Tag Archives: health

I went to grad school and all I got were these awesome food stamps.

I'm so glad that they use a card now.

This week, most of my former classmates got their master’s diplomas in the mail. I got food stamps.

I have yet to receive my actual diploma, and I don’t know when or if I ever will. My last three terms, I had to take out short-term emergency loans because my regular loans just weren’t enough. They were expecting me to live on about $300 a month, so once my unemployment ran out, I started taking out emergency loans that upped my monthly “income” to $1100 or $1300. My situation was at its most dire my last term because that was when my car got repossessed and my electricity cut off. The problem with short-term loans is that you have to pay them back the following term. As the name implies, they are short-term loans. But if you run out of money and have to take out a short-term loan, chances are you are going to spend the short-term loan and then not have any more money once you pay back the loan after the quarter is over. So then you take out another short-term loan to pay off the last short-term loan. The cycle continues until graduation. You aren’t allowed to take out a short-term loan the quarter you graduate. I was desperate, so I lied. I took out my short-term loan as early as possible and I applied for graduation as late as possible. I finally got a job during my last term, but it just wasn’t enough.

Unfortunately, because of my bad loan habit and my medical bills (and maybe because of an incomplete I got in a class unrelated to my degree), they have a hold on my diploma, so I won’t be getting it until I pay them tons and tons of money. It’s okay. If anyone wants to call the university, they can confirm that I really did graduate. Though there is no foreseeable reason for anyone to call.

I am more excited about food stamps than I am about the degree. Because they took so long to approve my application, I got $108 to spend before October 31. It was quite a task, but I managed.

I have genetic insulin resistance. What that means is that for reasons unknown my body does not respond to normal amounts of insulin, so my pancreas overcompensates by secreting abnormally high levels of insulin nearly all the time. I have checked my blood sugar many times, and I have never once had a high reading. In fact, I am somewhat hypoglycemic (possibly because of the high insulin). My mother was the same, and she ended up with diabetes that ruined her life and killed her. My maternal grandmother was also the same. She, too, ended up with diabetes that ruined her life and killed her. The first time I got my insulin tested at age 24, my fasting level was 51 uU/ml. It should have been around 5. Insulin resistance is associated with type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. My mother had type 1 diabetes, and I’m not sure how that relates to IR.

My doctor strongly advised me to go on a low-carbohydrate diet. I was doing well with that for a while, but when you live on food bank food, it’s difficult to stick to it. Carbs are cheap. My local food bank has four kinds of food: meaty, starchy, beany, and sweet. Meaty makes me vomit, starchy is kind of bad for me, sugary is really bad for me, and beany is just inadequate. I end up eating lots and lots of salted spaghetti. I haven’t been taking my medication, and I’ve been eating food that spikes my already-spiked insulin, so I’m gaining weight despite being hungry all the time and not having much to eat. I’m sure my insulin is through the roof again.

Nom nom nom.When I got food stamps before, I actually lost 20 lbs in about four months even though my caloric intake increased significantly. I was still eating too many starchy things, but I was eating a lot of vegetables, eggs, nuts, and tofu. I felt well and was getting plenty of exercise, which I haven’t been doing lately. I hope that my new food stamps will be a catalyst for me to get back on track and to a point where I care about myself again and can take steps towards regaining my health. I might even cook. It’s a bit sad that when I was working I did not have enough money for healthy food, but I do on food stamps. I get more with food stamps than I ever spent on food when I worked. I don’t buy cheap junk either. Sorry, Republicans. I guess this makes me a socialist bum. Go ahead and heckle. At my last job, I made less money than I was required to spend on rent and bills. I technically had no money for food unless I stopped paying for something else. That’s how I ended up with no phone and no electricity.

I became very sad at Trader Joe’s because every item I put in my cart made me wonder “Will I pack this when I move?”I still don’t know when I have to go. Or where to go.

 

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Filed under Depression, Food, health, Home Life, Materialism, Obstacles

Impasse

The Impasse by Stephen Adams

A friend asked me “What would you be doing if you could get any job you wanted, right now?” To my surprise, my mind went blank. Two months ago, two years ago, six years ago, even ten years ago, he could have asked me that question and I would have described my career goals in striking detail. I was asked that question all through high school, college, graduate school, and even while I was working at crappy low-level jobs and I always had an answer. Now I don’t. I can only guess that something in me snapped during my most recent of many awkward interviews.

I’m still not looking for a job. I don’t think most people understand why. I’m not even sure that I do. I only finished my master’s degree in June, so it may seem like I am giving up on my job search early. Master’s degree or not, this has been a fruitless search since 2003. My last two jobs (crappy as they were) ended abruptly and in the same fashion. Those weren’t the only times either. I have simply lost the ability to handle certain types of tasks. I also struggle without proper healthcare. Without my medication, my ability to function in the workplace is limited, and without decent pay, my access to my prescribed medication is also limited. And I am far beyond frustrated with working at low-level, low-pay jobs outside of my skill set. If I hadn’t had one job in my career at a well-known and reputable company, I would probably just think I was a moron. But no, once upon a time, I was given a chance, and I did a good job and I was well-liked. And then my job was outsourced. That was the only brief glimmer of success in one very long and dark period. It wasn’t a great success, anyway. I was still low-income and stressed about money, but at least I felt accomplished.

I have been battling a rather bad respiratory infection for a while now. I’ve complained about it, I know. When I lie in bed I can hear my chest creak like an old staircase. Sometimes it sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies. Sometimes it makes both of those noises at the same time. I cough and choke until I see stars. It’s difficult to laugh. This may be difficult to believe, but I really do laugh a lot.

My landlord has still not taken action against me. It’s confusing, but it’s a relief. It’s also a source of much anxiety. I have not made much progress in packing or purging my belongings. I’m sick and exhausted.

I am currently working with the Department of Social and Health Services to find out if I can get some medical attention and possibly a case worker. It’s all downhill from here. I have also re-opened my food stamps application, and I hope I can get something on that end within the next few days.

I’m getting a bit frustrated because I am lacking some basic items that most people (including myself) often take for granted. I need dish soap. I need pants that both fit and don’t have holes. I want fresh food and a new toothbrush. I have decided to sell my car once I move into transitional housing. Unfortunately, my car insurance got canceled and my car is likely to be repossessed for the second time this year. I can’t do anything about that right now, but I can maybe find some clothes. There is a community clothing closet in the next town over, and I may try to stop by and see if I can find something. I also have some clothes that don’t fit me anymore, and I would be glad to donate. I don’t need much, unless I get a job. I really just want something that isn’t falling apart. The soles of my shoes are halfway off, and every time I walk outside I have to stop periodically to shake out the gravel and other debris. I was able to buy toilet paper after selling some things online. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to sell online because I do not get paid until the items ship (at least when I sell on Amazon.com). If I have no money, it’s a bit difficult to ship things.

I was able to get cat food during my last trip to the food bank, so my little feline friend will be well-fed for the time being. She’s not a terribly picky eater as long as I give her dry food.

I can only hope that my situation is temporary, and I will find my hope and drive again. It’s not like me to be a leech, and I’ve lost the energy to be a good scavenger.

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Mental Dental

I hurt my tooth on –get this–a pebble in some pinto beans I got from the food bank. I cleaned the beans before cooking, but I guess I missed a tiny stone. Of course I have no dental insurance. I also have no money to see a dentist. I last went to the dentist around the time I got fired in June 2007, and that had been my first visit in years. I have been to the dentist no more than three times in 10 years, which is actually a lot for a poor person.

The Union Gospel Mission offers free dental care for the homeless, but I’m afraid of running into a dentist like Steve Martin in Little Shop of Horrors.

I’m not officially homeless yet, but I heard about the service from a man who isn’t homeless either. He is, however, a meth-head with bad teeth. I’ve never even had a cavity. If they can help a methamphetamine addict who screwed up his own teeth, they can help me. When I get the courage to go, of course. I just don’t have much faith in medical services for the poor.

From now on, the only beans I eat will be the squishy kind that comes in a can.

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But how are you getting by?

How are you getting by?

I get asked this a lot and I don’t know how to answer. I don’t know what kind of an answer people expect.

I suppose people think I’ll say something like “Oh, I’m just living on savings until I find something new” or “I’m getting unemployment” or “My husband/parents/in-laws are helping out.”

No one has ever asked me this question when I had a regular job. I find that strange because I wasn’t “getting by” even when I was working. There is a misconception that if you have a job, you can “get by.” My car was repossessed when I was working. My electricity was cut off when I was working. When I was working, I had to eat with the homeless people in the park because I had no food and made too much money for food stamps.

I had health insurance at two of my last three temp jobs. Unfortunately, I had so little money that I couldn’t afford the copays to see my doctor. It’s good that I had insurance in case I got into an accident, but what good was this insurance if I couldn’t use it when I needed it for less catastrophic times? I had health insurance when I was coughing up blood, but I didn’t have $10 to see the doctor. I couldn’t go to work like that, and my job did not provide sick days, so I would either get more poor or more sick.

Since early 2006, my rent has increased 27% while my income (until I quit) had decreased 29%. I was barely able to pay my rent when it was at its lowest, so it just seems impossible now. I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t. Right now I just can’t deal with working at a horrible job that I hate and am not good at where I’m likely to get reprimanded. I am hyperaware every second of every day that I still will not be able to pay my rent on time. This isn’t a money management problem. I really wish it were a money management problem. I can fix my budget, but this goes so much deeper than that. To quote a friend of mine: “If your boss gives you 60 hours of work to do and only 40 hours to do it, you have a time problem, not a time management problem. If you only get $400 for a week of work, but your basic expenses cost $500 a week, it’s not a reflection of your ability to stick to a budget just because you can’t make it work!”

When I was a receptionist, the company I worked for invited a personal finance counselor to come in and speak to us individually by appointment. I was struggling in a dead-end job and I was barely able to make ends meet, so I was glad for the opportunity to talk to a professional. He gave me a worksheet with a list of items on it and asked me to tell him how much I spent on each. He asked me about my utilities, groceries, my medical bills, credit card bills, and rates on car and renter’s insurance. I gave up my telephone land line years ago, and my cell phone plan is reasonable. I have not had cable since 2003. I did not even own a computer, let alone pay for Internet. I spent very little on groceries. I had the cheapest car insurance policy I could find. I spent about $200 a year on clothing and shoes combined (I spend far less than that now). I had already lumped several accounts into a debt consolidation plan that had reduced my interest rates by half. I do not buy music, go to bars, or go to movies, and I attend only a couple of concerts a year. At the time, my only consistent “luxury” was a $20/month Netflix account. My expenses were all bills I was struggling to pay off from my first two years of unemployment. After buying the basic essentials and making minimum payments, I was left with about $40 each month. It was not enough extra to see a significant change in credit card balances and the like. Also, $20 of that went to Netflix. Almost all of my money was spent playing catch-up.

The personal finance counselor told me that I had cut out all I could, and that the only solution to my problem was to make more money. He told me that nothing was wrong with my budget. I began looking for a second job, but I never found one. I was eventually fired from that receptionist position for “being unhappy.” I was only unemployed for about three weeks, but my next job paid nearly $10,000 a year less and I was laid off in less than six months. It did not occur to me that my next job would pay so much less, especially since it was technically at a higher level. It was a big pay cut, and it hurt. It hurt more when I got laid off.

So, how am I getting by? I sell some of my belongings online. When I get money from that, I put a little gas in my car, I buy cat food, rat food, or kitty litter. I eat food-bank food almost exclusively. I steal my neighbor’s wi-fi. I stopped taking all 7 of my prescription medications. I revel in the fact that the electric company won’t cut me off again for a very long time. I let my phone get cut off until I can scrounge enough money to pay my past-due balances. I think deeply. I worry. I go to a lot of used bookstores to sell my collection. I look around at the disarray and panic because I don’t have the energy to box it all up and I don’t know where I’m going or how I’m going get there. I sleep a lot. I mope. I don’t answer my phone. I wait for the sheriff to force me to leave. I jump at every noise. I don’t get out much.

I did something very unethical that I am ashamed to talk about, even here: prior to leaving my job, I found a year-long bus pass that had been dropped by a coworker. There was no one around when I found it, and I waited a long time and no one returned to get it. These bus passes are issued to employees for free, but they probably cost the company over $1000 (I know that they are worth around $1500).  I was a temp and did not get the year-long bus pass — I had to pay $90 a month for my own. The pass was brand new. I found it in July, and it’s good through next July. I fully intended to turn it in to security, but at some point it occurred to me that the pass was worth much more to me than to whoever had lost it. After all, they had a real job and I didn’t. Also, I’ve had so many bad things happen, that maybe this was a break for me. I don’t believe in Karma, but if I did, I’d actually think this was the universe trying to throw me a bone for once. Well, maybe I do believe in Karma after all. I kept the pass. I never heard anything about anyone looking for it, so I ride the bus to save gas, and I don’t pay a penny for it. I won tickets to a movie last night, and that bus pass was the only way I could have gone to the only fun thing I’ve done recently. I could not have paid for parking, and I did not have enough money for bus fare. Keeping the pass was wrong of me, but I’m doing it for survival.

So, that is how I’m “getting by,” if you want to call it that. I don’t even want a job right now because a job will not save me from eviction, and I need to be ready. I’m too depressed to make progress quickly, and I know in my heart that I’d be too distracted at a job, even a simple one. I had enough trouble focusing at my last job. I am using this time to focus on liquidating my belongings and finding a transitional shelter to move into, no matter how frustrating that may be.

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Filed under "In this economy", Depression, Food, Home Life, Materialism, Obstacles, Work

Who can it be now?

Another day, another knock at my door I don’t answer. I’m starting to think that my landlord and rental agency are as clueless about eviction as I am. It seems odd that they would try to approach me in person when I have not received so much as a phone message from them in about a month and I have received no eviction-related documents since my three-day pay-or-vacate notice. There have been no notes left on my door, which is even more confusing. I live in a condominium with no on-site manager. Why would someone drive all the way out here unannounced without leaving a note? The pay-or-vacate notice was left on my door, but that is all.

I can only assume it is someone who wants to talk to me about eviction. This person knocks on my door persistently, and does not approach my neighbors’ condos. Whoever he is, he is here to see me. The only reason anyone stops by my place uninvited is to get something from me. I tell myself sometimes that I will answer my phone next time a debt collector calls, and I told myself tonight that I will answer the door the next time this happens. But I probably won’t. If I had an income I might have more confidence in this matter, but as of now I don’t.

Today I drank a Diet Rock Star, a drink that can wake the dead. I hoped that by drinking it I would find the energy to pack and clean out my place a little, but I was fast asleep an hour later. I have barely moved on paring down my belongings. I have also stopped applying for jobs. I have reached the pinnacle of my exhaustion. I’m becoming more fearful that there is something very wrong with me health-wise. I have only mentioned some of my chronic health issues here, and it’s not something I really care to get into yet, but I started showing signs of illness around ten years old. I have been diagnosed with a couple of problems, but my diagnoses do not explain many other symptoms I have. I’m definitely not a hypochondriac, even though I have often been treated as such. My symptoms are visible, undeniable, and run in my family, but my medical tests are always negative or inconclusive. These issues only add to my overwhelming fatigue. Despite having a father who was a doctor, I have never had proper, consistent healthcare. My parents never took me to doctors, even when at age 12 I became violently ill and developed vertigo and intrusive pulsatile tinnitus, the latter of which I still have to this day. I still get vertigo on occasion, too, but never to the degree I had it in childhood. There were multiple occasions when I had to crawl because I couldn’t walk without vomiting or falling. I haven’t had an incident like that in about 11 years (knock on wood). By the time I was old enough to go to doctors regularly on my own, I had been disowned by PsychoDad and didn’t have a job that offered health insurance. I finally got good health insurance just in time for my Cancer Scare of ’06, but I lost my job six months after the surgery that left me scarred and hormonally wonky, for lack of a better term. It wasn’t cancer, fortunately, but no one knew that so my stress levels extremely high. Not that knowing would have changed much. It still would have been stressful and life-altering.

One of my biggest personality flaws is that I don’t ask anyone for the help I need until it’s too late. I had this problem in college and graduate school. I have had this problem at jobs. I’m doing it again right now and I don’t know how to stop it. I seem to have personal drama going on all the time, and I will struggle, struggle, and struggle with school or work all the while thinking “I can do this!” and by the time I realize that I can’t it’s too late. I’ve been asked in several situations “Why didn’t you tell me there was a problem? Why didn’t you ask for help?” My response is always “I really thought I could handle it.” But sometimes I can’t. My awareness of this personality flaw hasn’t stopped me from doing it time and time again. I guess I don’t know where the line is between self-sufficiency and foolishness. I can’t stop all of the drama, but I should be able to improve the way I cope.

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Adventures in House-sitting

Me and the doggie.

Me and the doggie.

I have been rather busy lately, hence my lack of writing. A friend of mine went out of town for a few days, and I was house-sitting for her because she has a dog, two cats, and several fish. It was like a mini-vacation, actually, and she paid my phone bill for me, to boot!

I’m officially a cat-person, but I like dogs, too. I love almost all animals. I grew up with a lovely fat golden retriever, and there are things about dog-ownership I miss. I live alone and my life is unstable. I can’t afford vet bills, so no dog for me. If I hadn’t had my cat since I was in high school, I wouldn’t have a kitty either.

My friend lives near an off-leash dog park, and I went there every day with the dog. The park borders Lake Washington, which is a fun place to take a dog, even though it smells bad. I had a great time playing fetch by throwing the ball as far as I could into the lake, and seeing how excited she was to go out and get the ball for me. She is a very smart dog and understands many commands. She will even shake herself off after leaving the lake when you tell her to. She will also balance treats on her nose. For a cat/rat person, this is an amazing novelty. She slept next to me every night, and became very protective of me when she heard noises outside.

Despite the fun of playing with the dog, I’m once again concerned about my health. I am now out of my other thyroid medication. You can blame it on depression or on my being hypothyroid, but I am utterly exhausted. I went to sleep just before midnight the other night, and struggled to get out of bed at noon. I then fell asleep again at 7:00 p.m. and didn’t wake up until 7:00 a.m. I woke up briefly, and then slept again until 4 p.m. This isn’t normal. I am not lazy! I know that if I had more to do, then I would do more, but I am concerned by how little I do when I have little to do! When I first worked at the technical college where I was an instructor, I slept a lot. I slept, I ate, I worked, I commuted, but I didn’t do much else. Fortunately, I got everything done. It’s been six years, but I keep my reviews to remind myself that I am good at things and that people appreciate what I do. My students really liked me, even though I felt like crap. I was able to give my all for a set amount of hours per day and just sleep the rest of the time. Brain fog wasn’t as big of a problem for me then. I really need proper healthcare so I can function and contribute like I used to. Like I want to. I wish I could take a break from all of this and just breathe and not worry. I don’t want to get yet another job and get fired or freak out.

I am looking into renting a studio where they do not care about your credit rating. Unfortunately, they don’t care about your criminal record either, so I’m a bit nervous about who my neighbors might be. I have not yet turned to a life of crime, though it’s sad when it occurs to you that prison would guarantee food and a roof over your head. But then there’s the prison rape, even for women. Hopefully things will work out for me over the next few weeks.

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The Oatmeal Chef

"Bork, bork, bork!"

Because of its low cost (and therefore its abundance at the food bank), I have enough oatmeal to lower the cholesterol of an entire army. I prefer to make oatmeal with milk, but alas, milk costs money and is generally perishable, so I have none. My dwindling food supply and increasing food cravings have inspired me to experiment a bit. I am thankful for every day I have had my electricity back, because at this point I would be eating nothing but handfuls of dry oats. I still have a giant turkey breast in my freezer, but I have no idea what to do with it.

Back in 1994 or so, I ordered a bowl of oatmeal at a Denny’s restaurant. They served it with a giant dollop of butter. I thought that was strange, but it stuck with me enough to try it once I ran out of milk. It was surprisingly good. I eat almost nothing but oatmeal, so I actually ran out of butter somewhat quickly. I didn’t have much to begin with.

I have microcytic anemia and low iron stores. I don’t respond to iron supplements (not even prescription iron supplements) so I always try to get iron into my diet however I can. Through a message board, I was introduced to blackstrap molasses. It tastes…interesting. Some people on the message board compared it to black licorice. While there is a slight hint of that flavor, it is far tastier than black licorice. Especially with oatmeal and vanilla rice milk. Or oatmeal and butter. Or just oatmeal, when you’re poor and can’t go to the shop and you’re worried about getting iron and you happen to have a bottle of this stuff hanging around.

I also found a few recipes for peanut butter oatmeal. I thought it was worth a try, and it seemed like a good way to add some protein, fat, and flavor to my meals. Many recipes I found called for 3 tbsps of peanut butter. I used 1 tbsp in a big bowl, and that seemed like plenty. If I’d used any more, it would have been like that episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy hires the scary housekeeper who makes her eat the peanut butter sandwich from hell. Peanut butter oatmeal isn’t as good as it sounds, but it’s edible and filling, and that’s what’s important.

Cinnamon is another welcome addition to my porridge bowl, particularly because it may help reduce blood glucose levels.

I once came across a recipe for a breakfast cereal made with couscous and dehydrated milk. It was fantastic. I would repost it if I still had the recipe. I used Bob’s Red Mill brand dry milk powder, which has a naturally sweet taste to it. I’m not sure how I feel about drinking it straight, but it tasted great on oatmeal (or plain couscous disguised as oatmeal).

None of these recipes has taken my mind off of my incredible cravings for Mongolian Grill, but until my next food bank visit, it would be nice to pretend I’m eating something that isn’t oatmeal.

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