If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been told to “stay positive” I would have been able to leave the shelter a long time ago. I always get this when I express any feeling other than absolute fucking joy. Do people not understand that after being kicked so long it’s hard to just believe things will work?
When I went into the shelter almost five years ago, I was optimistic. I was on my own with a baby and scared. However, I just knew things would work out. I just had to believe and I was positive things would go well. After going back and forth from a hotel to the main office while they found a domestic violence shelter that would accept me, I was positive. Every day, several phone calls to different shelters, and I was there positively positive.
I’m placed in a domestic violence shelter but told it’s only a 4 month stay. If I’m not accepted into low-income housing, then I have to go back to the office and start over this time in a regular shelter. But I was positive. I would be placed somewhere.
I wasn’t. And so I had to take a two-hour train ride in the middle of Winter during a particularly cold day with a baby back to the office. Then wait and wait and wait for a new shelter. But it was OK. Things would work out. I was positive they would.
But then TJ got food poisoning from the lunches they served at the office. Things would be OK though. I just needed to remain positive. Hadn’t things worked out so far, albeit with a few hiccups?
I was finally placed, but I had to get there myself. The drivers were out and they didn’t know when they’d be back. If I wasn’t in the shelter in four hours I’d lose my placement. That was OK though. I was a little worried having to carry a suitcase, a stroller and a sleeping baby to the train which had no elevator at 11pm in NYC but I’d be OK. I was positive I would be.
The stroller got stuck on the platform. No one helped me. The train was coming. I missed it. I was still stuck, wanting to cry. But I wouldn’t. I would be OK. I just needed to remain positive.
I got lost on my way to the shelter in a strange neighborhood in NYC. But I would be OK.
I was in that shelter for two years. But I didn’t worry. I was tired and the word “positive” made my eye twitch but I still clung to it. If I lose this, I’ll lose everything. I was always hearing how hope is the last thing you lose. I didn’t want to lose hope. I had already lost so much.
I get an opportunity to leave the shelter. I was ecstatic. TJ could start kindergarten as a non-homeless kid. I could have peace of mind and go back to school. My mental health would improve drastically. I was excited! I rarely ever got excited about anything anymore. Positivity had worked.
Two months later we were back in the shelter.
More misery. More tears, more failure. But why? I had been so positive.
I realize this all may sound a lot like faith and isn’t that weird because I’m an atheist? But no, not really. I wasn’t praying to a god. I was just hoping that I’d finally catch a break. I was just hoping that once, just once, the system would help me. But the system isn’t there to help you. The system isn’t broken but it does break you. I had been broken.
So, I kept living and surviving like I always did. I had no other choice. But I no longer had any dreams about my career or schooling. I wasn’t fooling myself into thinking I’d get out of here soon.
So it’s more misery and suffering and failures.
Along the way though I’ve met some wonderful people in online spaces. They care about me and TJ. They’re affirming and gentle and loving. If I’m in a tough spot they rally around me and help. But I was hesitant to accept that at first. I didn’t believe I deserved it. Hadn’t I been suffering alone all this time? Why were these people here trying to help?
I’ve recently found an apartment and my friends helped me share my fundraiser for moving expenses. We reached our goal within a day. But the idea of my having an apartment; of finally leaving the shelter is scary beyond hell.
The apartment has been on my mind nonstop since I found out I was accepted. I go through feelings of happiness, to anxiety that it’s happening, to disbelieving it will. Then I remember that I just need to give them the money. I signed the paperwork already. Then I get this really calm feeling and think “what if this is the break you’ve been waiting for? What if this is it?”
Then I panic because I don’t how to live other than being scared and panicked. I don’t know how to live without feeling like I’m constantly on the edge of disaster. If it isn’t one crisis, it’s another. I don’t know how to relax.
I go on these emotional roller coasters and my friends let me vent and validate me. Then the well-meaning but misguided “positivity preachers” show up. They tell me to relax and calm down. I just need to be positive.
But positivity won’t make the anxiety go away. Positivity didn’t get me the apartment. Positivity didn’t get the money raised. Sometimes “be positive” just sounds like, “Shut up. You’re making me uncomfortable thinking about the hardships people face”. It feels like a silencing tactic.
I’ve found that the people who go on about positivity are either privileged people who’ve never experienced much oppression, or people who are like I once was. People who haven’t been kicked enough times. This is completely cynical on my part, but I do believe that they’ll eventually come to my realization that positivity is bullshit. Whatever good things I have haven’t happened because I was positive. They happened because the friends I have are kind people, and because I’m slowly learning to accept people’s affection and help. Positivity, in the sense that’s it’s some wish granter, hasn’t helped with that. That has been a lot of work on my part.
I’ll tell you though, one thing I am positive about is that I’m lucky to have these wonderful people in my life. I’ve survived this long and that’s a positive thing. TJ is thriving and that’s positive.
I am OK. I do worry. Sometimes the worry is justified, others it’s just my anxiety getting the best of me, but I need to be able to vent these feelings.
Whether things go smoothly or not has nothing to do with my thoughts. If I could so easily control outcomes just by being positive, I would have left the shelter long ago. Unfortunately platitudes don’t put bread on the table.