This is Your Brain on Poverty

Everyone has their own thoughts on what causes poverty and what fixes financial woes for families in the 21st century.

Half the time, I sit here reading those things, rolling my eyes, and wondering if any of these idiots would still be alive at the end of a month on a poverty-grade salary. Of course, before this sort of thing hit my family, I was also one of those jerks shooting my mouth off.

One of the issues that I have never seen addressed related to poverty is what it does to your mind and emotions – your mental and emotional health.

The “Right” Foundation

I come at it from a somewhat different perspective as many people. I grew up in a comfortable middle-class family. We didn’t have much but had far more than what my family has had in the last 20 years.

My husband and I were doing quite well for ourselves in the first part of our marriage too. He was a skilled tradesman, and I worked at a large printing company before having kids. I was also perpetually working various side hustles with my design and writing skills.

Rubber Paychecks

In the early 2000s, after buying a house and having five kids, the bottom fell out of that fairly comfortable life. Hours were cut, pay was cut, and one day my husband showed up at work only to find it boarded up, and our last two paychecks bounced. Good times.

Suddenly, I had to get even more frugal than I was before. There were no jobs available paying the same as what we had been used to, so we settled for a pay cut. I had to figure out how to take care of a family of seven on 1/3rd of what we had been living on, while expenses for basics shot up quickly.

After a long while, we finally slipped into foreclosure on our house.

Most of the time, during our whole “situation” I could focus my mind on saving money and being hyper-frugal. I could think clearly enough to do what needed to be done to survive and to keep our family afloat while providing the kids with some semblance of a happy childhood and loving family.

A Decade of Poverty Fries Brain Cells

Once we slid into foreclosure, I gotta say, my brain turned to mush. It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The mental and emotional stress of the situation made my ability to think clearly and rationally about a way out of this mess was non-existent.

Since that time, now that our situation is slowly on the mend, and better than it had been, and now that I’m thinking clearly once more, I find myself wondering about the brain to mush issue. I realize first of all that our climb up and out is not due to anything I have done, but really our way out is only by the grace of God. And I wonder if this mental stress is part of what keeps people in poverty, barring Divine intervention.

I wonder…How much does the stress that this places on people lead to the inability to lift oneself out of the situation as everyone says we are “supposed to” do?

My time in poverty only lasted just over a decade. We started from a position of what could be called privilege – educated, skilled, with lots of drive – and we could do no more than tread water to stay afloat. After a while, we went under before things got better.

I wonder – if you grow up in this situation, or if you live your whole life in this situation, what do this do to your ability to even think clearly enough to make the so-called better choices that are supposed to lift you up?

Pragmatic goals

I’m a big believer in goals and pressing onwards and all that. I write frequently about goals.

I’m also a pragmatist.

As I’ve written before, you can only set goals for things within your control. You can plan to get out of poverty because there are factors there outside of your control. I know people think you can, and I hope they never have to learn the lessons I’ve learned the hard way. All we can do is work hard and work smart, and trust God for the results.

Sometimes even that is beyond our abilities, though, as the stress of living in poverty takes its toll.

Living below the poverty line is stressful. Anyone who climbs out on their own without someone leaning over the edge, grabbing them by the hands and guiding them out is a miracle, and much stronger than I.

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