I will always remember December 2013. It was a particularly cold winter, and downtown Los Gatos was in the low 30s. My friend Jane rented a carriage and invited me to come along. I declined because I did not have a jacket. I was too ashamed to tell her why, so she was rightfully angry with me.
Now that I can buy myself any winter apparel I want, I realize it wasn’t body shame at being too large to borrow a jacket from any of my friends. It was poverty shame.
Why is poverty shameful? I grew up middle-class reading; Margaret Sidney, Laura Ingalls, Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain. I thought poverty was a badge of merit.
My ex-husband and I met in high school and got together soon after. We both worked two jobs and went to school. We rented a cute apartment that my mom was happy to furnish with all her hand-me downs. All of my friends were in college eating top ramen, so we fit right in. As they grew into careers, I emphasized my commitment to the environment and claimed to be against consumerism.
Unfortunately, as the years went by, I realized the shame of poverty had enveloped me. I couldn’t afford a smartphone, concerts, birthday gifts for friends, going out to eat or even going anywhere unexpected because every ounce of gas was budgeted for. Arguing with the paramedics because I didn’t want an ambulance bill for my injured daughter and claiming our cat died to avoid the license fee were the most heartbreaking.
Struggling financially weighs you down every day. It is a blanket of self-hatred that is always there.