Prior to being declared permanently disabled by the Social Security Administration in 2007, I was earning about $25,000 a year. I now live at the poverty level. This took some getting used to. One of the most important things that have helped me come to terms with my new life is learning to discern between what I want and what I need.
I used to live in a two-bedroom townhouse. I now live in a two-room apartment in an elderly and disabled complex. Thankfully, my rent is based on income. I had to give away many of my belongings when I moved (I didn’t have the energy to deal with a tag sale). Giving away my possessions was emotionally difficult for me to do. But I realized that my belongings were just things, most of which I didn’t need. I did keep objects that were important to me, not for sentimental reasons, but because they reflect my Spirit, which is what I needed for my new home. It took some getting used to, but I now live comfortably in the space I’ve been given.
When I had money, I was able to take myself or friends out to dinner as often as I pleased. I was able to buy new clothes and shoes, all the books I wanted, and go to the cinema for any movie I desired to see. I took these things for granted. I didn’t have to account for every dollar I spent as I do now.
When I worked, I had medical and prescription insurance through the company. I didn’t have to worry. Today, I depend on Medicare and a state program called Qualified Medicare Beneficiary to meet my medical needs. QMB pays for Medicare deductibles and premiums and covers the twenty percent not covered by Medicare. If there are budget cuts – on the federal or state level – I will lose desperately needed coverage. My two psych meds cost hundreds of dollars a month. I can’t be without them, but I won’t be able to afford them if my Medicare Part D prescription coverage is cut or taken away. If QMB is cut, I won’t be able to afford to pay my premiums and deductibles or my co-pays for my medication nurse visits and the blood draws I need every three months. I certainly wouldn’t be able to pay twenty percent of the cost of a mammogram or colonoscopy. I’d have to hope that I don’t get sick or injured and require hospitalization because there would be no way for me to pay my medical bills. I know there are many people who don’t have health care coverage, and I’m deeply grateful that I do. But I have this looming fear that it could be taken away and I would be left without a means of paying for the meds and services I need.
The way I cope with this fear is to try to stay in the present moment. I tell myself, “Today, I am safe. It’s not healthy to worry about things that might never happen. If it does happen, I will adapt – somehow. I’m a survivor; that’s what survivors do. We adapt.”
This is my only real financial worry. While I live at the poverty level, my basic needs are met. After monthly bills are paid, I have just enough money to cover food and basic expenses – if I’m careful. I buy only healthy food, which can be expensive. It’s difficult to eat healthy on a small budget. There’s usually no money left in my checking account at the end of the month.
I need to be careful about living with a sense of scarcity so that I don’t slip into feelings of deprivation. I try to focus on the abundance in my life. I’ve come to accept that while there are things I want that I don’t have the money for, I do have everything I need. I have money for food, shelter, bills, cat food, and a cell phone. I have reliable transportation and money to pay for gas. If I have emergency vet bills or car repairs, my mother lets me put them on her VISA; I pay her back when I can. I know that this benefit will have to end at some point. My mother has Alzheimer’s Disease. If she goes into a nursing home, or when she passes, there will no longer be her VISA card for me to depend upon. I will deal with that when the time comes. For now, things are okay.
I’ve learned that I need to prioritize my spending, though that is sometimes difficult. One of the symptoms of bipolar disorder is poor impulse control, especially with regards to spending money. I’ve gone into Barnes and Noble for a cup of coffee at their café and have come out with fifty dollars in books. I need to accept that I have to make choices – spend four dollars on a latte or spend that money on food.
I’ve learned to live a simple life, with simple needs. I’ve learned to be satisfied with less. But it isn’t easy. Every so often I find that I’m feeling sorry for myself because I can’t spend money on things I want. To help me live with a sense of abundance rather than one of scarcity, every month I treat myself to one thing that I desire, whether it’s going out to lunch with a friend or buying a book on my wish list. I give myself a limit of twenty dollars.
A friend of mine shared with me an affirmation she uses: “I have more than enough money for myself and some to give away.” I say this affirmation out loud whenever I begin to feel a sense of lack in my life. Whenever I begin to focus on the things I don’t have, I turn my attention to all the blessings in my life. I affirm to myself that I have everything I need, which is more than many people have in this world.