Categories
Reflection

The Root of Most Problems

Jenna Kutcher asks, “What problem do you wish you could solve?”

I wish I could do away with greed and the negative aspects of selfishness. Some selfishness is good. It’s important to have boundaries, even if people call them selfish. It’s important to care for yourself, too, even if people think it’s selfish. As the saying goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup, and you have to take care of yourself to be at your best.

Selfishness can be taken way too far, though. When paired with greed, selfishness gives us the world we have now: Billionaires with fleets of vehicles they’ll never use and more money than they can spend in a hundred lifetimes flourish while millions are homeless and starving and billions more are just trying to get by.

There’s plenty for everyone. Wealth and fortune are not a zero-sum game unless we give way to greed and selfishness. The greedy and selfish are never satisfied and don’t like to share unless they need to do so to improve how others view them and bring in more money.

We need to leave behind greed and selfishness and make sure the rising tide lifts all boats, not just the superyachts.

Categories
Reflection

It’s Not Fair, But It Doesn’t Have To Stay That Way

“What do you find unfair?” Jenna Kutcher asks.

That’s a good question. I find a lot of things unfair. The world seems very unfair, and it seems like most people don’t care about making it fair. I grew up with very conservative parents in a conservative church in a conservative part of Missouri, so I grew up with the idea that it was unfair if anyone got anything more than what they “deserved,” especially if they were unemployed or poor.

Ironically, I grew up in poverty, and getting aid from the state was something that my parents argued about a lot. It took us literally having no food in the house for my parents to apply for and receive food stamps.

Pride is great, but you can’t eat pride.

Speaking of money, the minimum wage is unfair. It’s common knowledge that it was set up to be the minimum for workers to support their families. And at the time that it was made the law, it did just that. Thanks to inflation and greed, the minimum wage isn’t even enough to support one person, much less an entire family.

Growing up, I heard, “It’s not fair–it’s Republican,” and it was seen as a good thing that things weren’t fair.

It is not good that things are not fair. There are so many people who lose out on opportunities for success because they were not born into wealth and don’t have the networking connections that come with being born into those circles. Even the ability to take an internship or a practicum is unfair, because most of them are unpaid, and people who don’t have wealthy parents or a wealthy spouse often have to turn them down. My husband had to take an unpaid practicum to complete his degree, and even though I was working full-time for $17 an hour, I still went into debt just keeping our family housed and fed.

Shortly after my husband completed the unpaid practicum, I had our surprise baby (I was on birth control pills, and I became one of the 1%ers who get pregnant while using the pill correctly). My state’s rules regarding FMLA stated that I hadn’t worked long enough to qualify for it, so I lost my job. Fortunately, my husband was able to find a job with a pretty good nonprofit. Once he completed his degree and got his provisional counseling license, they immediately hired him as a counselor. He loves what he does, and he loves helping people heal, and it’s wonderful.

And it was just as well about me losing my job, because our new baby had GERD, and keeping her clean and fed was a 24/7 job. I don’t remember most of her first year because of the sleep deprivation I experienced, but she’s healthy and happy.

Unfortunately, during that time, I went blind in my right eye a week after I turned 40. The doctor I saw first said it was an inflamed retina, and it would heal in two months.

It did not heal, though the blind spot got slightly smaller. The eyesight in my left eye is considerably worse than the eyesight in my right eye, so even with correction, I’m considered legally blind.

The worst part is that it’s really hard to read and write now. I used to be able to read voraciously, and now I can’t. I also used to be able to type quickly with few mistakes, and now I’m a typo queen. It’s so frustrating. I feel like I’m being tricked by my eyes all of the time.

I ended up filing for disability, and I found out that SSDI requires “work credits.” I had no idea. I had been working up until a few months before I lost my vision in my right eye, and I had been freelancing (and paying taxes like a responsible citizen, but that didn’t count, apparently), but it wasn’t enough “work credits” for me to get SSDI. Unfortunately, I didn’t qualify for SSI because my husband made too much money for me to get it.

And that leads me to another unfair thing. CB used to get SSI due to her autism, but she doesn’t anymore because I worked and my husband now works. In fact, we have to repay the SSA because I misunderstood reporting. I thought I was supposed to let the SSA know if CB got a job or got married, but apparently, my income as her parent and my husband’s income as her stepfather counted against her. The child support CB receives from her father also counts as income, and I think that’s really unfair to her.

We’re in the welfare gap. We make “too much” to get all but the most extended of aid, like CHIP and expanded Medicaid, but we make too little to survive without going into debt and visiting food pantries just to keep everyone fed, clothed, clean, and housed.

And that leads me to what I find the most unfair of all: our society in the US is designed to keep poor people in poverty regardless of how hard they work or how much they sacrifice to escape it. Both of my parents are proof positive. They worked so hard that my father literally broke his back working, and my mother herniated her entire spine. My mother escaped poverty by marrying her fourth husband, who had an inheritance from his late father that enabled him to buy a home even though he was a factory worker. My father lived with my brother and his wife and my nephew until they decided to move to the St. Louis metro to get away from Columbia. They’re staying with my mother and her fourth husband while they save up to buy a house. My father will be living with them again after they are able to buy their house.

This is not fair at all. My parents should be able to live on their own with their social security payments, but they can’t. The expense of rent, mortgages, utilities, food, everything…it’s just too much for them to be able to live on their own, even if they want to. I should have been able to live on my own with CB on her SSDI, but it wasn’t enough, so I had to live with family until I married my husband. There was no way we could afford to rent anything on our own.

“What about Section 8?” you might ask. Well, here, there’s a waiting list to get on the waiting list for Section 8, and that waiting list is YEARS long. I wish I was joking. It’s the same story with housing vouchers. And even if you find a landlord that takes Section 8 or vouchers, the properties are often in dangerous areas and often in a state of disrepair.

And then there’s SNAP. It’s supposed to be “supplemental,” but I don’t know anyone who has SNAP who actually has money to get food besides what they get on their SNAP card every month. It’s not enough, especially to feed growing kids who need more than peanut butter, milk, and ramen noodles to grow properly.

Medicaid is pretty limited, too. Only a few doctors take it, and the wait times for appointments are typically long. On top of that, there are medical “professionals” who treat people with Medicaid differently than people with private insurance. It sucks. I used to be one of those people, and I regret it. It wasn’t right for me to look down on people. It sucks that it took me being on the receiving end of that disdain for me to discover how wrong, unfair, and painful it is. I’m actually terrified to go to the doctor or hospital for any reason, but there’s more to it than fear of being judged by people who are supposed to be helping me become as healthy as I can be. I’m back on Medicaid because the expansion finally passed, so that’s at least one way the welfare gap got a bit smaller, but it is still a gap.

Dental care for adults on Medicaid is a joke, too. All it covers is routine cleanings and exams. For any sort of dental work beyond that, you’re on your own. I’ve had to have damaged teeth removed because I couldn’t afford to have them fixed. Private insurance isn’t any better, and both my husband and I have teeth that are literally rotting in our mouths because we can’t afford to have them fixed.

I also owe SSA for “overpayments” to CB due to me misunderstanding their rules when I got married and got a job. I thought that I was only supposed to inform them if CB got married and/or got a job, because the money was for CB, and I was managing it because I was an adult. I’ve had to renegotiate their repayment because of inflation, but it was an unintentional mistake on my part. I haven’t tried to fight it, though.

As for me, I’m legally blind and disabled myself. I tried to get regular SSI, but even though I had paid into the system all of my working life, I didn’t have enough “work credits” since I lost my eyesight to qualify for it. As for SSDI, my husband grosses too much before taxes for CB to get SSDI, much less me.

So I’ve had to try my best to sell my art and my writing, and when that fails, I’ve had to ask my friends and family for help just to keep my kids fed and in pullups. I want to EARN money to so that I can feed my kids fresh fruit and vegetables and be able to donate to the food pantry that helps people in the welfare gap and below instead of having to rely on them to supplement our meagre food budget.

Once upon a time, a working adult could earn enough at the minimum wage to support a family of four. Their spouse could stay home and tend to household duties and children, knowing there was enough money to pay the bills, feed everyone well, cover hobbies, take a vacation every year, and donate to charities and/or individuals who needed help.

Somewhere in the 80s, the people in power in the US decided that earning wealth was a zero-sum game, and that the rising tide shouldn’t raise all boats. Those in power decided that it wasn’t fair that there was a safety net capable of lifting people out of poverty, so they set about demonizing the poor, especially single mothers and people working menial jobs like cashiers and food service workers. It was ugly, and I was raised to believe in it. I hate the fact that I ever embraced that ideology. I hate that I thought trickle-down economics worked.

I was wrong. It is not the wealthy who create jobs or hold the world on their shoulders. The job creators are those who spend the money they earn or are given rather than hoarding it. The people who hold the world on their shoulders are the ones who do the work that the wealthy deem “menial” or “below” them. It’s amazing how much the world stopped when food service workers, stockers, cashiers, janitors, housekeepers, daycare workers, teachers, aides, healthcare workers, and truck drivers caught COVID-19. Some were able to return, but many became disabled, and many died.

We need to get back to letting the tide raise all boats instead of just letting the rich add to their fleets of yachts. The poor deserve to be able to make it out of poverty, and this country has the means and ability to build the nets, ladders, and bridges to make it happen.

This isn’t a zero-sum game. Everyone can prosper, if they are given the tools to focus on thriving instead of merely surviving.

We can do it, if we choose to do it.

We can make it fair.

Categories
Reflection

What I Fear Most

Now this is a question that has a LOT of answers. The previous one from How Are You, Really was difficult because I cannot recall a single time I’ve ever danced with glee.

But fear? I fear a lot of things. Right now, I’m terrified to go to the doctor because I haven’t been in years, I’m morbidly obese, and I know from my time working in healthcare that medical professionals often talk negatively about patients, especially ones that have taxpayer-funded insurance and/or are fat. Additionally, it has been my experience that physicians treat losing weight as the panacea for all health issues.

I’m especially terrified that I’ve got a reproductive organ cancer that may get missed because whoever I see will be so focused on my weight that they ignore any other potential causes.

Frankly, although I have experienced suicidal ideation as a result of my depression and trauma, I want to live at least long enough to see my children reach adulthood and live as independently as possible before I die. For CB, her best case scenario is being able to live on her own with some supports, but I’m doing my best to accept that she may end up having to live in a group home as an adult. For SF, she will likely be able to live on her own without any problems, depending on her income and where she decides to live.

I don’t want to die yet.

Even bigger, though, than my fear of not being able to watch my children reach adulthood and succeed, is my fear that my life has meant nothing and will not be remembered by anyone, not even my children. All of the hardship, poverty, abuse…the thought that it was all just a pointless human experience that meant nothing in the long run hurts a lot.

Sometimes, though, my depression is even stronger than usual, and the fear of dying forgotten doesn’t matter anymore. I have to fight the pain to make sure I stay right where I am for the people who love me and want me to stay.

At the very center of my soul, I want to stay alive and be at least a part of something that will allow me to be remembered positively.

I am afraid that will never happen, though. I’m afraid my children will remember my anger and my pain rather than my love for them, the strength I used to process my trauma, the way I laughed like an asthmatic donkey when something was really funny, the pride I felt at their achievements, the stories I told, the things I created, and all the things that made me me.

In Final Fantasy IX, Freya’s character quote was, “To be forgotten is worse than death.”

I fear being forgotten.

I hope I am remembered.

Categories
Reflection

I Can’t Dance–Don’t Ask Me

I don’t remember ever dancing with glee. Maybe I did when I was a child, but if I did, I don’t remember it. There wasn’t a whole lot to be gleeful about when I was a child. I can’t think of anything I was gleeful enough about to dance.

So, the question, “What makes you dance with glee?” triggers sadness.

I wonder if I’ll ever dance with glee.

Maybe someday.

Categories
Reflection

Nod Ya’ Head

“What makes you nod your head in agreement?” is a pretty straightforward question for me. Things that make me nod my head well-made points with which I agree, regardless of whether they are whole novels or just memes. This is probably the easiest question to answer so far.

Categories
Reflection

Taking Back “Empowerment”

“Empowerment” is a word that actually has some ties to trauma for me. It’s been used as a buzzword and bastardized to the point where it’s a limitation rather than a true source of power.

I’ve been struggling with this a lot over the past couple of weeks. It didn’t help that a close friend of my husband’s died unexpectedly. Nothing hurts quite like seeing the person you love most in the world experiencing soul-crushing pain and not being able to do anything to help. All I could do was let my husband grieve, validate his grief, and remind him that I am here for whatever I can give.

So, empowerment.

What gives me power?

What is it that makes me feel like I can move mountains whenever I want to?

It’s being able to say, “Yes.”

Yes to taking rest when I need it.

Yes to helping people when it is within my abilities to do so.

Yes to knowing that I helped someone have a better day because I had the means, skills, or knowledge they needed.

Yes to being able to join communities and movements that are working to make the world a better place.

Yes to good results.

Yes to achievement, no matter what the size.

Yes to being good to myself without feeling guilt or shame.

Yes to being able to give my family good things and good experiences.

Yes to seeing that the world is not a zero-sum game, and we can all win.

Yes.

Categories
Reflection

Tears of Joy?

It was really difficult for me to think of a time when I had cried tears of joy. Most of the time that I cry when I’m happy, my tears are tears of relief rather than joy.

I did think of a time that I did cry tears of joy. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is my story.

My Cherry Blossom (not her real name, of course) and I are both autistic. I didn’t get a formal diagnosis until I was put through testing just as CB had been two years previously. It explained a lot about me, and it highlighted how every flavor of autism is different.

I didn’t know that CB was neurodivergent until she lost her words. She started saying simple words at around nine months, but by the time she was two years old, all of that was gone. She was mute, and she communicated by gesticulation and grunting, and by hitting or kicking me whenever she got frustrated.

After CB was diagnosed, a local organization helped us get copies of Signing Time and Baby Signing Time for free. It turned out that verbal speech and ASL use different neural pathways, so while CB was in speech therapy to relearn how to talk with her voice, we were able to learn some signs in ASL together so that she could be heard even without spoken words.

Things progressed, and as CB was able to use more spoken words, we used ASL less and less (which is sad, because it is a great language that should have more fluent speakers).

I remember the first time she called me Mama. It was unexpected, and it was beautiful.

I cried.

It may have been vain.

It might have been selfish.

I own it.

CB was my only child then, and I thought I would never have any other children back then.

I had wanted to be a mother all of my life, and to hear the word I didn’t know if I would ever hear again was miraculous, and I felt joy that she called me by my name again.

CB now talks a lot. She still has a lot of challenges, but she’s smart, and I believe in her. I believe that she will achieve anything she wants to achieve, even it takes her longer than other children.

CB relearned how to speak because she wanted to be able to speak, and I am proud of her for her hard work.

And I am selfishly joyful she calls me “Mom.”

I can live with that.

Categories
Self-Care

We interrupt this series of introspection for a change!

While I’ve been working on the exercises in Jenna Kutcher’s book, How Are You, Really, I was inspired to make a change. I’ve been waiting for all of my hair to turn gray so that I can experiment with bright, fun colors. I’ve tried using dyes meant for dark hair (my hair is naturally a dark variant of Titian that looks straight-up red in bright sunlight), but the results have been disappointing.

Due to some recent, unexpected, and heartbreaking losses in my circle of friends, I realized that life is way too short for me to wait for my hair to turn gray all over before I do what I want to do.

So I bleached out my hair using a bleach from Feria that was supposed to lighten my hair to platinum without damaging it. While my hair was not damaged by the bleach, it stunk to high heaven and fell somewhat short of the promised platinum. It was nearly there, but apparently my hair was considerably darker than I thought it was, and it took me back to having hair a color I hadn’t had in at least 30 years. I went from Titian to Venetian!

I wasn’t done, though. I didn’t want to be a bleach blonde–I wanted to be a peacock! To that end, I gave my hair a couple of days to recover from bleaching, then used Manic Panic Atomic Turquoise, carefully following the instructions. While I wasn’t impressed with the consistency of the product or how my hair felt after I rinsed it out, the color is pretty nice. My husband and my daughters love my new color, too, and that makes me feel even happier that I did this!

On the minus side, I’ll probably have to invest in a deep conditioning mask or two to return my hair to its previous softness and shine, but that’s not something unusual after bleaching and dyeing one’s hair. The part that perplexes me is that the bleaching process wasn’t what dried out my hair or made it dull!

As for future coloring, I’ll probably go back to using Overtone when I can afford it. It is more expensive, but the consistency is better, and it does a better job of moisturizing hair while it colors. I might give Strawberry Leopard and/or Arctic Fox a try, though. I have more options now that my hair is lighter.

Categories
Reflection

What Makes Me Snort-Laugh?

It’s kind of difficult to explain precisely what causes me to laugh so hard that I snort, but I can tell you who is the usual source of laughter that strong: my husband. We have a very similar sense of humor, and we can get into a groove where we have each other absolutely rolling with laughter. Some of our best nights involve laughing together while we watch a show. We also stay connected during the day by sharing funny memes. I think being able to laugh together and laugh hard makes our bond even stronger than it would be otherwise.

Categories
Reflection

I Got Rage Every Day On the Inside

The next question Jenna Kucher asks in How Are You, Really is “What fills you with rage?”

As it turns out, there are a lot of things that fill me with rage. The biggest one, though, is that we live in a world where labor has no value unless it actually brings in money instead of just saving money.

I get up early every day to make breakfast from scratch for my family. I also usually make lunch for our family, unless we’ve decided to get pizza. (We usually get enough of it to cover both lunch and supper.) Then I make snacks and supper for my family.

Up until I was able to get my teenager to learn how to use the washer and dryer, I was handling all of the laundry duties myself. When the clothes are dry, I sort them and put away all but my teenager’s clothes. (She’s very good about putting her own clothes away.)

I also take care of my children all day instead of putting them in daycare, which would cost us extra money. My toddler is having a hard time listening to her body, so we’re still working on potty training. Up until a month ago, our school district’s preschool wasn’t even free for local students, but now that it is, the prospective students have to be fully potty trained to be enrolled, and enrollment ended in June. My teenager is mostly less work, but she also has autism, so that presents separate challenges, such as how long it took to teach her to use the washer and dryer.

The bulk of housekeeping falls to me as well, as I am unable to work outside of our home due to my multiple disabilities, including being legally blind. This is fair, because my husband works full-time and earns an income to pay the bills. He does take care of the yard and sweeping and mopping or vacuuming the floors once a week, and he does a wonderful job. He also dusts places I can’t reach on my own. I take care of everything else from washing and putting away the dishes to scrubbing the toilet.

We are very much a team.

Additionally, I’m in charge of buying whatever we need and somehow making it all fit within our means. It’s getting harder and harder with inflation. I’m going without to make sure my husband and kids have what they need. I take fewer showers to keep the water bill down (and given that my medications make me very prone to heat stroke, I don’t get out much). I eat less than I normally do to ensure that they get as much food as they want (and I sometimes eat what they leave behind, if they haven’t spit in it or made it disgusting some other way). I’ve been doing what I can to cut down my consumption of soda and energy drinks so that they last longer, though I pretty much run on caffeine because I’m exhausted.

On top of that, I wake up whenever the kids wake in the middle of the night to ensure they don’t disturb anyone else. My toddler had a particularly rough patch recently, and it was a real battle to ensure she got all of the sleep she needs. A lot of times, I would end up sleeping with her, which was really hard on my back. But still, I had to get up early and take care of my duties.

I don’t get days off.

I don’t get sick days, although the family is patient with me when I take a little longer to get stuff done.

I do remind them to remind me when they need things like shampoo or deodorant or a particular pair of socks because I don’t have x-ray vision and don’t make a habit of checking their spaces. The only person who gets a pass is the toddler, because she doesn’t need much beyond a stack of pullups and wipes, a clean potty, clean clothes, food, snacks, milk, and a charged kindle. (Keeping her room cleaned up is a lost cause right now, but we’re working on it.)

These are the sacrifices I willingly make for my family.

This is the work I can do.