Author Topic: Advice on Hitting That Curveball Life Sometimes Decides to Throw  (Read 4395 times)


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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I considered posting this as a journal but I don’t think I have my thoughts organized enough to do that quite yet and I thought more eyes might see this in the Ask A Mustachian section than as a journal (and I do have a couple embedded questions to be sure…).  If anyone thinks this belongs more under a different category I’d certainly be willing to move it.

So here’s what happened to me sort of recently…  I work for a fairly large engineering company and back in April my DSO and I took a vacation we had really been looking forward to – a fairly mustachian expedition around parts of the desert SW and into California – mountains and oceans and everything in between.  It had been a long year before that trying to follow the MMM plan as much as possible and grinding away at work in a (for me) corporate environment that I don’t really fit in with (I’m a geologist and not much of an office type) – so the much needed vacation came and went and we had a fantastic time of exploring and trying out some of living on the cheap / partially nomadic lifestyle we envision for ourselves when FIRE becomes a reality…

We were back east for exactly a week when life threw me quite the curveball – like a bolt out of the blue I had a small stroke.  After a couple days in the hospital and much testing (a “million dollar work-up” as my doc described it) to determine why a relatively fit / very active guy (aside from a$$ time in the chair at the office) just shy of 47 yrs. old would have a stroke;  I don’t smoke, my doc said my cholesterol etc. was “enviable” so most of the usual suspects they fairly easily ruled out – and when I first went to the ER they put stroke pretty far down the list as to why I showed up that evening.  As it turns out – I have a couple congenital issues with my heart – a 1-2 punch of a defect that can allow clot formation and then a tiny hole in my heart left over from birth that can allow short circuiting of any clot that does form to find a pathway to my brain.  It’s never 100% certain what the cause is but my cardiologist feels that is the likely mechanism that landed me in the ER.

Prior to this I was very much on the MMM track and was realistically probably looking at a few more years to be confident in the ability of my stash to take us through to our later years.  My SO works as a part-time teacher at a local college but doesn’t get great pay and really no benefits – financially I’ve carried most of the load but she does the heavy lifting of all of the other running around that life entails.  We have a good system – it was working excellent up until my stroke and it still is pretty good…

By and large we are still with the program – thinking that although the stress of commuting and an at least somewhat stressful (for my personality) job may not have been the primary cause of my sickness – but acknowledging that it probably wasn’t doing me any favors either, I have reduced my work down to a 30 hrs per week floor via FMLA, have been working from home some (even was doing that well before the stroke).  So I think I’ve done what I can in the 4 months since the stroke to still retain my job and benefits and lighten my load a bit.  But now all of this is set against a backdrop of heightened urgency for FIRE and general anxiety about what comes next.  The whole thing feels a bit surreal to me and has been quite perspective altering – sailing along in uncharted waters…

So I’m wondering if anyone has any thoughts on this kind of occurrence – any words of wisdom about the specifics or generalities of the situation.  Has anyone dealt with a totally out of the blue serious medical condition or other event that really tripped them up and knocked them far out of their comfort zone – if so do you have any advice related to that which at the time may not have been obvious but turned out to be pretty important / helpful ?

I’m so torn between working to keep benefits in case “another shoe drops” and speeding up FIRE plans (despite probably coming up short on an overall $$ figure needed to fully leave work behind at this point) but I’m just not sure which would be more stressful and frankly a bigger risk to my health – sticking with the grind or pulling the trigger a bit early and hoping that what I’ve been able to save and some friendly seas will carry me through...  I sort of threw myself back into work (partly because I was working on a number of interesting projects) early on while I sorted out a reduced schedule – but the default condition in the corporate world now seems to just be mounting stress and crazy workloads / deadlines (which I’ve worked hard to resist with varying degrees of success).  Any other insights anyone may have gathered from their own similar experiences ? I know there are a ton of people with interesting stories on MMM and at least some of them must have similarities to what I’ve experienced – so I would love to hear your thoughts !

Perhaps most of all I was looking to get a bunch of this down on paper to get a few things off my chest.  Thanks so much for reading and for any advice / thoughts you care to offer !


  • Bristles
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Re: Advice on Hitting That Curveball Life Sometimes Decides to Throw
« Reply #1 on: August 27, 2016, 04:57:49 PM »
Wow, that's a tough one.  Sorry to hear about your health scare.  Just goes to show you never, ever know what the future holds.  Glad to hear you're ok, but what a wake up call.

I don't have experience with your situation but I have a couple of thoughts:

1.  There's been a few threads on here about people knowing, because they won't get fired, that they can tell management to take a hike when the pressure gets too great with deadlines, unreasonable expectations, and a whole host of other reasons.  They do their jobs well, but won't put up with corporate BS.  Maybe someone can chime in as to where these threads are - my MMM search function never works.

2.  Can you look for less stressful work, maybe out in the field for another company?  Even if the pay is less, it would address both your concerns of stress vs. pay.  You say you live in the east - it can get expensive there.  Your SO could probably get another teaching gig if you moved to a lower COL area (assuming you're in HCOL area now).

3.  I hope you're not in the O&G business.

This is a great place to let off steam!


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Advice on Hitting That Curveball Life Sometimes Decides to Throw
« Reply #2 on: August 27, 2016, 07:05:41 PM »
Whether or not to pull the plug early is a fairly typical question. So you could do a case study and people will tell you what they think.


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Re: Advice on Hitting That Curveball Life Sometimes Decides to Throw
« Reply #3 on: August 27, 2016, 09:31:14 PM »
Sorry to hear about your stroke. That's weird the doctors didn't consider it as a possibility straight away. It should be part of the standard triage process.

I don't have any advice but can relate to the random health crisis thing. In the last 4 years (in my early 40s), I've been diagnosed with a serious chronic illness which increases my risk of dying younger and various complications and cancer requiring surgery, chemo and radiation plus some other reasonably full-on things.

I'm torn between wanting to be super frugal and speeding up FIRE (which is still going to be up to 10 years away) vs living for now just in case I die in the next few years (unlikely but not impossible).

I'm curious to hear from anyone else juggling working and the possibility of severe illness/death.


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: Advice on Hitting That Curveball Life Sometimes Decides to Throw
« Reply #4 on: August 28, 2016, 02:26:09 AM »
Dear zenyata, I am someone who can relate to this pretty well.
Last year in November I was a perfectly healthy 31 year old woman, married, mother of one, in a job that is not exactly stressful (one that is well paid and literally impossible to get fired from, as it's a rather specific type of European public service), living a very typical privileged existence and doing all the right things (cooking healthy stuff from scratch, yoga teacher training, jogging with our kid in the stroller, you name it, I never smoked, drank, I never even took birth control pills which can be a risk factor for ladies). And then one Sunday morning as we were getting ready to go meet friends for a playdate and brunch I had a stroke. I suddenly lost feeling in my right arm and the ability to speak.  We called the ambulance and you could see that they were skeptical, not in a disrespectful way I mean, simply you could see that they genuinely thought it was unlikely a fit 31 year old woman had an actual stroke and probably thought it was a panic attack. But an MRI confirmed it and I had to be admitted to the hospital. It was a terrifying experience for all of us.

In my case, following also some very extensive work up no conclusive cause could be identified (my heart was also examined from all sides but they could find nothing abnormal about it).

Anyway, some things I can share from being a bit further along in post-stroke life. First, it really does get easier with time. For a long time I had anxiety and thought way too much about dying or becoming permanently disabled. It's important not to get fixated or paralyzed by these thoughts but rather see them as sort of just in case planning to feel calmer. Now I honestly don't think about it so much. As scary as having a stroke sounds, if you are not very old and very sick, it is usually not a death sentence.

Try to avoid assigning too much meaning to the whole thing. In the beginning I was obsessed with wanting to find some sort of a meaning in it (whether good or bad) but it just made it harder to get over. It was a completely random event that ended well. It's definitely worth noting here that for this kind of a stroke, where there is a blood clot, the connection to stress is a lot more vague than in case of aneurysms. So while de-stressing will definitely help recovery it is far fetched to assume that stress could have been the primary cause. I'm saying that because focusing too much on stress as a cause, which some people in my life tried to do, also implies some sort of personal responsibility for the event. But the truth is, there is nothing you or I could have done to prevent this. That's why these things are rare and that's why finding a cause costs a million dollars (I honestly hope that is just a poetic exaggeration and not the actual price of that stuff in the US because then I better not share how much my European hospital charged my insurance for probably similar stuff.)
It's an obscure, random medical event and sometimes it's you it happens to. But as far as terrible random events go it's actually far from the worst than can happen. I always hated this kind of an argument as it sounded like one should go around telling parents who lost a kid that hey, not that bad, some people lost two kids, but in this case I think it helped a bit because it was actually true. The blood clot could have gone anywhere. It went somewhere that allows allowed me to still be here and think about buying cheaper stuff to retire earlier. So on a scale of how bad it could have went, it really wasn't anywhere near the top.

Also, it's normal to have psychological issues after something like this. After the initial month, my medical leave was based on a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress. Having a stroke meets the criteria for a potential brain altering traumatic event and it is something you need to consider when evaluating your symptoms. It definitely take times to recover from it psychologically so give yourself time for that in whatever way necessary.

What ultimately helped me was deciding to accept what happened and could happen again and keep on living without letting the stroke determine too much of my life.
It could happen again as the risk of recurrence is higher than the baseline risk to have one in the first place. But that risk is not particularly high either. In that regard I would say that this is actually different than getting diagnosed with something that has a slow, but certain progression towards more disability. I assume you are taking blood thinners and they should really reduce the likelihood of another clot to very, very low.

Anyway, if you ever want to talk more you can contact me privately, I can give you some more specific contact details as I am about to give birth so might not be too active here in the near future.
I think you're doing well and thinking about it maturely and calmly and you will see that the shock will wear off and slowly life will regain its normal pace.


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: Advice on Hitting That Curveball Life Sometimes Decides to Throw
« Reply #5 on: August 28, 2016, 09:57:57 AM »
I had a major (health related) life curvball smack me upside the head at age 45 (3 years ago). I'm lucky to be alive and never expected said curveball to hit me, given I have always been a very athletic, fit, exercise-driven person.

This 2 year long trial (from which I recovered) made me realize a few things about life:

1) Having good medical insurance is essential, not only to get the coverage/treatment, but for peace of mind regarding the future. As such, I pay through the nose, for full, $0-deductible, family coverage.

2) Money means absolutely nothing without health. In my health dilemma, I was willing to spent the last cent of my life savings (and more) to get me out from under the rock.

3) The most important objective of my life is to maintain my health. Everything else is secondary. Anything that competes with maintainign, promoting, advancing, my health, will lose out in the struggle.

4) Today could be my last day on earth. Is this how I want to spend it?


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Re: Advice on Hitting That Curveball Life Sometimes Decides to Throw
« Reply #6 on: August 28, 2016, 11:16:33 AM »
I am so sorry. My story is not as severe as yours, but I also had a life changing medical situation. Sorry in advance for the wall of text, but this topic is really near and dear to my heart.

In 2014 I started getting really weird dizzy spells at work, which progressed to near constant headaches. If I moved my head too quickly, turned too quickly, etc I would get strange vision changes. It was very frightening, especially since I know a couple people who died from brain cancer. I had to undergo an MRI to make sure I didn’t have a brain tumor. Waiting for those results was freaking scary. Thankfully, the scan was fine and it was determined that I had serious migraines. My male neurologist thought it was just my female hormones adjusting coming off the bc pill. My female neurologist scoffed at that- she was extremely suspicious of my stress levels. I had a very stressful job with about 3 hours of commuting every day. My massage therapist was convinced it was my stress too, and thought my headaches were caused or at least exacerbated by chronic muscle tension. She said my shoulders and neck muscles were so tight they felt like bone, despite her repeated attempts to loosen them. I was 26 years old and otherwise very healthy.

You would think that this would be enough to prompt a lifestyle change, but it wasn’t. I had spent years working to get to where I was, and I had huge student loans to pay off. We had just bought a house a couple years prior, and we just felt like there was nothing to do except pay for routine massages and try to relax outside of work. This helped reduce the frequency of the migraines, but I was still getting them way too often. But then we started trying for a baby and despite otherwise perfect fertility, I had repeat miscarriages. The obs and midwives couldn’t tell me why. All of my tests came back perfect, or better than perfect in some cases. They too talked seriously about my stress levels. One particularly brash but awesome fertility specialist ob simply said “I tell women like you, do you want your busy important life, or do you want a baby? You pick.”

After my last loss, I locked myself in my house for a week and cried. We decided enough was enough, and that we would make it work on a reduced income. I went in the following week and asked to drop to part time. Within 6 weeks I had cut my total work/commuting life from 60 hours a week to 25-30 hours per week. I kid you not, the headaches went away and I successfully conceived a healthy baby almost immediately afterwards. Of course it could be all coincidence, but I really don’t think so.

I also should mention my blood pressure since it can be applicable to stroke risk. When I was working full time, I would occasionally get bp readings at my routine med appointments of 130-135/80. We always assumed this was because I was always rushing to my doc appointments in traffic after a workday, so I was often stressed/anxious by the time I got there. My typical readings were usually in the healthy range of 115-120/mid 70s, so given my age and very healthy weight/eating habits, no one was ever worried. After dropping to part time, my readings plummeted to be consistently <110/mid 70s….even when I was massively pregnant in my 3rd trimester. The highest bp reading I ever got when pregnant with my baby was at 36 weeks pregnant and even then it was 118! That was my typical bp reading when I was 25lbs lighter, non pregnant, and working full time. So while I was working in my stressful job, my bp was technically healthy by all medical standards. But it was clearly higher than what it could have and should have been. I think this is an area that we do not study enough. We set these healthy ranges and assume if someone has a bp around 120 then it is perfectly healthy and fine for them. But what if they would normally be 105 if they were living a healthier life? A consistent reduction in bp by 10pts might be really significant for health even if the original, higher reading was technically still in the safe range. We seem to focus on the numbers and not the variation for a particular individual. Clearly with my miscarriages, migraines, and elevated bp my body was trying to tell me something but because I was considered low risk (female, mid 20s, slim, healthy eating habits, non smoker, non drinker) I possibly suffered for far longer than was necessary because I appeared fine by technical standards.

The drop in income did delay our student loan payoff by a little while, but we still got it done in record time. I will say that my reduced hours did not impact us nearly as much as I thought they would. It gave us all the more reason to optimize expenses and get even more motivated and goal oriented. In some ways, my health issues really improved our lives because it gave us the kick in the pants we needed to become laser focused on what really mattered. I am now a SAHM and I work a few hours a week part time from home. It is the perfect arrangement for us, and even though we won't reach FIRE as quickly, our family is so much happier and healthier with this lifestyle.

I cannot tell you what is best for your situation, but I wanted to share to let you know that you are not alone in this experience. Sometimes our health and what is best for us forces us to change our path to FIRE. That’s okay. FIRE after all is all about living a healthy, happy life. Do not discount the impact that the rat race and stress can have on your health. If you feel strongly that your current lifestyle is hurting you, listen to that intuition. Does your company offer health coverage to part time workers (20+ hours per week)? If so, that might be a possible option combined with some serious cost cutting measures on the home front.
« Last Edit: August 28, 2016, 12:01:03 PM by little_brown_dog »


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Re: Advice on Hitting That Curveball Life Sometimes Decides to Throw
« Reply #7 on: August 28, 2016, 10:51:35 PM »
One particularly brash but awesome fertility specialist ob simply said “I tell women like you, do you want your busy important life, or do you want a baby? You pick.”

It feels so good to read that one question.  I picked "baby".  But there are things about the "busy, important life" that I miss and it's good to have a reminder that those rewards weren't free; I was sacrificing valuable things for them.

So I’m wondering if anyone has any thoughts on this kind of occurrence – any words of wisdom about the specifics or generalities of the situation.  Has anyone dealt with a totally out of the blue serious medical condition or other event that really tripped them up and knocked them far out of their comfort zone – if so do you have any advice related to that which at the time may not have been obvious but turned out to be pretty important / helpful ?

My "words of wisdom" are that you can make the right choice (health, family, etc.) and still feel conflicted, confused, wistful, incomplete, unbalanced, and unsure.  Perhaps for a very long time.  (Perhaps forever?) Periodically coming across things that reaffirm your choice helps (like the part of little_brown_dog's post that I quoted.)  But it can be an ongoing struggle and regular discomfort.  It doesn't mean you made the wrong choice.

I tell myself the first curveball is a lesson.  If life throws another no way will I be caught with my pants down, having not learned a damn thing from the first time.


  • Walrus Stache
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Re: Advice on Hitting That Curveball Life Sometimes Decides to Throw
« Reply #8 on: August 29, 2016, 01:27:44 AM »
My experience isn't all that similar to yours, but who knows, maybe there is something that will still ring true for you. 

I was diagnosed with a fairly serious form of autoimmune arthritis at 25. Some people have this disease and 'only' have pain and other mild symptoms and live happily into their old age. Some die of organ failure before they can even be diagnosed. It's one of those diseases that when you tell people you have it, their immediate answer is oh, my mother/friend/neighbour died of that! (Note: not a helpful thing to tell people). For a while it looked as though some of my organs were struggling - a few blood test results indicating sub-optimal functioning - but now it appears that all is well on that front.

I used to base my worth on work and academic achievement and I have had to change that mindset along with my lifestyle. I don't have a 'lifestyle disease' but lifestyle is the answer to mitigating its effects. As well as taking my prescription meds, I have changed my diet and exercise (still eat way too much chocolate!), dropped down to 30 hours / week of work, dropped out of post-grad study, set firm boundaries with friends and family for the first time in my life, and made many more changes to reduce my stress and put my health first. This includes therapy, which has been tremendously helpful for me in coming to terms with my diagnosis. Changing my lifestyle has improved my symptoms for the present, but as auto-immune diseases take advantage of stress, it may also have saved my life.

The downside to my disease (and honestly, I don't think of it as a bad thing in and of itself anymore - I'm much happier now than I was pre-diagnosis) is that it does impact on my ability to do certain things for myself which a healthy mustachian would, and of course I'm a lower earner than I was when I worked full-time, and certainly than I would be if I'd stayed on the career track and kept getting promoted. It's forced me onto a slower path to FI. For example, pain in my hands and wrists is so bad when I try to do deep cleaning that I am about to hire a housecleaner (my husband works very long hours so him doing 100% of the cleaning isn't a feasible option for us). I still try to stay on track with savings because I am unlikely to be able to work into my 50s even if I wanted to, but I have to balance saving money with spending on my health and life stuff that aids my health and stress levels.

There are a lot of people balancing mustachianism with health issues on the journals page. Personally I find it helpful to read the stories and experiences of others who are facing similar issues; you may too.


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Re: Advice on Hitting That Curveball Life Sometimes Decides to Throw
« Reply #9 on: August 29, 2016, 02:24:40 AM »
Maria Ross, who wrote the memoir "Rebooting my Brian" says she wrote it, in part, to help people who have been "yanked out of their life by a crisis." I highly recommend her book. I have many thoughts on curveballs and their effect on FI (among other things). I've been there, done that. However, I feel this particular bout of insomnia drawing to a close, so I'll be back tomorrow with more - hopefully useful - insights...

Allso, I recommend "My Stroke of Insight" by Jill Bolte Taylor.


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Advice on Hitting That Curveball Life Sometimes Decides to Throw
« Reply #10 on: August 29, 2016, 06:33:46 AM »
Wow - what an amazing community here at MMM - thank you all so much for the well wishes and really detailed responses.

Looks like I have some reading to do :)

Definitely lots of great insight and similar experiences - and thanks for the offers of further contact to discuss things down the line.  Things have been such a whirlwind over the past few months but it really is so helpful to know that even though this sort of thing is uncharted waters personally, others have experienced the same / similar events and feelings.

And by all means - anyone else that wants to join the "party" - please share your experiences...



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Re: Advice on Hitting That Curveball Life Sometimes Decides to Throw
« Reply #11 on: August 29, 2016, 09:34:51 AM »
I can relate to this. Had everything planned out financially and then my youngest son was diagnosed with autism. Now I feel like I need to work until my dying day to try to put away enough money to care for him when my husband and I are gone. Really difficult situations. Also I have to cut back my work hours because of his needs. Definitely a curve ball. I always thought there was some type of government safety net for situations like these but come to find out we are on our own.


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Advice on Hitting That Curveball Life Sometimes Decides to Throw
« Reply #12 on: August 30, 2016, 12:15:35 PM »
Hi Zenyata,

A month ago, my wife fainted at our class reunion, and landed chin-first on concrete. We thought it was from dehydration/heat at the time. At the ER, they did a CT-scan and found evidence of an old stroke - an "invisible stroke" that had happened in her past. I wrote about the experience and her recovery in my journal here:

She had been a casual (2-5/day) smoker for almost 30 years,  and has since quit cold turkey. We are still working on the full diagnosis, but our current operating theory is that her low blood pressure led to an invisible, transient, ischemic stroke. She has had a resting BP of 60/80 for her entire life. Studies have shown that people with low blood pressure are at as high a risk of stroke as those with untreated high blood pressure.

She had CT films from an ER visit in 2014 for migraines, which her neurologist compared to her new films. The stroke evidence was there in 2014, and the ER doctor missed it. We don't know how long ago she might have had the stroke.

It's been a month, and she's slowly recovering from her fall. She still has numbness in her chin and face, and she is very self conscious of her "stroke smile." Emotional volatility and fatigue is a common symptom, so we're all trying to extend as much patience and love as possible. She's very frustrated with her situation, and like LaserJet, any activity that doesn't advance her goal of better health is sent to the back of the line.

Be patient with yourself, recognize that emotional turmoil and fatigue are very common. Your brain will repair itself, slowly, if you keep it busy. Some resources I've found that may be helpful to you: (not very active)