Monday, July 20, 2015

Welfare: The Stigma & Stereotype

Let me preface this by saying this will not be easy for me to write or share, but I feel I must. These thoughts have been weighing on my heart and show no signs of letting up anytime soon. This is also a lengthy post, but I hope you will take the time to thoughtfully and compassionately read it.

Also, in writing this, I am making myself very vulnerable. I know that there will be those who disagree with me, and you're welcome to do so, but please be respectful and keep harsh opinions to yourself. Any disrespectful comments toward myself or other commenters will be deleted.

Something said yesterday really struck a nerve with me. I don't remember how it came up, but he negatively mentioned those on welfare, likely not knowing that I am on welfare and have been for the past 8 years. Before I get into that, I'll say that I don't completely fault this person for the frustration that arose in me yesterday. He isn't the first one I've heard say things like this, probably won't be the last, and wasn't the first person close to me who has made derogatory remarks.

I understand that this man grew up in a different time and that people "picked up trash along the road" so they could make money to feed their family, but a dollar here and a dollar there just don't go very far, especially when food costs are rising faster than our income.

First of all, it seems that many people don't really know what all "welfare" encompasses, and, chances are, they have received welfare benefits at some point or another. Secondly, not all those who are receiving assistance are "lazy, good-for-nothings leeching off the government." Many of those receiving assistance are working, and many of them are likely working harder and more hours than those who aren't receiving assistance. The problem often doesn't lie in whether or not the person is working or in how much money they are supposedly spending, but has more to do with their income not being enough to pay for basic needs.

And then I read things like this that imply the children of those receiving assistance, such as free school lunches, should also feel the stigma of needing government assistance. This just flat out enrages me. I don't feel like my children or anyone else's should be labeled as different or poor or anything else because their parents, or more likely, single mother, is receiving assistance so she can feed them dinner that night. Childhood is hard enough and we have enough bullies to deal with without throwing this at them too. Some schools even do a weekend program where they send bags of (not nutritious) food home with low income kids on Friday so they have food for the weekend. The bags consist of things like chips, instant noodles, and poptarts. Not at all healthy and it points out to everyone else in the class that that kid is poor and his/her family has trouble affording food. I don't want that label slapped on my children, regardless of their circumstance.

I remember the day I applied for assistance. My husband had left me, and I was struggling to feed myself and our daughter. When our daughter was born, we decided it was best for our family that I quit my job and stay home to raise her. It made the most sense financially, and we wanted her to have the same care that we did when we were younger. I still decided to bring in some income by doing direct sales parties a few evenings a week, but when he left a year later he took our joint checking account with him. I was left with nothing, not even gas to get to home parties so I could make an income. There were many days I went hungry so I could feed my almost-2-year-old until I came to my breaking point. I couldn't do it on my own anymore. I cried the day I filled out the paperwork for food and medical assistance.

Those who haven't been on government assistance seem to think this is an easy process. For most, it is anything but. For many, it cuts down your pride, your confidence, your dignity, your self-esteem, and for everyone, it's akin to signing your life away to the government. To apply for assistance you need to hand over your birth certificates, social security cards for everyone who will benefit, proof of all income, bank statements, and written statements from people who will vouch for your current circumstances. Not very empowering, to say the least. And now many states are requiring a drug test also, even though the drug rate is higher among those who aren't receiving assistance.

I can't tell you how many times I have been told I need to get a job. Yes, because that's such an easy thing to do. There are many people who have jobs and STILL need assistance. When I became a mother I wanted to stay home so I can raise and teach my children, and then my circumstances changed and not by my choice. Was I now supposed to give up what I wanted for myself and my children? I get the whole "you do what you have to do", but working hours and hours away from my children so that I could pay bills by myself and spend maybe an hour with them a day just didn't seem like what was best for them or for me. Not only that, but the cost of daycare alone would have wiped out my income. If I had kept the fulltime job I had before having my first daughter, I actually would have been paying more for daycare than I even got paid. Some would say "well, you're a single mom with low income so you can get free daycare," but isn't that still receiving government assistance and therefore still "being dependent on the government"? It was/is a no-win situation. And, for the record, I may not have had a 9-5 outside of the home job in the last few years, but that doesn't mean I haven't worked at all. My income may be small, but that doesn't mean I'm lazy or that I'm not working toward something better.

On social media I have seen all sorts of things about people on welfare who pay for their steak and lobster with food stamps while pulling the card out of their designer purse while talking on their iPhone. There are a few problems with this generalization. The first is the myth that all those on food stamps are having expensive surf and turf dinners every night.

I can't speak for everyone, but the food stamps I receive are the ONLY thing I use to buy food for my family. I have to stretch that money as much as possible, which isn't easy, and I often take advantage of sales, coupons, and other grocery saving apps to make the most of what I'm given. It's even harder if we want to eat healthily. Do you ever wonder why so many low income families are also overweight? Perhaps it has more to do with high caloric box dinners costing less than a salad than it does with the assumption that they're spending all their money on eating out. However, eating from the dollar menu at McDonald's is also cheaper than buying ingredients from the store to prepare a healthy meal.

Then there's the other criticism that those on welfare have fancy cars, phones, clothes, and accessories. Does anyone ever stop to think that they may have had those things when they fell on hard times? Should they have to give those things up now that they are receiving help? And who's to say that they even paid for them or what they paid for them? I received my iPhone for nearly nothing WHILE on assistance. My phone plan had come up for renewal and I was able to get an iPhone for about $30 after sending in the rebate. If I would have had to pay $200+ for it, there would be NO WAY I would have an iPhone. You can also find a lot of these things cheaply on eBay, yard sales, or other online sites. Someone I know, for instance, just bought a designer purse at a yard sale for $2 that resales for about $80 online. The point here is that you don't know someone's circumstances or how they have what they have.

People who receive food and medical assistance are likely to still struggle financially, as those things don't cover necessities like toilet paper, soap, and diapers. I'm back in the buying diapers stage of life and I forgot how dang expensive they are. I probably spend at least $30-60 a month on diapers and wipes. When I'm worried about where diaper money will come from, I'm certainly not planning a vacation using my assistance money (which I don't receive) or shopping online at Bloomingdale's or something crazy like that. I can tell you that I've sold what I've been able to sell in order to bring in money to buy toiletries and pay bills. I'm even considering buying cloth diapers so I can save the money I would be spending on disposables so I can use that money to pay bills.

Government assistance is there to help people get back on their feet, yet they actually don't make that easy to do. I have witnessed that when my income increased by just a few dollars that my food assistance has decreased by more than my increase. Sometimes it honestly feels like it would be easier to stay on assistance, and I'm sure many others feel the same way. It's an odd and sneaky form of entrapment that many are trying to find their way out of.

There are people who don't know the circumstances who are judging another person's life based on one single solitary fact (or assumption): the person receives government assistance.

I didn't plan to be a single parent. I didn't plan to need assistance. I'm not planning to just pop out kid after kid so I can "milk the system". I'm not selling my assistance so I can plan a vacation at the beach. I'm not sitting at home drinking and doing drugs, eating shrimp and watching soap operas while my children run wild. And I'm also not planning to be on assistance for the rest of my children's childhoods. I am planning for a better future for them and for myself. If I have to do half a dozen odd jobs from home so I can stay home to raise my children then so be it. I currently have about 6 sources of income that I'm currently receiving or working on, and none of those include child support or government assistance. Not exactly the image of a lazy, drugged, government-leeching single mother.

So how about we throw out the stereotypes, stigmas, and demeaning comments and instead help those on assistance work toward a better life by encouraging them and giving them the support they need, rather than making them feel worse, because chances are, you're not saying anything that they haven't already felt.

*Reminder: Hateful comments will be deleted. Please be respectful.

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Friday, July 17, 2015

In Transition... Again

Here I am, once again, in a period of transition. I won't go into detail at this time, but I have been making some big life changes, which is why my blog has been a bit dormant lately. I just need a break to focus on what's most important right now, and I'll come back when things settle in a bit.

Thank you all so much for reading my blog, and I will be back soon.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

How to be Present When You're Depressed

My resolution for 2015 was to be more present. When I decided upon that goal, I didn't realize that I was struggling with Postpartum Depression and that it was only going to get worse before getting better. It's really hard to be present in your life when you feel like life is spiraling out of control and feeling darker by the day. Sometimes all you want to do is hide.

At my baby's two-month doctor visit her doctor suggested I see my doctor about getting treated for postpartum depression. I knew that I felt off, didn't feel like myself, cried quite a bit and whatnot, but I didn't feel like I was depressed. I just thought it was afterbirth hormonal stuff that would sort itself out. My doctor suggested I start an antidepressant, a low dose since I was (and still am) breastfeeding.

Truthfully, I think my depression started while I was still pregnant and only worsened after delivery, but there I was. It took awhile to start feeling the medication working, but it still didn't seem like enough. Between the depression and anxiety and feeling overwhelmed at life, I was a mess. I didn't want to get out to even go to the grocery store. It seemed like a hassle. I snapped at my kids, snapped at my boyfriend, and generally felt pretty lousy about myself most of the time.

A little more than a month ago I decided things had to change. I hadn't really been engaging in life. I had been shutting myself up and I liked it that way. I would be actively involved with my kids every now and then, I was still keeping them (mostly) clean and alive, but I wasn't really there. I was numb. I knew I was loved, but I wasn't feeling it. I was feeling more like a failure than anything.

So I started finding bible devotions on depression and anxiety on YouVersion. I started reading articles on postpartum depression. I started reading blogs and forums by other women who had been through it or were going through it. This made me feel more normal when I felt very abnormal. I started researching different things I can do to improve my mood in order to improve my general well-being so I can be more present in my life, instead of just feeling like a floater or a bystander just watching it all happen.

This doesn't come close to explaining how I've been feeling, and I'm still struggling with depression and anxiety. An increase in my medication a couple weeks ago is helping, as my doctor said I've not improved and it may have even worsened since February. I have good days, more accurately, I have good moments and bad moments. There are definitely triggers that bring out the ugly, but here are a few things I've been doing that have been helping me. If you're struggling with depression, maybe you'll find them helpful too.

1. Being Thankful

I read that a grateful person is a happy person. With this in mind, I have an alarm on my phone that is set to go off at 9:30pm to remind me to be thankful. I then get out my Journal of Positivity and I write down 3 things I'm thankful for that day. I make them very specific. Rather than generally saying "I'm thankful for my kids", I write something specific that happened that day that made me thankful for them. Writing them down gives me something to look at as a reminder for days (moments) when I'm feeling down.

2. Physical Activity

I have taken up yoga, albeit sporadic, and planking. I try to plank daily and do yoga/stretching 3-4 times a week. I read that physical activity releases dopamine or some other feely-good stuff that sends happy goodness throughout the body. Couldn't hurt, right? Doing these little bursts of physical activity have been helping me to feel physically stronger and better about myself, without being a big time investment that would seem more overwhelming.

3. Accepting Imperfection

This one is the most difficult. I'm a natural perfectionist, so accepting imperfection is quite a challenge. But I'm trying to come to grips with the fact that I'm not the perfect mom, I can't keep my home spotless, I won't have perfectly behaved children, I won't have a perfect body, I won't have a perfect relationship, and that things WILL go wrong, but that does NOT make me a failure.

4. Knitting

I have knit 10 (?) pairs of socks since March. When I'm knitting socks I can either focus on the pattern or on whatever Netflix show I'm watching. It allows me to sort of empty my thoughts for a bit. Externally it seems like I'm secluding myself or shutting myself off from the world, but I'm actually just trying to center myself a bit by doing something I enjoy.

5. Getting Outside

Since the weather has warmed up, I've been trying to get out more. I've been sitting outside from my morning coffee til late afternoon when the sun moves to the porch side and it gets too warm to sit outside. This has probably benefited me more than anything. The fresh air and sunshine has been greatly boosting my mood. I actually have been looking forward to mornings so I can sit outside. 

Other things I've been doing have been to try to shower at least a couple times a week, which isn't always easy with a baby. Sometimes I have to bathe with her in order for this to happen. I've been trying harder to get myself dressed each day as though I were going somewhere, trying to do my hair and makeup now and then too. I've been taking time to read. I've been spending more time in prayer and asking God to free me from depression and anxiety, and I've been mindful of what I'm eating and trying to eat things that have been shown to help alleviate depression.

The last few months haven't been easy and I'm not sure how much longer it will last, but I'm finally starting to feel more like myself again. I'm finally starting to feel more joy. And I'm final;y starting to feel more a part of my own life. 

If you'd like some tips on things you can do to be more present with your children, you can check out my post here.

Postpartum depression and anxiety are legit. They are something that you can't just snap out of or wish away. It's a daily process, with or without medication. 

Have you ever dealt with depression? How did you get through it?

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Monday, June 8, 2015

Instant is Inferior


The verdict is in! "Instant" is inferior.

Yesterday, as I was chipping away at the Instant Dry Nail Polish that I had put on the day before, I started thinking about all the "instants" in our daily lives - instant mashed potatoes, instant milk, instant soup, instant coffee, instant cocoa, instant cider, instant oatmeal, instant sweet tea (shudder), instant nail polish, even instant underwear. And then there are all the quick versions to make things "convenient", even though they don't use the word instant in their description - bagged salad, slice and bake cookies, frozen pizza, digital cameras, diet pills, credit cards, pay day loans, e-cards. There are so many, many more.

After asking friends on Facebook, we are in agreement that the instant versions pretty much suck. The Instant Dry Nail Polish I was chipping at with my nails lasted about an hour before it started chipping on its own. One hour. Instant mashed potatoes don't even taste like real potatoes. And don't even get me started on instant coffee and tea.

As Elite points out in this article 3 years ago, we live in an age of instant gratification. We want everything the way we want it, and we want it now.

One down side of this instant gratification mentality is that everything and everyone becomes disposable. You don't like the photo you just snapped? Delete it. Don't like what so-and-so posts on Facebook? Defriend her. Don't like how your husband spends money? Divorce him.

People used to have the mentality that you work for a reward. The greater the reward is, the further you must go to get it. When my grandparents were young, if they wanted a car or a house, they saved money for it. They didn't go get a loan. If they didn't have the money then they didn't get it til they did. We've pretty much given up this idea. If we start a business and it doesn't immediately succeed, then we're ready to throw in the towel and try something new or give up altogether.

We don't want to work for or wait for anything, whether it's waiting for nail polish to dry or working toward a better relationship with the person you're currently with. We want quick, easy, instant results. Another downside of this type of thinking is that the quality of what you get isn't nearly as good as if you had waited and worked for the real thing.

Taking the time to brew coffee, especially if you're grinding the beans yourself, is far better tasting than instant coffee granules. How can they even call it coffee?! Instant oatmeal is severely lacking in texture. Frozen pizza and bagged salad doesn't taste nearly as good as what you can make yourself. The satisfaction and confidence gained through losing weight by proper eating and exercise is so much more rewarding than swallowing a quick fix pill. Enduring trials in a relationship is better than giving up and trying a new one. And the time it takes for nail polish to dry is well worth the wait and frustration, even though it still doesn't last very long on my nails.

We have become impatient and immature. We're like children throwing temper tantrums because we're not getting what we want fast enough. We can either settle for the instant, cheap imitations of what we want, or we can work hard and wait patiently for the real thing.

I know which one I want. What about you?

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