Proud Welfare Mom Update: We have not caused a budget crisis

There’s been a rash of absurd comments on a post I wrote last summer about WIC vs. SNAP, most of which have nothing to do with the content of that post. I would like to address a few apparently common misconceptions about life on government assistance, nevertheless, in case anyone is actually reading the content of my Proud Welfare Mom posts.

1) People on assistance programs have always been on assistance programs and will always be on assistance programs. This applies doubly to those who are not ashamed of accepting assistance.

This is false for many so many reasons, that it’s difficult to know where to begin. But let’s pick this place to start: there are many kinds of assistance, and most of us do not receive all of them. My family, for example, receives only SNAP (Food Stamps) and Medicaid, at the moment. “Welfare” is a catch-all term that does not always refer to people receiving cash. In my state, by the way, people who receive financial assistance actually do so through a program that is called the TEMPORARY Financial Assistance Program.

To the “lifestyle” question (a thin veil for the stereotype that if we are poor, we must also be lazy) I have the following answer: at any time, the government may demand information about our income, rent, and other bills, in what is called the “redetermination” process. For my family, that means that the amount of money we receive for SNAP has changed three times in the past nine months. This is not a yearly thing, folks! You don’t get a SNAP EBT card to spend on anything you like (and for the love, please know that the popular myth about buying cigarettes and alcohol with SNAP is a MYTH! It’s not possible!) without any sort of check. Oh, no, friends–they check. The last “redetermination” form I sent in, along with the proof they wanted, was a twenty-three page document.

Finally, I am not ashamed that we are using public assistance to SUPPLEMENT our income (yes, I know that these programs are supplementary, people who have commented 1,000 times to remind me–it is my budget we are discussing, after all, and that little fact is pretty hard to miss!) because while my husband is in graduate school, neither of us can make enough money to pay all of our bills. After he graduates, I am happy to assure all and sundry that we will be hunting for jobs harder than anyone in this history of job hunting. It is neither fun nor easy to use public assistance, and I would love nothing more than to simply use what’s in our bank account.

2) All government assistance does is let people get away with irresponsible choices.

If there is a way for a family of three to live AND stay healthy on $20k/year, please–send me that budget, and we will follow it. This is the most responsible choice I could find. And, just in case you missed it, I have to choose it for my family again and again, because there is some sort of issue that needs clearing up, on the state’s end, nearly every month. Again: not fun. Not easy.

3) Stay-at-home-moms who accept government assistance are really just staying at home for fun, and should be working.

This one is so easy! Guess what? If we made enough money to even think about looking for child care, we wouldn’t qualify for any public assistance! If you find me some free daycare, I will then talk to you about my choice to stay home. (FYI, it’s illegal to leave your one-year-old son at home, even to go to work.) Until the day free childcare becomes available, let me just explain something: I AM SO LUCKY THAT I AM HAPPY AT HOME. I have no freaking clue where I would start trying to find the money for child care while I worked. And, for the record, I am now a WORK-at-home-mom, because my writing has started to earn me some income. Not enough to get us off assistance, but enough to help me avoid a panic attack every time there’s an issue with our SNAP or Medicaid. If you think I’m lazy, please try to write well enough to get paid for it with a one-year-old who is struggling with sleep.

4) Being dog owners is irresponsible, because that money should go to food and bills.

I find this complaint truly weird. It has come up a few times, and I just don’t understand either the assumption that we got our dog while on assistance or that the dog has anything to do with any part of this debate. Nowhere on the application for assistance of any kind does it say “How many pets do you have?” The government does not care if our dog has enough dog food, so it’s not a factor! The end! Which brings me to…

5) The amount of money we get from the government is calculated based on the money we have left over after we blow everything on dogs, dog food, cigarettes, alcohol, and organic food.

INCOME + FAMILY SIZE + PREDETERMINED COST OF LIVING = ELIGIBILITY. Mitigating factors do include rent, utilities and medical expenses. They do NOT include “I own a dog” or “I prefer organic foods” or “I like beer.” All of these things are true, for me, but the government doesn’t care! They’re not on the forms! If I spent all our money on all of the above (even though I quit smoking long before we qualified for aid) then we would simply have no money to pay our bills. You cannot receive aid simply because your preferences raise your cost of living. I think that I got a lot of “how dare you ask for organic food” crap after writing my last post, because I complained that WIC specifically prohibits organic eggs, milk, cereal, etc. First: the idea that organic food is for Fancy People is absurd. I’m not going to discuss whether or not it is healthier, because science says that it is. I will discuss this: if I were to find a coupon that made organic milk CHEAPER than generic non-organic milk, I still wouldn’t be able to use a WIC voucher to buy it. That bugs me. Because it makes no sense, not because I think that my family is entitled to fancier food than your family.

I don’t buy jars of baby food very often, because my child has pretty much always eaten food I’ve prepared for him from groceries, or breastmilk. These are, by far, the cheapest options for feeding a baby who is old enough for solid foods. We use the money we save by not buying prepackaged baby food (WIC covers some, but not all–remember: supplemental!) to buy some organic produce for the child. I have a list I keep in my purse of the foods that are “clean” – I buy organic berries, but not bananas or avocados. I assure you, government assistance and our income do NOT allow me to simply turn up my nose at anything that doesn’t have a “USDA Organic” label attached to it.

6) All government assistance programs deposit cash into our bank account.

I am getting the impression that people think Food Stamps and Medicaid are amounts of money deposited into our account, and that we can spend that money irresponsibly. Just so there’s no confusion, let me make this clear: SNAP/Food Stamps money goes on an EBT card, like a debit card. Each family gets one and only one, which makes it pretty obnoxious to realize that you want to buy groceries, but your partner has the card. This card has money added to it each month, and when that money runs out, you don’t get more until the next month. You can keep whatever you don’t spend. You cannot use the card to purchase non-food or prepared-food items such as cigarettes, alcohol,  and restaurant meals.

That’s it for today, folks. Anything else I can clear up for you, while certain representatives are trying to claim that families like mine are bankrupting the government? Note: if anyone brings up my birthday gifts from yesterday’s post, I will delete you. Don’t mess with me on discretionary household spending anymore, because, and I’ll happily repeat this until the cows come home, it has NOTHING to do with how much money we get on our food stamps card. Also off limits: my dog. He has nothing to do with any of this, and I love him very much.

Lewis the dog

We consider this guy to be part of our family, but Lewis the Dog does not appear on any of our applications for government aid.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today, I happily turn 29. Courtesy of my mother and sister’s families, I made myself a gigantic latte with my new stovetop espresso maker and milk frother:

morninglatte

 

And, there is the little matter of my new BFF, Coco. She hails from New York via the outlet mall in Clinton:

coco

 

Soon, I will post a video of my now completely-organized, clean and gorgeous home. There are a few loads of laundry to do, so that I can finish putting some clothes in storage (only I do the laundry in this house). But thanks to my unbelievably generous fairy mother-in-law, everything was organized by professionals!

Today, I feel blessed. Not because I have nice things, although I do love nice things, but because there is so much love and joy in my life and my home. This is a happy home, and that is all I have ever really wanted in life. I am happy. And I got my guys, who could ask for anything more?

familyportraitwithblueframe

Women and Meds: a Documentary in the Making

I had a chance to chat with film maker Dina Fiasconaro about her documentary, Women and Meds. I asked her how she came to start working on this project,  given that so few people seem willing to speak openly about the issue and that there is little hard data/information to work with. She wrote such a heartfelt response. I so hope that I can see this film, soon! And that you can, too!

From Dina:

A few years ago, my husband Gary and I began talking about having a child. We were approaching the ‘now or never’ point, in terms of age, and realized that it couldn’t just wait for a ‘happy accident’ because the medication I was taking at the time could potentially cause harm to a baby. Being a control-freak planner, I began researching my options: wean off medication and risk not feeling well, stay on medication and risk harming the baby, or not have a biological child at all. I began scheduling consultation appointments with therapists, psychiatrists and high-risk OB-GYNs. I studied my calendar to make sure everything lined up with my work schedule; as a full-time professor, I could optimize my summer break, and not miss too much of either semester.

Along the way, I discovered that there was a lot of scattered and conflicting information, and no clearly defined path or source of information for myself or other women dealing with these issues. Some of the research material was outdated, or just didn’t exist due to the ethical complications of testing medication on pregnant women. Pharmaceutical companies, even those manufacturing OTC medication like sleep aides, were reluctant to say whether or not their medication was truly safe – so I got passed back and forth between doctors telling me to double check with the companies, and companies saying to consult a medical expert, or, my GYN telling me to check with my therapist, and my therapist telling me to check with my GYN. No one would take ownership or offer a clear answer, which was incredibly frustrating!  And, even the most caring and informed of OB-GYNs and mental health professionals seemed to take an opposite approach from one another – the OB was ultimately concerned with the health of the baby, and the mental health professional with my mental state.

I decided that making a documentary film which followed me on my journey and also highlighted the experiences of other women, would be the best way to consolidate what I was learning and communicate it to others.

Ultimately, I want Women and Meds to raise awareness and provide some guidance and useful information for other women and their families. I’m hoping that people walk away with a newfound sensitivity to what any woman might be going through, as mental illness and reproductive issues are two topics people are very hesitant to talk about publicly. I would also like other women to know they are not alone – there are many of us going through this, and there is help out there. I can’t tell you how many people have contacted me with their personal stories, or stories of others close to them who are dealing with the same issue. One high school friend contacted me to let me know she also discontinued her anxiety medication to have her son, and although she was optimistic about not going back on anything afterwards, found that it was necessary. Another friend who recently delivered a healthy baby girl, reached out to me about her decision to stay on Wellbutrin throughout her pregnancy. Another woman’s mother just today just contacted me about her struggle with mental illness. And said another woman, “Stigma is so ugly, and it makes us feel worse in our darkest moments. I know a film about this will be so wonderful and helpful It’s true that stigma and silence only hinder the process of getting well, and the more support from doctors, families and loved ones a woman has, the greater chance of a positive experience and outcome she’ll have.

We are currently fundraising for the documentary, so if you’d like to contribute via our fiscal sponsor (which makes your donation a tax write-off), please follow this link: http://womenandmeds.tumblr.com/contribute

Please “like” our Facebook page, and help us spread the word about the film!
www.facebook.com/womenandmeds

Here’s a trailer for the film:

Walking for Suicide Prevention

**Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide, depression, anxiety and even violence. If you or a loved one needs help, please call the call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), National Suicide Prevention Lifeline**

I kept my promise, and I walked, after many of my kind friends and family pledged money for me to do so, in the Walk Out of the Darkness for my town. My friend and I raised $500 together! First: thank you, if you donated or just sent happy thoughts. My anxiety skyrockets when I have to go to big group events. But I did it!

We were each given a small stone at the beginning of the walk. 

This represents the weight of the struggle when suicide touches our lives.

This represents the weight of the struggle when suicide touches our lives.

I held mine in my hand, as we walked, and it’s really hard to explain all the thoughts my mind was flinging. Once upon a time, I was a Virginia Woolf scholar; she put stones in her pockets, walked into a river and drowned herself. It was supposed to symbolize a weight that we would throw into a stream at the end of the walk. It did just that. I held that stone in my hand and prayed, hard. I prayed for the weight to lift. For me, for my loved ones, my friends, their friends, and anyone I don’t know whose life I have touched.

The stone is not poetic, because suicide is not poetic. It’s heavy, so a rock is a good symbol. But there is nothing romantic about Virginia Woolf’s suicide. There was nothing Shakespearean about her drowning, or about her contemporary, painter Dora Carrington, who ended her life after the man she loved passed away. (Just have a peek into their story, if you want to see an un-romantic love story with an un-romantic ending; Romeo and Juliet never had better opposites.) If suicide is a stone dropped into water, then one of the rings I have noticed in my life is occupied by historical figures like Woolf and Carrington. As I walked, I thought about the English “treatment” Woolf received for episodes of psychosis in which the birds spoke to her in Greek. I thought about Carrington’s utter dependence on this other person. I do not know what mania or psychosis feel like. I can imagine centering life around one other, too-fragile body. I thought about these women, who died almost a century ago, at their own hands, and the help they did not have.

Time whooshed, then–I swear, I could hear it–as Walter made folks laugh by waving at everyone. He does that, sometimes, in the sweet way that children love to wave, to see the way others react, to use the key they have suddenly learned to turn. I heard them laughing, and I saw his dimpled hands. His life. It terrifies me (perhaps the source of the whooshing sound is terror) that I am responsible for his existence. It terrifies me that, one night in Spring, 2007, I made a plan to end my life. How could I have known, as young and rejected and hopeless as I felt, that my future was so bright? His light exists because my twenty-two-year-old-self did the right thing.

And then, as I was writing this, and time passed, even dragged as we struggle with getting our son healthier, longer sleep, and the media ran away with a story about a woman who committed suicide in Washington, DC, by running her car into barricades at the White House and the Capitol. Her name was Miriam, and her infant was in the backseat. Once again, misinformation abounds about postpartum depression and other mood/anxiety disorders and, of course, suicide. My online community,  mental health bloggers, has responded with a blog carnival “For Miriam.” This post is now for Virginia, Carrington (who hated “Dora”) and Miriam–I knew none of you, but your deaths weigh heavily on my heart, because you represent the writer, the lover and the mother, in me.

My biggest donor was someone I’ve never met, but may meet one day. I hope so. I know her daughter very well, but I had had no idea that her life had been touched by a parent’s suicide attempt, until she wrote about that experience in a note attached to her donation.

Long-time readers of this blog will know, of course, that I interacted with, but never met, a tragically young woman who died last year. Rachael, I walked for you. I cried for you, and I’m crying for you, now. I wish that you had found the blind faith that lead me through my darkest time, the faith that there would be something better, eventually, and that it was just hidden, for now.

Now, I have passed 750 words, and I haven’t even told the story of anyone I have actually met; please understand this–suicide touches so many lives in so many unpredictable directions. Those of us who succumb to fantasies or ideations about an end to pain cannot understand this, because our vision has darkened around the edges. Pain does that. Psychological torture–depression is torture, make no mistake–erases so much from the imagination. A future, a better life, relief from the pain, these become unimaginable.

Imagination is the light that I would give to anyone who begins to contemplate death as a release, because the ability to imagine light returning to the world is the super power that gets us through the darkness.

I need to mention the people I do know, personally, and love dearly, and have almost lost. I am lucky, to have never lost someone close to me to suicide. In my family, my father and his sister are the two people whose hospitalizations touched me deeply. My father was “sick” when I was seven- or eight-years-old, and that was a big turning point in all our lives. He never received a good diagnosis or proper treatment. We aren’t speaking, at the moment. My aunt is a bright light in my life; she was absent from large chunks of my life, when she was clawing her way back to the desire to live, the will to go on. I suspect that there are many extended family members, on both sides, who have spent time as inpatients for treatment after a suicide attempt or depression deep enough to tempt them.

A friend who had been close to me in high school reached out to me, after I started writing this blog, to show me his beautiful family and confess that he had won that wonderful life after a hard battle with true mental demons. You know who you are, and I thank you, friend.

To all my friends who have said “me too,” in real life and online, I say, “thank you.” You cannot know how much it helps erase stigma, especially the stigma my own mind shoves onto me, when someone I love tells me about depression, anxiety, or a time when you thought you couldn’t take another minute of this life. You did take it, right on the chin, and you went on, and I love you. I love that you are in my life. Your stories lift me up.

These walks are brilliant, because they are visible. As someone at the walk I attended said, they give a place to gather, out in the open, without any questions asked. We were all there because suicide had touched our lives, but we didn’t have to tell those stories, if we didn’t want to. Sometimes, a smile from a stranger who knows is more important than sharing a detailed story.

Writing this has been exhausting. I’m not sure it’s particularly cohesive, but I’m out of energy. I should include links to references and sources, but I’m done. If you’re low on energy, but you relate to one of the bits I’ve compiled, here, find a way to say “me too,” to someone. It might not make all the difference, because you can’t save anyone but yourself. All you can do is offer a little light. This is my offering.

I tossed my stone into the stream, and I did not feel any weight lift. But I said my prayers over that pebble, and promised to write this, and to keep writing. I offer nothing but pebbles in streams, because I don’t know where the rings will go, as they grow, out and away. It is faith that there is good in the unknown that got me through the time I could no longer see a reason to keep going, and since that time, in 2007, my faith in that unknown goodness has only grown.

 

Walk Out of the Darkness for AFSP

This is the path we walked. There was a light at the end of this beautiful tunnel of branches.

Happy October! (This is a for real 100% happy post.)

I. Love. October.

I love my birthday.

I love my son’s birthday.

I love Autumn, and the fact that a maple tree is turning in my front yard.

Now that I have a small child to dress up, I also love Halloween, again.

And let’s be real: it was time for a post of pure joy.

So this post is dedicated to everyone who also loves October and pictures of my adorable child. Here he is, about to open his first ever birthday card.

October with stickers