With poverty comes the seemingly inescapable curse of “toxic stress.” Toxic stress, the stress that results from being in an environment that is constantly stressful due to the lack of getting basic needs met, has been engrained in my family, our community, and our state. In our situation of not having enough… enough food, enough money, enough heat, or enough of anything you need to survive every day was a constant battle. We were and still are living continually in survival mode, worrying about how to make ends meet when you’re already in the hole.
Have you heard of the fight or flight response that happens to us when we are stressed? That’s never stopped for my family and me. We have always been fighting for, against, or running away from something. For the first 29 years of my life, I believed that there was something wrong with me and that I was somehow attracting bad things to happen to me. When unfortunate things would happen, I would feel as though I must have done something to deserve it. Like wrong things were happening to me because I must have been doing something wrong. Those beliefs changed. I’ll discuss more on that later.
I am the oldest of four siblings. I’m the red head with “pop bottled lensed” glasses who always sat in the front row if I got to choose so I could see the board better. I was the shy kid in the corner who enjoyed learning, singing, going to church, making friends, and helping others. I was the kid who rarely was picked to be on the basketball team and don’t remember ever getting handed the ball. Yeah, I may have been called a red headed freckled faced four eyed geek, but that was a part of me, and still is.
My siblings and I enjoyed our childhood, our neighborhood, and our family. Sure, we didn’t have enough all the time, but we really didn’t think we had it that bad until life showed and taught us otherwise. I thought every kid’s parents fought and ran after each other. I thought everyone who lived up a Holler drove through a cave tunnel that was carved through a mountain. Taking my siblings and hiding from Dad was a game all kids played, right? With enough stress, anybody can end up fighting I know that for a fact. No matter what though, we adapted and we grew. We got older and eventually had to leave our home because of poverty, mental illness, and domestic violence. We lived in shelters and sometimes slept in the car. I did my best to hide that fact from my friends, but they almost always found out.
We fought, we loved, and we learned. I owe those experiences to giving me the resiliency, grit, and mindset that I have today. Without that, I wouldn’t be who I am, and after years of soul searching and hard struggles, I do my best to love myself while loving others. I have always enjoyed conversations, getting to know people, connecting with them, finding out their life story, and sharing with them mine. It was a part of me that some people didn’t like.
Because I started my truth around the age of 29, I’ve often heard, “you talk too much,” or “do you ever stop?” Sometimes people with an unkind tone say, “she never stops, does she?” Why is it that some people want to shut me up?
Isn’t that part of what makes us human… connecting with each other and bonding? The easiest way to connect with someone else is to talk. I could do that all day long given the right circumstances. I had no idea how big the group would be, how many people would be there, or if it would be on our local TV news channel.