You’re not in Kansas anymore

board-fashion-floor-125437It’s been a few years since my last post. During that time, I’ve been enjoying my life and planning for my future. My daughter is now in grade 12 and applying for universities. I am still self-employed, still on provincial disability and still learning about myself and how to navigate this thing called life.

I was recently interviewed on my experiences with poverty. How did I manage? How did I get out of it?

I don’t know how I managed, but I know I didn’t do it alone. I had friends, non-profit organizations and mentors who helped me along the way. What got me out of poverty was getting on disability. It enabled me to pay my rent and included a bus pass for me to get around. That was the beginning of my recovery from poverty.

And I never want to be there again. I never want to worry about how I’m going to pay my bills or feed my family or get to a meeting or wonder if I can afford to meet a friend for coffee. And it’s that fear of being in poverty that pushes me forward.

Now I have to figure out how to get off of disability.

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Procrastination is not a SMART friend of mine

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Time to put out the garbage? Suddenly, doing the dishes seems appealing. Followed up on that job interview yet? Hmm, I wonder what’s stored in the garage. Booked your yearly check up with the dentist? Wow, I had no idea how many cob webs the corners of my house had.

I’ve often wondered if anyone actually shows up for courses on overcoming procrastination. I would certainly sign up for a course like that because, in theory, it would provide me with useful tips. In reality, I would probably come up with an excuse not to attend and then just say the class got cancelled.

Seriously, though. Procrastination for me is intertwined with the depression and anxiety I experience. The more anxious I feel about something, the more depressed I feel about not getting the task done, which results in me going out of my way to avoid doing it.

Yup, putting things off is my forte, which is why the SMART method of goal setting works so well for me.

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Realistic

Timely

I try to use this goal setting method in all areas of my life. Sometimes I need to remind myself I can only do one thing at a time. Sometimes, instead of a to-do list, I write an accomplishment list.

Most New Year’s resolutions fail. Why? Because people set vague, unrealistic goals. For example:

This year, I’m going to exercise.

Okay, good for you, but in my mind, this resolution raises more questions.

  • What type of exercise will you do?
  • By this year, do you mean every day or some random day within the next year or once a month or something else entirely?
  • How will you know when you’ve met your goal?
  • How often, what time of day and where will you do the exercise?

And so on. What about saying this instead?

This week, on Monday and Wednesday at work, I’m going to take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Much better. You’re Specific about when you’re going to do the activity and what the activity will be. You’re Measuring it by stating how many days you’re planning to follow through on this plan. It’s certainly Achievable and Realistic. Lastly, setting a Time limit completes the statement. SMART.

Some resolutions, however, are too vague and need to be broken down into mini SMART goals to get that one task completed.

From now on, I’m going to eat healthy.

Great plan! Do you know how to eat healthy? What does being healthy mean to you? Mini SMART goals might be:

  • On Monday after school, I’m going to write up my definition of healthy and how it relates to me.
  • On Tuesday before breakfast, I’m going to print a food diary I found online.
  • On Wednesday and Thursday, I’m going to write down everything I eat as soon as I eat it.
  • On Friday before bed, I’m going to review my definition of healthy and compare it to what I’ve been eating for the last few days and find any gaps.
  • On Saturday after my swim, I will plan my meals for the following week by making a grocery list.
  • By the time I go to bed on Sunday, my grocery shopping will be done.

And the next week you start over. By breaking down your goals into bite-size pieces, you’re setting yourself up for success. And if you aren’t able to complete each mini goal by the end of the week, don’t beat yourself up. All that means is either you need to be even more specific or you’ve given yourself too much to do. You could make the above SMART goals more achievable as follows;

  • Monday and Tuesday before bed, I’m going to research online about healthy eating.
  • By 3pm on Thursday, I will have written down my definition of what eating healthy looks like.
  • On Sunday during lunch with my health-conscious friend, I’m going to ask them how I get started.

I use SMART goals to feel good about myself and keep procrastination at bay. Have you turned your New Year’s resolutions into SMART goals yet?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pudding and Salsa

ID-100368725Food banks are a great resource for those living on limited to no extra funds after rent and other life necessities are paid for. And, although I feel bad about even being picky from receiving donated food, these suggestions could make a world of difference:

  1. Think about the meals people will be eating from the food you’re providing. Pudding is great as a treat, but salsa with nothing to dip into it is depressing.
  2. Not all people on limited incomes have a place to cook their meals. Providing items that are easy to heat up is ideal.
  3. Some people may not have access to a fridge or freezer, so frozen items only work for those people who have the luxury of cold storage.
  4. Fresh items such as fruit, vegetables and bread are always welcome. A limited income makes it difficult to eat healthy.
  5. If you’re providing the bags the food is in, please make them durable for all kinds of weather. You may remember my trip a few years back to the food bank where they gave me paper bags which broke apart as I got off the bus in the rain. Encourage people to bring their own bags.
  6. Provide recipe suggestions for items given, especially if it’s not apparent which items go together. For example, pasta and sauce make sense, but coconut milk, apples and bread make less sense. Supercook provides recipe suggestions from ingredients you’ve included, but not everyone has access to a computer at home.

Anyone can get to a point where they need the support of a food bank or soup kitchen. It’s not only income assistance and disability recipients in the lines. Often it’s single parents, students and the elderly. Poverty does not discriminate.

Image courtesy of jk1991 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The randomness of roommates

activitiesThirteen more days and my roommate of 2-years moves out. My daughter has already redecorated and assigned the spare room as our hobby room.

On and off over the last eight years, I’ve rented out my spare room to make ends meet.

When I first moved into my three bedroom suite, I rented two of the three rooms. Every new roommate brought with them the hope that this time would be different. Better. Cohesive. Instead, it was a constant reminder of the havoc it wreaks on my psyche. Rarely is it worth the financial gain.

My first roommate was a lovely young woman with a steady job, a boyfriend and a crazy little cat. She was quiet and unobtrusive. Things were going quite well until she lost her job three months later and had to move out.

The second roommate was great when she wasn’t high or drunk, which was hardly ever. Add that to the fact that her friends stole things from my house (booze, digital camera) and punched a huge hole in my wall, it was the longest two months of my life.

Roommate three lasted less than a month. Despite her glowing references, her mental health issues reared their ugly heads and I had to call the police to escort her off the premises.

I’d had enough. Or so I thought. Two years later, I received a distress call from a friend I’d met in my divorce support group. She was a woman with some serious issues to resolve. A few months later, we parted on hostile terms and are no longer friends.

It took me three years to get up the courage to make one final stab at the roommate thing. With my rent being 59% of my monthly income, any financial help made a difference.

Living with someone you don’t know very well can be challenging. You need to learn all the little quirks about them, you need to share half of your fridge, half of your cupboards, half of your shower rack full of shampoos. You can’t be too loud, you need to be courteous. Which is what you do with someone you love as well, but you shouldn’t have to remind them to do their end of the housework or constantly turn off the burner they forgot to turn off or feel bad about the lack of decor to their liking in your own home.

Thirteen more days and we have our place back to ourselves. I get to move back into the big bedroom and will finally be able to make my bed without flinging myself diagonally across it just to put on the fitted sheet. I no longer have to worry about walking out of the shower with my towel undone. No more waking up to late night cooking sounds and smells. I get my fridge and cupboards and shower back.

Sometimes personal freedom outweighs financial gain. This is one of those times.

Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Managing Depression

ID-100205944For every person who says anti-depressants have worked for them, there are ten people sharing horror stories for when they didn’t. I have come to realize that taking anti-depressants is the best way for me to manage my mood, but I also understand that it’s not for everyone.

It took me a long time to accept the fact that I could still experience depression while I was being treated for it. For example, when I started this blog just over two years ago, I was at rock bottom and had a hard time understanding (and accepting) my reality. Getting out of bed in the morning, attending to my personal needs and taking care of my daughter became insurmountable tasks. I felt like I was walking up a down escalator; moving, but getting nowhere.

An increase in my medication pulled me out of the quicksand enough to start addressing my many challenges. I didn’t necessarily feel better, but I was no longer paralyzed with fear. Instead, it maintained my mood enough to reluctantly navigate the murky waters of poverty, rebuild my self-esteem around career and school and learn how to budget. I began to see farther than one step at a time. I began to have hope again.

I am now in the fortunate position of tapering back on my meds, with my doctor’s approval of course. Forgetting that I might experience withdrawal symptoms with a lower dose, I became irritable, short-tempered and noises drove me crazy. Ahh, this is why I’m on anti-depressants in the first place. Sometimes it’s good to have a reminder.

Do I still have depression? Yes. Will I need to up the dose again? Probably, but not right now. In the meantime, my mood has improved due to the fact that I’m taking care of myself. Seeing friends on a regular basis, spending quality time with my kid, getting to better know my neighbours, playing with our new kitten, keeping track of my accomplishments no matter how small and doing things I enjoy. Life is so much easier outside of my head.

Image courtesy of amenic181 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

And the rent goes up again

houseI have lived in my current home for over eight years. In that time, my landlord has increased the rent every year. This year is no exception.

When I first moved into my place, I rented two of the three rooms while the person I sublet from kept the third room. My portion of the rent was $750/month including utilities and cable. It was a nice neighbourhood and walking distance to shopping, transit and my daughter’s school. In the back of my mind, I thought of that third room as income, either as a foster parent or with a roommate.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the gal did not tell the landlord she was subletting to me. Honestly, I was so happy to have slipped through the cracks that I didn’t push her on why she didn’t ask to do a credit check, obtain a month’s rent in addition to the security deposit or charge me a pet deposit. I had just ended a marriage and didn’t yet have a job; I wasn’t going to push my luck.

In the past, every rental increase notice spurs me into a house-hunting frenzy. It’s the only thing I haven’t cut back on from being in poverty. Has the perfect property become available? Can I be more accommodating with location and amenities? My application at BC Housing is one of 13,000 and housing co-ops require credit checks. My odds aren’t improving.

This year, I’ve decided not to go crazy about housing. Yes, it’d be awesome if my rent was subsidized as it would drop my rent to below $500/month. However, living in a neighbourhood where an updated 3-bedroom can cost $2000/month, I recognize my good deal of $1100/month. That third room currently houses a roommate.

Could my situation be better? Sure. It’d be great to have a landlord who cashed the rent cheque in a timely matter or who dependably (and without much reminding) upgraded the house and its environs. I would love a better layout of my place or even real hardwood floors instead of the fake paper version. But I couldn’t ask for better neighbours and my daughter’s high school is just as close as her elementary school was and I’m able to keep my two cats. I continue to update my files with the co-ops and BC Housing.

I don’t have a land line or a TV or a car anymore. But I do have a safe place to call home.

Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Driving out the homeless

bench You know the bus benches with the iron dividers? I’ve always thought it was a nice touch, but it turns out the addition is not aesthetic.

Last week, I listened to a webinar put on by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition as part of their speaker series. The featured speaker was Medicine Hat mayor Ted Clugston, who has managed to end homelessness in his city.

One of the many topics they talked about was the issue of homeless people sleeping on city benches. This is the reason for those dividers at bus stops. It’s to dissuade homeless people from sleeping on them. This fact shocked me.

A few days later, I was driving around with a friend and saw a high fence surrounding the back of an off ramp from the highway. Another way to discourage the homeless from sleeping there. It reminded me of the ad campaign Spring Advertising created for Raincity Housing, which turned benches into shelters.

It got me thinking about how vain our society is. Instead of tackling the issue of homelessness head on, they’re subtly making parts of the city uncomfortable or inaccessible. Build affordable housing instead. Do what Chimo Community Services is doing in Richmond. They’ve aligned with some developers to have homes designated for demolition to be occupied by homeless people in the interim. A safe shelter can go a long way to help someone out of their predicament.

Starting out as a community project, the beautifulemptyhomes.tumblr.com site lists detailed information on empty homes in the Lower Mainland. Find people homes and the rest of their issues can be sorted out. Use their skills to re-animate the unloved homes to something people want to buy.

I’m by no means saying there’s an easy way to end homelessness, but it certainly doesn’t start with spiked benches.