Even in this glacially improving economy, one hardly need admit a desire for a bit of extra cash without a "helpful" friend or relation offering with saccharine condescension the cliché "Money can't buy happiness!" This is often followed in short order by the insistence that there is "literally nothing" holding one back from diving headlong into cross-country adventures or a summer backpacking around Europe, forcibly sharing these type bumper sticker aphorism so they don't have to spend too much time thinking of the degree to which they victim-blame.
Coupled with having been at the tail-end of a relationship that should have ended ten months sooner, being poor almost killed me. I was deep in student loan debt and had been laid-off and underemployed for two years. Eviction and penury loomed large, my only other option being a couch in my parents' living room. Depression was a constant background process, feeling like a hollow puppet pretending badly to be still human. I felt like a failure that I had to work part time for twelve hours a day to keep from having a zero bank balance and accruing charges (it is expensive to be poor). I suffered from anxiety that I still feel the edges of when something goes wrong. My hair fell out. I got sick all the time because stress lowers one's immune system. I caught tonsillitis on top of strep throat once and came within a few days of dying because I could not afford a doctor but struggled to drink and breathe. If this happened now, I would have begged for a ride to the hospital. Instead, I returned to work a day after I put myself in debt for antibiotics prescribed by an urgent care. I tried St. John's Wort as a supposedly cheap way to deal with my depression, which charmingly gave me suicidal ideation and extreme photosensitivity. Insomnia plagued me, nightly weighing how close the edge seemed. I became a burden to suicide and crisis hotlines, discovering how little they care about you once you exceed fifteen minutes of talking without putting a gun in your mouth.
Worse, I blamed myself for my situation and my inability to surmount it because it felt like everyone else had a much easier time. People offered my older brother contracts for tens of thousands of dollars for a month's work, because he bucked the supposed dictate that professional success only came once one forked over forty thousand in student loans. I could point to friends who owned houses on their salaries selling furniture or working in restaurants, yet I languished in a one-room apartment, ten feet away from an erratic drug dealer. Much as I loved my friends and family, seeing how fluidly they comported themselves, knowing that they owned this ease by purchasing it outright, made me feel inadequate. Then having a girlfriend who came from affluence, whose parents were dueling college professors, who attended a college whose mascot should have been Old Money Robber Barons, forced me on a near weekly level to bristle against judgments on me that I didn't meet unspoken (and occasionally spoken) expectations. Why couldn't I just go back to college and get a doctoral degree (that might make my prospects worse and my debt triple)? Why couldn't I move somewhere with better job prospects (that still might not exist but which would involve abandoning my support network)? No one seemed to understand that these represented massive gambles and I couldn't afford a solitary chip. Even now, I know that I am permanently changed for having spent two years as one of the working poor. My mind is healing scars from the trauma of straddling the poverty line. If I had nightmares, they would be little more than that I still lived that life.
At present, I have enough money to build a home with the woman I love and am weeks from getting married. However, even this is at the expense of poverty, as I teach composition and close reading to the incarcerated children of the generationally poor. Every weekday, I see the toll that this lie about money takes. Most of my students see only three paths out of destitution: violence, basketball, or rapping, and they fail at all three. If they cannot be happy by dint of having money enough to survive, then they will dedicate the remainder of their unhappy lives trying to steal or beat the happiness out of the better off until permanently locked away from society. Though I would have done violence to myself long before I did violence to others, I realize that is only because I grew up with parents who had enough means to ensure that we never went hungry or wanted for too much.
Now that I have found a means to earn enough money that I have a robust savings account, I sleep without struggle. I smile without a trace of worry. Panic attacks don't cripple me. I write prolifically and not merely in the few minutes I have between inadequate jobs. I can be in this moment because I know that I will not starve in the next. When I go out with friends, I don't have to fret if one of them didn't get paid this week. I have the privilege of enough money and I am thrilled to use it to help others, paying for meals and tickets with the understanding that they can pay me back next time, but having the luxury of not needing to keep score. I can quote you exactly where I am on Maslow's Hierarchy of Need, edging my way toward spiritual fulfillment because my other needs are met by having enough to survive and even thrive.
So don't ever tell someone that money doesn't buy happiness, because existing in terror that you are going to be homeless and that you are inherently unlovable to your friends certainly does a far worse job of "buying happiness." Anyone who spews that line has never been looked down upon for being poor in modern society. Anyone who claims that has not recently sacrificed sleep and sanity on the altar of survival.
Soon in Xenology: Marrying Amber.