Before I even start, yes, I have researched it, and no, apparently ostriches don’t actually stick their head in the sand to “evade” predators.  Experts say they’d suffocate.  Makes sense…

Humans, on the other hand, do stick their head in the sand.

Head in the sand, in case anyone doesn’t know what I mean, is just ignoring an obvious problem hoping it will go away.

I bet you’ve done it.  I have…

You all remember the “Great Recession”.  I, personally, didn’t think it was so great.  I had started a real estate development company not long before (boy, if I could have known…).  The signs of the looming financial apocalypse were becoming clear, but there was still a lot of optimism in the media that the slump wouldn’t last long.  By the time it was clear I had to throw in the towel, there were no jobs around.

I was already getting into some debt before closing the business.  On top of that, the only job I could find was not much above minimum wage.  I had a bunch of other major circumstances that sucked up a bunch of money.  Most of my expenses were fixed.  No way to cut back enough…

(You can probably see where I’m going with this…)

For a long time (12 months from starting that job to declaring bankruptcy), my head was either in the sand or hanging in shame.  I let bills and collection notices pile up for weeks, and then opening them (then shredding them) in a blitz.

So, the “sciency” part.  We humans (like many other animals) are built with an Acute Stress Response (also known as fight-flight-freeze), governed by the lymbic system in the brain.  When we stick our heads in the sand, this is an example of the “freeze” response.  This acute stress response is a positive when we’re suddenly being chased by a bear.  It’s not a good thing when every day brings a fresh reminder that money is tight.

Psychologists and scientists are now looking at PTSD as something that afflicts people who have endured long-term, cumulative stress, in addition to the typical cases of extreme trauma (war, assault, etc.).  PTSD becomes a vicious cycle in this type of situation if the stressor is not removed.  The PTSD actually increases stress sensitivity.  Head goes into the sand faster.  Lovely, right?

Back to the story – what happened after all of that strife?  I wish it was a fairytale quick-fix ending.  Instead, it has been a long process (no past-tense wording here).

Financially, the steps:

  • Bankruptcy.
  • I built a complex spreadsheet that projected cashflow out on a daily basis for over a year, and used it to monitor things and remind me of bills to pay.  (I’m still using it after all these years.)
  • Gradually, I’ve worked my way back into positions that paid what I need. (It took me until 2013 to get back to what I was making in 2006.)
  • I’m still digging out of a hole in a sense, since my wife and I raised 5 kids and, let’s face it, kids are expensive.  I hope to retire someday, but realize it may take extraordinary effort to get there.

Emotionally and mentally, the steps:

  • Facing the demons and getting past them, one paycheck at a time.
  • Going through a litany of professional and self-help steps to get past some of the prolonged trauma.
  • Daily doing my best to be grateful for the wonderful things in my life.
  • Time with people I love.

I may always have to fight the urge to stick my head in the sand, but at least I know the tendency is there and I have experience getting through it.