“Living in poverty is like being punched in the face over and over and over on a daily basis.“
"in what world is it considered moral for a person to work three jobs and still be unable to support their family?"
That brings me to the hunger. The hunger is extraordinary. There is a constant gnawing in your stomach, an empty feeling that has taken up permanent residence. Even as you’re eating a meal, you feel the hunger. It never goes away because you don’t know when you’re going to eat again. You don’t know if your next meal will be something proper or if it’ll be half a fun-sized bag of M&M’s that you hoarded from your kids’ Halloween haul or nothing at all. It’s an ever-present gastric uncertainty. As food stamp benefits continue to be cut and food pantries struggle to feed communities, that uncertainty will just continue. I hate to think of my children feeling the same way. They get first dibs on all food that comes through this house. There are many days when my kids get their three meals and I get half of one and my husband….well, I never see him because he is working all the time, but he barely eats, too. This is obviously unhealthy. Our health has tanked over the last year. I’ve been told I constantly look tired. My eyes are more sunken, devoid of light. My skin is dry, blemished, and overall just blah. My hair is brittle and I lose a lot of it on a daily basis. I’m constantly weak. My husband is a very strong man, but he has lost an alarming amount of muscle and strength in the past year. The two of us are constantly exhausted. Part of that is the hunger, part of it is emotional.
The emotions certainly take their toll. Hopelessness is unbearable. I was once someone that my friends would always look to for a positive thought and encouraging words. I always managed to see the good in every situation. I try my best to hold onto that, but it’s been slipping away quickly. Fear is constant. You’re always afraid of what’s next. I’m afraid of opening my bills to find new late fees. I’m afraid of losing utilities. I’m afraid of being evicted because we can’t afford our rent. You want to think positive, but the idea of “what’s next” is always looming. Things that might seem minor to one person can spell disaster for a family in poverty. Last week, my husband told me my tail light was out. This is typically not a big deal for many people. To us, it’s terrifying. We don’t have the money for a new tail light. But, it’s illegal here to have one out. Our cops here are very good at pulling you over for broken lights, outdated stickers, etc. Obviously, it’s the law to keep your car in check. We know this. I’ve always been great at keeping my car well-maintained. My inspections were always done on time, lights would be replaced immediately, oil is always changed, I never drove on gas fumes at the needle hovered on E. It’s all different now. Small things are big things. Monumental things. The idea of needing a tail light, an inspection, or a new tire due to the 100′s of pot holes created by tons of snow this Winter is enough to send me into a panic. Weather is terrorizing these days. Two of my husbands jobs can be called off due to snow or ice because the trucks can’t get to them, so they tell staff to stay home. We’ve had storm after storm after storm this season. My husband has missed so much work, not by choice, due to snow and ice. We added it up and discovered that he missed enough to pay for nearly two months of rent. Same for me – no doggies to walk in this weather because people are staying home.
Poverty is isolating. Friends eventually fade away because they think you’re ignoring them when you constantly turn down their invites to dinner or events. They take it personal no matter how many times you insist it’s not. Your children’s social lives suffer for the same reason – you can’t afford to send them to many birthday parties or playdates. Trips to zoos, museums, and other fun places with admission fees are extremely limited. People eventually tire of you being unavailable to come out for fun and they stop calling and texting. And maybe I should say those people aren’t friends in the first place, but it doesn’t take the pain away. It doesn’t make me hurt less for my children. Conversely, you have friends who know you’re in poverty and they try to brainstorm, try to help you through it. You say thank you a million times, but it’s not enough. After a while, trying to save you is boring and when they realize they didn’t fix you, they get annoyed. I’ve been called everything by people who were supposed to be my friends. Because I can’t snap my fingers and make things work perfectly and because that fact depresses the **** out of me, I’ve been called useless, manipulative, worthless, unmotivated. No one wants to hear that you have tried all the options that they suggested and they didn’t work out. No one wants to hear that you know exactly why a suggestion won’t work. They don’t understand why you can’t “just move” or “just declare bankruptcy” or just swing around a pole (note: no one ever suggests that my husband sell his body for cash…but quite a few people have presented it as an option for me). This isn’t to say they are not well-meaning – and they certainly are not under appreciated by me – but they eventually get exasperated when you explain time and time again why certain suggestions don’t work. They want to fix you, fix you now, get you to shut the **** up about being poor. It’s hard for others to deal with the overwhelming depression and hopelessness that accompanies poverty. It’s hard for them to hear that you don’t want to get up in the morning anymore, that you just want to end it all. So, it’s sometimes easier to be angry at the poor person, to convince yourself that they just don’t want to work for it, and keep your distance from them. Many friendships have been strained by poverty.
However, no one can be as hard on you as you are on yourself. I spend hours per day telling myself how much I suck. If only I had done this or done that. I know our circumstances were beyond our control. I know how hard we try every single say. But, it doesn’t stop me from doubting myself, from putting myself down. It doesn’t stop the shame. I feel like a leech. I’m told by my friendly clergymen, my wonderful politicians, and by people I know and once called friends that I am a burden on society. I’m a taker. If only I worked harder. If only I wanted to stop being poor and getting handouts, then everything would turn around and I would be rich. If only I would pray harder, attend the correct church, and read an ancient book that I have read cover to cover many times in the past. Then God would just bestow His blessings upon me. Or, I should really just consider putting some positive energy out into the Universe. If I meditate and tell the Universe that I want money, money will come and everything will be fixed. The constant shouts from society’s peanut gallery telling me how the poor or worthless and damned help shape my inner dialogue and I begin to agree with them. I am worthless. I deserve the shame I feel.