This is the first in a four-part series that I’ve wanted to write for a long time. As I mention below, I’m writing this painfully honest series in order to give people a better understanding of what it’s like to be part of the working poor (or unemployed), especially as you attempt to survive and try climbing out of the recession with everyone else. It may be hard to swallow for some because they’ll refuse to believe that this does happen – or that those of us who live like this didn’t somehow cause this all by themselves, and that’s okay. I can’t open eyes that are deliberately sewn shut. But hopefully, this will shed some light on the way a lot of Americans live right now, so that we can be a little kinder to each other. A lot of the discord in today’s society is a lack of empathy, understanding, and actual listening to others. Maybe if we took the time to get to know each other’s situations a little better without all those knee-jerk reactions we see everywhere, we could be a little nicer to each other. Less judgmental. Just kind.
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Not gonna lie – my anxiety is through the friggin’ roof these days. And it’s all because of money. As usual.
When things are as tight as they are right now, one of the things I hear most from friends, acquaintances, or even family members is, “Oh, this is just a bump in the road! You’ll pull out of it soon!”
Whether it comes from a place of real concern or it’s just something to say when things are awkward, I wish they wouldn’t say that. Especially not in that sing-song, sunshiny voice. Because while it may be a “bump” in the grand scheme of things, for me – and countless others struggling to survive – it feels like climbing Mt. Everest. This is no gentle “undulation” in a quiet pocket of suburbia – this is a steep-ass peak that, while conquerable, is no walk in the park. (Holy Metaphors, Batman.)
And that’s what got me thinking… most people who don’t live it just don’t get it. Despite all their well-intentioned suggestions of “Why don’t you just (insert Impossible For Me action here)…?”, if you’re not part of the working poor, the unemployed, or even those literally living paycheck-to-paycheck (with no credit cards or savings account cushions), it’s hard to understand why pulling out of a financial crisis is such a long, difficult road. That doesn’t make those who don’t understand this “bad” or anything. It just means that there are many different worlds within our one society, and not all of them make immediate sense. So, I figured I’d write about it.
Now, before the naysayers start up, I want to clarify that this is not some Oh, Woe Is Me! type of series. I’m going to get extremely frank and personal, but it’s not to garner sympathy or pity (or judgment!) – it’s in order to educate, to open up other people’s eyes and minds about the experiences their own friends and family may be going through, without them really knowing it. In our insular society, it’s easy to assume that one’s own experiences are shared by everyone around you, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Especially in the U.S. There are a lot of us who are barely hanging on by a thread of a thread, just a paycheck or dollar away from homelessness, having utilities shut off, or not being able to get necessary medications or food. It’s rough out there, and it’s something that needs to be talked about, not swept under the rug in the hopes that it’ll just “take care of itself”.
When I first decided to write about this, I thought I would just do one listicle-type post and call it a day. But the more I started taking notes and outlining the points I wanted to cover, the more I realized this needed to be written about in-depth. Each major heading I wanted to cover had tens of subheadings and supporting points that couldn’t be left out. So, I decided to break this down into separate posts to address three major points: Life Costs About Double or Triple; Mental and Emotional Ramifications; and The Good News (because there is some good that comes out of the bad, I swear).
I struggled a great deal with which one should be first – Life Costs About Double or Triple orMental and Emotional Ramifications, because they’re both so intricately intertwined. Eventually, I decided that the only way to truly understand the pain that one feels in this situation is to know the circumstances, lest there be any confusion about any Woe Is Me-ism. When I’m through with the series, I may put it all on a permanent page not just for easier access, but because this is something that is central to how PGEW came to be (and continues to be).
My hope is that this will not only open people’s eyes to the real struggles of many, but that it will open up their hearts to understanding. I see a lot of cruel judgment being passed on those who are struggling or who are receiving some sort of aid just to make it through each month, and that’s incredibly sad. It’s sad not just because it’s hurtful and unfair, but because it truly comes from a place of not understanding. If we don’t take the time to understand our fellow humans, how can we expect to get along and continue to improve ourselves and society?
With that said, before I launch into this rather scary-to-write series, I want to remind everyone thatconstructive, positive, and helpful comments are welcomed; judgmental, hateful, spiteful comments are not, and they will be deleted and the poster blocked. I am opening myself up more than I ever have in the past seven years, so I ask for respect and kindness. Because what I’m going to share with you in these next few posts is gonna hurt.
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Like I mentioned earlier, my anxiety is crazy high these days. I’m down to the wire on a lot of things, and while my little Etsy shop is doing well for being so new, it’s not something I can live on just yet. A lot of what I earn there has to be reinvested into the business for fees, ingredients and packaging, but at least I’m selling things. Just not quickly enough to feel safe again.
The good news is that I’m getting better at processing and dealing with my anxiety so that it doesn’t paralyze me into inactivity/major depressive episode. This has happened to me in the past, and now that I recognize my patterns and triggers, I’m doing my best to make sure I don’t let them take complete hold of me.
But that doesn’t mean that my anxiety isn’t very present and very real. And very valid! I am, once again, and through no fault of my own (save having the nerve to have a chronic autoimmune disease), drowning. And I’m scared shitless.
To bring everyone up to speed, whether you’re new here or have been out of the loop for awhile, here is a very (painfully) real list of what my summer has been like so far:
- I mid-May, I was unexpectedly (and unfairly) let go from the job I’d had for nearly a year. I’d just finished saving my apartment in February, after giving almost all my paychecks to my landlords and living as meagerly as possible just to do so. My next project was to fully pay off my gigantic electric bill, but that plan was foiled. I’m currently applying for SSDI and taking freelance writing projects on the side to earn enough money to eat, but other than that, I’m still waiting for unemployment benefits or state disability. And that’s made the beginning of this summer as oppressive as all the heat we’ve been having.
- I’ve only been able to pay $200 towards last month’s rent and have no clue how I’m going to come up with the rest, let alone July’s rent, before I receive a notice from my landlords.
- My new electric bill is also coming quite soon, and since I wasn’t able to pay it or the past due payment arrangement I have set up with them last month, I will be facing a huge past due amount this month – and there’s no way to pay it. Which means disconnection could be on the horizon if I don’t figure out something soon.
- My internet bill is in similar dire straits. Which is really, really bad, considering I’m a blogger and am trying to run an internet-based business (yes, I could go to a cafe to write, but a lot of times they force you to buy something so you can sit there, and overpriced coffee is definitely not in the budget right now.)
- I just had to get bailed out by my mom (who will be losing her nanny job next month and isn’t in any position to be helping anyone but herself right now) so that I could buy food, toilet paper, and toothpaste, because I was down to one roll of TP and about 2 days’ worth of toothpaste (and I’m out of baking soda).
- Prior to that bailout, I traded in all my coins (my life “savings” lol) at one of those rip-off CoinStar machines, so that I could buy a couple rolls to tide me over til whoknowswhen. As a result, I’m now out of quarters and cannot do my laundry the normal way. Blargh.
- So, I’m back to washing my clothes by hand in the sink and bathtub. With dish soap. Because of course, I’m out of detergent at the moment. But at least I know how to handwash! And it’s been so hot that I can line dry items in no time! #silverlining
- I have to pay rent ASAP. (Sorry, this one’s keeping me up at night.)
- I’m in the process of photographing small kitchen appliances so I can sell them online ASAP, in the hopes that I can at least give my landpeople SOMETHING before they give me another notice. I can’t think of what else I could possibly sell that won’t cut into the things I need to keep the only source of kindasortaincome I have: this blog.
- I just got back from a $22 version of my $25 Shopping Cart at the 99 Cent Store, because that really is the only place where $25 will allow me to shop for both me and StuKitty and come home with something decent. Even with my mad skills. (It was a good one, though… you should check it out on Facebook.)
- Even so, I had to budget out $2.50 to get there, because it’s quite far from me and I don’t have a car. Also had to go super prepared and keep on a time limit, because if I stayed too long, the train ticket would expire and I’d have to shell out another $2.50. And that might as well be $250 right now. (I so miss being able to buy my semi-monthly pass!) But I really wanted to stay longer and keep live blogging!
- I have about 2 weeks worth of meds left for my condition, so I’m back to taking half of what I’m supposed to, in order to make them last. Which is no bueno for my illness, of course. But it’s either that or losing my apartment, so……..
OH MY GOD, WOMAN! YOU’RE A HOT MESS!
Yes, I know.
And just two months ago, I was making so much progress towards getting out of my 58,000 holes. *sigh*
So how is it possible that an intelligent, relatively well-adjusted person such as myself – brought up in a good home, educated at private schools all her life before going to UC Davis, the kind that used to have the cushy job and kickass apartment (and even a car) – finds herself in this position – AGAIN?
Plain and simple: one of the biggest realities that the working poor and unemployed have to face as they try to survive and overcome is…
Life costs about double or triple.
Now, I know there will be people shaking their heads in denial, or thinking that this couldn’t possibly be true because if you’re living on a budget doing budget things, everything should cost less, right? And if not, there are always handouts you can just walk into some office and get, right? WRONG.
The truth is, between things like interest, past-due fees, or just not being able to afford things and services of a certain quality, life as part of the working poor costs a hell of a lot more than if we had some financial breathing room.
(Before I keep going, I wanted to point out that I am using the terms “working poor” and “unemployed” to talk about a certain population that was a direct result of the Great Recession. I realize that there are plenty of people living in abject poverty and that I, and several others who are struggling financially, are still in better shape than those folks. I am specifically referring to those of us who used to have good jobs or a better financial situation prior to the Great Recession, were affected deeply by that recession, and are still struggling to get back to “normal” even as the nation’s economy continues to improve.)
In my next post, I’ll break down in great detail what it’s like to have to manage when you don’t have enough to cover everything. It’s a delicate balancing act that can stress you to exhaustion (or shingles, ha ha), but will hopefully help shed light on how situations like mine can happen, and why it can take so long to get out of it.
Thanks for getting this far!