Yesterday, I got stranded a long way from home with no way back.
Content note: A longish story about the hidden costs of being poor, the inhumaneness of "personal responsibility" teachings, and how jewelfox learned to be mean to herself from her abusive family of origin. Contains swearing, transphobia, and poverty-shaming.
I had gone to an appointment with my psychiatrist that was late in the afternoon, after staying up all night beforehand. Sleepless, exhausted, and having to look forward to about 40 minutes of leaning up against a tree to wait for my normal bus, I jumped on the chance to take the express route home, even though I had to beg a kind stranger for the extra fare since I'd spent all my dollar bills in foodservice tips.
The problem: This was the express bus to the wrong town. It just happened to be a town which started with the same letter, so that I reasonably thought that the "C*X" express bus was going to C*** instead of C***** ****. And there was no other signage on the bus to indicate what its route was, at least not that I saw. So it wasn't until we were on the freeway and without internet access (because of dead zones) that I realized I'd boarded the wrong bus, and that the buses were going to go out of service before I could catch the one going back.
Compounding this problem was the fact that I had no money. I don't mean no money on me, I mean no money period. I'd been waiting for my old laptop to sell on eBay instead of asking aliaspseudonym for another bank account transfusion, because I hate having to bother it for that. But in the meantime, my bank account had gotten precipitously low, and I'd just spent the last of it on an umbrella and a falafel wrap. Even if I hadn't, there was no way that I could afford the taxi fare to get back home, which -- unfortunately -- was up there with an entire boxed set of miniatures. (Yes, this is how I gauge prices.)
I was going to have to ask my partners to bail me out. Unfortunately, my phone started giving me a low battery warning as soon as I stepped out on the unfamiliar streets.
A homeless veteran, that I apologized for not having any money and explained my situation to, suggested spending the night in the shelter. This was the best he could do, and I thanked him for that. But as a trans woman, who was carrying her whole life in electronics on her person, this was not an option.
How we were helped out of this situation
First, we went and got a drink of water and used the public restrooms at a nearby pharmacy, after realizing that those were open to nonpaying customers.
Then we went out and sat down at a bus shelter, and got out our new laptop (which is light enough that we can carry it anywhere without noticing the weight) so we could plug our phone's USB charger into it. With power and Internet access restored, we managed to catch our partners on Skype just before Alias left for a Magic: the Gathering tournament. It gave us its credit card information so that we could hire a taxi to get home, and Yuro cooked us a pizza so we could curl up with our screens and warm, savoury food before bed.
Despite being cared for and treated extremely well by them, and helped out of a frightening situation, we felt lower than dirt and kept apologizing for everything.
Why we thought that this mess was our fault
Because we were raised by our family of origin on a conservative philosophy of "personal responsibility." Which, while it uses high-minded terms and has lofty defenders, basically amounts to "when bad stuff happens to you it's your own damn fault."
In theory, you can use "personal responsibility" to tell a narcissist to stop whining at you and guilting you into making your life revolve around theirs. In fact, I recommend this to anyone who's being manipulated by narcissists or was raised by them (Content note: Reddit link), because they try to make everything your fault including their own feelings and it's important to learn to assert yourself.
In practice, though, the people I see using this phrase the most don't know or care how to actually assign responsibility. Like most people tend to do, they give the maximum benefit of the doubt to people who look and act just like them, and they closely scrutinize the behaviour of people that they're afraid of. But, being politically conservative*, they are wilfully ignorant of this part of their natures, and don't ever correct for their own biases. So they view it as gospel truth that when someone like them is in trouble it's because of things outside their control, or that they deserve help regardless. Whereas when a disgusting inferior person's in trouble, the only thing they need is "tough love."
So here's how I saw what happened
And I say this is how I saw it, because a lot of my upbringing consisted of telling me that I was one of those people it's right to be skeptical of.
First, it was irresponsible for me not to prepare for my doctor's appointment by getting more sleep. It doesn't matter that I have insomnia, or that I was wide awake late at night because the night before that I was up really late with an adrenalin rush after my clinical PTSD was massively triggered. This was within my control, and I failed to control it.
Second, it was irresponsible for me not to make sure that this bus was going to the right place. It doesn't matter that I'm not in charge of its signage, or that I was desperate for a way back after spending all day on my feet. I could have at least asked the driver to make sure, the way that I'd learned to with the local buses. This was within my control, and I failed to control it.
Third, it was irresponsible for me not to have a spare charger and money on hand. I'm not even working right now, I just get more money by asking for it, so I have no excuse for not having the taxi's fare on hand. This was within my control, and I failed to control it.
Finally, the laptop which saved me isn't something I should have had to begin with, because the old one was perfectly fine and it is so bothersome that I am wishy-washy in my electronics choices.
Here's the really unfortunate part
If this had happened to me while I was living with my family of origin, this is exactly what they would have told me.
Because what matters isn't my terror or insomnia. I'm not a disabled person trying to navigate a noisy, confusing city, and an economy where it's okay to have homeless veterans out on the streets with their donation cups and their cardboard signs. I'm a perfectly capable person who is making their lives difficult by being ungrateful and irresponsible. The money it costs just to feed and house me is a big fucking deal, and the money it cost to buy taxi fare home should come out of my miniatures budget. Especially when I didn't do the responsible thing and comparison shop for rates first, even though I was already overwhelmed and actually had a panic attack when the first taxi company I'd called and asked for a pickup kept calling me back while I was talking to a second driver who happened to be there already.
I deserved to have spent the night in the shelter, which would have maybe taught me a thing or two about proper planning and about the effects of my "choice" to be transgender. Of course, the people running the shelter surely wouldn't have let me actually stay stranded there, because that's just unreasonable, and they would've let me borrow a phone to call Alias and ask for cab fare the next day, after doing my homework and comparing rates.
Also there would have been a lecture about job searches the next day, regardless of my situation or the state of my mental health. Which is clearly just a bullshit liberal excuse for me to avoid Taking Responsibility. Unlike, say, the mental health of the manic-depressive family friend, who beat her children with oars before having them taken away from her. And who was allowed to room in the basement indefinitely, wander around the house talking to her hallucinations, and follow me to early-morning seminary (a high school level church class) to do the same there.
You see? "Mental health" stuff is completely made up. I just needed to drink some noni juice, like her, and then I'd be okay and could stop burdening them with my poor choices. God. You'd think I didn't realize how much scrapbooking stuff mom could buy if she wasn't paying my rent, or how much she could store in the breakfast nook where I slept.
(Seriously. I remember one time she complained about how much my food was costing her with the price going up nowadays, even though she'd been giving me a set amount to buy food with and it hadn't gone up this whole time. I told her as much, but it didn't seem to affect her.)
About the only part of the above that's made up is the swearing. That part is just offensive to them. If they read this, they'd be upset that I made them out to be uncharitable, but they'd think that was just a matter of how I portrayed them rather than what they'd actually do.
Fighting the demons of the past
I'm not writing this because I bear a strong grudge that I haven't let go of (although that may be part of it). I'm writing this because this is stuff that has really affected me, and has changed how I see myself whether I want it to or not.
My family of choice, my real loved ones, don't see what I did as unreasonable, and don't want me to see myself as "irresponsible" and a "burden." I don't want to see myself that way, either. So I have to deconstruct why I feel that way, so that I can maybe move past it.
I hope that this helps someone else, who needs to do the same thing. I hope you can learn to value yourself as a person.
* Willful ignorance is the defining trait of religious and political conservatism, as near as I can tell. It is also the defining trait of evil alignment, IMO.