Poverty: A Tale of Grief and Coping

I struggled with authority figures my entire life. It wasn’t uncommon that I came out of my mouth to anyone. I did what I wanted, I didn’t do what I didn’t want to do, and I followed my life path with reckless abandon. My big head—full of the gift you’re given as a teenager, all knowing power—could never weigh me down. I sprinted forth with both my hands and feet on the ground; I broke wind with my invincibility. Ultimately, I sprinted right into a hole. I’ve been here ever since. There’s a warden here, let’s call her Poverty.

At first, I denied her very existence. Instead of dealing with her at 18 years old, I was making money phones with my tips on Snapchat. On a particularly good day, I was made up with the dog filter on, too. I had so few bills, and so few obligations, and still I struggled. There was nothing more important than being with my boyfriend, eating out with my boyfriend, running around behind my boyfriend, being in love with my boyfriend. Consequently, I experienced borrowing money with my boyfriend, having money stolen by my boyfriend, and living in debt with my boyfriend. We dropped out of school, and shortly after, he met someone new. Let’s call her Heroine. She led him to many other girls, but still I followed. I followed even when we got so behind on power, it cost us 700 dollars to get it turned back on. I worked two jobs, and while crashing at a friends with him, finally got the power turned back on. I met his side piece enough times to know her friends, including the warden. I just couldn’t make sense of their relationship.

The warden just kept reminding me of some of the absolute terrors of this hole as some sort of ultimatum. So, I tried to bargain with her.

I left my boyfriend. He moved away and suddenly even without his anchor of addiction to burden, things in my life got trickier. By this point, I destroyed my chances applying for FAFSA as a drop out, and had no other qualifications outside of cheerleading and the food industry. As a former AP student who graduated with college credits – this was humiliating. I could’ve done anything. Yet, my resume spoke before I did. After denying poverty’s role in my life for so long, I started to recognize her, and she made me angrier than anyone ever could. I was over buying nice things to mask the fact that I had stretched Cook Out trays across three hard nights. I was done thirst trapping with my hard, flat, hungry tummy. I was ready to address her.

I walked past EMTs reviving my friend who had overdosed in his bathroom and sat on my bare mattress of which laid on the living room floor of his house. I was at this point 21, homeless, and struggling. This was what felt like a bargain being offered by Kween Poverty herself. Even though that girl Heroine wasn’t even my friend, I saw her all the time here. Heroine was just one of the girls here. I’ve met so many people, so many things. I met a pimp, I met SoundCloud rappers, I met countless amounts of people I had no business connecting with. The warden just kept reminding me of some of the absolute terrors of this hole as some sort of ultimatum. So, I tried to bargain with her.

“I did nothing to deserve not to be poor, but work every day of my life. I still overdraft my account, often, for just a few days just so I can Uber home from my job. I don’t sleep despite being so tired. I’ve ubered and I’ve bussed and I’ve lyfted. I would like to live a new life, now.” I said to her.

She sat on the request and I assumed I would hear something back. Instead, she sat in the corner while I called my leasing office to tell them I wouldn’t be able to pay, and would be moving in with another one of Heroine’s friends. I was officially depressed. Another mattress on the floor, but at least there was cute tapestry there. This friend was trying to get out, too. We were trying to get out together. We followed politics. We listened to rap battles religiously. We kept our wits as he worked a government job and I continued waiting tables. As you do when you hustle hard with someone, we fell in love. He impregnates me, and then boom: we live in the hole with my belly, the warden, the return of his friend heroine, and our absolute misery. After years of ignoring my situation, and trying to make the best of it; after years of hustling, after trauma bonding with some hole vets, now I’ve brought a child into not just the world, but into the hole with me. My friend couldn’t hang.

I’m starting to see sunlight in the hole. Now, I check in with the warden, often. I’m hoping one day I’ll remember her more and see her less.

I remember the day I waddled up the steep parking lot, paused to chug one of my water bottles, and continued to walk to the bank. This should take no more than four minutes. It took me about 15. It was a bright, beaming summer day. The love I was experiencing, however, demanded I no longer avoid my problems. I got a new bank account, one no boyfriend had access to. I kept my new bank card hidden at all times. I got a second job, all within my bus route. I started saving, and researching the symptoms of FT, Financial Trauma, of which effects 1 in 3 people between the ages of 23 and 38. I got an app on my phone to have 24/7 access of seeing just how broke I was all the time. No matter how insulting. No matter how it upset me. I stopped going out. I settled for staying in. I signed up for every benefit I could qualify for. It wasn’t until my pregnancy that I recognized my habits and my grief (regardless of its validity) wasn’t going to get me out of the hole, but accepting where I am and what I’m doing with my life could help.

I tried love in the hole one more time, and together, we’ve taken turns climbing the ladder with a baby on our back. When we started this, we had an Altima, older than us both, that would break down and smoke every chance it had. We now have a working car we paid for with our own money. Getting married when you’re poor is finically ill-advised because as we did, you potentially lose your benefits. Yet, I got a better paying job and started being able to afford to eat on my own. He supported me starting my own business. We’re splitting the cost of living and somehow we still try to uplift our friends we’ve met along the way. I’m starting to see sunlight in the hole. Now, I check in with the warden, often. I’m hoping one day I’ll remember her more and see her less.

I detailed the cycles of grief surrounding financial struggles because seeing the signs on people I know every day is triggering to me. Grieving your financial struggles and coping with financial trauma is a normal thing that can only be addressed when you notice the signs:

• general pessimism regarding finances

• mental health highs and lows sourced by income or lack there of

• Impulse buying, thinking if you don’t have now you never will

• Substance abuse, feeling as if you might as well make friends with Heroine and make the best of your sad time in the dark. Or maybe her friend Xanax, or Liquor.

• Avoiding bank letters, phone calls, or checking your financial standing.

If even one of those apply to you, be vigilant about your health. Financial trauma can consume anyone, and the only way to deal is to do just that, deal:

• Make the phone calls to your debtors, ask how you can work towards alleviating pressure. You can rest assured knowing they just want a little something. Worst case, they just don’t get their money. So, they’ll haggle!

• Start challenging yourself to think of better days, and plan for them.

• Acknowledge your symptoms when they show.

• Make healthy relationships, supportive ones. You need a community, even in poverty. Everyone won’t always eat dinner. Sometimes that’ll be you; it’s nice to have someone who will feed you.

• (the one you can’t stop reminding people of) if it gets really bad, review your resources, and try to get seen by therapist. FT deteriorates your being and your mind and your soul. Don’t think for a second you’re alone in telling someone that being broke, cold and hungry makes you ready to throw yourself into the void. Get help.

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