Financial & Emotional Independence

For those of you who have been following along, you know it’s been a rough month. Living in your car is anything but glamorous. The psychological drain of everyday activities-brushing your teeth, getting ready for work, staying hydrated and going to the bathroom are difficult enough to make even the most patient of people irate. This doesn’t even take into account all the mental anguish, planning and work that goes into avoiding other less glamorous sides of my lifestyle- the constant noise of street sweepers, the fear of waking up to someone staring at me, the perils of trying to stay cool when temperatures haven’t dipped below 70 degrees in weeks and trying to maintain a healthy diet.

Well I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that Summer is kicking my butt and it’s just began less than a month ago. Plus, I still have another 6 months to go, which will put me well into Winter.  The good news is a big part of me did some surrendering the past two weeks.  I resolved (while reading my AWESOME book on Healing with Qi) that I am wasting too much mental energy focusing on the downsides of voluntary homelessness when I should be life hacking the shit out every discomfort I encounter. The alternative is to stop complaining and drop some money on an Air bnb, or exercise some psychological flexibility and stay with some friends or couch surf. But I am stubborn and I crave independence above all else- I also find most people and social interactions particularly draining.  The idea of staying with a friend would be ideal for cooling off and cooking food, but I mostly want to lay down in a cool room with cool water and retreat to my inner world with no distraction.

Qi gong
My Awesome book on Qigong!

So realizing that 7 months is a good time to assess how far I’ve come, what’s working, what’s not and figure out what absolutely has to change in order for me to make it through the Summer without spending a ridiculous amount of money, I have decided to life hack the shit out of my life, AGAIN. So this includes coming up with solutions to some of the things that are pushing me over the edge. It’s the only way I am going to make it!

Staying hydrated is one of the most difficult tasks.  Keeping hydrated means I am either drinking warm water leftover in my car, buying water from a store, getting water for free from drive throughs, filling up water in public places (malls, libraries, the gym, movie theatre)  and of course, my favorite- constantly using the bathroom.  So I have resolved to get in most of my water intake at work between the hours of 9:00 and 4:00. I usually stop drinking then or else I will have to pee all through the evening, and things close. Plus the incontinence I experience from SSRI withdrawal is a (fill in the blank with an appropriate expletive).

Over the weekends I usually try to spend 3 hours of the day posted up somewhere I have access to free water and a bathroom so I can get in all my water early and a cup of free water from a takeout place for the hot nights.  This means I frequent various libraries across the DMV and have become very familiar with all the staff and shift changes at many a Planet Fitness. I’ve also seen pretty much every movie on the big screen, something that will probably be a regular thing- which brings me to my next point- staying cool.

Oh my goodness it is SO freaking hot. I feel like those people who get stuck on a deserted island and have to sit in their own sweat. Sometimes I am so wrestles, listless and so very uncomfortable that I curse out loud before deciding I need to leave my car and cool off in the middle of reading or blogging or napping. Luckily I have discovered some life hacks that have made things a bit easier.  To make it through the hot night, I always keep water by my side. I also crank the A/C as high as it will go for the entire car drive out to my sleep spot, until the inside car temperature has cooled 12-15 degrees.  I aim the vents towards the ceiling to cool off the carpet and plastic that has absorbed heat directly from the Sun and also the radiant heat from the metal and plastic fixtures, instead of on me directly. Apparently hot air does rise and the greenhouse gas effect is real.

This means when I wake up a couple times a night feeling hot, I can turn on the A/C for 3 minutes, drink some water and buy 30 minutes or so of comfort- just enough time to fall asleep. This has worked supremely. I also realized that my sub zero sleeping bag keeps nice and cool if I blow air on it. Last night, I also slept with wet hair which cooled me off considerably. Keeping my car cool also means parking under trees and under covered parking structures during the day so that it takes less gas and time to cool. Overall, the last three nights have been the best in a few weeks. The low will be 73 degree for several nights straight this week- we’ll see if all this life hacking holds up!

tired
Always thinking, always scheming…

All that A/C and bathroom breaks can run up my gas usage, which sucks cause Climate Change is real, and gas is SO expensive. To reduce my fuel usage, I reserve A/C only for sleeping at night , in the morning when commuting and if I have guests in my car. I also plan my bathroom trips so that I am not driving back and forth to hit up different bathrooms, but instead hit up all my bathroom stops on the way towards a final destination to reduce mileage.  I also decided to take the hit and spend 100 a month on metro parking which will save me about 50 dollars on gas from driving to Anacostia to park my car and metro in from work. It will also save me about 40 minutes of drive time, keep my car cooler when I get off work and significantly reduce my carbon emissions. By finding one place on the weekends I can post up for a few hours, I can also reduce my gas usage. If I don’t want to go inside the building, I can chill out under the shade of a tree or find a park system with a mature canopy. In these areas the average air temperature can be nearly 10 degrees lower than downtown D.C. I’m sure it also helps that my internal indicator for hot, is much much higher than most people now.

When I am not hydrating or trying to find a bathroom, I am either eating, or trying to stave off boredom. This usually means I am looking for interesting places to get fresh food for under $8, or trying to find ways to avoid the desire to check into a hotel and sleep a whole day away by scheduling reading, exercise, urban excursions and self-care a couple of days in advance.  I’ve found a whole host of mom and pop shops where I can get fresh seafood and healthy sides like sweet potatoes, kale, green beans and squash. Having realized that convenience costs, I have been doing a better job getting nuts and dried fruit when I am hungry, but not in the mood for a meal. I’ve also been practicing intermittent fasting which has boosted my ability to focus tremendously and changed my food habits (I  only eat from 1pm-9pm, more on this later). I’ve also recently started exploring more to find more sleep spots, good public restrooms, better eats and enjoy some good music and unscheduled downtime. This has been working great. At this rate I will finish a book a month and be working out every other day for the next 6 months, with plenty of places to pee and grab not shitty food without thinking too hard.

And of course as a hard core Type A, INTJ, I have a more comfortable backup plan- getting a second job to speed things up a bit and set aside a $500 monthly budget for reserving a room if it gets too hot or cold. The heat is killing me, and I know it will pass. Keeping up with all the financial hiccups, car repairs, replacing worn clothing, special occasions means I have become even more against the idea of spending 60 dollars to spend the night at an Airbnb or drop 100 dollars and stay in a hotel. I know its an option, but I figure the longer I hold out, the less horrible I will feel when I drop $500 to make it through the hottest parts of the summer and the coolest parts of the winter by staying in an extended stay for a week when the night temperatures reach 75 degrees, or dip below 10.

The last piece of the anguish I’ve felt for the last few months has been my lack of excitement and disdain for Washington, D.C. In general. I don’t like it here- everything is too expensive, too crowded and too dirty. Everyone is in too much of a rush and too focused on the superficial or satisfied with the infamous DC brunch, happy hour and conference scene to grow casual interactions into intimate friendships. That or they have kids, are permanently booed up or having financial issues.

awesome quote

But I LOVE my job and I have history here and I believe I can thrive anywhere. So I have been making an effort to meet more people, even though I find meetups, dating sites and happy hours a bad use of funds that could otherwise be spent at an Airbnb or hotel. Plus I am a super picky person and most of the time, just want to spend some self-directed time doing some of my favorite activities (reading, reflecting or researching). Except I don’t have my own room, so my quiet hermit time is either spent glistening under trees in a park or somewhere in the commons- a library, book store or restaurant with my headphones in, tuning out the world and into cosmology, eastern philosophy, alternative economic systems and world travel.

And then there is the whole psychological side of living in your car. Things can get emotional late at night when you’ve spent days without talking to anyone. You sometimes feel isolated from society, you find that things are unfair and that the world expects you to have an address and stay put.  You wish you had more people you enjoyed being around, you wish you were closer to your family or wish your good friends lived near you. You wish you didn’t have OCD so that little things like staying with friends or in certain places isn’t also mildly anxiety producing- enough that you would rather be moderately uncomfortable sleeping in your car. You wish it were easier to distract yourself from past shortcomings and failures- that they didn’t wake you up at night and force you to sit in their heaviness, hot and sticky from the heat.

I glow when I surrender
I glow when I surrender.

But at the end of the day, well the past few days rather, I realized that because I AM actively exercising 100% autonomy over my life, I must own ALL the emotions and feelings and sensations that this experience of voluntary homeless and isolation has brought out. It means that either I am willing to experience them in pursuit of my values, or I must re-asses my values or try a different plan. But there is no other plan.  Living off the grid and paying off my student loan debt is the master plan, my end game. So I practice hours of self reflection and compassionate witnessing when emotions or uncomfortable situations arise. When I previously would have called a friend or distracted myself with technology or by sleeping, I instead sit with all my emotions and thoughts, sensations and failures and doubts. Even when I think about where I was a year ago and quiet pain and tears choke me in the night, I stand strong and resolved in witnessing myself as nonjudgementally as possible.  I wait patiently, practice my qi breathing and relaxation techniques until the emotion or thought looses hold and I am able to re-focus.It’s amazing- I feel like every paycheck I make living in my car, represents a vast amount of listlessness, weakness, limiting beliefs and anxiety leaving me forever. So even when I am frustrated and hot, or anxious and uncomfortable, I am getting freer and freer by the week.

It’s amazing how much energy goes into keeping calm in social situations, managing your own emotions and keeping your body healthy. The last month of my lifestyle I have decided to accept the fact that I have so much time on my hands and that many things about life, and my lifestyle are uncomfortable. But by being curious about these items and exercising self reflection and swift action, I know that I am a better and truer version of myself.  Besides, six months is nothing compared to the years of emotional work I am doing now so that I can live authentically and invest all my emotional energy and material resources into my dreams.

This is my new take on minimalism-not just giving up things and living on less, but giving up attachment to emotions and the illusion of control. Being able to process, endure and overcome uncomfortable feelings and sensations in pursuit of the living my dreams.  For me, my quest for truth, freedom and wisdom lays at the intersection of minimalism and emotional and financial independence. I can honestly say it has made for a life worth living.

car_green shade
Writing to you from a library parking lot, under the shade of some trees.

A Few of My un Favorite Things…

I’m tired. It’s been 6 months of car camping and I am utterly exhausted. And it’s not so much from physical exhaustion as it is from mental labor. I never thought about the psychological effects always planning my meals, bathroom breaks, shower, laundry, etc. would have on me. I spend most of my time operating in tunnel vision to maximize efficiency. As a result, my mind is never at rest.  I am constantly strategizing, searching for a way to save time or money or trying to mitigate the loss of either.

For example, when I do laundry it is essential I re-organize my belongings in separate bags, less I want to lose 20 minutes searching for a matching pear of work socks and the correct color undershirt before work.  So I plan outfits the night before and try to place them in my daypack bag. I wear undershirts that allow me to change without exposing the ladies in public. Those undershirts will then transition to night wear when I sleep in my car, and will serve as a shirt when I work out the next morning and use the bathroom at my gym. See how I just saved myself from three awkward clothe changings in a cramped Hyundai Elantra? And that’s just the beginning. We haven’t even talked about what I do to keep my technology charged, what it takes to pack everything I sleep with, along with everything I own in my trunk every morning  so it doesn’t look like I am living in my car, where I pee when I’m managing Zoloft withdrawal induced incontinence late at night or how I kill time when I am exhausted but it’s 10 pm and still 80 degrees at night, too hot to sleep in my car. |

These are a few of my UNfavorite things.

a fewofmy UNFavortie things
This should be two thumbs way down, but I needed a hand to take the selfie

It’s a lot for anyone and it takes lots of big adjustments. Even with the budget I realize I go through certain things a lot faster or need a lot more than I anticipate. I feel like I am always buying bottles of water, overusing my data charges, charging my laptop, filling up my car tank or trying to figure out when I should buy new clothes or shoes or stretch things out a little further so I can continue paying 2,000 a month on my student loans. I totally forgot to calculate interest charges on my loans which will add another month onto my journey no matter what. There’s also the extra parking tickets, damages from general wear and tear and toll fees and notices for days. There’s also so many other things that have drastically reduced my quality of life. I don’t eat nearly as much fresh fruit and vegetables as I would like and I’m sure sleeping in semi-comfortable positions is going to wear on my body. I also miss just lounging around, cold water, buying in bulk instead of day to day, and having my own place to entertain company, cook and properly waste time. All of this has added up emotionally and financially. I’m 2 months behind on my journey and I crave simple comforts so much that I have not been adhering to my budget or personal exemptions and rules (more on this later).

And all this on top of everything else. For those of you who have been following along since the Mexico Prelude, you know that this has been and extraordinary year for me. Apart from overcoming unimaginable suffering from a bout of obsessive compulsive disorder triggered by prolonged ssri discontinuation syndrome, I am officially 7 weeks Zoloft free.  Despite my slow self-taper over the last 6 months I don’t think I have escaped scratch free from the throws of my brain attempting to re-calibrate serotonin levels with the aid of medicine. The past few days I have been having radiating pains in my right arm and last night I experienced  joint pain in my fingers. Today I was MUCH more emotional and agitated than usual. To seal the deal I went from hot, to cold, to hot for 3 hours straight. These are all classic ssri withdrawal symptoms. Thank God they aren’t anywhere near what I experienced from cold turkeying before. Nonetheless, its daunting knowing that you could experience a huge mood swing without any preceding event and that the very thing you prize the most, your intelligence and insight, can turn on you in any moment.

I didn’t get a chance to write about it on account of me having limited access to a power source and spending critical time and power blogging about Mexico and applying for second job so I could meet my original timeline, but I reached out to a psychiatrist in attempts of having someone monitor my taper. And so following the recommendation of my AMAZING behavioral therapist, I made an apt with a Doctor who specializes in anxiety disorders and women’s health- the perfect combo to objectively evaluate the depression, anxiety and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder(PMDD) while I tried, yet again, to wean myself off the Zoloft.

We spoke over the phone and I explained to her my history of long term ssri use from the age of 14, to the taper and misdiagnosis of Bi-polar II disorder and discovery of PMDD. I explained my stance on not treating the imbalance, but getting to root of the problem by changing my brain anatomy with behavioral therapy, which has become my entire life with me living in my car and all. She agreed to see me and for a minute I thought my prayers would be answered.

I was wrong. After 45 minutes of re-explaining my history, she agreed that the dose of Zoloft I had been on for 3 months was too low to treat either the depression or OCD  and that the behavioural therapy was making the difference.  But she still recommended I stay on medicine my entire life to reduce the risk of a relapse. I asked her if it was kind of like when you get an infection in your tooth and they pull it immediately instead of treating it with antibiotics, keeping it clean and just monitoring it, so that you can keep your original tooth. She nodded her head and I wanted to scream at her. Did I mention I once had an abscess in my front tooth and a doctor recommended I pull both of my front teeth because they already had crowns from major trauma years before and she thought they were bound to fail at some point? Well I got a second opinion and the other doctor said we should just monitor my teeth because there is nothing as good as the original tooth!

Well I still have my front teeth and haven’t had any issues since. I am vigilant about flossing now, but what if I die with these teeth as the second doctor mentioned was possible? What if I could live a normal life without antidepressants and learn to manage the PMDD with diet, exercise and behavior changes? Don’t I owe it to myself and to my amazing body to try?

These are the things I thought while tears rolled down my cheeks when the psychiatrist said that she would not be able to supervise my taper because I would be going against her medical recommendation and she refused my pleas for just one follow appointment. I even told her I would get back on medicine if the depression or OCD comes back with a vengeance, but she refused and then proceeded to take$500 cash from me. Did I mention behavioral therapists and psychiatrist for OCD in DC don’t take insurance? Essentially I paid $500 for a good cry and a nocebo. That whole experience speaks monuments to the “care” a handful of doctors gave me from the age of 14 when I was misdiagnosed with bi-polar II disorder and begged to not be medicated anymore when I realized a cocktail of powerful medicine was only making me sicker.

But that was 7 weeks ago and now I am writing this to you in my car, utterly exhausted and already scheming how I can sneak into Planet Fitness unnoticed to pee before bed. The gym I usually go to is closed for repairs so I will be in the yeah- I-just-came-in-a-second- ago-and-now-I’m-leaving awkward phase with the new staff for the next week. Maybe I will try to charm them. Highly unlikely though, they will probably just ask me if I have seen the new X-Men movie after I tell them I live in my car. I will probably just walk right in and walk right out and let them sit with their own awkwardness because I’m tired, I’ve been at this for 6 months, and the time for formalities has long since passed.

The Struggle is Real

There is nothing sweeter than the moment before you drift off to sleep in your car. It’s like the world, no the universe stands still. And for a moment it doesn’t matter that I have $21,000 left of student loan debt, or that I live in my car or that I have OCD. For a moment I have made peace with my personal demons and found security in a world surrounded by anxiety, doubt and uncertainty. Enough, that my body could surrender to the Great Mystery and I could journey into the Dream World.

But sometimes, life comes to collect karmic debt, robbing you of your temporary sense of security and stability. And then in an instant you aren’t dreaming, you’ve woken up and you’re startled  because there is a tow truck shining it’s light on you, and you’re so tired you think you are being abducted by aliens. The scene was something out of a well done ‘Fire in the Sky’ re-make and needless to say, I was literally shaking in my sleeping bag.

The awkwardness that followed would have been enough to make anyone second guess why on Earth anyone would decide to give everything up and live in their car. I was asleep and it was hot so I was in a tank top with no bra. I had no socks on and my flip flops had carelessly been thrown in the backseat abyss. I struggled to find a jacket to cover myself and find some shoes while a middle aged black man stared at me from the driver’s side of his vehicle.

After 30 seconds of awkwardness that felt like an eternity I turned my car on, rolled down the window and greeted the stranger with a sort of disinterested, I don’t give a f**k but I’m actually having an anxiety attack on the inside, look. As soon as he spoke I felt a little bit of relief- he was a brother and understood I was living in my car. He said some of the businesses noticed I was sleeping in my car and they weren’t too happy about it. He said he wasn’t going to tow me, but suggested I move my car down the way to the nearby car repair shop.

At this point I made some grumbling noises and mumbled thank you before leaving. I wish I had asked some better questions like “did you take down my information, which business called, when did you receive the call?”, but I was still half way asleep and so surprised I had a tough time finding the right words.

A little back story before I continue: I was trying out a new spot with less light pollution (more on that devil later) since the spot I usually park at was occupied, and my number two spot was compromised by the repairmen working late into the night. I knew I was pretty exposed and could see the cameras pointing right at me, but I was never there during business hours and I figured they wouldn’t care. Plus it was SO wonderful to not have the streetlights beating down on me when I tried to sleep that I figured it was worth the risk.

After the gentlemen left I half angrily and anxiously drove near my old car repair spot- of course they were slaving away at 11:15 at night. I sighed realizing I would have to drive to my number 4 spot which was a good 6 miles away and MUCH further from where I parked my car daily. After texting a girlfriend and some positive self talk, I drove to the other 24 hour gym and settled on a dark street lane adjacent to a grocery store. There was a trucker pulled off, which is a pretty good indicator of a safe tow free zone.

By the time I was settled and ready for bed, nearly and hour and a half had passed and it was passed 1 am. Exhausted and still shaking from shock, I snuggled into my bed and fell asleep- thankful to have avoided a costly tow and completely over this whole car camping thing.

As soon as I woke up the next morning I realized two things. One, I needed to blog about this to my followers and two I needed to fast track my tumbling weed journey. If I was going to pay off my student loans I needed to get a second job and fast track my journey to housing. I hadn’t realized until the tow that living in my car is awesome and interesting, but it’s all messy, cramped and stressful too. And despite how good it feels to drop $2K a month on my student loans, living in your car is a struggle. The little things like getting dressed, keeping hydrated, the changing weather and staying powered up and connected can be exhausting. Up until this event I hadn’t realized how stressed and burned out I had become over the last month. It had been nearly 2 weeks since my last home cooked meal and four weeks since I slept on a real bed. Plus I had been getting careless about my budget, splurging where I wanted and not rotating my parking spots. Did I mention I also had a careless teeny-weeny fender bender?

Clearly, the struggle is real and the tow situation was a wake up call. No more cutting corners. No more easy does it. More more lazy slacker. It’s time to dig in, buckle up and re-commit because I am only halfway there and if I am going to make it to December without incident, I need to re-commit.

So this is me officially re-committing. And with you followers as my witness, I WILL overcome my current feelings of apathy, agitation and exhaustion to see this thing through. My financial well-being and sense of freedom very well depend on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions…

When I tell people about my life style, I typically get 1 of 3 reactions…

A) Are you serious? I don’t believe you. I’m really worried about you. Are you safe?

B) That’s interesting (sideways judgement face before conveniently changing the subject). Did you see the new X-Men movie?

C) Wow that is super cool! I have so many questions…do you mind if I ask you a few?

As a result I have put together this short list of frequently asked questions. I hope to add to it over time as I share my journey and story with others.

Where do you shower?

For some reason this is the #1 ranked question I get. The answer is, I shower in lot’s of different places. I usually end up at my 24 hour gym, but also shower at work and or friends house. Occasionally when I am out camping I will freshen up with a wash cloth.

What do you eat?

Right around the corner from work is a Harris Teeter’s so I often get away with a piece of fruit or oatmeal for breakfast and a cup of soup with an avocado or a sandwich for lunch. For dinner I usually eat out, and have established a list of go to, healthy places.

On average, I spend around $15-$20 on food, which sounds like a lot but is relatively nothing compared to what I would pay for an apartment, utility bills, etc. Plus it gives me the opportunity to try a boat load of eateries, farm to table restaurants and catch up with friends every now and again over happy hour.

Where do you sleep?

Typically I sleep in my car because it’s exhausting and cost prohibitive to camp in the nearby parks. I sleep in the passenger side and prop my feet up on a bog of clothes- it’s actually pretty conformable. Very similar to when you are at the dentist getting your teeth cleaned. I would say it’s about 87% comfortable.

What kind of car do you have?

A lot of people assume I have  huge sports vehicle or a truck, but I have a small, 2006 4 door Hyundai Elantra sedan. Nothing fancy, but I own it outright and we have been on many adventures.

How long do you plan on doing this?

My journey is tied closely to how long it will take me to pay off my private student loan debt. I estimate it will take me 12 months, which means I should be finished before January of 2017. In reality though, I may just winter for a while and car camp again when Spring comes around to save money for traveling. I have also thought about buying a Winnebago or trying to find someone who will let me put a tiny home on their property.

How do you get mail?

I originally rented a mail box (not a P.O. Box) from UPS for 3 months, but opted to continue having my mail sent to my sisters, which is cheaper and easier than switching all my billing info to another address.

How do you do laundry?

I go to a laundry mat usually. Sometimes I do laundry at a friend’s house over beer or at a hotel when traveling.

What do you do when it gets cold?

I layer up and I also have plenty of sub zero camping gear. Generally I can stay pretty comfortable around 11 degrees if I bundle up in my sub-zero mummy sleeping bag. Eating before bed also helps.

How do you get to work?

I typically drive a mile to the nearest park and ride metro station and take public transit into the city. I sometimes park in residential areas as well to save money  on parking but always take public transportation whenever possible. It’s cheaper, better for the environment and makes for a less stressful commute!