On Poverty And Mental Health Breaks

One time in some bigger city, a dirty man on the street asked my Dad for money. I don’t remember what city we were in, but I must have been in high school because I was old enough to know the standard, “Give them money and they’ll just buy alcohol with it!” response. I didn’t say that to Dad as he handed the guy a $20 and the guy thanked him profusely. But Dad talked about it to me as we walked away. He said something to the effect of, “He will probably just use that to go by alcohol, but who am I to judge?”

I remember being like, “Yeah. Good point. His life SUCKS. Who are we to judge?”

Another time in Tennessee there was a ballot vote on some increase in tax that failed. I don’t know if it was a sales tax or income tax thing, I just remember Dad talking to me about it and shaking his head. The money was obviously meant to help someone, although I don’t remember who. He was just blown away by the idea that people would vote “no” on a tax increase that would help someone less fortunate. He said something along the lines of, “I always vote ‘yes’ on tax increases. I’m certain they don’t manage the money perfectly but I don’t need it. Not as much as the other people do. Hell, really all I need now that you guys are gone and adults is a bike and a library card.”

One final conversation with Dad involved the lottery vote in Tennessee. Now, I had voted for a man for Governor in Alabama who ran on the promise of bringing the lottery to fund education. I was VERY pro-lottery. And then Dad said something about it – how he voted “no” – he said, “I mean, really it’s just a tax on the poor.”

Dad never looked at poverty with the myths we all grow up with. He didn’t push morality on the less fortunate. He didn’t shame them for buying lottery tickets or alcohol. He didn’t act like it was his job to teach the poor to be self-sufficient. Poverty sucked and he felt like helping the poor in any way – not strings attached – was an obligation as a citizen and didn’t understand why it always was so complicated to get people to fund programs that helped people.

I listened to an episode of Radiolab this week that was one hour dedicated to another program’s 5-part series on Poverty Myths. I had to immediately go hunt down the original series from the podcast On The Media. I cried in sorrow as some of the stories were hard to hear, I cried in shame as I realized that even I – champion of the poor – has fallen victim to some of these myths, and I cried in fear of the future of the poor in our country.

I spent 5 hours crying, is what I’m saying.

It was hard to hear but – OH MY GOD – so VERY VERY important. One of the people interviewed a lot was a welfare manager from Ohio constantly trying to get people to truly understand poverty. He evidently was a token guest on news shows for several years and he talks about how one news rep explained to him that they really needed a “good arc” for his story on poverty. You know…introduction, conflict, resolution. And of COURSE that’s not how life works.

Between that 6 hours (the first hour being the original Radiolab podcast) of Poverty talk and EVERYTHING ELSE in the news, I’ve been a little bogged down. The move kept me out of touch for almost two weeks and I felt like there was SO MUCH that I missed and I have been really stressed ever since about missing stuff. I take my phone to the bathroom every time I have to pee and take a few minutes longer just so I can catch up on my news feed. I take my phone when I walk the dog. I take my phone out in line at the grocery store. I used to just scroll through instagram or maybe Facebook but now it’s Twitter – which I’ve curated to be almost 90% news. I am soaking it in every chance I get.

And it’s not like there’s not always something. This first week in the administration has been a tidal wave of executive orders and weird press conferences and statements about torture and illegal voters and I really don’t want to miss any of it because I need the reminder as to why I’m fighting.

But then I read this on staying outraged without losing your mind yesterday:

So when it gets to be too much, it’s ok to unplug for a bit. Stop refreshing Twitter and reading the news. Stop feeling guilty when someone asks you if you’ve been following the latest story and you have to say no. Go a week or a day or even an hour without talking/reading/writing about the dumpster fire smoldering along in Washington. It will still be there when you get back, I promise.

This is really important, because at some point it will become too much to handle. You can cope by shutting it out for a while?—?binge watching Netflix, playing with your dog, going to yoga. But if you don’t do that, if you try to maintain this fever pitch of anguish and fear and outrage, something far worse than a little down time is going to happen. Your brain, to protect you, will just turn down the volume on the outrage and adapt.

People can get used to anything, and if you don’t take steps to prevent it, you will get used to Trump.

You will stop being shocked by the latest scandal and horrified by the latest attack on civil rights. Trump will become the new normal. And that is the worst thing that could happen, because THIS IS NOT NORMAL, and democracies fall when their people stop resisting.

And I believe this – I truly do – because I saw an interview last night where Trump was still holding do the “3 million illegal votes” thing and then claimed the researcher who proved this was not true was just groveling and you know what? I didn’t flinch. I mean, he threatened the city of Chicago yesterday with an invasion of Federal Forces so – I guess I no longer think the stuff he says is crazy?

But it IS crazy. It’s insane. This is our President and he’s saying insane crap and I can not become desensitized to it because I’m inundated by it. I need to give myself a break.

So I’m going to TRY to do that today.


I soaked up 6 hours of poverty podcasts this week on top of all of the First Week chaos from this administration. I think I just need a day to try to relax a bit. I’m driving to Montevallo this afternoon to see a pep rally with E and have dinner with him and crash on his couch and then I’m heading back home early in the morning. This is a good day to take a break.

And – of course – as I was thinking about my break today and what it would look like. Maybe listening to one of the McElroy Brother’s products to make me laugh…maybe leaving my phone on my desk when I go pee…it hit me: The poor get no breaks.

They talk about this a bit in that series, the person who is getting evicted but treats herself to a gourmet dinner.

Poverty is a condition. I remember I used to put “real” dinners at restaurants on my credit card after my divorce because it just made me feel normal. I didn’t need the WIC voucher to get an appetizer at Applebees. No one sighed dramatically as I slowed down the checkout process (WIC is a great program BUT NOT AT ALL EASY) with my vouchers and the cashier’s attempt to politely tell me I chose something that didn’t qualify. I could just sit down, eat, be normal for a minute. Was it a good financial decision? HELL NO. Neither was me spending my limited money on cigarettes and cheep beer. But I was a single Mom working full time in college and living in an apartment which had the windows painted shut, something I discovered when I had a fire.

I needed a mental health break. Even at the expense of my finances.

SO I will take my break today but mainly so I can conserve my energy so I can keep fighting for the people who get no breaks. And who have no energy to fight.

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