I was reading this article this afternoon (actually, I'm not finished with it while I write these words, but I needed to express my feelings), and it struck me how very, deeply lucky I have been.
The article, in case you don't feel like reading it, is about poverty, and why poor people tend to stay poor. And I remembered several things suddenly, like when the student loan lady told me that if my income was below 150% of the poverty line, I could take some time off from paying back my loan (which I was having trouble doing), and how I laughed when I found out what the poverty line was, and how far below it I was. It wasn't funny, of course.
It was the closest to independent I ever have been or probably will be. My parents weren't paying for my housing, like in college. I wasn't living with a man that I was dating, who took care of most of the bills because he made more money than me, like just after college. I was living in a two-bedroom apartment with a friend, rent and utilities split 50/50, each of us buying our own food. I was working part-time at a grocery store, and had no insurance.
What I did have--and this, plus luck, is what kept my head above water--was two dear friends (H&B), who helped me out immeasurably. Later, they helped me get an appointment at a free clinic, which is the first time I ever had treatment for my depression. They also helped me get a counselor at Vocational Rehabilitation, which didn't end up doing anything for me but get me the official diagnoses of Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety (NOS)*, and a score in the 99th percentile of a test designed for people who work with computers to test if I have an aptitude for working with computers (answer: YES).
And those I got from my Psych Eval (necessary to determine if I qualified for state help), and my Voc Eval (to see what I was good at (nearly everything) and what I had an aptitude for), not from Voc Rehab itself. I'm sure it's a fine program for most people, but it just didn't do much for me.
Anyway, H&B also got me on food stamps, and helped me legally change my name without paying the courts an obscene amount of money.
I was also dating a gentleman who would sometimes buy me groceries or give me twenty bucks. It helped me float.
I was working minimum wage, part time. I was barely making it. I did not have the physical or mental strength when I got home to try to find a second job, or even a replacement job that I might not hate so much.
It got better when I got food stamps (with the help of H&B**), but please try to understand how it felt when my good friend at work, who had gotten me the job, rang up my groceries one day and realized that I was paying with food stamps. Her face completely changed and she stopped her friendly banter, and just finished ringing me up very quietly. There's nothing like needing food stamps when you work at a grocery store.
Luck: I never got badly ill, or injured. Except for the depression treatment which I wasn't getting, I never needed any kind of expensive medical care. I never needed any kind of meds I couldn't get over the counter (until they stopped making albuterol inhalers available OTC, but by then I had a doctor at a free clinic, and if they weren't able to get it for me for free, then they were able to get it for me very cheaply).
Luck: I did not get fired from my job, despite being late a lot due to sleep issues and generally hating my job and thus not being motivated to try harder--which I recognize is one of those things that people think about poor people, but I didn't just like to complain about my job. Most people tend to treat baggers as furniture, which is marginally preferable to getting yelled at for not being a mind-reader. There were some people who were decent, and even a few who tried to tip me, which was against store policy, but I took the tips anyway, because I was broke as hell, but the majority of the time, I was so miserable that later, when I had a psychiatrist, she actually told me to quit my job because it was making my depression worse. By then I could, so I did. It took over a year to recover.***
Luck: I always had a place to live. For a while, that was with my parents, in a different county from all my friends and everywhere I wanted to be, but still. For about three months, it was with a friend who didn't ask for rent money, because I had just moved back to Salt Lake from my parents' house, and I didn't have a job yet. Then I moved in with my friend, who needed a new roommate, and I was something approaching independent for a while.
I miss that. I don't miss the job that drove me crazy, or the stressing about money, or the ever-present feeling that although I had my own room and was paying my half of the rent, I was merely squatting at that apartment, because my friend-turned-roommate had just lived there for so long that I could never make it feel like home. I don't miss having no energy to do anything I wanted to do, partially from the job, partially from depression, partially from health issues that I've only begun to address ...
But I do miss feeling independent.
Because here's the biggest luck of all: I began dating, and then married, a gentleman who had a decent paycheck, insurance, etc. That wasn't, of course, the reason for our relationship. But looking back ... I know that if I had remained single after breaking up with the guy who occasionally bought me groceries, instead of jumping almost immediately into another relationship ... I have no idea where I would be. Still treading water, maybe, if my luck had continued. Or maybe I'd be drowning, because no one's luck lasts forever.
But I would not be where I am now: dancing, writing, sewing things for people, with a job that I can actually stand (which I couldn't have if I was on my own, because I don't get nearly enough hours, which is why I have time and energy to make costumes for my burlesque sisters and write stories and try to get them published), and actually pretty happy. And that is mostly just luck (and some very dear friends).
* Not Otherwise Specified, meaning just general anxiety that can't be categorized as anything specific, which I think is incorrect. My anxiety is mostly a social anxiety, brought on by stressful social interactions, like large crowds of people, authority figures exerting authority over me, realizing I've made another person angry, hurt or upset, talking on telephones, etc.
** There was so much that was, at the time, impossible for me to do on my own. Going to Workforce Services to try to get food stamps was impossible, because of the mental energy required, the getting there (on the bus), the talking to strangers, and the sense of shame I got from asking the government for a handout. I couldn't talk on the phone (I ducked calls from unknown numbers for years, because I couldn't deal with telling the student loan people--who were all very nice and very helpful--that I couldn't pay them). H&B offered support, permission, a ride, and made it possible for me to do things I would otherwise have been unable to do.
*** I quit in August 2013. I wasn't able to start working again until June 2014, and now, at the beginning of 2015, my doctor and my psychiatrist agree that I can start trying to wean off my anti-depressants. I've lowered my dosage of one of my meds, and hopefully, by the end of the year, I'll be off them both and doing fine.