Uninsured Calculus

Today I became a little worried. The last couple of days, I’ve been having a little trouble filling my lungs as deeply as I normally do. And my heartbeat seemed a little more intense than usual. Before I go on, let me reassure you that I’m pretty sure now that this is actually just my election anxiety coming out physically. These are totally classic symptoms of an anxiety attack. I didn’t pick up on it earlier mainly because I don’t have physical anxiety attacks that often.

So: I’m reasonably sure that everything’s fine. But earlier today, I was worried that there might be something seriously wrong with me.

I don’t have health insurance, and I almost certainly won’t until either my husband gets a permanent job, or Obamacare goes into full effect.

So I sat in my living room today performing the calculus of the uninsured.

Every uninsured person knows what this is like. Every uninsured person has done these calculations for themselves, except for those who are too poor even for this, who are too poor for any healthcare besides “hope it goes away.”

But for those of you who are lucky enough that you don’t know, this is what the calculus looks like:

There’s a 24 hour urgent care center near me that only costs $75 to get an appointment. I can afford $75. It’s a possibility. But they’ll need to do some kind of tests, xrays or something, right? How much is that going to add? So round it up to $100 for now. With a question mark.

So then there are three possibilities for what happens if I choose to go.

1) The best case scenario: There’s something wrong, but it’s quite easy and cheap to fix.

2) The medium case scenario: They can’t find anything wrong me and I just wasted $100 or more. I don’t have a job currently, and my husband’s is not entirely stable at present, so I really don’t want to throw away $100 if I don’t have to.

3) The worst case scenario: There is something very badly wrong which will be extremely expensive to treat. Now I need to come up with thousands of dollars for surgeries and, if for some reason the Affordable Care Act is repealed, I may never be able to get insurance again. Now, not only is something seriously wrong with me, but I know all about it and can’t do anything to stop it. What am I going to do, beg my friends on facebook for money to pay for my surgery? Let my parents go bankrupt trying to pay for it? Play the lottery?

In the balancing act of the the uninsured, actually going to the doctor almost never wins. And here’s the really shocking part! I am in a much better position than a lot of other uninsured people.

Because: I CAN afford the $75 fee at the urgent care. On those occasions that I do decide that it’s worth it, I can do it.

Because: I only have to perform these calculations for myself. I’ve never had to play these odds on behalf of a child in my care.

Because: I’m still relatively young and relatively healthy (as far as I know).

So I’m actually quite lucky, for an uninsured person. But gods, is it ever exhausting to go on making these calculations and thinking in this way. And it is so disheartening to know how many of my fellow citizens don’t know and don’t care about this process, and how hard it is, and how scary, and want me to go on doing this forever (or until I die of something preventable, anyway, some day when I get it wrong, which I know I will eventually).

I don’t understand this failure of empathy. I don’t really give a shit. And they can sneer about “entitlements” all they want; I say with pride that yes, I believe that I, and everyone, am entitled to food, to shelter, to healthcare, to the basic necessities of life (also a decent education). What the fuck is wrong with you that you don’t?

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Politics is not a game

There are quite a few social rules that don’t really make a lot of sense to me. That’s probably because many social rules are fundamentally arbitrary. That is not the same as saying they are useless; humans are social creatures, and the rules, even the arbitrary ones, help us to function socially, so long as we understand and observe them. Of course, the converse isn’t necessarily true, either; I think some social rules actually hinder us.

Let’s talk about one in particular.

From whence this idea that having different political opinions is not an acceptable reason to not be friends with somebody?

First: friendship is optional. Always. Without exception. You get to choose your friends and you get to make that decision based on any criteria you see fit! Ok? And conversely, they get to choose whether or not to be friends with you. Sometimes you want to be friends with someone and they’re not into it. That’s too bad! But the price of having optional relationships is that sometimes you have to deal with rejection. So that’s the first thing.

But the second thing is this. My political beliefs are not like my beer preferences (although: fascinating statistical correlation!) or my favorite shows; I’m not likely to break up with a friend because they don’t like Battlestar Galactica, even though, my word, you guys, it’s like the most amazing show, and I’ve never yet cut off contact with someone for constantly making Doctor Who references even though it does absolutely nothing for me.

I did not come to my political opinions by throwing darts at a board blindfolded. My political beliefs stem from my deepest, most important values. This is serious. It’s not a football game. I don’t support universal health care because it’s my team, or whatever. I support universal health care because as long as I’ve been able to consider the question, I’ve known, deep in my bones, that everyone has a right, yes, is entitled, to medical care if it is available. That denying people medical care is an enormous moral wrong. Nobody told me to feel that way. To me, this is a truth that is so self-evident that I literally cannot comprehend feeling any other way.

That is only one example, but an illustrative one. The majority of my political beliefs grow out of my moral beliefs and my values. And that matters. Reasonable people might disagree somewhat on how to best address some issues (my husband and I have pretty significant differences in our policy positions), but when someone says to me “healthcare is not a right” (actual quote from an actual person), we’re no longer talking about mere differing conclusions; we have radically different premises. And that premise is not unimportant. It means that we have fundamentally incompatible values.

How can I be friends with someone with such a different conception of morality? Why would I want to?

How can I be friends with someone who routinely expresses the belief that people like me are lazy, worthless, subhuman parasites? Why would I want to?

And surely no one would expect me to if they simply said “You, Kate, are lazy and worthless and should probably just go die.” Pretty much anyone would agree that if I stopped talking to someone who said that, it wasn’t me who ended our friendship. But because instead of “Kate” they say “welfare bums,” I’m suddenly not allowed to take it personally or care? Suddenly it becomes just a totally reasonable difference of opinion, like preferring Doctor Who to Battlestar Galactica, and I’m the asshole for making a big deal about it.

Um, fuck that.

I’ll be the asshole. That’s fine. Because you know what? Friendship is optional.

* * * * *

Because the thing here is, politics is not a game. It’s not some random collection of essentially meaningless trivia about a person. Political beliefs actually matter in the real world, and peoples’ lives are actually affected by what policies are enacted. My political beliefs are reflections of my most deeply held values, the things that matter most to me, and what I truly believe will make the world a better and less terrible place. I do everybody else the courtesy of believing that their political opinions are equally important to them and equally reflective of their most fundamental truths.

So yes, I “unfriended” you after you posted that you don’t support gay rights. Because that’s fucking awful and you are a bad person for saying it.

Sorry, I guess.

(Not actually sorry).

* * * * *

Friendship is optional. I can’t stress that enough.

I’m writing this because I’m so tired of feeling pressured to keep people in my life that I don’t want there. I want somebody to say that it’s ok to draw your own boundaries, and it’s ok if those line up with political beliefs, because political beliefs are not meaningless. I want somebody to say it, and since nobody else was doing it, I had to say it for myself.

But you are not me, and your boundaries won’t necessarily be the same as mine. I’m definitely not saying that everyone should quit being friends with people over political beliefs. If it doesn’t bother you, and you’re ok with having friends with political opinions that you can’t stand, that’s your decision, not mine, and I am absolutely not here to tell you that you’re doing it wrong!

But I just want to own my decision and say that yes, I think it’s the best decision for me, and I’m not ashamed of it. I want to say, to the people who are wondering if they’re being unreasonable: it’s ok not to like somebody because your values are incompatible. Friendship is optional, and it should bring you joy. It’s ok to walk away, and you are not a bad person if you do. You get to decide, and nobody, not even me, gets to tell you that you’re wrong.

an update

E’s birthday came and went, and I didn’t post the post I had written. In the end, I just didn’t like the post. It wasn’t really about him, or even my friends, his parents. It was just about me. And it just didn’t seem right. Still, I feel like I owe you an acknowledgement that I said I would do something, and I didn’t do it.

I’m sorry about that.

Things are still weird and sad and strange and I’m consumed by worst-case-scenario fantasies and other indulgent nonsense. But presumably I’ll get over it. Whatever that means!

Sad October

TW: illness, death, death of a child, grief, swearing.

This is a difficult week.

I mentioned in my last post that things have been decidedly unsilly around here of late. In fact they’ve been full of tears and anxiety. This is due to a confluence of things. Any of them would be pretty bad on their own. All of them happening around the same time is… well it sucks, I’ll just say that.

The first thing is that last week my husband went to the doctor, which is not an easy thing for him in the first place. The news there isn’t too dire, really. But it’s unbalancing. That reminder that “hey, you can’t just eat a bunch of garbage and think your body is going to be fine. You’re not a raccoon.” And all tied up with the sexist cultural conditioning that makes me believe, ridiculously, that it is my responsibility, as the woman, as his wife, to be his caretaker, and so if anything is wrong, it is my fault, because I should have taken better care of him.

That’s a load, and I know it’s a load. But it’s what I learned, what’s been modeled for me, and the paths are worn so deep in my psyche that I don’t think I can get off them if I tried.

That was the first thing, and it was the primer.

The second thing is much worse.

We found out on Sunday (oh bad news travels so fast these days… but so does good news, I suppose), an old friend of mine, M, was gone. It was cancer.

M was married to B, whom I have known since the second grade, if not before. They got married six days after Husband and I did. A month ago. I cannot wrap my mind around these facts. Married a month. Just like us.

It wasn’t exactly unexpected. As I said, he had cancer. And a particularly bad type, as I understand it. But he had already done so much better than expected, that, at least from the far off vantage point of someone who wasn’t really involved, it seemed reasonable to hope.

I suppose it always seems reasonable to hope.

I wish I could remember him better. That’s breaking my heart.

We were friends in the same circle, in high school. We hung out in groups, but we didn’t really talk to each other all that much. Other than the three, or maybe four weeks that we dated. I was a sophomore. I’d never had a boyfriend before. It was very short lived, as those sorts of things generally are. But after that it was weird. You know how it is. It was high school. And after it stopped being weird, because so much time had gone by, I guess we were just so used to that semi-avoidance that there was no reason not to continue with it.

So now I find myself with most of my memories of M being from that very brief period where we did spend a lot of time together, and they just don’t seem like the kind of thing it’s appropriate to share, you know? Not when I’ve been friends with his wife since the second grade. And even those are far away and hazy. Well it was almost fourteen years ago, wasn’t it?

What I remember is, when he laughed it was with his whole body. And that he had boundless energy, in a way that sometimes reminded me of a labrador puppy (I had a lab… this is a compliment! I also remember how he used to tease that dog because once when he was at my house, my mom found the dog eating soap, and M thought that was hilarious). And he was loyal to his friends and weirdly chivalrous in a way that would probably irritate the shit out of me nowadays, but at sixteen I found it charming.

The memories I have are all of a boy. I don’t really know what kind of man he grew up to be. In the pictures I’ve seen of him as an adult, he seems serious. But I remember him always smiling.

The last time I saw him was around two years ago. Some of the old friends got the gang together for beers and memories, as an alternative to going to their ten year reunion (I say “their” because most of the people there were a year ahead of me in school, so if they’d just gone to the actual reunion I wouldn’t have been able to see them. This is why the whole high school reunion thing makes no sense; so many of my friends were a year ahead or a year behind. Who only hangs out with people in their grade?). It was a really fun night. I don’t think I talked much to M. Just like before.

But I am so sad. I wish he were still in the world.

So that was the second thing.

The third thing really deserves its own post. I have one I’ve been trying to write for months, and maybe, hopefully, I will get it up in time for his birthday. E’s birthday.

I’ve mentioned E before, obliquely. I never actually met E. He came and went so quickly I never had the chance. It was… what? Six days from his birth to his death, and I was in another state. So I never had the chance to meet him.

And even if he’d lived, I wouldn’t have been a big part of his life. He would probably not know who I was. Our relationship would have mostly consisted of me “liking” pictures of him on facebook. But even so, I’d made a little space for E in my heart. And  that space, that was meant for cuteness, instead is occupied by sad.

E’s first birthday is coming up. On Friday. He should be taking or starting to think about taking little steps. He should be babbling away and occasionally getting some actual words in the mix. He should be smashing cake in his face. He’s not doing any of those things. And it’s the worst.

So that’s the third thing.

And all of this just fucking sucks.

It’s going to be a rough October. Take care of each other out there.

Silly scenes from a marriage

Me (Talking to my bread dough, which is rising nicely): That’s a good little guy! …or girl. I don’t know how you gender bread. But I bet the French have a way. Hey [Husband], what gender is bread? I can’t even remember the word in German, much less the gender. What is it in Spanish?

Husband: Pan.

Me: No, I know the word, I need to know the gender. How would you say “the?”

Husband: El. Or maybe la.

Me: I know it’s either “el” or “la,” that gets to the very heart of the question I am asking! Come on!

Anyway, we looked it up. Bread is male!

[fin]

Things have actually been very unsilly around here the last few days, so this silly scene seemed very worth remembering.

We Got Married!

Yes, we survived our wedding, and everything worked out in the end. The day before was terrible! Just terrible! And the first half of the wedding day was not too great either. But then suddenly we were married and my nephew was teaching me a fabulous kung-fu dance that he invented himself and food was no longer sticking in my throat and life was fine again. We had an amazing time. Tomorrow (our one week anniversary!) we are off to Mexico for our honeymoon. It’s going to be amazing. I am remarkably happy. And a week ago I wondered if I would ever feel happy ever again.

But the best thing is knowing we never have to do this again. I still don’t know if it was ultimately worth the amount of misery I went through for it, and I’m not sure I could claim it was the “happiest day of my life,” but it was a good day, and I have been gloriously happy ever since (well, towards the end of our road trip to get back home to SoCal I got pretty cranky, but other than that).

And maybe now I can find something else to blog about already.

Things I have learned from planning a wedding

We’ve got nine days to go before our wedding finally happens. The last few weeks have bounced between totally bearable and complete anxiety. I haven’t really made time to blog at all; it’s kind of tough to get any time to myself in my parents’ house with my four-year-old nephew, and even when I do have some downtime, generally I am too frazzled and exhausted to put any thoughts in order.

But yesterday was a bad day. The dynamic of my fiance’s family is just… not healthy. Apparently nobody in that family besides Fiance ever learned how to deal with interpersonal conflict in a remotely adult manner. I won’t go into details, naturally, but at any rate, we attempted to resolve an issue that was raised, in the interests of not spending every single family gathering for the rest of our lives being forced to rehash what terrible people we are. But giving in was apparently the wrong choice and now his parents are refusing to speak to him until next week when they get here for the wedding. Because that is what grown ups do, obviously.

A bunch of other, little things, went wrong the same day. Like we took some snacks and iced tea to a park just to kind of relax and be alone for a little while, but the instant I opened my box of cheese and fruit, I was swarmed by yellow jackets. I didn’t get stung but I didn’t get to eat anything, either.

I was in a bad mood and super stressed, so I took some passion flower extract which Fiance had just bought because he heard it helps control anxiety because of a naturally-occurring benzodiazapine (the class of drugs to which things like Xanax belong) in the flower.  And it worked… sort of. I wasn’t angry and anxious anymore, but instead of the sense of calm and wellbeing that comes with Xanax, I just got very, very, very sad. I spent the rest of the night either crying or watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. If I stopped watching ponies, tears would just pour out of my eyes for no apparent reason. Basically it was horrible. I finally had to finish myself off with a couple of antihistamines so I could sleep.

Today I feel better. But I’m still wondering why something that is ostensibly a happy occasion has to turn into such a clusterfuck of hurt feelings and douchebaggery.

The whole “Bridezilla” phenomenon makes a lot more sense to me now than I ever would have thought possible. Because the main takeaway for me from this whole experience is that it doesn’t matter how much you try to accommodate people’s desires: they will never be happy.

They want you to have the exact wedding that they want you to have, and nothing else will do. From who to invite, what to wear, where to hold it, what to serve, even who should be in your wedding party: Everyone knows better than you do, and no matter how gently you attempt to have this conversation, if you don’t do what they want you to do, you’re a terrible, ungrateful person.

So: if a big fancy wedding is something that’s important to you, be a Bridezilla. It’s really the only way. If a big fancy wedding isn’t something that’s important to you, for the love of gods don’t make the mistake I made. Don’t agree to have one just to make someone else happy. Elope.

All we ever wanted was a small courthouse ceremony with our nearest and dearest, followed by a nice meal on some restaurant patio.

I wish I’d put my foot down eighteen months ago. I wish I’d been a Bridezilla.

Frazzled

Well, tomorrow we are heading off on a road trip to my hometown back in Oregon, and before we come back to this apartment, we’ll be married. The wedding itself is about a month away. I’ve spent most of today frantically cleaning the kitchen and trying to pack my stuff. I also managed to finish off the little knitted dachshund I’ve been working on over the last ten days as a gift for a new baby nephew who is due in the next couple of weeks.

It’s been kind of a whirlwind. I’m still kind of bummed that I’m not more excited, but it’s not like you can help how you feel. Plus… family issues have a way of cropping up and throwing things out of whack. It’s more Fiance’s family than mine, I think, but it’s still tough to handle (In some ways much tougher, as I haven’t really learned how to draw boundaries with Fiance’s family the way I can with mine… and even if I did draw boundaries, “respecting boundaries” is not an area they are super strong in). But whatever happens, the important thing, which we can’t really lose sight of (or risk losing our minds), is that we’re getting married. All the rest of this is pretty much window dressing. We’re getting married, and that’s fantastic.

It’s not much of a  blog post, but that’s basically where I’m at right now. Going to be a few days before I have a chance to get online again.

Religious nonrealism the Katriarch way

Last fall I took a class on philosophy of religion.

I hated it. I’m not sure what I was expecting out of philosophy of religion, but what I got was ten straight weeks of “Can we logically prove the existence or non-existence of a being of infinite power, knowledge, and goodness, which is also the creator of the universe and everything in it?”

Spoiler alert: you can’t!

Part of the issue was the design of the class. I was more interested in the history of the philosophic arguments than in rehashing the arguments themselves, and I was required to write three essays that amounted to little more than re-stating my own personal feelings on the subject. I mean, why not compare and contrast Sartre and Kierkegaard or something? Or explain why the ontological argument is completely unconvincing to anyone who doesn’t already accept the premise it is attempting to prove? Or anything besides “this is what I believe, blah blah.” Although I suppose these personal essays would make good jumping off points for future blog posts, so there’s that.

So class design was part of it, but mostly I was just astounded to discover that all we ever talked about was “does god exist?” I had assumed there would be more to the philosophy of religion than that. Maybe there is, but the way it was taught to me, the only thing the entire field ever concerns itself with is trying to prove something which is inherently unprovable. Ultimately, it just felt like a huge waste of time.

There was one thing that made the class worthwhile for me, though: it was in the textbook for that class that I learned about religious realism and its counterpart, religious nonrealism. This was something that suddenly made so many other things make sense. It put so many conflicts into context, and I suddenly understood things in a new way. That was intensely valuable information. Now, realism and nonrealism are technically schools of thought for studying religions, but I believe that they also represent the two basic alignments for individuals in their approach to religion.

The basic, overly-simplified distinction between religious realists and nonrealists is that religious realists believe that what is most important when talking about religion is the matter of its factual truth; nonrealists believe that the factual truth of a religion is kind of beside the point.

Religious realists can be either religious believers or atheists. The important thing is, they think that whether or not a given religion is factually true is the most important thing about it. An atheist who is a religious realist would probably agree with Richard Dawkins that “Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated.” These are the atheists you’ve met who are very concerned that religious people believe something that is false. A religious realist is who also a theist is likewise deeply troubled that so many people have false beliefs, be they atheists or adherents to a false religion.

I suspect, but can’t know for sure (I’m not aware of any studies that account for this factor; if you do, feel free to link up in comments!) that religious realists make up a majority of people, and, further, that the often-discussed conflict between theists and atheists is more specifically a conflict between realists in both groups. Nonrealists tend to get along with each other regardless of religious (non)affiliation and to get enjoyment and pleasure out of religious diversity.

I’m not a religious realist. I never have been! I’m going to attempt to explain my version of religious nonrealism here, but I have a feeling that I won’t really be able to make it explicable to realists. It may be fundamentally too different an approach. But I’ll try my best.

As a nonrealist who is also an atheist, I am tremendously interested in what people believe and why they believe it. I’m also interested in how those beliefs inform their daily lives and change how they interact with the world, especially with other people. I find other people’s religious beliefs fascinating and often beautiful. And I tend to assume that most people have a good reason for believing as they do. I think that even if there isn’t an actual, factual god out there, the things that people believe about god can be valuable and even true. How can something be true if I just said I don’t think it actually exists? That’s a good question, and I’m not exactly sure how to answer it!

See, I think they can be true in the same way that stories can be true. Because they tell us something about ourselves, and the world, and our place in it. Because the stories we tell about ourselves matter. I may not think that the details are totally accurate, but I don’t think that the details are what the stories are really about.

This doesn’t mean that I cheerfully accept every religious belief as perfectly acceptable. In fact, the whole point, really, is that I judge religious beliefs not based on whether or not they are factually true, but on the effect they have on the believer and those around them. Beliefs that encourage the believer to hurt other people are shitty and wrong, and I would still think they were shitty and wrong even if I knew they were factually true because their god appeared to me and personally endorsed them. But beliefs that encourage the believer to be kind, to have empathy, and to ally themselves to the oppressed and the harmed? I’m glad those beliefs are in the world.

(This is, it should be noted, not the same thing as believing that religion is necessary for people to be kind, empathetic, and allies to the oppressed; it merely acknowledges that some religions do encourage those traits, and I’m cool with that and think it’s a good thing.)

I’m not sure whether this was any help at all, and really I ended up talking much more about my own personal take than I did about nonrealism in general. I’m sure there are lots of other nonrealists who have substantially different approaches. Still, I hope it gave you something to think about. If you’re a realist, this may not have made much sense to you, but I assure you, it all makes perfect sense in my head!

So about those lazy people on welfare…

John Scalzi talks about some of the many, many people, known and unknown, who’ve helped him achieve his success.

It’s a great piece and well worth reading, and then reading again. Most of the comments on the piece are appreciative, but there are, of course, the dissenters, and (obviously), that’s what I want to talk about.

A recurring theme in some of the less-positive comments is that while of course it’s great that Scalzi got the help he did, the commenter in question still objects to helping out “lazy” people. Having helped Scalzi is ok, because he worked hard and made good. But everyone knows that most of those people who get “welfare” are just lazy. They just don’t want to work. They’re moochers, “sucking on the public teat.” And so on.

I’ve been on food stamps twice (three times if you count the time my family used them when I was a little kid). I did not apply for food stamps because I was lazy and didn’t want to work. In fact, the first time, I was working. But the only job I could manage to get in the late fall of 2001 (which at the time was considered a very poor economy; compared to the current economic climate I suppose it was downright rosy), as a recent high school graduate with no real experience, while dealing with just-barely-under-control-but-not-really depression, paid just a hair over minimum wage and had irregular hours. On a good week, I might manage twenty-five hours (good weeks were rare). I qualified for, if I recall correctly, about $60 a month in food stamps. Not much. Not actually enough to keep me ahead. But enough to let me eat more than white bread and processed cheese, if I supplemented it with actual money.

Being on public assistance is not some glamorous life of excitement and luxurious ease. It’s scary, it’s stressful, it’s hard. Because first of all: you’re not there in that office if you can afford to feed yourself without it. You’re there because you’re poor. And a caseworker sits there and goes through your life, asking personal questions, looking at your bank statements, scrutinizing you for evidence that you’re a fuckup. Once you get approved, there’s the social stigma to deal with; people get offended by the idea that you might occasionally want to eat something besides rice and beans; they react with disgust if you want use your benefits to buy something nice for yourself. On food stamps? You don’t deserve to have cake on your birthday. You don’t deserve to have a birthday.

And you know that it’s temporary. That they’re looking for any excuse to take it away from you. That if you can’t sort your shit out in six months or less, you’ll be worse off than before.

And years later, people who never knew you when you needed the help assume that you agree with them; they talk about those “lazy people on welfare who just don’t want to work” to you and expect you to agree. Dripping with contempt, they say that people on assistance be subjected to humiliating drug tests and jump through ever more hoops to prove that they are worthy. They expect you to consider this obvious and praiseworthy common sense. They expect you to agree that “those people” are not like “us.”

And then you have a choice: you can tell this person that you are “those people,” or you can ignore it, pretend it doesn’t bother you, when it does.

And let’s be honest: it hurts. When someone you think is your friend, who doesn’t know that you’ve been on food stamps, casually dehumanizes you like that.

And they can say “Oh, well, I didn’t mean you. You’re obviously not like them – you used it the way it’s supposed to be used, to get back on your feet.” Like they said to Scalzi. But I am not Scalzi: by any reasonable capitalist measure of success, I have failed to achieve it. The story of my late teens and early twenties is one of being fired from a series of jobs (mostly dead enders, one career-track), going on food stamps twice and unemployment once, until I finally landed a dead end job I was pretty good at, but which paid minimum wage with no chance for a raise, ever, no matter how many additional responsibilities I willingly took on. After five years of complaining and stressing and finding myself hating it more than I liked it, I finally left to pursue an education.

I am pretty good at going to school, it turns out. Two years in and I still have straight-As. It’s an accomplishment, and I’m proud of it. But by the money = success metric, I am an appalling failure. Worse, my education is financed by Pell Grants (more mooching off the taxpayers). And I am lucky. Because first my parents, then my fiance, were willing to take care of me financially while I focus on school. Because I have an enormous personal safety net of people who consistently forgive my mistakes, who gently push me to do better, who accept that some things that others find easy are hard for me. Who love me despite my many failures, to the point that they don’t see those failures AS failures.

…what do people who don’t have all that get?

The truth is, everybody fucks up. Everybody makes “poor life choices” (another refrain I hear a lot: “I shouldn’t have to subsidize their poor life choices!”). Some of these bad choices hurt people harder than others, and some people are more vulnerable to being hurt. But there is no one on earth who has consistently made only good decisions for their entire life. But only the very poor are expected to suffer for every bad decision. Only the very poor get no forgiveness, no grace.

For me, I can’t separate my own culpability, my freely-chosen “poor life choices,” from the fact that I was born, through no fault of my own, with a debilitating mental illness. I still have to accept responsibility for the bad choices I’ve made, but I also think it’s fair to note that my decisions have been, at best, heavily influenced by depression (at worst, depression made some choices for me). This isn’t about complaining, and it isn’t about being lazy or being a victim; it’s just a fact. Other people have other problems; some have it worse, some have it easier. As I say, it’s not an excuse, and it doesn’t mean I’m not responsible for my bad decisions. This is the reality I have to deal with, and I deal with it the best I can.

But I don’t believe that the bad decisions I’ve made mean I cede my human dignity. I don’t believe that any bad decisions I’ve made mean I should be left on my own when I need help. And I don’t believe I should be harder on other people than I am on myself (frankly I am often quite a bit harder on myself than I am on others; I doubt very much I would describe any other person in my position in life as “an appalling failure,” but then again, I don’t generally use the money = success metric). When people need help, I believe we should give it to them. I don’t believe it’s helpful, wise, or even possible to try to separate people out into the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. And speaking personally, I would rather give help to the lazy than deny it to those who are genuinely struggling. So even if there really are legions of lazy people just scrabbling for a handout (and I don’t believe there are; I’ve known one person who decided to stay on unemployment when he could have gotten a job, and amusingly, he was formerly a big fan of Ayn Rand, so… do with that what you like, I guess)(even he did eventually rejoin the ranks of the workers, as I believe most will, if given the opportunity… I just don’t think very many people enjoy sitting around doing nothing), I’d rather err on the side of giving it to them, rather than the side of cruelly dehumanizing people who need help. And from experience I know that what looks like laziness from the outside often feels like an intense and very difficult struggle to survive when you’re living it.