Being Poor

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In a world where we are all fighting to be equal and trying to be heard and validated, it surprises me that there isn’t more emphasis on the socioeconomic crisis. I often imagine how a rich person and a poor person have two completely different life experiences and often never knowing what the other has to offer. It is a very real struggle and painful feeling of segregation, being poor.

Being poor fills you with shame and lack of self worth. Others look down on you, think you are lazy and worthless. You’re angry because no matter how much you try you will never be good enough, or have enough. You will always struggle. That’s just the way it is.

My mama used to say, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

I’ve been poor most of my life. I was eight years old when my parents were divorced. Divorce was shamed back then and I was an outcast because of it; but, even more so because I was poor. Even in church people moved away from us and gave us looks of pity. My mom went from not being allowed to have a job to working three of them to raise us kids. Every now and then she would quit working to get assistance for our dental and medical needs, and then she would go right back to busting her ass. I was so proud of her; but, we suffered without her presence. No matter how hard she worked, we still grew up in a neighborhood of poverty. Standing in lines for large government blocks of cheese and a warm bowl of soup.

My mom insisted on paying for me to got to a catholic junior high school, because the public one was pretty dangerous. There were stories of young girls getting raped, drugs and bad teachers. Unfortunately, little did she know, she couldn’t prevent any of these from my future. Regardless, she scraped up everything she had and there I was in the middle of a rich catholic school with my two pairs of pants, holes in my shoes and too much makeup. I was constantly made fun of and discriminated against. I eventually stopped going. In 8th grade I attended only 20 days of school and made up the rest from home. Thankfully, it was allowed back then. I don’t think the school wanted me there anyway.

Being poor drove me to steal. Not just for me but for others in my neighborhood. I felt like Robin Hood. I wanted to save everyone. I took in stray kids and cats. A group of us would steal food stamps from mailboxes and buy for everyone. Together we would survive. Living in a poor neighborhood, you fight to live. It is an environment that leaves traumatic scars.

I worked as soon as I could. Usually 2-3 jobs just like my mom. Then in 1987 I got into a severe car accident and lived off the settlement for awhile but still worked. Lots of friends suddenly needed loans. I obliged. Eventually the money was gone and the bills piled up and that was when I found exotic dancing. I remember thinking I was going to get my whole family out of the rut; but, that didn’t happen. I wished I had known better and saved or invested; but, I had no financial direction or education.

I was able to help my mom launch her shop that she continued to have for eight years. I bought myself a nice car and was able to pay bills with ease. It felt so good to be able to provide for myself easily; but, I knew dancing could only last so long and my soul was screaming to get out.

In my early thirties I had my baby daughter and wanted to turn my life around. I went back to school to become a veterinarian technician; but, before I could finish my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Then my life became about taking care of her.

Inevitably she passed. I went to work as a vet tech for a short while; but, then had my nervous breakdown three months later. My doctor strongly suggested I go on disability. I was very sick mentally and physically. I agreed and was grateful for the opportunity to heal while worrying less about how to pay the rent. However, that really wasn’t the case. Disability doesn’t pay the bills. I had to apply for any and every assistance there was. Meanwhile my mental and physical health debilitating. Eventually, I was homeless and at the mercy of others. My pride and self worth gone.

For years now, I’ve worked hard in therapy to heal and be able to function again. These last few years I’ve made great strides with working a temporary job and graduating from the herbal apprenticeship. Now what? I am planning on starting a little Etsy shop with my daughter and thinking about trying the ticket to work program again through Social Security. I have to be careful with my choices to ensure my survival. When I worked the temporary job for peanuts. My health insurance went. I don’t know yet how having a shop online will affect my insurance, my housing, etc., It’s really like being between a rock and a hard place.

I am determined to get off this system; but, struggling with all those feelings of self doubt, like I am not good enough and never going to be able to succeed. The recent loss of my car seems to confirm that I will always be struggling. I can’t afford basic needs. How will I ever be able to start a shop? Or make enough to cover what assistance does now?

It’s a perpetual problem and the battle never seems to end. It gets me terribly depressed at times. I even suspect the government would prefer we all just jump off a bridge to ease the financial crisis. That is when I have to remind myself that I am grateful for the roof over my head. I have faith that my future is bright. The law of attraction says I must set free the doubt. I have to feel worthy of success. I turn to my blog to write and set free the shame I’ve held onto since a child. When people used to look at me disgusted. If they looked at me at all.

Nobody wants to acknowledge the homeless, the mentally ill, the unfortunate. People pay attention only after a poor person out of desperation has committed a crime or attempted suicide, and even then the attention is fleeting and superficial.

If awareness was higher and we all practiced kindness, maybe the struggle would lessen. I wonder if when I was in junior high school, if just one person reached out to me, then maybe my life would have turned out differently. Maybe I would have stayed in school or found some self worth.

For along time I was angry and envious of rich people; but, then realized it only added to the segregation. I don’t know what it’s like for rich people. The few I’ve known don’t have any higher self worth than I do. Their value is usually distorted and lies in ego and how much they own. They are expected to succeed no matter what and it is expected for poor people to fail. The separation just keeps getting bigger.

If rich people showed more compassion and poor people stopped isolating themselves, maybe we could meet in the middle. We need to stop saying we are poor and start believing in our worth. We are rich in ways that have so much to offer. We have to believe and be heard and seen.

Being poor feels like being invisible. I want to change that, not only for myself but for my daughter, my family and for all the people who feel less than.

 

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Reentering the Workforce: My Holiday Job

back to work

One of the reasons I haven’t been blogging as much lately is because I had been totally consumed by my temporary holiday retail job that I started in late November. Reentering the workforce is one of the most daunting tasks while on disability. Especially challenging for me, because the work I was doing before my breakdown was not realistic for me to return to. Therefore, I literally have to start over.

I worked 16yrs as an exotic dancer, several years as a model and aspiring actress, I had my own shop with my mom, and I have had several employment experiences ranging from waitress to veterinarian technician. This resume is difficult to convey in a simple application. I left the dancer, model, actress bit out and focused on the retail and customer experience.

Narrowing down what to put in the application was the first step. Then how do I explain a ten year gap? Personally, I find the truth is the best policy; however, I have learned to keep that truth to a minimum without having to share my life story. I simply stated I was hospitalized and placed on disability and that I am only now beginning to return to the workforce.

The application process behind me, the day of my interview I was calm, grounded and confident. I’ve worked very hard in therapy and I noticed the difference in my anxiety level.

However, on my first day I had extreme anxiety. I reminded myself that it was okay if I couldn’t do it; but there was a part of me who knew I was ready. The loud thumping in my chest was only slightly subdued by my deep breathing. I gasped for air as I sat in my car outside the building. I forced myself to take slow, deep breaths which helped me calm down enough to not be overcome with panic. It took every bit of my strength to walk inside, and I went immediately to the restroom, where I took more deep breaths. I told myself, Ok I made it in the building, I cant turn back now. The rest of my first few days were more of the same. One baby step, one deep breath, at a time.

The first week I worked mostly as a cashier. I had experience so the learning part wasn’t too overwhelming; but being thrown into confronting social anxiety by having to greet and converse with customers was mind blowing.  I had planned on speaking to a manager to ask if I could work a different position at least some of the time. Learning to communicate with employers is a skill that I realized I have never learned or practiced. During the earlier part of my life, my pattern would be work hard, shut up and when it gets too much, quit. I asked my therapist how to communicate my needs; but, never had to have the conversation as my second week I was put in the fitting room, this is where they were short staffed.

The fitting room has brought quite a different set of woes. Standing in one spot for hours with nothing to do but gaze out at the store is maddening. I came home in tears as my feet were red and swollen, and my mind screamed, I cant do this. I was completely and utterly overwhelmed; but I persevered.

I just kept showing up, and by the end of my third week it started to feel slightly easier. I felt an amazing sense of pride. There I was in the middle of chaos and the holiday madness, and inside I wore a calm big proud smile. I did it. I forgot the comradeship you share with employees, after a hard day’s work. It was a good feeling.

My fourth week I had a mini vacation for the holidays. I had requested the time when I got hired.

This is the beginning of my sixth week. I finally feel not so consumed and overwhelmed. The holidays are over and everything has calmed. I am only working two days a week as my hours were cut from 20/week to 10/week.  My employment will end Feb 24, as it is only up to 90 days.

When I thought I couldn’t go on another day, I did. I may not be ready for full time employment; but, I have learned that I am not totally disabled or incapable.

It has been an enlightening experience.