It's no secret that everybody is going through some terrible stuff these days. Foreclosure, job loss, illness, pet illness---and don't kid yourself. When you're going through horrible, constant, soul-draining experiences that drain your bank account, strip you of your possessions, and leave you without shelter, that friendly little face and wagging tale or that purring little body curled up next to you can seem like the only friend you've got.
But if you're poor in this country, you're supposed to respond to these experiences while facing increasing demands of people who are not going through what you go through.
You're supposed to present a cheery, optimistic face and make no mistake---it's not for your benefit. It's to enable other people to say to themselves, "Oh, see, it's not that bad!"
People in this country have this weird, demanding standard of the abused, the oppressed, those who have been discriminated against, and those who have been lost everything----or are facing all these things. We demand that they not make us feel bad.
I mean, you can dress up a pig and call it your date, or you can frost a turd and call it a cake but let's just dispense with that, okay?
You have to be the good poor person, the deserving poor person, and---here's the worst thing----you have to make sure that you don't bum people out by putting a familiar face on the news headlines: FORECLOSURES RISE, UNEMPLOYMENT INCREASES, REPUBLICANS
HOLD COUNTRY HOSTAGE WHILE THEY PLAY WITH PEOPLES' LIVES DEMAND MORE TAX CUTS FOR RICH PEOPLE. Don't get all depressed at people, you suddenly-poor folks. You might depress people.
When you've lost your job and are facing loss of your home, when you've lost your home and still have no job, when you're living in a homeless shelter and have lost everything, someone can still pop up and tell you "chin up, turn that smile upside down, don't lose hope," or whatever other trite frosting they use on those poison-laced feces.
People act like bad luck is contagious, or else just desserts. Friends who work might be assholes and avoid you, or else the growing gap between what you live through and what they live with can make conversation increasingly difficult.
And then there's the expectations of society.
Our culture is based on some weird notions of independence and individualism, full of heroes who suffer through many failures before they succeed, or war heroes who experience terrible things and ask for the next challenge. That's great if you're that kind of person. And there's something to be said for continuing to try.
But where's the rest periods between each attempt? Where's the moments where they doubted? Oh, wait, those people aren't heroes. They're what we're supposed to emulate. You will feel the disapproval if you don't. We only allow one kind of hero, and so far too many people feel bad about failing a standard that's only available to the very lucky or the very well-cushioned.
History lessons tend to leave out little facts. Those frontiersmen who struck out for the wilderness on their own? Might have been anti-social. Audie Murphy suffered from PTSD and depression his whole life. John Wayne never served in the Armed Forces.
Notice how either the vision of heroism is carefully edited, or carefully created. And when somebody tries to present the truth about their heroism, it's resented.
Jessica Lynch, for example, did not do the stuff the Army said she did, and as soon as she was free to speak, she flatly said she was knocked unconscious in the first moments of battle, and bluntly described how afraid she was. That was brave. She's still being slammed as a "pretty little college girl" in some right wing circles, where women serving in the Army is considered an abomination. I guess they never met Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, who with just nine other soldiers attacked insurgents attacking the convoy they were guarding, they successfully wiped out them out. Hester was a serious, modest, professional soldier and as such she didn't meet standards for stereotypical heroism----which really doesn't include women yet, probably because it's a concept limited to men. It can take just as much courage to confront powerful institutions alone as it can take to confront the enemy, where at least you have arms and back up. But history is full of people who confronted unpleasant truisms and then were resented or hated for it. The Civil Rights struggle, for example, is full of this kind of truth-telling, where when comfortable people were disturbed.
We value independence and strength so much, you'd think there'd be training programs in childhood to help us reach those goals. Instead, we're tossed out into the world with a few platitudes "Chin up! Don't give up! Whistle a happy tune!" and left to our devices. What people are going through now in some areas are as bad as it's been in decades, so bad that whole communities are devastated. Platitudes might work in milder situations---maybe a job loss in a really good economy, where such a thing is likely to last a few days at most. (This was the Clinton era in Minnesota, by the way.)
On top of bad situations, people are feeling the disapproving weight of society, looking down its nose at people it does nothing to help but everything to judge. It almost seems like the more unlucky people are, the more eager people are to judge. They don't even have to be there; the messages are built in in a culture that values heroes but ignores real ones----guys like my CO, who joined the Army as a buck private and left it as a Major, who valued each and every soldier in his command, and saw the human being in each more than any gender. He's the sort of guy who, when a soldier of his transitioned, his only question was probably, "sprinkles or powdered sugar?" (I kid, I kid!) In reality, he'd probably say, "Hey, we didn't know if you wanted brass, silver-plated, or brass matte, so we waited." And that's in a country where cruelty is more and more seen as a virtue. Resisting that force takes guts. Fighting it openly might also result in victims discovering that some of the people whose support they count on might be amongst the enemy.
People have stupid ideas about heroes and courage--and what doing heroic things do to you. The movies make it look effortless, as if one can experience violent act after violent act without having to deal with any side effects. A hero is somebody who's perfect, flawless, fearless, right? Not anybody I'd want to know, thank you. I'd wonder if such a flawless being even had orifices or glands. And I'd feel bad about myself in comparison, because I can tell you this: I've been shit scared a lot in my life, but the worst periods were in combat, and sometimes, now and then on those long pewter highways in Iraq, where bombs got increasingly better concealed and surviving a blast that killed people in the vehicle ahead of you means that you have to think, "Today was not my day. It was their day. Is it my fault? When will my day be?" Or else waking in the night, freezing and hot at the same time, hearing things that aren't there, shaken by heart-sickening nightmares. Some people go through their whole lives without experiencing terror. Those are often the ones who most resent the real fears of others in less comfortable positions.
Good soldiers will tell you that fear is a tool, something you can plan for and be prepared for, to temper and dampen---and use. There's no place for that kind of complexity in a society where people cheer for death of those they don't consider worthy enough. Those people aren't bad. They're unlucky.
We blame good people for having shitty things happen to them.
We've unleashed forces in this country where corporations profit, not from paying workers enough to buy the products they produce, but by firing workers and retaining overpaid CEOs. We have people demanding tax cuts for those CEOs in return for disaster relief. We talk about this in language that conceals that every point of profit means that a certain number of Americans lose their jobs, their health care, and their homes. Now imagine you're one of those unemployed people, tossed into a world where there's five or six applicants for every job.
And in those circumstances, you know what?
Being depressed is normal.
Being upset is normal.
Being scared is normal.
You're acting like a human being. In fact, I'd worry about somebody who was freakily perky and high-sprited if they went through some of the stuff my friends have gone through. My dad used to talk about how swearing was not just appropriate in some situations, it was damned near compulsory. "Show me a guy who watches his house---hell, any bastard's house----with seven kids in it burn down and not swear? That sunnuvabitch does not know how to control his emotions or his vocabulary." Yes, I know some people are very stoic. That's not the point. It's understandable if somebody experiences horrible things and reacts in certain ways. (Stoicism and shock look very different from sociopathy, as well.)
But his point was crucial: you know what, when somebody slams your toe with a hammer, it hurts. Good for you if you can experience that without yelling in pain, but when did people start requiring that you stifle more basic responses? When you lose your job, and other bad things happen....the hammer blow is emotional, and it might be the first of many.
People need to realize that their depression in depressing circumstances is the response of a functioning person faced with a terrible situation. It's a sign, in a weird way, of a healthy, normal person. Society does not want to acknowledge this.
It's okay to be depressed when you want to cry after you've lost your job, or your boy/girlfriend, or your pet, or whatever. Let it out. It might go away right away, it might not; but it's reasonable to react with shock and loss when you lose something or someone emotionally valuable to you. These days, losing a job is a pretty damned emotional thing, too.
This shouldn't be any huge shocking revelation.
What's truly abhorrent, however, is how we make demands of people suffering through horrible stuff. We want them to get better. Not for them---for us. (Well, 'us', if you're the type of asshole who does this.) They'll gaslight you, use all manner of guilt trips on you, and try all sorts of things on you. Don't let them make you feel guilty. You're not wallowing, you're not feeling sorry for yourself---hey, wouldn't you feel sorry for yourself if you got canned unfairly?----you're not being weird or whatever. You're going through something depressing. You're entitled to be depressed. It's what happens.
Of course, when you need them the most, people can hehave the worst. People do tend to think that bad fortune is contagious. Who wouldn't find that kind of horrible judgement depressing?
If you're going through something depressing, what you need to know is that it's understandable and no matter what your horrible Aunt Jane tells you, it's normal to feel that way. Treat it like it's a cold. Rest when you need it. Treat yourself extra nice if you can, even if it's just in little things and ways. (And don't buy into this shit where, if you're poor, you need to divest yourself of every nice thing you've got, because once this ends, you'll need to replace everything, and then where will you be? Those things you've got will make you feel better when you need it the most.) Take a few days if you need to; decompress. Make lists. Go a little wild. If you've lost your job, treat it like it's the end of a relationship---it is, isn't it? Do what you need to. Follow your instincts.
Your feelings are normal. There's nothing wrong with them.
People who kick others when they're down are nothing but bullies. These people might be intimately connected to you, by blood, by location, by friendship. That in itself---to find someone with these tendencies so close to you---can in itself be devastating. The truly horrible thing about horrible events is this effect; just when you need the most support, you can find that it's most likely to be withdrawn, and by the people you counted on for backup.
The people who need to be judged are the ones subjecting unlucky people to this kind of crap.
Don't let them tell you any different.
And remember: if anybody's a bad person here....it's not you. Don't ever forget that.