I’ve been feeling pretty non-verbal lately. (Except with Rod. The poor dear gets it all, even when I can’t find words for anyone else.)
It took a long time to sort out why I have been having panic attacks and feeling so vulnerable. There is not, on the first glance, anything wrong.
Nothing big anyway.
Except that with the same spending habits as always, over the last few months, we have gone from being able to put aside a bit of money against emergencies every week to barely having enough to cover to basics, to the last few weeks, having to scrape just to eat every day.
I have been buying fewer and fewer of the “little luxuries” that we had grown accustomed to. A bag of chips here, a bottle of $6 wine there.
We’re not going hungry. Oh, we can’t snack like we have been used to, but we have had the money to get the basic eggs and vegetables every single week.
So, what’s the problem? Why is this reason for panic attacks rather than annoyance?
Well, a long, long time ago (three decades or so) I was a single parent to two adorable small boys. We survived on welfare for a few years between when my marriage ended and when I completed my education and could find a job.
I was one of the last classes to be allowed to attend college while on welfare, but the punitive measures were already afoot to punish poor single mothers. They took the money that was I was granted for second hand school books out of our food stamps, dollar for dollar.
I could try to pass the classes without the books, or we could cut the already punishingly small budget tighter. Some classes I could read the book at the library, and for the others I found the cheapest most battered copy I could and we tried to make up the difference.
I sold my blood plasma twice a week, which also gave me quiet time to do my reading assignments. I volunteered at the food coop and in exchange I got a shot at the vegetables that were too spoiled to sell. We walked through the park together, collecting cans and bottles to be returned for the deposit. We went to soup kitchens, and I lived on the the children’s leftovers. I still had to listen to them cry themselves to sleep the night before the food stamps came in, because even with all of that, sometimes there was no food left and no money with which to get more. I always had to make strategic decisions between toothpaste and toilet paper.
But, we also had a lot of fun. We danced together in the kitchen. We went boot skating in the park. We sang at the top of our lungs as we walked together. We played “volleyball” in the kitchen after the boys went to birthday parties, if they came home with balloons. We read books together.
It was tough, but we made it. I later discovered that the boys don’t even remember it as being that tough! They were surprised to hear that they’d gone hungry!
I’m relieved, but I’ll never be able to forget it. The experience left scars. I averaged about 900 calories a day for a few years there, so when I started working and we could finally eat again, I blew up to a size 30. I developed an intolerance to hunger – any hunger. I can’t stand to hear my stomach growl. And I get depressed and anxious when money is too tight.
I can live contentedly on a budget, but I freak right out when I run out of money before I run out of week. I try to squirrel away a little each pay so that it never happens. Unfortunately, Rod will spend until the bank account in empty without thinking too much about it. That’s been difficult, especially time like now, when the cost of living is rising, but the income isn’t. The comfortable budget we had been living on suddenly isn’t enough.
We have to re-think the budget, and I’m sure that in the end we will be fine – but in the meanwhile, I go through serious, heavy duty anxiety. Now that I’ve figured out what has me feeling so frightened and vulnerable, I hope I can handle it more gracefully. It’s still way more comfortable than it was 30 years ago.