Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Women and Collapse; Or, One Bad Day

It's always interesting to me that people talk about collapse as though it's in the far off future, and as if it will hit everyone, everywhere, at the same moment. That there will be a universal SHTF moment. 

If one defines "Societal Collapse" as:  The coupled breakdown of economic, cultural and social institutions. 

Detroit has been collapsing my whole life. New Orleans had a fast collapse after Katrina. California is well on its way to collapse

I think that "Personal Collapse" can be defined as: The coupled breakdown of economic, cultural and social institutions within people's lives. 

Many, many people are already living in a state of collapse. It doesn't matter if the rest of the world is going merrily on when you've been evicted, your kids are hungry, you have an infected tooth you can't take care of, and you're trying not to let anyone know the family's been sleeping in the minivan.

Years ago, I worked in a family homeless shelter in Southeastern Michigan. Most of the families there were headed by single women. Most of these single women had been married when their children were born. Most of these women had had what seemed like adequate resources to raise their children. Due to divorce, widowhood or job loss, those resources were slowly whittled away. By the time these women reached the homeless shelter, all of them were at the end of their resources.

Women and children live much closer to collapse than either men or childless women. Children limit the work you can do, the places you can live, the people you associate with.

The myth of the welfare mama who's sitting fat and happy is just that...A myth. Yes, you might get food stamps, Federal lunches and Medicaid, but you can't put gas in the car to get to work, even if you can find a job that works around your kid's school schedule. None of the doctors around you take Medicaid, the nearest grocery store is twenty miles away, and the lunches at school are the only thing you kids eat, some days

I had once had a woman, who was bringing donations to the shelter, ask me, "How do women end up here?"

My reply, "One bad day."

My mom and I had a bad day, once.  Oh, there was years of difficult days before that, but she had always worked through them as best she could. 

My parents were solid, upper middle class people, with a home in Suburbia. My brothers and I attended private school. We took trips to Florida every winter and trips to the UK almost every year.

The bad day was the day I told my mom that my dad had a girlfriend. My mom's carefully wrought denial came crashing down around her ears. She then found out that my dad had drained the various savings accounts. She filed for divorce the next day. In the space of a very few days, we went from upper middle class to poor. Just like that.

There were other days, probably, but that's the one I remember, the day my world collapsed.

In short order, we went from the sort of people who gave to charity, to being the sort of people who had to choose between eating and paying the light bill.  

We got through it, obviously, but my mother never enjoyed upper-middle-classdom again. I am left with a fear of empty cupboards and a clear understanding that, at any moment, the bottom could drop out of my world.

Recently, I have been bearing witness to the collapse of other people's lives. Mostly women, some with kids, some without. 

One friend has been left disabled and is now navigating the Byzantine world of Medicaid and State Assistance. That's a full time job, even without a traumatic brain injury. This is an incredibly talented writer and professional woman who, right on the heels of escaping an abusive marriage, sustained brain damage from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Where did she get CO poisoning? From the furnace of her home which was never inspected properly by the landlords. Her world has ended and she's trying to figure out the new normal. Of course, she hasn't been able to find a doctor who's competent to deal with her complicated medical history who also takes Medicaid.

Another friend just escaped from crazy ex with her kids. He left her high and dry ten years ago, is in arrears for an ungodly amount of child support, and now is making demands. Mostly he wanted the kids to live with him through 2012, because the world's ending. She's afraid of what he might do if the world doesn't end on schedule, in bright, fiery 'splosions. 

Another brilliant woman who had to learn to be resourceful to keep herself and her kids fed.   

Another woman recently confided to me that her world ended in the form of her husband leaving. She's been a stay at home mom their whole marriage because he had vowed to take care of her.

A woman I met lost her husband of ten years. Sudden cardiac arrest. He had no insurance and she'd just lost her job. They were scrambling for the money to have him cremated.

The list just goes on. Most of these women are hanging on to their housing, but by a thread in some cases. 

The best preparations are in your own head. Someone's world collapses every day.

I've been laughed at, often, over the years. I've been called a paranoid many times. However, I am not worried about the end of THE world, just my world.

I'm preparing for that One Bad Day.

No comments: