SELF-CARE FOR POOR FOLKS: How To Emotionally Weather A Financial Emergency

I want to talk about strategies to mitigate the stress, wailing, and tears when bad things happen.

Picture if you will, yours truly standing in the middle of a sidewalk in downtown Seattle on my way to work holding my broken glasses and wailing like a siren.

The wailing was preceded by being knocked down by some dude who was presumably running for a bus and my glasses being stepped on. The wailing was followed by an immediate and terrible panic attack.

There are certain types of financial emergencies that cause me instant and immediate panic and at least a bit of overwhelmed inertia that may or may not be accompanied by wailing in public. It was not okay at all and my subsequent freaking out and feeling awful did not help my situation at all. This is not an uncommon feeling for many poor folks.

I have had very bad vision since childhood and, among the many things I need to live a generally decent life, vision correction is number one. I worked for a few months without and between the migraines, getting on wrong buses because I couldn’t read the signs, and falling down all the time, replacement vision correction is now a nonnegotiable do-what-I-have-to-do-to-get-it type thing.

I tell y’all this because this week I want to talk about strategies to mitigate the stress, wailing, and tears when bad things happen.

After years of having crap go down and being left completely spent due to stress, hustling to take care of things, and whatnot, I’ve learned to keep a document (back in the day it was in a dollar store day planner, I miss those) with phone numbers, community info, and stuff that pertains to your life.

Here are some ideas about setting this up for yourselves. (Additionally, if you are a person who utilizes emergency contacts, you can give a copy of this stuff to your emergency contact person just in case.)

Identify what all the likely things are that can cause a bad financial situation. I narrowed down my initial overwhelming list by sitting down and figuring out the things that I cannot go without at all. For me it’s a relatively short list: vision correction and bus pass.

On my list, I have the number of my regular-through-my-insurance optometrist. But since it can be difficult for me to see her on an emergency basis (and hard to come up with chunk of cash required on short notice), as a backup I have the number of a local shop that takes walk-ins -- and they will work with me if I don’t have the money on hand for an appointment.

Along with the doctor information, I have my contact lens prescription for each eye written down.

The whole goal of this is to help mitigate the stress when the bad thing(s) happen. For me this was a bit of a natural progression because I am a worrier and prone to internalizing a lot of crap when I am having a problem. Stress and shame has over the last 20 years made so many situations worse and made it more difficult to articulate what I need in terms of asking for help.

Coming from a place where I had no immediate support system I had to figure out how to get through without harming myself on top of whatever else was going on. Now that I do have a support system, while it is still really difficult for me to ask for help, I have something tangible I can refer to and say I need help doing this thing.

Some of the other things I’ve had on my list have been things like:

  • My nearest Planned Parenthood and other health clinics
  • Shelters I felt I could sleep in
  • Places that sometimes had funds to help with rent/utilities
  • People I could work for doing odd jobs
  • Temp agency I was registered with

You see where I’m going with that.

These days I use the tech I have at hand as well as a little notebook I carry around in my bag.

Getting this stuff together could potentially be stressful for some folks. If coming at it from the angle of what terrible things can happen doesn’t work for you, try coming at it from a "how do I make sure I am okay when things happen" point of view.

Some things that could be useful to include:

  • If you take medications regularly, find out if you are eligible to get them at a reduced price (this will take research) or if the manufacturer offers coupons/discounts/rebates.
  • If you are dealing with social services (SNAP benefits etc) keep your paperwork in one place and write down your client number if you have one, the number of your local office and other pertinent info.
  • If you are the primary account person but especially if you aren't, write down the account numbers and contact information for your landlord, utilities etc.
  • If you are in school, contact info for people important to your schooling. Advisors, financial aid office, whomever else you might need to speak to in a pinch.

When I was young and terrified, doing this gave me some sense of strength. Not a lot mind you -- there were still a lot of times all I could do was cry and panic but it was a start.

Now that I am not in the position of every crap thing that happens being an emergency, I have my little list of resources and I feel good. I feel like I can be awesome for myself without stressing myself out.

I also make a habit of keeping some resources on hand for other people. Frequently when I’m noodling around on the Internet, I will find someone in my area that needs help. I am not in a position to help financially but when it is applicable I will pass on resource information to folks who need it.

This brings us back to teamwork. I again encourage you to share resources. Maybe you know an awesome pediatrician or car repair shop that works with poor folks. Maybe you know the best food pantry in your area or have expertise ordering or using Plan B type things.

I want to end with this.

Regardless of how the bad thing has happened -- maybe you did something dumb, forgot something, had an accident whatever -- you don’t deserve to suffer.

If you find yourself in over your head financially or emotionally and you need help, please get it. Not just in the call-a-therapist kind of way but ask friends to help you hunt down resources where you live. Sometimes my best friend and I look for resources for each other together while we talk online.

I am all for stuff that helps us feel less alone, gives us some ability to have a good starting point when things inevitably goes wrong. We don’t have to go through it alone or shoulder all of that added stress.

Now I turn it over to you. What are your ideas? Do you do this type of thing? How do you incorporate your tech?