One thing I think about a lot is ways to design my life to improve it; for example, this month I am starting on a system of cash-buying, so that I improve my spending habits and awareness. But I’m always painfully aware of how lucky this makes me; these are some thoughts on that.
Whilst I was planning it out, I found my diary from last january, when I moved out of my parents home and money was a LOT tighter, but I was incredibly excited because finally it was all my own money and my own choices. In this diary, I’m making choices to eventually get a bike, to eventually get a job that I don’t have to commute to, choices that I have now, in the space of the year, more than fulfilled.
Another way that I can “design my life” is that I’m currently taking driving lessons. Because I have enough money that I am able to save, I have been able to pre-book my theory test, and bulk book my lessons. These are some more obvious things that people with a lower income or higher outgoings (e.g with a family, or hiked-up rent costs, or debts with outrageous inflation) would not be able to do, let alone choose to do in order to improve their near future.
In my work, I see a lot of different kinds of people coming to stay to destress and hopefully de-escalate a mental health crisis. Some of them have money; they have cash on them and come with a nice suitcase with enough things for their stay for the next few days. These are relatively rare though. More often than not, people come who don’t have money for a pack of fags, who didn’t bring anything else, who can’t afford the bus, and these people are quietly heartbreaking. Yes, they spent their money on something, but many of these people can’t work, and I don’t blame them. Employment is hard enough as it is having my full health and mental functioning, I would not like my chances as an anxious depressive who barely finished school and has turned to drugs to try to cope with life, bouncing along to the coffee shop to fill in their trite (yet also somehow demanding) little application forms (“Give an example of when you gave great customer service!”).
On the less obviously tragic side of things I find* you have a disctinctly female kind of crisis. These come in two forms. Young women, somewhere around 20, with plenty of things and normal sounding lives and coming in after a suicide attempt. Or mothers, who have been holding it all together and now they really aren’t sure they can leave the kids at home alone and also they feel worthless and terrible. (The worst is when these mum-types go home, and don’t stay, because they think they are letting their family down. You can’t stop them, but it’s never fun.)
Again, it’s the people least able to change their lives who really need to change it the most. Young girls feel completely trapped, even as they are supported by their parents, and though it’s a mental and emotional trap, it’s one I recognise (or perhaps project) from myself; I didn’t move out of my family home after university, in fact I moved back, to save on rent, to make myself more secure. I spent 5 months back home, and a lot of that time was spent crying or travelling away from it; not because it was a bad place, but because it wasn’t working for me. Yet I felt, (and I assume others also feel) that I owed it to my family to save the money, to make the effort, to not hurt feeelings.
Eventually, I had to move away, because I felt that I would either end up killing a member of my family, or myself in that situation. It wasn’t comfortable emotionally, but I was lucky practically. A series of lucky hires from managers who inexplicably liked me and wanted to give me a chance meant I had got to a job I could reach from my boyfriends house, and having a boyfriend gave me an automatic place I could stay whilst I found a place. The next stroke of luck was a SHOCKINGLY cheap houseshare room that was completely tiny but neat and perfect. Only because of this combination did I get my freedom.
The mother’s entrapment is as obvious as it is cliched as it is depressingly common, women are expected to tie their entire being to motherhood, and be glorified for it for one day of the year. Too many don’t realise how limiting this is, how unhealthy and unnatural, so too few people bother to fight against it, almost no one appears to consider that parenthood should be an equal burden, and that hands-on motherhood is no more or less of a blessing than hands-on fatherhood would be.
Ultimately, it’s the cages we put around ourselves and eachother that are the hardest to breakout of. The economic cage is one a lot of us live within, and to liberate other people is an impossible thought, cos we ourselves are trapped by our rent and our bills and our debts etc. However, if we can, we should. Our lives are worth it, and the people with the least fortunate lives are the most trapped. We cannot free the person who believes the answer is in the bottom of the beer can, but we can help by looking to see where we can make a difference. The landowners who rented me out that houseshare might have just been trying to fill a tiny box room, but it made the world of difference to me. The people who care about their jobs and genuinely want to help people, make a huge difference to the people they help. The people who run charities and the political parties that care about social security, make the world of difference to people who are running low on choices, if they are still able to believe they have a right to them.
If we don’t look out for protecting people’s choices, it only gets harder. People easily judge others who have far more limited options than themselves, and people begin to judge themselves and put themselves in boxes, even when they have the “choice”. Yes, maybe there’s a chance we ourselves might not have options, but that shouldn’t be the motivator, that should be a reminder that we are lucky and we should use our choices wisely, because we are lucky enough to have them.
*Disclaimer: This is my opinion, the holy grail of mental health is that everyone is an individual, and my colleagues would likely argue that this isn’t a trend, but hey, it looks like one to me, and it works well for my point, so tough.