During this season of thanks and giving, I am going to talk about what it was really like being poor. Right now, we are not poor. We make pretty good money. Right now, I’m stable and happy without drugs but it wasn’t always like that. In the beginning, we were poor.
When I met my now husband, he was working at a Barnie’s gas station making minimum wage as a young 22 year old man. Minimum back then was $5-something an hour. I was an unemployed 20 year old woman suffering emotional instability and fighting a yet unknown physical illness. There were things that set us up for failure. We were both separated from a majority of our families for various reasons. Today, thankfully, we are in touch with family.
No matter how much I love my mother or forgive my father, I have to admit that my childhood set me up for failure. My father was abusive and caused a lot of emotional and trust issues. Aside from that, I was also sick all the time. As I got into my teen years, I gradually got worse. I was gaslighted into thinking I was crazy. I didn’t know any better, so when mom and other women said that my excruciating cramps were “normal”, I believed them. When I was old enough to explain this ambient nausea and fatigue and that I was never feeling “good”, I was told I was being “dramatic” over “mild tummy aches”. Coming home from school and passing out on the couch and sleeping all day was my fault, rather than understanding that being this exhausted was not normal or “bad behavior”. As my condition progressed to repeated infections, the doctor said “some women are just prone to them”. Mom called me a hypochondriac, so no one took me seriously. I was too young to know better. Hypochondriacs are people who think they are sick when they are not. Being actually sick all the time isn’t hypochondria, it’s chronic illness.
Even with known hearing loss and ear surgeries, I was told that I was “faking it” or “just not listening hard enough” or had “selective hearing”. Just as a note, it wasn’t until 10 years later that I sought an ear doctor as an adult and had surgery that gave me back a whopping 55% of my hearing. It wasn’t just the tympanic membrane that was damaged, the bones inside were so scarred that they no longer vibrated, which is essential to hearing. Sadly, the doctor says the scarring will build up and I will lose hearing again. Still, it’s nice to have scientific proof to back you up!
In my teen years, I wanted to get psychological help. I was so miserable and my emotions were bleeding out of me. I had fits of so much anger. Mom didn’t want to me seek professional help because, back in her day, she had a horrifying experience when she sought out psychological help. A volunteer from school who ran a survivors group (which my mom didn’t know I had joined) came to the house and talked to my mother and told her that medicine isn’t the way it was back then. I am thankful for Mike, because he helped me get help.
I was on medication when I met my boyfriend (now husband). Even though my psychological state was no longer the erratic explosion of expression, I was still sick. I had started to take painkillers but eventually that didn’t stop the pain. I was exhausted, but the pain kept me awake. I would drink myself to sleep and then stay out for 12 hours at a time. I was a “party girl” going to raves with my new boyfriend, getting super drunk and high. I was trying to cope with an illness that was getting worse that no one cared to listen to me about. I’m thankful that I wasn’t doing hard drugs (no coke, no heroine, no meth). I’m thankful that I wasn’t a drug addict or alcoholic after everything was said and done.
Today, I rarely even drink socially. My husband commented on my lack of drinking, that I “used to be a wild party goer who drank people under the table.” I smiled with a hint of sadness “Ah but you forget my love… I drank to numb the pain.” Friends laugh, thinking it’s a joke, but I can see the recognition behind his eyes. He rubs my arm lovingly and whispers “sorry” in my ear. I kiss him and we change the subject stealthily. Eventually, friends learn about my past, but there’s no reason to make a good social awkward, right?
So back to the past… my boyfriend and I got a job at a call center, my first ever job. There were days in which I was so nauseous I couldn’t eat or think straight. There were days I was so tired I couldn’t crawl out of bed. There were days when I self medicated with drugs and alcohol to stop the pain and I couldn’t work like that. Poor young boyfriend didn’t know what to do. I lost my job when I was so sick I couldn’t do anything anymore. I was crying in bed and my boyfriend lost his job trying to help me. We went to the hospital again and again. Every time, they’d run some tests and tell me that I’m fine. I was in so much pain that there was no way that I was going to believe that it was just “all in my head”.
We had no jobs, no money, no insurance. I was no longer on proper medication for my anxiety. We couldn’t get welfare and didn’t qualify for disability. Having a chronic undiagnosed illness was not a valid excuse. Unless we had kids or a diagnosis, nobody gave a shit about us. We did once get on welfare briefly, because I was pregnant, but that ended when the baby was lost (this happened after the drugs/alcohol abuse and after the surgery that saved my life). We never talk about that to anyone, not even with family. No one even knew I was pregnant (except the fiance and I). It’s like it never happened, except the rare occasion when it comes to mind (like now). One day, we plan to adopt. I’m just not willing to go through pregnancy and risk miscarriage. I’d rather adopt a child who needs us.
Back on track… the pain had gotten so bad that I was no longer sleeping, not even drugs and alcohol stopped the pain. I was in a ball of tears. I thought my tears would dry out, but I cried for days and the tears never dried. I couldn’t even exhaust myself to sleep. Hospital after hospital, test after test, and they said I was “fine”. I was scared that I was going to die because no one would listen to me. I had a melt down. I started screaming and throwing stuff, “I’M NOT FINE! I WANT THE PAIN TO STOP! HELP ME!!!!” One doctor… ONE DOCTOR… helped me. He listened to me and we spent a whole day of searching and then he found it. I wasn’t crazy or lying… and I would have died if I didn’t get surgery that night. He didn’t charge me a cent for it. I’m thankful for that doctor who actually cared… who saved my life.
Recovering was difficult and long. A few weeks later, for the first time in my life, I felt GOOD. I realized in that one moment that everyone else was a fucking MORON. I was so sick for so long and everyone treated me like I was “dramatic”. I almost died because of that nonsense. Even so called “doctors” were part of the problem. This is where trust issues are born.
During all of this drama and misery, there was also the plight of being young irresponsible kids who didn’t know anything about being adults. Putting all the illness aside, we made lots of stupid mistakes. Combine medical issues with stupid youth and you get poverty real quick.