This is going to be about some of the effects of fibromyalgia that aren’t physical, that cannot be handled with a pill or a hot shower, and are just as real and enduring as the disease itself. It’s about…Social Services.
I’ve told you that we’re poor, that we have no income at this point and are living on the kindness of strangers and the dutiful assistance of his parents. We are waiting for the approval and subsequent pay out of long term disability benefits, and of course, both of us have entered the fun house of the SSDI application and approval system. So what do you do when you have no money and there’s none scheduled in (at least in your name alone rather than on someone else’s check)?
You take your pride off and put in the closet, then go down to Social Services to ask for food stamps–or as they call them now, “SNAP” (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
Pride cannot be eaten; will not pay the bills; is not acceptable tender for purchasing groceries or filling the car with petrol. And the definition of pride is “a feeling of pleasure from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is associated, or from qualities or possessions”. Very different from honor, which is “honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions: a man of honor.” Pride is an emotion and while sometimes it can be appropriate, it is still about ego and a sense of self-importance, HOW you feel, while honor is WHO you are and has nothing to do with pride except that you can be proud that you have honor. Am I making sense? I hope so because my dearest Beloved is a most honorable man, a man filled with honor and … he’s proud of that, rightfully so.
So going to take a hand out from the government, even though we’ve both paid our taxes for years and therefore have some right to ask for this help…it vexes him. It’s very hard for an honorable man, used to working to pay his way, to have to ask someone else to foot the bill. As grateful as we are for the parents’ help, he doesn’t like asking them either and not just because of the required song and dance about how we’re destroying their retirement money (well, it’s not quite as blatant as that, but it does require a certain level of request and demur), but because he wants to pay for things himself. And he’s not a stupid man, my Beloved; he KNOWS what people think about those that they perceive as being slackers on the dole, and he doesn’t want to be looked at that way. I get that.
And me? I have no pride, at least not where the practical matters of my next meal exist. I will take anything they want to give me, sign up for any program that will ease the financial (and associated emotional/mental) stress. Now either this makes a much better Buddhist than I thought I was, or maybe I’m just too stupid to be proud but either way, I had no problem going down to the county office for Social Services. I see nothing wrong or shameful in it–although I also know what people think about the “slackers on the dole”. Frankly, I don’t care. They don’t know me, they don’t know what’s going on in my life, they have no idea why I need help and it’s not actually any of their business since I am not bilking or defrauding the system.
It was not a particularly onerous chore. The office was not packed with “welfare moms” and their ahem…the best term I’ve ever heard for it is “crotch fruit”… babies you keep having so that you get mo’ money. Nope. On the other hand, it was a poignant sign of our economy that the people who were in the office were a good cross section of our population: white and black, latino; older, younger, ONE child, 3 “tweens”; singles and married. Not one good stereotype-able kind of person. No one in rags or dirty, just regular people…like us…who need help getting by.
The staff was professional and polite, even kind. The lady who interviewed us explained things carefully, told us about other services we can apply for and gave us that information in printed form so we can follow up on it if we need to. She made sure we understood how food stamps work–just like a debit card actually–and how to set up the card for first use. Because we have no income at this time, they expedited the process so we walked out of the office, SNAP in hand. Oh snap! I did not think we would be able to get it that fast, figured like most bureaucracy requirements we’d have to wait at least a week. And I did like the fact that both the staff member on the phone when I called to see if I needed an appointment and the receptionist who greeted me at the office each immediately asked if there were children in the household when I asked about food stamps.
And the other clients who came in as we waited? Didn’t stare at us like we were aliens–beyond the normal glances we get, since we are both somewhat notable (Beloved is a large man and I have long silver hair, which apparently catches the eye). Spoke quietly to the receptionist, spoke politely and pleasantly to their case processors as they left. There was a sense of camaraderie, that we’re all in a common boat. True enough.
The amount we receive per month will be more than sufficient to get groceries, even the (expensive but worth it) organics we are trying to eat. Of course, as we do get some income we will report that and adjustments will be made–but in the meantime, we won’t starve. We might still end up living in the car, but by gods we’ll have great meals if we do.
So what’s the “take away” of this blog? That fibromyalgia may so incapacitate you that you cannot work, that you will have to apply for permanent disability and that while you are waiting for that extremely bureaucratic process to wend its way through the required maze of hoops and challenges to see who gets voted off the system…you may have to ask for public assistance, aka Social Services. Don’t be ashamed of it if you must. Don’t go hungry or get your utilities shut off because you’re too proud to ask for that help. Get rid of any pride that stands in the way of your ultimate well being–and go, with honor, to your county Social Services office. There is no loss of honor in being strong enough to admit that you cannot do it all on your own, that you are strong enough to accept help both when it is offered and when it is needed. You don’t have to be proud that you are on public assistance, but you can certainly keep your honor by using it the way it is meant to be used, not abusing it and letting go of it when things change for you and you no longer need it. Pride is what you feel; honor is who you are–and is the more important of the two, any day of the week.