chicago, child support battles, frugality

on deceiving appearances

I haven’t blogged for quite some time, and the reason for that is related to the topic of this blog post. My last appearance in family court included being presented with an inch-thick stack of printouts of my social media activity, ranging from blog posts to Twitter feed information, pointing out the various aspects of my life that would indicate I might have more income than my tax returns showed. But I don’t have a habit of lying to the IRS, which leads me to point out what I say to most everyone who inquires how I’m able to do so much with such little income: appearances can be deceiving. And: I’ve had a lifetime of practice of making do on very little, with parents as role models on how to be creative in this regard.

So when you see me posting about traveling or going to a movie or eating out or doing almost anything “fun”? Chances are I’ve been invited to a press event and I’ll be writing about it in exchange, or I’ve received a gift certificate from someone who knows I need a night out (thanks, friends!), or I’ve used a Groupon that offers me a tremendous discount, or I’ve rolled the dice on my future income and used a credit card, or a friend is taking me out as a treat (thanks again, friends!), or I’ve won free tickets (this happens a lot, because I happen to be a lucky person). Or, once in a blue moon, I’ve just decided I deserve to see a movie before noon at AMC Theaters for $8 and I splurge, because I happen to believe that even people who are struggling and broke deserve to treat themselves from time to time, because if they don’t, then that makes their lives even worse. And even poor people deserve nice things occasionally. And it sucks that “nice things” devolve into $8 movies or a $4 donut-and-coffee combo at Dunkin’ Donuts when you’re at-or-below the poverty line and living on food stamps and leaps of faith and luck and temporary work, but gratitude and a day at a time go a long way toward forgetting that you once lived a life in which $100 Broadway tickets were nothing more than a blip in your bank account.

***

A conversation with the woman who’s putting me up on her couch while I desperately search for my next place to live (deadline: end of the month) revealed that it may be difficult for people to believe I suffer from (it’s official!) treatment-resistant depression, migraines, (also treatment-resistant) fibromyalgia, chronic pain, all-kinds-of-who-knows-what’s-happening pelvic organ prolapse, an extremely fucked-up back (surgery looms, should the injections scheduled for next week fail), and various other ailments because I remain so active. I mean, there are days I’m in bed until 4pm, and there are times when I don’t go out at all. But most times, I do try to maintain a normal life.

An example of this: the past four days. Monday was up at 9am for a job interview, then the back doctor, then packing until 2am. Tuesday was up at 7am for a job interview at 11am, then packing all day, then my meeting, then job applications/tests until 4am; Wednesday was up at 8am, finishing packing and cleaning, disassembling my bedframe, dealing with movers (who were late), then taking things to Goodwill, selling things at Buffalo Exchange, taking my roommate to Washington Heights, dropping off a bed frame I was selling in Queens, bringing most of my stuff up to the place I’m staying, parking the car overnight, finally getting settled in at midnight, then working on a freelance white paper until 4am; Thursday was up at 10am to pick up the car, finish unloading my stuff at my temporary place, dropping off my artwork at the storage space, going to the post office to mail a couple of packages, going to the bank to cash my settlement check, returning the rental car, getting back to my temp home, unpacking/putting things away, finally eating dinner around 9pm, and then working on job applications until midnight.

I woke up today in a world of pain, as is usual. Most people don’t know that I need to take pain medication and lie in bed for about an hour while it kicks in before I can even think about moving. And even without the pain medication and the muscle relaxers (which I take to sleep at night, not because I’m addicted, but because I am in so much pain and my muscles are in so much of a state of I-don’t-know-what that I literally cannot relax enough to sleep without them), the number of pills I take on a daily basis for my migraines and depression and anxiety and bladder and Vitamin D deficiency and migraines and fibromyalgia and back issues has creeped up to about 30.

Given this, you’d think I’d be homebound and unable to do anything. But as you can see from the description of the past three days, it’s not true. I push through the pain. I try to forget it’s there. Or I know it’s there and figure I’ll deal with it at a later date and time (and, trust me, I do; I am as I type this). And, as my temporary landlord/housemate pointed out, this might make it difficult for people to understand that I’m struggling with medical issues. And I suppose I can understand that. But I also think it’s important for other people to understand that everyone has their own way of dealing with the things that have been handed to them in life.

For me, I was taught from an early age—thanks, Dad!—that almost everything is “just a scratch” (what I was told when I was bit by a pit bull, which ended up, surprise!, not just a scratch, but that’s a different story). My father was notorious for getting up and brushing himself off to keep on working no matter what happened: motorcycle accidents, falling off ladders, grills exploding practically in his face, whatever it was. And we were expected to do the same (much to our deep resentment). At the time, and still now, I suppose, I think this was probably not the best lesson to learn. And I’m probably at least a little more responsive to medical intervention than my father, in that I actively seek out medical treatment and would probably give up at least a finger or two if someone could fix one or two of my chronic problems (especially my depression or my back). But the overall message—keep moving forward, keep going on, no matter what’s bothering you—is one I can’t seem to shake off, even if there are days, sometimes clustered, that I can’t seem to listen to it. I do have “bad” days in terms of my depression, when I can’t get up for days in a row, but then I remember that being active is the best way to at least “forget” that I’m A Depressed Person, even if only for a little while.

And it really is unfortunate that by doing so, it creates doubt in other people’s minds as to whether I’m “really” a sick and suffering person. It’s ironic, too, I suppose, that the things I do to try to prevent myself from falling deeper into my various ailments are the things that cause others to doubt whether I’m actually suffering. But what I can I do?

I can’t—won’t—cause myself more pain in an effort to change people’s minds.

***

You might think the message I want you to leave with is “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover.”

You’re wrong. 

What I want you to know (illustrated with an explanation of my situation, above, as an example) is that what someone else does is none of your damn business BECAUSE appearances can be deceiving. And you should give people the benefit of the doubt when they say they are broke or suffering BECAUSE (again) appearances can be deceiving.

Because it’s hard enough having every day be a struggle, both physically and financially, without also having to worry about people thinking you’re also a liar, especially when you’ve got a calendar full of doctor’s appointments and dozens of “your bank balance has fallen below $25” alerts in your email in-box at the back of your mind at any given moment.

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2 thoughts on “on deceiving appearances”

  1. The like is not for your situation but for your perseverance. We all have stories that we don’t tell. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing, it seems to be working.

    R..

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    1. Thank you. I have to say my stomach dropped in court that day. I haven’t felt brave enough to write anything here since then. I’m scared that whatever I write will come back to haunt me, be misconstrued. But I’m trying. There’s not any other option. 🙂

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