Content note: Discussion of poverty, depression, and suicidal thoughts, as well as homophobia and transphobia.
For the past two years or so, ever since we came out and our life went to hell, we've been living in poverty.
Being in poverty does not mean "downshifting," "living within your means," or other euphemisms for going without things that others take for granted. Before we came out we were uninsured, we did not have a car or an HDTV or a laptop with more than 2 GBs of RAM, and we were living around the official "poverty line" in terms of our annual income. We cooked most of our own food, had very cheap entertainments, and ate out sparingly.
And yet, our living situation was in many ways better back then. The apartment was cleaner. We weighed 20 pounds less. We went out more often, and had more fun when we did. We had fewer worries, and felt much more optimistic about our future.
As it turns out,
It's that last point that makes all the difference.
Simplistic analyses of how "rich" and "poor" people's lifestyle choices differ obscure the reasons why their choices differ. In her essay, "Your App Makes Me Fat," Kathy Sierra discusses the neuroscience behind what others call "spoon theory" -- the idea that people have limited cognitive and emotional resources, and that if they have to spend them in one area they don't have them available in another.
In this case, research participants were asked to memorize either a two-digit number or a seven-digit number, and were then given the choice of cake or fruit as a dessert. Keeping in mind that there can be legitimate reasons to choose one or the other that have nothing to do with "willpower,"
The participants who memorized the seven-digit number were nearly 50% more likely than the other group to choose cake over fruit.
So what's the point?
I'm fatter, less active, and less emotionally stable than I was before I came out. I have more health problems. I also eat more store-bought desserts, own a new laptop, game console, and tablet, and have more toys and games than I did when I moved here. And while I used to write articles for several hours each day, I'm now unemployed and not seeking work anymore.
Clearly, I merit contempt. I'm fat and lazy, after all, which you can tell (and can tell are my fault) by looking at me and hearing me talk about playing my games. I must have maxed out my credit cards buying new things, I'm letting the government take care of me instead of solving my own problems, and I'm depressive because I'm transgender. If I'd just choose to take responsibility for my life, then things would be so much better. Right?
Except that that's not the case. What is the case is I have so little energy, most days, that I have to pick and choose what gets done.
Today, I chose to explain my feelings on Dreamwidth and spend some time online with my boyfriend, who is going through his own trials and stress in the process of working to support me. As a result, the dishes aren't done, the laundry's unmade, and I'm eating hash browns and canned chickpeas for dinner because I haven't cooked anything (or showered) in days.
Tonight I'll stay up until 10 AM
Practicing needed introvert self-care, since I can't even do the above if I don't have some time to myself. And maybe, possibly, I'll have the energy to shower, or take another course from the Microsoft Virtual Academy, or make some more tweaks to my Dreamwidth site. Maybe I'll even write another story or chapter, sometime this month.
This is not exceptional. This is not a temporary circumstance, like when the waterbed leaks and you have to go sleep on the couch. And it's not voluntary privation I've put myself through, like when you work overtime for a few weeks so that you can afford a vacation. This is my everyday life. And this is what it was like for most of my life pre-transition, too, since I was dealing with everyday religious / emotional abuse and crippling depression and gender dysphoria. Some days I could barely get out of bed.
For one, shining year, things were different. I had a job. Hundreds of thousands of people read my work. At one point, I got to collaborate with a TV personality. I could afford most of my wants and all of my needs, if you didn't count health insurance (which no one could afford back then and few can today). I could even travel within the state. And when rev_yurodivy was facing some massive stress and an unsafe living situation, I could afford to take them in and buy them things, and take them out to dinner and make them feel loved and appreciated.
What happened to change that?
Realizing I was transgender happened. Being thrown away by my father of origin, who was cosigning my lease at the time, happened. Seeing the whole world differently happened, when I realized the friendly Muslim bus driver also wants me to live in the closet, and another passenger would let a trans woman die if they were a paramedic. Realizing they don't want me here happened. When my state voted to ban gay marriage, when I read horror stories that out trans women faced, and when the new CEO at my workplace decided "eh, paying writers is for chumps."
Suddenly, the smiling faces around me took on a predatory sheen, as I realized how little it'd take for them to turn on me. All I had to do was wear gender-appropriate clothes around them, or say that I didn't have money for rent. Because no matter how much I liked them, no matter how much I'd given them, no matter how loyal I felt towards my town and community, I knew that they'd throw me away in a heartbeat, and no one would ever miss me. No one except my weird "Internet friends" who don't really exist, even though one of them's living with me right now.
Suddenly, eating too much was one of the few ways that I had to cope. Suddenly, I started getting presents from those Internet friends, which added up to maybe a couple months' rent over the past two years but which made my new hikikomori lifestyle more bearable. Suddenly I was thinking about suicide a lot more in spite of all that, to the point where my partner had to pull the knife out of my hands.
There is no spoon
Or there aren't enough metaphorical spoons, meaning cognitive and emotional resources, for me to deal with all this. Not and be healthy and sane and pay all the bills and do all the chores and buy nutritious food at the same time. There still aren't.
Things are getting better. Therapy helps. Antidepressants help, a lot. I'm going out more than I used to. I'm making better choices for my diet, doing odd jobs on Mechanical Turk, and getting things like name change paperwork done. Our future looks brighter, for once, and we're starting to crawl towards it.
But that doesn't mean we're done going through this. It doesn't mean we never did. And it doesn't mean that we'll ever be the same again.
We're fortunate to have people who care about us. Who sacrifice their well-being to make our life and our partner's life safe and bearable. Who don't see us as a resource, or an object, or a statistic, but as a person, even when we can't.
So many poor people don't.