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Times & Dimes Podcast
What happens when earning a living leads to a burnout? Host Graham Clark sits down with Jocelyn, whose own struggle with mental health pushed her usual brand of financial self-sufficiency and can-do spirit to its limit.
GRAHAM CLARK: This is Times & Dimes, a podcast brought to you by Sun Life. We're talking to everyday Canadians about how money affects their lives, happiness, and well-being. I'm your host, Graham Clark, with today’s guest, Jocelyn.
GC: How are you?
JOCELYN: Good, how are you?
GC: I’m good thanks. So, you were born in the Philippines and, where in the Philippines were you're born?
J: Somewhere near Manila is all I remember.
GC: Fair enough.
J: I'm so Canadianized. I left the Philippines when I was about close to five years old, so, I still consider myself quite a Torontonian even though I live in Ottawa. It's all you get out of me.
GC: Fair enough. When you were growing up there and here, what's your first memory of kind of dealing with money?
J: Probably that there was— I knew that we had a lack of it at my home and I guess that was really, really evident to me because there was this great big hole in the kitchen in the roof — the ceiling, basically — and there was no money to fix it. And so, for years, all I could remember is that there was always this bucket on the kitchen table that would always drip when it was raining in the wintertime and someone would always have to empty the bucket, so there was just no money. And, oftentimes, pieces of drywall would just come falling down and I remember one time, the whole ceiling just fell down.
GC: Oh wow!
J: Yeah, yeah, so I mean, right there, I knew then that, you know, there was there was never really much money. We were very, very poor. And then as soon as I possibly could— and there was not much money for like lunch money, so I had to walk from the school, which was about a half-hour walk, and I had to cut through this park in the wintertime, and the snow felt like it would go past my waist. I was very tiny and I would have to trudge through there to come home to have lunch, right, because there was no money to buy lunch at school. And then I trudged all the way back, so it took half an hour to get to home for lunch and then inhale it, and then go quickly through the snow again.
You know when you when parents say, “You know, when I was your age, I was young, I had to walk up the mountain to get water” and all that stuff? Like, my father would tell me those stories. So, now, I don't have any kids, but you know I could tell my cat, “you know, when I was a kid I trudged through the snow...”
GC: So, your kind of first impression was I don't have— our family doesn't have any money. Did that make you kind of want to figure out how to get money or were you just kind of scared off the lack of money? What was your feeling because you were exposed to that side of money, what did that feel like?
J: Well, I guess because… I don't think I was scared, it was just sort of like, well, that's what it is because it wasn't talked about my family, it was just the way it was, right? So, a leaking roof, that's just the way it was. No lunch money or, you know, in terms of clothes, it was like hand-me-downs and stuff. So, I just, at a very early age, I just knew, well, that's the way it is. So, I was always just trying to figure out the next— well, I guess I never strategized, I just knew when something came up in terms of something I needed financially or something I needed that it required money, I just automatically just went into go-mode and I made it happen. So, when I was— I guess I was 14, I think was 13 or 14, I needed lunch money, I needed to do something, so I got my first job. I went out and found a full-time job for the summer and it was telemarketing.
GC: Wow, as a 14-year-old?
J: But I needed the money right! It wasn’t— I just knew that, OK, so how do I make money because I need money for lunch and clothes. So, I got a telemarketing job. Opened up the paper and during those days, you know, you take a newspaper and you circle with a pencil and you call. It’s this telemarketing job and it was in a basement with three other telemarketers, and I sold gas furnace cleaning services… and then, at the end of two weeks, they gave me a paycheque and I opened up a bank account.
GC: Yeah, you were doing some adult finance.
J: I guess there was a little moment of like, whoa, that was really cool. I felt very proud of myself for, you know— I felt proud that I paid for it on my own. That’s the biggest— that was memory that really sticks out, I paid for it myself.
GC: So, it sounds like you're a real like you’re doer. If you need to get things done, you just do it. Is that something that you inherited from your parents or is that just your personality type?
J: You know what, I don't think I inherited that from anyone in my family or parents, actually. It’s a really funny thing because I could see my parents struggling and I was always just doing, like, if the dishes were filthy, well, I need to eat, so I wash the plate and I put the food on the plate. You know, looking back, because I don't really think— I don't often get a chance to look back at what I've done in my life and people point things out to me and I'm like, “Oh, well yeah, I guess I did do that, well yeah, OK, well I guess that is pretty cool.”
GC: Having that background of not having any money, now you have a little bit of money, is your instinct to go out and buy the things you want or are you tucking it away, what are you doing?
J: So, at the very beginning, I was just I'm getting by in terms of feeding myself, so that was good. And then when I got to I guess high school, I was still doing that, so then there was no money for— finished high school and then I was like, “What am I going to do?” So, there was no money for college, so I basically decided I would work seven days a week for a year and a half. I went out on Queen Street and knocked on doors and an opportunity presented itself for me to work in a clothing store, just like a couple of stores down from MuchMusic. And so with that, I didn't go crazy, I didn't go shopping for clothes or anything like that. I just put the money away and I put myself through college, bought my books. I had that job and then I also got a part-time job, so I was working a full-time job and a part-time job during that year and a half. The part-time job was working for the city an old-age home and with that job came health benefits and I paid for my own braces.
GC: Oh wow!
J: Yeah, exactly, I paid for my own braces, my books, my tuition… and so I did that for a year and a half and then I went to school. And then while I was going to college, I would still work at the old-age home on weekends and I didn't work on Queen Street anymore because that was during the weekdays, right? So, I read books, did my homework, and then I would work on weekends at the old— because it's a city job, it's benefits, you know?
GC: That’s amazing.
J: I couldn’t lose that.
GC: But it's just, it's so incredible that, like you say, you see something that needs to be done and you do it. So, you saw that, OK, I want to go to university, you figured out a way to raise that money, which is amazing. How did you relate to people that you knew had money?
J: It was weird actually. So, I don't think I was… it was a weird situation because I would see friends that had stuff — you know, like, people have stuff. They have nice clothes and they talk about going to their family’s summer house and all that stuff. It was very foreign to me, it was like— and so I guess I was just in awe of that. I was like, “Wow, that's really cool to be able to do that” and I thought how do you do that? So, I never aspired to have anything more than I had because I just— there was a division like that, you know, I could not attain that.
But I remember one time where... I guess it was last year of school and — of college, actually — and it was summertime and some friends wanted to do a cottage experience. In my mind, I’m like how could I even do that, right? But my boss at the time said she had a cottage and she really liked me and she said, well, if you get your friends together, you can rent it from me for the weekend. So, then I called up my friends, got them all together, and we had awesome experience! And I looked around, I remember standing there on the dock, and everyone was having a good time, and I looked at the property in the water, I'm like “wow.” And I remember saying to myself — just to myself — very quietly, I said, “I would love to have this one day.”
And then one day, three years ago, something significant happened in my life where I lost— I got laid off and it really changed me. It was quite a life-altering experience for me. And then I was feeling down and I was like, well, you know, maybe I should go into myself and try to remember what did I ever want to do in my life, you know? Am I my missing out on something? And then I said, then I remembered that when I was young, I always said to myself I’d like to have a cottage. I was like “interesting,” so I went on my computer and I searched “Kijiji Ottawa cottages.” I looked it up and, my roommate in Ottawa, I told him, I said “Would you want to go and get a cottage with me?” He said sure because I’m still in Toronto, right? I said, “Well, I'll send you the links, will you go look at it, and if you like it, you just text me and you let me know, and I'll put an offer on it.” One month later, I got my cottage.
GC: No way!
J: Yeah! I had a feeling. I saw the picture I was like “this is the one,” and it just had this beautiful feeling in my heart, but I knew this was the one. So, I said, “OK, I'm going to hang up” and I called and I left a message saying, “Please call me back right away.” And it was like a couple weeks before my birthday. So, she called me and she's like “hi,” and before she could even get out a sentence, I said, “Would you do me the honour of selling me your cottage and making my birthday dream come true?”
GC: Oh wow, that's very sweet!
J: She was in tears and I was in tears, and she said, “I would love to make that dream come true for you.”
GC: Oh, that's incredible.
J: Yeah, so I have this cottage and it was something I honestly never, never, never, never, never— and, again, I whispered it to myself. I never told anyone that I wanted this dream because I never, ever, ever thought I would ever have money in my life to have this outrageous, non-attainable dream that other people could have, but not me.
J: I graduated into a recession, didn't think I would get a job, but I got a job and it was with the company that I got laid off there. And then, I guess, I've always been associating with small companies and then I did do a little bit of— I guess I was a little bit of an entrepreneur.
GC: Tell me about how you were an entrepreneur, that fascinates me.
J: I just graduated into recession. I got a full-time job, it landed in my lap. And then an opportunity came through a family friend where I was able to, you know, the opportunity came to own a corner store. I said OK, so I would go to work full-time at this corner store. After work, I would go and get stock to restock the store, and I employed my brothers to run the store because I was busy working. So, I'd work full-time, go to this mom-and-pop corner store that I owned, but I also had the part-time job at the old-age home because, again, you don't want let that go because of benefits and it’s government, right? So, I did three things all at once for a year and a half.
GC: What was the feeling amongst your family when they heard, in addition to a full-time job and a part-time job, you were going to buy a corner store? What did they feel like when they heard that?
J: You know what, I think— well, in my family, we didn't really talk. There wasn't a lot of talking about feelings or what was going on; it was just sort of like, oh, OK. Or not even that. It was just like, there it is. So there was not a lot of conversations in my family, it was just, oh, OK, there it is. At that time, my father left the house after I graduated and my mother, she was trying to provide for us even though we're older, right, but the house wasn't paid for. I felt awful about my mother having to take care of the situation, but there wasn't a lot of time to shed any tears. I just went in to look at what do I do. So, at the end of every day, I guess, of working the store, I put a certain amount of money aside from the cash till to help pay for my mother's mortgage. So, yes, I wound up just doing that, so I had, you know, my salary from the full-time job paid for my apartment, but I wanted to make sure she was OK because it's an awful feeling to know that someone else is suffering, so I just basically paid for the mortgage. I just did that for a year and a half.
GC: Wow, that's— and, because you were doing that, did that kind of turn up the pressure on the situation?
J: It was a heavy feeling every day. Like, I guess going to my 9-to-5 job was fine because I don't have to think about it, but the reality of having to make sure that my mom was taken care of with that house was heavy on my shoulders. I had to make sure, you know, that store continued on. And then when— I just couldn't do the store any longer, it was too hard, like, doing all that was too hard, and my mother didn't want to have the house anymore because the kids were hardly there, so I helped her get an apartment and then I got rid of the store. Yeah, it was just too hard, I felt like I was going to break. It's just a lot of pressure on someone.
GC: So, you helped sell the house, was that kind of emotional for you or was it like good riddance?
J: We just basically decided to let the bank take it over. It was just like we couldn't, we just couldn't, so that was an awful feeling. But I guess, again, because I guess I grew up with you don't think about— there's no time to think about the financial situation you're in, you're just in that financial situation, right? Did I feel relieved? Yeah, I think I probably did actually because I did feel a bit lighter. Because it was, it's an awful lot that there is that emotional feeling of, like, “OK, where is that next money going to come from?” And I've always been you just do, right, but there's, sitting over your head, like a “What do I do, what do I do, what do I do?”, right? So, that was anymore, which was really nice and light.
After a couple of years, I got laid off and then I decided to move to Ottawa. Then I found myself working, after probably a year and a half of arriving in Ottawa, I found myself working for a charity, a nonprofit organization for children, and I thought “What a wonderful world,” you know? I've always just felt like I was helping kids.
GC: Yeah, very rewarding kind of work.
J: Oh, incredibly. I did that for 13 years. I didn't take any holidays, I didn't take any vacations. I worked from home three days a week and even then I was overworked, right? I was the only person in my department and I always want to do well. So, I was so stressed out because I was the only person in my department doing marketing and media relations for eight locations for this organization. But you don't think about it, you just do, and then something unfortunate happened where someone very near to me in my life passed away and I found myself— I didn't get a chance to grieve. But also, I was helping out the family that I was attached to, to the family that passed away. Then, I found myself working full-time there, then they gave me a promotion at the same time, and so then I was taking care of two households, being a caregiver to three bosses, and trying to help that family out with their grief, but that person was very near and dear to me, so I couldn't deal with the grief.
So that was probably about a year of doing that and I literally cracked. I had a meltdown, basically. But I didn't do anything about it for quite a while, so I would talk to my doctor and I would talk to her about six months. I'd see her a lot and she knew that I would wake up four or five in the morning every morning for months with heart palpitations because I just couldn't deal. But, I mean, I knew that I needed to deliver for these three bosses. I needed to deliver to the families that I was to help take care of, and my house and all that stuff, and the kids. I would start at seven in the morning in office and I'd be in my cubicle crying because it was the only moment I had to breathe and to let the emotions out. But then, you know, I’d hear someone coming in and I'd be like, OK, dry the eyes and they're like, “Hey, so Joce, where is this, this, this, this? OK, go, go, go.” I basically, one day, woke up and I just basically said like I have to quit.
GC: Right, wow.
J: And it was hard because it's like, “Oh my god, what I do”? Like, all I've ever known is have a job because I have to pay for, you know, the roof over my head. Like, I just have to have that. So, that was new to me and that was frightening, just frightening, right? Like, what am I going to do. I've always had a job. Even if I got laid off, I'd be juggling 2–3 things, but I knew that money was coming in, right? So, what do I do?
GC: So you have this kind of break and you finally realized that you can't keep doing all these things and you can't do the kind of work that you need to do because you're balancing so many things. What was the reaction like around you when you kind of came forward and said, “I can't do this anymore, I'm breaking down”?
J: I didn't allow that many people to know, actually, because it was an admission that I, mentally, could not cope and, during that time— and like, mental health is considered something to be dealt with right now, but, you know, back in 2011, it was still kind of new, right? Like, you just don't talk about it — mental health and depression and stress and breakdown, you still kind of did not talk about it, right? So, that was 2011, 2012, so I just basically said that I need to deal with my family situation as it is, and it's too much for me, and they said OK. But I think they were— the look on their face was in shock because I always presented this face that you just give me whatever, I'm going to deal, because I always just deal. I just have the face, lay it on me, no problems — and it was not that case anymore. I just basically said, you know, I’m tapping out, I can't. And so it was a lot of disbelief at the beginning and then also, like, what are we going to do because, you know, here's this woman who runs the whole department. We don't have to do anything, she just naturally does everything, right? Like, how we're going to cope? She's like one person running the department for eight locations.
I can't remember who it was, but someone told me that you can apply for, you should try to apply for disability, and I was like, “What the heck is that?” I think it was an HR person at that time, she turned out to be a friend, and she just told me about and I went “OK, well, I don't know, I'll see” and then she's like, “No, just talk to your doctor.” So, I talked to my doctor about it and now, remember, she's been seeing me regularly and she knows what's been going on with me and she's been telling me to leave, right?
I was at a friend's place in Toronto and she said, “Well, you know, we'll see, we'll get through this together,” and then the phone rang and I went upstairs and I grabbed it from my cell phone, and she's like “Hi, this is so-and-so from Sun Life Insurance” and she said you applied for long-term disability and I said yeah And she's like, “I just want you to know that I am going to approve your application”. I was, like, oh my god and I began crying — I think she was crying, too — I was like oh my god, thank you so much, oh my god. I promise you I will work on myself every day, I will not let this money go for naught. And she goes, “I believe you, I believe you” and then I hung up. I went downstairs and I told my girlfriend, and we were hugging and I was crying. And I just went to therapy, I worked on myself.
GC: So, in that time that you had to kind of, as you say, kind of work on yourself and see somebody to kind of help you kind of get somewhere good mentally, did all of that — the break and the work — did that improve your relationship with work and money? Did it provide kind of some clarity on that?
J: I think so, I think I didn't… I actually looked at money— because, before, it was always just a reactionary thing that you got to do. You just soldier on, right? But then I was able to look at why I do the things I did and that money is not— money can provide for things. It was a knee-jerk reaction, I didn't think about it. But, with the long-term disability money, I was like, whoa, that money is helping me get better. It was a way to help so that I didn’t think about money because— I don't know if you understand that?
GC: No, that makes total sense that your relationship to money, it changed. It changed when you saw that, hey, this is something that can actually take care of me, it gave it a whole different meaning, yeah.
J: Yeah, exactly. Whereas before, it was just, I didn't think about it. And I don't know if I was hiding from it because it was such a depressing thing that I grew up so poor, so you don't look at it, you just react. But, you know, another body being Sun Life providing for me allowed me to see money a different way — that money’s not just to put a roof over your head because you're poor. It can also help you for other things as well.
GC: Totally. What are you looking forward to now that you've got a job, you got the cabin — what's next for you, do you think?
J: You know what's next for me is that I— OK, so just before I fully gave into the thought that I was gonna do this podcast. I asked myself, OK, do I tell people about my breakdown because, you know, it had the components of mental health, and it had the components of money, and it just was like I am exposing myself to everyone. And I just kind of sat with myself and I said, “Joce, listen to yourself. You're freaking out. If you're freaking out, can you imagine the people that didn't have the opportunity to take the time off who are undergoing the mental stress that you did?” Can you imagine what they're going through? And I was like, well, maybe this will help.
I thought well like what if my present boss gets wind of this, right? Will he think I can't— and will anyone else in the future, any future bosses, find out about me, they'll look at me and think, well, she can't handle stress? But it wasn't just stress — it was like life was just too much for me. There were a lot of things I was taking care of that I didn’t think I could. So, eventually I said no, no. I just talked to myself to remember, again, if I'm going through this, can you imagine the poor souls who don't think that they have a way to deal with the situation?
In the last couple of years, because I took that therapy, I've been doing a lot of stuff around mental health. Lots of stuff. I think my next venture would be to do more— I guess, run my own company where I'm helping people work on changing their mindset, so dealing with mental health and seeing that it’s not a terrible thing. We all go through stuff.
GC: Money plays a huge role in all our lives and it's not always easy to talk about it, but we truly believe that having open, honest conversations about money can help improve your mental, physical, and financial health.
Before we go, we'd like to ask our listeners if they've ever found themselves in a situation similar to Jocelyn. If you have, you can find resources to help you at sunlife.ca.
Thanks for listening to this episode of Times & Dimes.