Saturday, September 19, 2015

Realities of Recovering from the Recession, Part 4: The Good News


Wow. What a summer. When I left you last, I was on a roll, ready to give you the final installment in this series to show you that it's not 100% gloom and doom. And then everything from Part 2 piled up at once and I've been on a crazy Race Against Time roller coaster all summer. First, it was the internet getting shut off; then the rent; then the electricity; two weeks later, another internet disconnection (because the $50 restoration fee keeps adding up, making my past due balance bigger and bigger every month, so they disconnect me about every 10-14 days), and so on and so forth. My bake shoppe has been helping here and there, but it's been difficult to keep up with the fees and ingredient costs, so growth has been slower than I'd hoped for the summer.

To top it all off, my mom also lost her job this summer (she's a nanny and once the kids are ready for preschool, they usually let the nanny go even if there's still a need). That may not seem like a big deal to some, but for her, being 71 and not that well-versed in technology, it's harder to get hired in today's job market than it is even for me.
There's a lot of age discrimination out there, and work-from-home opportunities require more computer skills than she currently has, but we've been working on that so that she can be more marketable. I've been helping her with her job search, doing all those hour-long online applications that are frustrating even for the non-elderly, writing cover letters, and trying to keep her calm. Her anxiety is about 75 times worse than mine, and understandably so - being a senior and unemployed in this country is a frightening thing, especially when social security isn't enough to cover rent. It's been my task to keep her as calm as possible while trying to find jobs for both of us, and survive this current mess (for those wondering why we don't just move in together to save money for a bit, please remember that moving costs a lot of money, especially for long distance moves). Of course, all this has brought on fresh bouts of shingles, including an insulting attack I got on my birthday (let's just say it hurt to sit and walk for a while, lol). So, yeah... it's been an adventure!

The good news is that after 3 solid months of appeals, I was finally able to get my unemployment benefits. *cue applause* Because my previous job was only part-time, I don't get very much and it doesn't even come close to what I need for my monthly rent; but it is a HUGE relief to at least have something coming in while I figure everything out. Something is better than nothing, and it all adds up.

Which leads me to my original intro for this post, at long last! : ) With everything that has been going on this summer, I was this close to posting a Part 3.5, because I was reminded of a million other feelings that go along with financial hardships: frustration, loss of dignity, hopelessness. I've been feeling all of those things and everything in Part 3, but I've fought hard not to let these feelings take over. And that's exactly why there isn't a part 3.5: I've already talked about sad, depressing things, and there's no sense in giving you variations on a theme. That's not what this post is about! So, without further ado, here is the post I've been wanting to post the most (hey, that rhymed), original intro and all. ~Kimberly
To read the previous posts, please see Part 1 herePart 2 here, and Part 3 here.
* * * * *
I've talked about some pretty heavy topics this week in this series. From the everyday struggles faced by the working poor, to the emotional and physical toll chronic financial stress can take on a person, it's been a lot and hasn't been easy to talk about. But it's felt so good to get so much of this off my chest once and for all. Even better is the response I've gotten from so many of you thus far. While there have been some insensitive haters (who have been dealt with accordingly), there have been more words of support than hatred. The candid personal stories you've shared here or on Facebook, the words of support, the links to resources and other advice - I'm absolutely overwhelmed at the response, and eternally grateful. Grateful to you for being so supportive, of course; but also grateful to myself for having taken the chance to put this out there. I was so nervous to write this series, but I figured if it could help at least one person in a similar situation feel less alone, it was worth it. Little did  know it would have the impact it's had so far.

To wrap up this series on a high note, I thought I'd share some of the good that's come out of this: the lessons I've learned, the life tools I've acquired, and general observations on the positives that did come out of the recession. On the surface it may seem like a permanently sad state of affairs; but if you dig a little deeper, there's actually some cool stuff happening. It's impossible not to learn something from an adverse situation - whether good or bad, when you've been through a difficult event or period of your life, you've learned at least one new thing. I've been going through this sort of thing for the better part of seven years now, so I've learned a lot.

Patience

This is a biggie. I'd have to say it's tied for first place with gratitude, at least for me. It's funny... I can be a very patient person for a lot of things: cats, friends in need of a listening ear, tempering chocolate. But for the most part, even though I hate to admit it, I'm not the most patient person. It's probably part of my whole Type A, control freak thing, but it's not the best trait to have. Still, life ends up teaching you plenty of lessons, and patience has been a recent one.

The biggest part of the financial struggle of the working poor is waiting for money to come in. Without money, you can't really do much: can't pay bills, can't buy transit fare or gas to get places, can't get your meds, etc., etc. So, you have to wait. And wait. And wait some more. If you're on some sort of assistance, even though that money is coming in, it doesn't always come in when you need it (so you exercise patience). Bill due dates don't change (well, some will, but only if you're current, so...), so if something is due before you get paid, you just have to wait and suck up the late fee until you get paid (more patience). If you're lucky enough to be working, the same thing applies. And if you've just been hired at a new job, you don't get paid immediately; there can be anywhere from a 1-3 week delay before you actually see your first paycheck (so very patient!).

If you've been out of work for a while and all those past due balances keep growing and growing, you have to dismiss any dreams of being able to buy or do something you want. You can take care of the needs, but not the wants - after enough deprivation of anything, humans initially gravitate towards what we want over what we need.
All that waiting leads to an incredible amount of patience you never thought you'd have.  (#firstworld patience, but patience nonetheless.)

So, you learn to deal, to let go and let things happen when they happen. I've learned to let go of some of that control we all feel when it comes to paying things on time. It feels good to pay things on time and in full, and I truly miss that. But it also feels good to just pay anything at all, so I've learned to accept that as a positive. When it comes to trying to socialize, I've also become very patient, because any attempt at that usually requires money (and I'm still too prideful to be okay with constantly having people treat me to things). This has cost me a lot of friends and invitations, because most folks tend to want to do things on their own time. But I have learned that if the friend is real and knows I'm worth it, they will wait. It's how I've been able to do the few fun social things I've done this year, and to those friends who do wait for me, I appreciate you more than I could possibly express!

All of this patience has, naturally, seeped into other parts of my life, so that I'm not as impatient with certain little things. Despite how wound up I am about money, my mom, and my health, I'm a lot more relaxed. Like I said earlier, I'm letting things happen when they happen. It still feels a little foreign to do that, but it's helped immensely with managing my anxiety and depression. I'm trying to focus on the things I can control, rather than dwell on what I can't. Bill due dates and payments coming in? Can't control those. How I react to them and planning out how to pay things when and with whatever I can? THAT I can control.

Resourcefulness & Community

There's a saying in Colombia (my mom's homeland): "Paisa no se vara." Loosely translated, it means that the Paisas, as the residents of the department of Antioquia are often called, never get stuck. If there's a way to fix something, invent something, or create some awesome life hack, a Paisa will find out how to do it. Basically, they're resourceful as all get out!
I am grateful for having inherited that trait. It's what has helped me build PGEW and all its recipes and tips. It's how I've managed to get through the last several years. But despite my natural resourcefulness, I learn something new everyday. Whether out of necessity, research, or a suggestion, everyday I learn something that helps me do what I need with whatever I have. I've become as crafty as ever (my latest favorite is my makeshift standing desk)! When you need to make something out of nothing, you learn to think outside the box more than you ever have, looking for solutions in the least likely of places. You become a better problem-solver. Yes, the big problems still exist, but tackling the smaller ones helps whittle down that To Do list so that you can work on the big ones.

Speaking of suggestions, an unexpected positive of the recession has been a renewed sense of community. So many of us have been struggling with similar problems for so long, that many of the walls of isolation have crumbled and neighbors are creating communities again. They're pooling together their knowledge and resources, and helping each other again! Like back in the day when neighbors were considered a good thing, not someone you ignore. There's a bit more sharing, a little more bartering. It's beautiful to observe.

Here in Sacramento where the whole locavore, Farm to Fork movement is so huge (we are the Farm to Fork capital, after all), several community gardens are popping up here and there, particularly in food deserts. People are getting together to have incredible cookouts and potlucks as a community, not just in isolated circles of friends. Those circles are starting to link together, which is incredibly refreshing in an age where face-to-face interaction is becoming extinct.

I think that when enough people go through enough hardship together, it breaks down walls and forces them to work together in order to fight that hardship. I've seen so many touching examples of this, both during the recession and now that things are recovering, and it restores my faith in humanity every time. I truly hope that this kind of help, this sense of renewed community, doesn't go away just because things are improving. If anything, it's this kind of community that will improve conditions for everyone more than just a growing job market.

Managing My Symptoms

While it's still a little uncomfortable to talk about my depression and anxiety, I feel it's important to be open about it here, because it affects what I am able to do in life, business, and on this blog. I do have Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and the extra stress from financial duress has exacerbated both nearly to the point of breakdown (it's so hard to swallow that and not hit "backspace" so no one will see... *sigh*).
Ironically, it's also forced me to learn how to manage my symptoms. Say WHAT?! I can't afford proper therapy at this time (not just financially, but emotionally. There's too much I need to be "okay" for before I go down that route; anyone who's been through therapy knows how much it hurts), but I can't afford to let my depression and anxiety get the best of me. More importantly, I DON'T WANT THEM TO. Anyone who thinks people with depression and anxiety can "just snap out of it" doesn't know the true nature of these beasts, but let's just say it's not pretty when they do take over. I used to work with clients whose symptoms were downright debilitating, and have been at that point myself. It's not something I ever want to go back to, even though there have been plenty of times when I've felt myself slipping this summer.
Fortunately, there's still enough fight in me not to let these evil beasts overwhelm me. Why? Because I've already been there, done that, and refuse to buy the t-shirt. I know it's a daily chore to manage my symptoms, and an extremely difficult one at that. But through things like the patience, resourcefulness and community that I mentioned earlier, not to mention the sheer terror that comes from seeing your own rock bottom, I'm learning to effectively manage my anxiety and depression.
A big way I'm doing this is letting go of most of my need for control - that alone is huge for us worrywarts, and since my depression is closely linked with my anxiety, it indirectly helps the depressing feelings as well. I'm also getting better at recognizing triggers, so I work hard at diffusing or eliminating those. Lastly, I'm learning to honor myself and my needs. It's not always easy to remember that, nor is it easy to not feel like it's selfish, but it's not. And I'm learning that. There are some folks who have a real problem with this - fair weather friends, online haters, etc - but that's their prerogative to be bothered by what doesn't affect them. I can't neglect my needs just to please others, and I'm grateful for finally learning that, even if it's at this age.
As you can see, this is a long process. But it's necessary, and I'm lucky that the very thing that's magnified these conditions has also been the kick in the pants I needed to learn how to deal with them.

Gratitude

Last, but definitely not least, is my other "tied for first". Well, that't not entirely true. The #1 MOST important thing I have taken from all of this, the thing none of us should EVER let go of:

Gratitude.

I've always been a grateful person. It's something that was instilled in me from a very early age. The trips my parents and I would take to Colombia, where I'd see so many truly poor people making the best out of literally nothing, seeing their gratitude when they received even the smallest thing - all of that has stuck with me since I was very small.  I know that even in my darkest hours, there is always something to be grateful for.

But the gratitude I feel nowadays has grown by leaps and bounds. Why? Because that's the fuel that's actually kept me going. All the other stuff has been fine and helpful, but the only thing that has helped me continue getting out of bed every morning and fighting to make things better (besides StuKitty, of course) is gratitude. There is ALWAYS a silver lining in, even the shittiest of things. Who knew, right? Sometimes it takes me several hours to find what that is (unless Stuart head butts me, lol), but I eventually find something.With gratitude comes hope, because you know that if there's something to be grateful for, other good things are possible. And so you hope for them. Between gratitude and hope, you can muster enough strength to keep going.

So what am I so flippin' grateful for? So much, it's not even funny.

My mom. She is my biggest cheerleader, loves me unconditionally, and the reason for so many wonderful things in my life. And even if she doesn't think she's this strong, she is my rock. Without her example of strength and perseverance, I wouldn't be as capable of handling the blows life doles out. She is amazing, and I love her more than she knows.
My friends. Sure, I don't have as many as I used to, but the ones that are left also love me and want the best for me. Quality over quantity has always been my M.O. anyway, so this suits me fine. I may not get to do as much as I used to due to finances and illness, but when I do, it is ALWAYS a great time with quality people I love dearly.
My furbaby, Stuart. Some of you might groan and think this is lame, but those of you who value your pets as family members surely understand. My cats have always helped me get through tough times, just by being their silly, furry, loving selves. StuKitty is my only furbaby right now, and he's doing a remarkable job at keeping me grounded and not letting me slip into the downward spiral. He makes me laugh, has a neverending supply of cuddles (even though he's not always willing to give 'em out), and is definitely the best part of my Sacramento life. He's the most handsome therapy animal EVER.
You. Yeah, you: my readers. Whether loyal longtime reader or  new to the PGEW fam, I am grateful for all of you and all that you do. For your encouragement, for your unfailing support no matter how sporadic my posting; for the care packages some of you have so generously sent out of the goodness of your hearts; for sharing so much of your own stories and struggles so that none of us feels so alone; for your belief in me. There have been many times when I've felt I should just throw in the towel and end this blog. But then I see how much it helps people, how many new folks discover it everyday, how many folks thank me for teaching them how to cook, save money, or rediscover their love of cooking, and I realize that what I'm doing - however clumsily I'm doing it - is important. Important enough to never give up. I may eventually have new ventures or rename the blog (for those concerned about me taking the "Poor Girl" title on as my actual identity, please don't worry; "Poor Girl" is my brand, not who I am), or do a million different things - but whatever I do, it will be important and it will be to help others. And I'm so grateful to know that I have so many amazing folks backing me up!
~ Myself. *cue crickets* Why the heck would you say something like that? Because I am grateful. Because I never thought I'd be the girl who'd hit rock bottom and want to harm herself, and yet somehow, I managed to start crawling back up towards the light. Because I'm trying, no matter what anyone says, to improve my life and eventually the lives of others. That is my true calling, the path I should be on, and I'm grateful for being able to recognize that. Because I'm finally learning to be gentle with myself and honor my needs. Because I'm still here. In spite of it all, I'm still here. And I
hope want to be here for a long, long time.
* * * * *
Well, folks. I've written a lot. I've given a lot of info, covered a lot of things that not everyone was familiar with... I feel good. I needed to put this out there. It was long overdue. Did it come out in the timely fashion that I'd planned? Nope. But I'm not tripping about that (anymore, lol... gotta admit it's been frustrating not to finish sooner, but I'm over that now). It's out there, and it's already helped a lot of people to feel less isolated by similar hardships. Since there's been such a delay between posts, I'm sure there will be a whole new set of eyes on the first 3 installments, so I hope it helps those new readers as well.

Most importantly, I hope that this series gives everyone - whether you're in this kind of situation or not - more empathy, more compassion, more understanding of others. This society is becoming too entitled, too unfeeling, too uncaring about anything but what's happening in one's own bubble. That's not healthy for anyone as individuals or as a society. We may not all agree with each other, and we may live different realities. But we should never treat our fellow humans unkindly or judge them unfairly. We're all going through something. Everyone has a story. Take the time to listen to that story with an open mind, and we can do amazing things.

Thank you so much to all who have taken the time to read this entire series. It really means a lot to me. Gold stars for everyone! : )
We'll return to regularly scheduled PGEW programming in the following post.

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