The Life You Save May Be Your Own

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Bootstrappin’ It September 26, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — weordmyndum @ 6:26 pm
Tags: , ,

I was listening to NPR this morning, and they played a clip from Rick Santorum’s speech at the Republican National Convention: “Graduate from high school, work hard, and get married before you have children and the chance you will ever be in poverty is just two percent.”

I wanted to punch him. Repeatedly.

But I think my reaction comes, in a large part, from growing up in a very conservative family where both financial success and happiness were thought of as something you could achieve if you just follow the formula and work hard enough. If you didn’t succeed, if you weren’t happy–it was your own fault. Obviously you just weren’t working hard enough.

I did all the right things. I graduated from the #4 high school in the country with a 3.6 GPA, I worked at a fast food restaurant in the evenings and all summer, I did volunteer work in the community, I didn’t have sex or use drugs. (Okay, I did smoke pot once, and there was that caffeine addiction.)

But here I am at 26, disabled and almost totally dependent on my family for financial survival. I’m the 47%, I’m the victim class. Apparently.

I do the best I can, but it’s just not enough. Whether it’s finances or happiness, I’m a failure in the eyes of my family and the Republican Party.

“If you just worked harder, you’d be happy, Sara. You have to decide you’re going to be happy, and then you will be. Just stop being so negative! You just have to get out there and get a job and then be happy with it. You make your own happiness.” These are things I’ve heard over and over for most of my life. I find it impossible to separate the bootstraps approach to financial independence from the bootstrap approach to mental health because, in my life, they’re intertwined. I’m not financially independent because I’m not sane, can’t handle normal life like a normal person. According to my family, if I’d just choose to be happy, then I’d be able to get a job and support myself.

I think the reason I’m so angry at Rick Santorum is I believe what he’s saying. Not for other people–I get enraged for them. But I believe it applies to me: if I’d just quit whining and feeling sorry for myself, get off my ass, and pull myself up by my own bootstraps, I’d be fine. I’d be able to handle job stress because I’d decided I could; I’d be happy because I’d decided to be.

That’s the insidious thing about indoctrination: if you tell a kid the same thing over and over for years, she’ll believe it. She may grow up and realize the logic is faulty, realize she would never judge anyone else so harshly. But she’ll never be able to stop judging herself. She’ll still feel like a failure at both independence and happiness.


4 Responses to “Bootstrappin’ It”

  1. Grainne Says:

    Ohhh the bootstrap theory. I also heard the same over and over…happiness and financial success is a CHOICE. If I just stopped getting so anxious about it (I.e. stop thinking about it) all I have to do is make the choice to be happy and it’ll happen. It’s a load of crap, doubly so when applied so someone who can’t work because of mental illness. What really gets me about this is that if you and I had heart conditions no one would ever say “Ohh, just forget that you’re heart is fucked and make the choice to be healthy!”

    If only it were that easy. 😦 I hate that your family thinks you’re a failure. I wish they would realize how very much it takes to keep going when you are trying to navigate through mental illness. (hugs)

    • weordmyndum Says:

      There’s this double bind with mental illnesses: doctors and pharmaceutical companies claim mental illnesses are entirely physiological, just like diabetes or heart disease. But we get punished by society–and often by the psychiatrists and therapists who claim mental illness is biochemical–for behaving badly; i.e., manifesting symptoms of our illness. We don’t punish diabetics for having blood sugars that are out of whack, but we punish people for having emotions that are out of whack. How does that make sense?

      • Grainne Says:

        It doesn’t, you’re absolutely right. My physical pain was all in my head for seven years and they ignored it until they found something physical then it’s a race to the specialists office. 😦 I hate the stigma.

  2. Ellen Says:

    I do know the feeling of intellectually knowing something is not my fault, but still feeling guilty about it. Conservative type politicians really play into this dynamic for me also and I try never to listen to / read them.

    I now have a job and pay lots of taxes, but at my lowest couldn’t find work for a number of years. Wish I could send assurances back in time that I would be doing better in the future! You are really young, and I’m pretty sure you’ll also get work, once the time is right for you.

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