The Dirt Pile
Shame is what I feel when I have to beg if I want the right people to consider giving me a chance. In every situation I encounter, I can decide to be vulnerable and give insight into my situation in the hopes of being given a chance and to prove that I'm not unfit, or not. If I ask for help, I always have to consider if I can emotionally handle the "conditions" that come along with that help, even if it is listening to someone's version of helpful advice, telling me what I should be doing, or the expectations that will help me to "learn" how to take care of myself. If I am asking for help with something financially, it must be because I don't know how budget, right? Or that I'm living above my means?
I grew up in poverty. I was loved, but it didn't mean I always felt it or that it was always given. My childhood didn't always include safety, and that continued after I became an adult. I was 18, halfway through my senior year of high school, when I moved out of my parent's house. I crashed on friends' couches, but I finished high school. I signed up for food stamps, but I finished high school.
After I graduated, I moved back home. I was very smart, but I didn't go to college. I had too many issues to deal with, one being anxiety, and the fear of going into the unknown, being on my own. I was working, but shortly after, began a battle with depression. I wasn't doing drugs, and I wasn't drinking, but I was cutting myself. I was very scared and alone, and I didn't know how to get out of it.
I spoke with a friend, who encouraged me to go see a counselor. I set up an appointment, but the day before that appointment, I was involuntarily committed to the hospital. I was there for six days. About a week after I got out of the hospital, I was date raped. Not only was I being crushed by depression, fear, anxiety, and loneliness, now I had the shame and self-disgust of that to add to the pile. For many years, I denied it, and blamed myself.
A few months later, I became pregnant with my oldest daughter. Now add to that pile the shame of being an unwed, young mother. I didn't need the shame of others piled on me, but that didn't stop people from giving their opinions and their judgments.
After my daughter was born, I was enrolled in college, and two years later earned my AA. During this time, I was also representing myself in a custody case between my daughter's father and me. I got married, but the marriage didn't last long, and included a lot of pain. We split when I was pregnant with our daughter. One month later, my best friend committed suicide. I've had CPS called on me because of custody issues. Can you see this pile get bigger? Lets add the stress of court, school, the pain of a failed marriage, a pregnancy, and death of a loved one.
Eight days after my second daughter was born, I started in school again, working on getting my BA. Four years later, I earned it, after more custody issues, a divorce, and moving across the state to a city where I knew no one. To utilize the services for job search and to support my kids while I was without a job, I applied for welfare. When I had the meeting for the application, I was asked about my birth control methods, and when I said I was abstinent, I was directed to make an appointment with Planned Parenthood. My first day with the job support services, also known as Work Source, I was treated with scorn when I asked a question about childcare. During other times, when I attended the mandatory workshops, I was laughed at when responding to a question that was asked of me.
As I continued through the program, I met roadblock after roadblock. The anxiety I lived with grew with each rejection of job applications. I applied to a temp agency and was told that my four months of secretarial experience wasn't good enough. They wanted six months. The anxiety grew with each class I had to attend. I was on the verge of another hospitalization, and every day was closer to losing the battle against cutting. The end came when I couldn't even stand in the lobby with people without having a serious panic attack. I called a family friend, and he said to just leave. So I left, and when I called my social worker to tell her what was happening, she told me to stop making excuses and that she wasn't willing to give me a break. At the time, I was seeing a counselor who encouraged me to apply for social security. Thankfully, when I talked with another social worker at DSHS, she encouraged me to apply, and helped me through the process.
Let's fast forward to today. It has been seven years since we moved to Anacortes. During this seven years, I've battled to get my daughter the help that will get her to be successful in managing her special needs, instead of just medicating her to satisfy those who don't understand her. She has seen a few therapists, including one who voiced concerns that her father was abusing her because of a rocket ship she had drawn, and another who believed her problems were parenting issues. I had to fight to get her into a regular school with temporary help, because of a bad experience that the school had with a troubled student the year before. I've been struggling to get her the help she needs because she doesn't have the right diagnosis. My family has lived in low-income housing the seven years we have lived in Anacortes. During that time, my children have been physically and emotionally abused. I've been taunted and called names by children who have lived here. My special needs daughter has been ganged up many times by groups of boys because they feel threatened by her. She was punched by a mentally ill adult neighbor. There have been drug use on the grounds, including needles left behind at the the bus shelter where the children wait for the school bus. I can't even count the number of times that police are called, or how many times I have to call my children in because of the inappropriate behavior that goes on where the kids are playing. Added to the pile is the guilt I feel because I allow my children to live here. I feel like a crappy mother. I want so much more for them.
After seven years on the waitlist for Section 8, we finally have received a voucher to find a home to live in. A home where my daughters can feel safe, and have their own space. A home where I can feel safe. As I'm searching for a house, I find myself cringing when I have to ask landlords and realtors if they accept Section 8 vouchers. Most of them don't want to deal with the paperwork, or the stereotype of the low-income. Yesterday, as I listened to a realtor explain that they don't accept Section 8 because of the problems they have had with tenants, I had to fight down tears. And I felt such a heavy load of shame, that I was almost crushed. How many other times have I been denied the chance to move forward out of poverty because of the actions and stereotypes of low-income people? I wanted to give up. I've been fighting my whole life. I'm exhausted. Can someone take over for me for awhile?
I've been given so much help from sources outside of government assistance. I appreciate it, because they have seen me for who I am, not my situation. They have come alongside me to provide things that others think are necessities, but aren't things that I have access to on low-income. The most recent has been support for me to gain control of my good health.
I currently receive social security, which I'm grateful for because it has given me a chance to focus on digging myself out of the emotional pile of junk that has buried me for so long. I have a lifetime to dig out of. There are some people who are right beside me, shoveling with me, but there are also people who are just throwing more crap onto the pile. I battle constantly in a war against my old self. The prize is a belief that I am worth a better life. Some seasons I am losing the war. Some seasons I am too tired to lift up that shovel, too tired to call for help. Sometimes when I call for help, it isn't loud enough. I am not heard. Sometimes when I call for help, and people come with well-meaning comments and advice and ultimatums, all it does is break down trust, and add to the pile. Sometimes I don't need an opinion, or advice. I shouldn't have to keep from asking for help because I just can't handle the response. But I do. So many times.
I am educated. I don't need parenting classes. I have been a parent who has taken responsibility when others have walked away. I have been a parent who doesn't want to give up on doing her best to help her children. My kids are growing up with the effects of poverty. My goal since I was pregnant was to break this cycle of poverty for my children. I see the things I want for my kids, in the distance. I'm moving towards it, but I'm shackled with a giant pile of guilt, shame, self-doubt, exhaustion, fear, anxiety, and poverty. The thing about financial help from the government is that it is just enough to keep you in that hole. I'm not wasting my money on drugs or alcohol. I'm not having more babies to get more money. I'm not lying to gain more help than I should. I'm not even out searching for a man to take care of us. I'm not unwilling to accept responsibility for mistakes and accidents. I'm not refusing to pay debts, or nor am I late with my payments. I'm trying to find a way to become financially self-sufficient, but so far...nope.
I was in a war with myself to even write this all out and share it. I have an anger that lives in me. Sometimes it's a scared anger. Sometimes it's a defiant anger. Or it's a hateful anger. Anger at how I feel, how I fail, the situation that I'm in, the questions I don't want to answer. A frustrated anger at those who dump their responsibility on me. The misunderstanding. The deadness that creeps up on me of that place where I used to survive. Anger at the tears that fall. A tired anger. A helpless anger.
I'm still looking for the chance that will get us out of here. I'm too stubborn to give up. As long as my kids are still here, I'm refusing to give up. But pray for me, please? The mental struggle is the most burdensome.
We might be in different places, but all of us are on a journey.
Leah's Life Verses