Today, I woke up in a warm bed. My apartment is secure from strangers and other dangers. I am able to take a hot shower for as long as I wanted. I have fancy soap that didn’t aggravate my skin or my allergies. I have a plethora of clean clothes to choose from and they all fit me well. My smart phone connects to my home’s wireless internet but I could easily use my laptop to access the internet if I wanted. My fridge is working and it is full of good, nutritious food. There are no bugs in my apartment. I have my own car, it had gas, and it isn’t about to break down. I have enough money in the bank to solve any minor emergencies that could crop up, and my credit score is awesome. I have a network of friends and coworkers who have a lot of good will towards me and faith in my abilities. For the most part, I’m considered “normal.”
No one tells me that I should “work harder” or that it’s my “fault” for getting into this situation. No one tells me that I need to “make sacrifices” or “aim lower and be realistic” in what I can achieve. No one tells me that formal education isn’t for me and that I should “make an honest, hard living” in a service industry. No one points out the ways that the government subsidizes my lifestyle. Not anymore. I blend in so well.
You know what makes homelessness harder? No one believes in you. A once bright student is now some loser that did all the wrong things. Somewhere down the line, people believe that you deserve what happened to you and then you start to believe it yourself. You’re not worthy of help anymore because you aren’t the same class as the normal people. You are the damaged girl that needed to work harder. You are the idealistic, optimistic sucker that needed to take your head out of the clouds and come back down to reality. You needed to know your place and not try to be above it. You should stop being so spoiled and stopped being so lazy. Everyone works hard and deserves everything they have, so why couldn’t you just start being like them?
People will say that they believed in me. Some people actually did (<3). Some people believed in me in misguided ways that made me feel like I was this lesser being that they took pity on. Some people made me feel like they were being so nice to me and I wasn’t be appreciative enough (“I gave you my shoes that were three sizes too big and you’re so ungrateful for not wearing them!”). Everything starts to get colored in puke green. People didn’t extend their trust to me, and I started to realize that I shouldn’t trust them, too. Nice gestures started to have strings attached to them (“I put a roof over your head tonight so you should have sex with me.” / “I fed you dinner so you shouldn’t complain when I say that all Muslims are terrorists” / “I got you this job so you should stay here even though you are miserable”). After a couple of those experiences, it started to be hard to know who I could trust or even if I could trust myself to make those decisions. I started to not know how to accept help because I had no idea if it was genuine or not. It was very easy to feel like it was me against the world.
When I tried to go back to college, people dissuaded me from going because of my “situation.” They felt like I should work full time and try again later when I had money. They said that my brain was “damaged” and who knew if I would be able to succeed academically like I was used to before. Someone even told me that I wouldn’t fit in culturally anymore, implying that I was lesser than the normal college student.
When I started college at Michigan State, I felt like I needed to hide where I was in life. I needed to pretend to be normal, and I was scared that people would find out who I really was. When I nannied, I was terrified that they would assume that I wasn’t good enough or look at me in a negative light and not extend good will towards me if I made a simple mistake. I was worried that they would assume that I was associated with things that people associate with homeless people such as drug and alcohol abuse. I felt like I was ridiculously fortunate that didn’t happen to me and I kept my job. Other people I met at college were not as nice but I try not to dwell on that now.
You don’t get to a state of homelessness without the mindfuck that goes with it. If you were confident before, you don’t even remember what that feels like anymore. If you were decisive and knew what you wanted, you are now stuck in analysis paralysis that disallows you from deciding what to get at Taco Bell because you have no idea if that taco will land you in the hospital with food poisoning and a bill you can’t possibly afford. If you thought you knew how the world worked, you were so laughably wrong that Amelia Bedilia and Curious George looked like savants next to you. If you thought you were safe, you were now completely aware of all the things lurking in the shadows waiting to completely fuck you over. If you were carefree and down to earth, you were now a bumbling elephant trying to tightrope across a string of bedsheets loosely tied together in the middle of a tornado. You get what I mean. Actually, I really hope you don’t, because it’s so awful.
Friends stop being able to relate to you because they feel awkward about bitching about their parents only paying for tuition and rent instead of giving them pocket money as well. Acquaintances try to lure you in with quick money schemes, and your desperation makes them sound believable. People’s parents think that you’re a bad influence to their son or daughter.
All of this leads you to start to think that you’re broken. You can’t help but act broken, too. Maybe you really did deserve this. Maybe you really aren’t good enough. Maybe you should be what people think you really are. Maybe you are worthless and you were just unaware this whole time. Maybe you’re not really that smart. Maybe the best that you can ever have is a part time job at McDonalds. Maybe you just need to stop being in denial that you can have so much more. Maybe you peaked a while ago and your best is behind you.
It’s not just the physical resources that you lack. You lack the emotional resources that come with the physical resources. You lack the safety that a home provides. You lack the relaxation that comes with a hot shower in the morning. You lack the comfort of not being bitten by bugs. You lack the confidence that a well-fitting dress can give you. You lack the sense of calm that you get when you know that you can walk to the fridge and eat whenever you want. You lack the sense of possibility that you get from the internet and all of the information it has to offer. You lack the sense of trust that you have when you have a network of people acting as a safety net for you.
I wish I could give people a proper sense of how hard it is to know where to start to build up your life from scratch. One of the things that makes homelessness the hardest is not being able to tangibly see how to get out of it.