Sunday, June 24, 2012

Food Stamps

Pardon my slightly political post. You are welcome to skip it. And I'm pro-Food Stamps, just so you can decide if you want to read on.

I grew up around people who thought the government was too involved in people's lives. Unobtrusive and necessary laws like driving laws and laws against stealing are fine, but "welfare?" Welfare was seen as a messed up system often abused by people who don't want to work. Basically, welfare had a negative connotation.

Then my brain plays meanie on me and I end up in the psych unit of the local hospital. "Behavioral Health Unit," since that is supposed to somehow make me feel better than "Mental Health Unit." Seriously, I'd rather have something wrong with my brain than with my behavior, because I associate less guilt with that. "Mental Illness," to me, conveys the idea of an illness instead of a sin problem, and I like that, so I will keep calling it a mental illness, so there! But I'm side tracked now.

Basically, depression and anxiety and how I dealt with them disrupted my life, my finances, and my ability to work. I still work, but I am intentionally not working full time, especially since I am going to college part time. In addition to my personal experience, I've been with other people struggling with mental illness.

So now, I don't talk about welfare, at least not by that name. I talk about assistance from the government (I'm using that term for various levels of government, depending on the place in this post) in dealing with my hospital bill. Somehow, few are upset with that arrangement. I talk about "disability," what some people who would so much prefer to be working, but who have been stopped by their mental illness, what they now can live on with some independence. I'm really thankful for disability income for some people, and I'm not particularly pleased with the "people get it who should really be working" argument. Sure, there are probably people like that, but then there are all the people who really need it. Are you going to deny them the opportunity for disability income because a few people misuse the system? I'm sure I'm oversimplifying this, and I'm not too interested in debating whether or not the government "should" be doing this. I don't see anyone else stepping up to take over in this area of providing for people, so I want to be thankful for what we have.

Then there are Food Stamps. Once again, that is help from the government, help that was not highly regarded by people I grew up around. So now I am leaving my fine monologue on the benefits or evils of current "welfare" and moving back to my personal life. I finally applied for Food Stamps. Still gives me a bit of a sick feeling. Friday, after work, I tried to gather all the paperwork I might need and I headed in to see if I qualified. Someone told me I would, but I didn't want to be over-confident. I entered the waiting room and the lady asked what I was there for. I said it aloud, wishing I didn't have to announce it "publicly" in the waiting room. Somehow, that didn't stop me from later hearing other people as they came in. (Reassurance seeking? Quite possibly.) It is a strange feeling to suddenly find myself among people "we" used to generically look down on. It is humbling and freeing and guilt-inducing all at once. It leaves me as a part of a different "we." Was I doing the right thing? I was going to do it anyway. And I did. I've been approved for Food Stamps in July. My OCD is happy to bug me about this and use it as leverage when guilting me about any purchase I make that doesn't pass OCD's approval. Now, instead of only wasting money given to me and that I earn, I'm also receiving money to purchase food, money OCD says I wouldn't need if I would just ... be a better person. Never mind that the people deciding if I qualify for Food Stamps know how much money I have and that I might sometimes spend a few dollars for a dvd or for stickers or something "unnecessary" (all great wastes of money, argues my OCD).

Then another side of me is grateful. I will be able to buy food. I mean, I already do, but I won't have to use my credit card. I will sometimes be able to buy fruits or vegetables that I currently can't afford. And they have done this in a way that still allows me to choose my food. That seems so considerate and respectful, such a nice way for them to help me and preserve my dignity. And it is a tangeable witness that society does value me as a person and they want me to be here on earth, alive and with good food. So I am grateful to the government, and to God for providing to me this way. And that trumps my sick stomach over taking such a "risky" step to apply.


  1. Abigail, I have tears in my eyes after reading this. Yes, you are a valuable person who deserves good, healthy food, and enough of it.

    I am a believer in government helping others. Yes, there are people who abuse "welfare" and any program that seeks to help those in need. But I have found in my experience in working for a public health department for almost 8 years that everyone needs some kind of help sometimes, and we need to help each other.

    I have no problem with my tax dollars going towards helping others who need it. And many, many people are working but don't make much money, or cannot work because of illness, and need help.

    We talk about government providing public safety. I think part of its purpose is to provide a certain amount of public health. How much, I don't know. But people shouldn't be suffering. People should be able to tell tangibly that they are valued members of society.

    I was without health insurance for 8 years when I was in my 20s, and when I called to make a doctor's appointment, I could hear the difference in the receptionist's tone when she asked me what my insurance was and I had to say none. Even though I paid the bills, I had that stigma to face every time I made an appointment, which wasn't very often.

    I'm glad you were able to get food stamps, and I hope you can eat healthier food. Thank you for writing this post and bringing awareness to a very important issue.

  2. Taking help from anyone can be hard and humbling. I'm sorry you're struggling with this issue, but I sure get it. I'm glad the help is there for you. The whole point is to help people when they need it. Please try not to feel sick about it. And yes, society does value you and we do want you to be here and healthy!

  3. This post made me cry. I am so glad you have food stamps. You are a valuable person who deserves this.

    My brother is on food stamps and also very grateful for the help.

  4. Thank you each so much for your encouragement!

  5. Hello Abigail. I think you must be talking about America when you talk about food stamps? I live in Britain but I am too ill to work at the moment and have to deal with the benefit system. I find it hard too due to my not wanting to recieve benefits, wanting to get well and to get back to work. However I need the help and would not eat or have a roof over my head without it. It is degrading however as everyone is treated the same as if they are trying to defraud the system and you have no privacy or dignity when attending the benefit office, medicals, back to work interviews etc. So I can empathise as to how hard it is to be in the benefit or welfare system as you call it. I always think people who are lucky to not be in this position should be careful about judging those who are because everyone is only one or two steps away from needing welfare/benefit help due to a loss of job through redundancy or in your and my case ill health. THanks for your post.

    1. Thanks for the comment! Yes, I live in the US. Probably some of the people who have never needed help from their government don't understand how much courage and strength it can take to ask for and receive help. I love your blog name, "Behind the Smile." I'm good at sticking a smile on top, even if I'm really struggling underneath, but then some people think I must not be feeling too bad.