatshirts, that I wear at the start of a race in cool weather and toss at the start – usually collected by race organizers and donated too).  For now I’m keeping the pictures in a folder on my computer, but plan to make an album, matching them up with the bib numbers. Project for another day.