Last night I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to ask for help to get me out of a hole too deep for me to climb out of. The prospect that others might find it in themselves to help me out should have lifted some of the burden from me, but it’s actually having the opposite effect. My stomach is in knots and I have no appetite. To be fair, I am getting over a recent sinus infection and I think morning workouts and trudging through the snow to run errands have left my legs a little weak. But this sick, sinking feeling in my stomach may be due to nerves and a realization that things have gotten beyond worse and out of my control.
I made a YouCaring page to explain why I am in this position. Like most people, I’m in debt. The current course of this debt can lead to me losing everything I don’t have and, I fear, possible jail time. I thought I could hold out and take care of this myself. For as long as I’ve been on my own, I have never asked for outside help from friends no matter how bad things got. I once received emergency assistance during my grad school days then lived at home for five years when I left, but I managed to find work and move out on my own eventually.
I’ve built a life here. It’s not a perfect life, but it’s mine and I’m finally getting to the point where I’m happy with myself and moving in the direction I want to go. I never expected it to be easy, but I didn’t expect it to keep moving downhill in this way. You see I was always the “gifted” child, graduating at the top of my class and eventually earning two degrees. I was supposed to “make it” and be the success story in my family.
This is one of the reasons asking for help has been so damn difficult. No matter how much I try to shake it off, I cannot get rid of the feeling of failure. I have had to show my vulnerability and admit that I was unable to translate years of schooling to a successful career. So asking for help means I’ve failed. Not just myself but also my family. As much as I have tried to unlearn this type of thinking, it still consumes me and affects the way I conduct myself.
Another reason I had so much trouble admitting I need help is because I don’t truly feel worthy of it, another self-destructive attitude I cannot completely let go of. I know that there are others out there who are in much worse situations with medical issues, food insecurity and childcare issues. I fear that people will look at my situation and think either it’s really not that bad or that it’s my own fault and will conclude that I am not worth helping. I think that’s my biggest fear.
So I look at my situation and look at the reason why I’m here. I’m literally in debt for working while not being married or having children. That is the entire reason I have found myself in debt. I work, so I am by law required to give a piece of those wages to the federal government because I work.
Usually I don’t mind this. I want my tax money to go to programs to help mothers take care of their children, to help the elderly pay for their meds and to help others who find themselves in situations similar to mine because they have low-paying jobs. However, I am reminded of what Brittney Cooper said when she reminded us of what being a single black woman means in terms of wages and why we don’t do as well as people think we do: we are penalized for not having dependents. The IRS feels that we don’t take care of others, so it’s okay to take more taxes from us than from married couples or people with children. (I think this was the Feminism for What? Equality in the Workplace after Lean In conference, but I’m not sure.)
This is a falsehood because many of us do still support family when we can and often feel we cannot go to this same family if we ever find ourselves in need. After all, we are the “success stories,” so we aren’t supposed to ever be in this position. But as we can all attest, it’s extremely difficult and stressful to carry family expectations on your shoulders when it’s been indoctrinated into you that your academic acuity was a guarantee to future success.
So no I don’t have all my shit together yet even though it was supposed to happen by the time I reached this age. Yeah I still feel bad about that even though I try not to. Maybe I’ll finally get to a point where I’m comfortable admitting that I won’t make it through this life alone and I have to swallow my pride and lingering internalized misogynoir that tells me that black women have to be strong and shoulder it all no matter what. All I can do is hope for now and depend on the kindness of strangers.