Today I’m not feeling so great. If you can imagine a panic attack like in Being Grounded where it’s the hyperventilating and heart-racing stuff, I’d call that kind the “hot and heavy” variety. What I’ve been experiencing for a few days now, I would describe as the “low and slow” variety. Like cooking a roast for several hours at a low heat as opposed to a high one. Both cook the thing, just depends on how tender you want it. Through it all I’m trying to get through the things I want to accomplish one at a time, and also trying to make sense of everything as I go along. The Hurricane is a pretty good description of the inside of my head right now.
I’d like to share with you one of the essays I wrote, the way I intended it to be read (meaning, minus the last line someone put on there that was not part of my original writing), for the A.C.E. Award competition in 2006. I share it because it shows another little bit of who I am, specifically who I was at age eighteen. A.C.E. stands for Accepting the Challenge of Excellence. My first high school motto was “Committed to Excellence.” I have always wanted to be not average, or mediocre, but excellent.
But first I’d like to tell you, I came from virtually nothing. I grew up in the oldest, most beaten down house on the block. Prior to that was government housing. Prior to that was the battered women’s shelter. Like my short intro to Being Poor and the content in the reblogged post it contains (most of which is a pretty accurate depiction of the structure of my childhood), lack of money has been a constant issue in my life. And it still is. This blog may look fancy and I may have wi-fi but does that mean I’ve finally made it? No.
In fact, a man came out to the house about two weeks ago, from the Office of National Statistics. I tried to opt out but he really wanted to come in and fill out his little forms. I had to explain to him why I didn’t want him in my house.
Because you’re a man and I don’t know you and you’ve shown up unannounced to come and interrogate my finances which I feel embarrassed about and the kids have their toys everywhere and I was about to start dinner and I don’t like your slithery personality! I told him something about how the statistics would be skewed because they want data on what people spend and I’ve been so skint I had literally spent nothing in the previous two weeks, which is atypical of a month for me.
Eventually he wormed his way into garnering an appointment for another day, trying to flatter me so I could be another number on his list. I’m sure he gets paid per interview. Like most Brits do, he asked me where my accent’s from. Why am I here. Do I plan on staying for a long time. Then it got a little uncomfortable, because then he asked if I have a lot of friends. Do I get out much. What do I do for a living. I sound educated, he said. Surely I must have a degree.
I’m from Montana, I guess. I wasn’t born there but I suppose that’s where my accent’s from. It’s now muddled with British English and Brits still think I sound very American and Americans are starting to tell me I sound British. Why am I here? Basically, it was because of a misunderstanding during a phone call and subsequent panic. I married a British guy. We’re still married, but separated. Do I plan on staying a long time? Well, honestly, that totally depends on circumstances. That’s all a big fat catch twenty-two. Right now I’m a bit stuck
but thanks for the reminder. Do I have a lot of friends? Oh, dear.
You readers will probably see from my Letter that friendship is difficult for me. I’ve met a modest amount of people. How many can I call friends? I don’t know. You have to work at friendship, which is something I can only do when I’m feeling good. Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD ruin a lot of things like that for me.
Not really a lot of friends, no. Do I get out much? Not really, I’ve got two kids and when I was working sixty-seventy hours a week I was barely making ends meet and had no time. In the time I haven’t been working I haven’t had money to go do anything. Educated? I graduated high school. I attended a semester of “uni.” No degree. Of course I’d like one, but again that all comes right back down to money.
Then the man said, “You know what they say, ‘money doesn’t buy happiness.’” And this is where I just smiled politely and mumbled something about how ‘they’ obviously didn’t know what they were talking about. I was really thinking:
Really? are you sure about that? Because I’m pretty sure that money could buy me an awful lot of happiness right about now. And I’m pretty sure that, had money been as abundant in my childhood as it had been for my peers, and almost certainly for you, man, there would have been a whole different base on which I could’ve stood to attain my own personal successes without the interference of at least a half of my lifetime full of depression.
I can look back on so many instances beginning very early on, wherein a tragedy occurred, directly linked to my current state of mental health, that could have been prevented or severely altered had there been even a modest amount of more money. But the ones who are strangers to poverty don’t see that. They want to stand from afar and put their labels on you. They want to ask about your career assuming you have one. They repeat these nonsensical idioms which are only true for people on their side of the struggle. They ask their questions to make small talk, while assessing you as something along the lines of: Success? Failure? Nobody? Somebody?
Success is subjective. Failure is subjective. When I was eighteen and about to enter higher education, I had big plans for my life. This following essay is the one I wrote back then about “How can we, as citizens, make a better tomorrow?”
Success, by definition, is a favorable outcome, an accomplishment with direction, or a person or thing that turned out well. As young adults, we hear from our parents and mentors that they hope we will become successful individuals as we grow up. But how may we become a success without someone there guide, teach, and support us?
Things happen in life that cannot be prevented or changed. Unfortunately, these events can be quite crippling. Though you might not expect it, your life could change in a split second and direct you into a completely different path, one that you never would have imagined.
So many young adults or teenagers have been thrown into a new struggle by no fault of their own. They are told by ignorant people that they are failures. Without money or resources or a supportive role model, they will have no choice but to join the vicious cycle of poverty.
It is my hope to become a caring figure in the life of even one person in need, to lend support or to offer advice or resources that will help others succeed in their individual aspirations. I feel compelled to help others, struggling in a cycle that seems to have no end, so in turn, they can become productive citizens.
Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. If we help them to succeed, our community will prosper and flourish. Then we, in turn, can look back at our world and say that it has become a “thing that has turned out well.”
Like the people I spoke of in this essay, I was told by a lot of ignorant people just how big of a failure I was going to be. One teacher I thought the world of, came up to me when I was pregnant at fifteen and said, “It’s such a shame that now us taxpayers will have to be paying for this.” As if he immediately assumed I’d be on welfare forever after. Since then I’ve done a whole lot of trying to prove him wrong. I don’t want to be considered a failure.
Would I call myself a success right now? I’m not sure. That’s hard for me to judge. I’m doing a lot of coping. I’m trying to fill my time with worthwhile endeavours and not feel like a total waste of space. When I read this essay I wrote back when I had a lot less emotional baggage, I can see that despite no degree, and virtually no money, I have done a lot of what I said I wanted to do. I have certainly done my best to help anyone and everyone I could, no matter the cost to me. And I’ve paid the price for it, believe me.
Despite a lot of really bad circumstances, I’m still alive. I’m still breathing. And so are my kids. They have clothes, shoes, and toys. So according to some definitions, I’d say I haven’t exactly failed. I hear I’m a good mom. I definitely try very hard to do my best at the motherhood thing.
Am I ‘excellent’ though? Well you know, I’m not where I’d hoped to be by now. I just turned twenty-seven. It’s strange to think I’m in the latter half of my twenties and there is so much I don’t know and so much I haven’t yet accomplished. I don’t feel excellent. If I were excellent, you’d think I’d be out of this poverty malarkey by now. But I’m not. I am living day to day, week to week. And if I’m honest, I’m exhausted from it all. I want to scream, “WHEN DOES THIS GET EASIER?” I happen to make some excellent stuff, and that’s cool or whatever, but to excel, to me, would be breaking out of this damned cage and starting to fly.
Am I happy? …No. I’m not happy. Some days, no matter how funny the comedian is, or how silly the kids are being, I can’t even laugh. This is the low and slow I spoke about before. The background heat, ever-so-gently breaking me to pieces.
I went camping this weekend and it should have been fun. But it felt like an out-of-body experience and like I wasn’t in my own head. I took the beta-blockers the doc gave me for extra-anxious days and I don’t know what difference they made exactly but the panic was still there, in the background, low and slow. I don’t think I know what fun is anymore.
My idea of where I would be by now and the reality of where I am are so drastically different. I’m looking for that light at the end of this tunnel, that says someday the struggle will end and I’ll begin to thrive, not just survive. I’m trying to look back and take stock of what I have done, not what I haven’t, and find that solid ground where getting back up to the top of the hill isn’t fraught with mudslides back down to the bottom, like some evil chutes and ladders game.
In reality, there are days when I have to work really hard to be optimistic, where I have to work really hard to keep calm. My definition of success right now is getting through a day without hyperventilating and crying. There is very little happiness. Striving for excellence seems like a goal to reach for later, because right now just doing anything is enough of a battle in itself. It would be a lot easier without the criticisms of everyone else, who lack perspective on the situation, and whose words add to the negative dialogue.
I say these things for me, to remind myself that I’m not just another statistic for someone’s data collection. My definition of success and failure have been adjusted from what they once were, and are probably very different from the next person’s. My reality has been very real and quite difficult, but both my kids tell me I’m excellent. Most days I’d say they’re happy. And I can start with that, stand on that, take the next step up the hill.
And money, while it wouldn’t be able to fix everything at this point, is directly correlated to happiness in a lot of ways, in my experience. Money would eliminate about half or more of my reasons for panic attacks, straight away. And I say that, to highlight that ‘what they say’ sometimes doesn’t mean a thing. Money can sometimes be all the difference. The reality is that it can mean solutions, freedom, happiness. But success and excellence work on a sliding scale. Happiness sometimes does too, but only on days when my perspective can afford it.