We come to you today with a VERY SPECIAL EPISODE™ of the Bitches Get Riches podcast. And it features a VERY SPECIAL GUEST™: Diania Merriam, owner and founder of theEconoMe Conference!
As you guys know, we rarely have guests on the Bitches Get Riches podcast (unless they’re Santa Claus, of course). It’s a lot of pressure to keep up with our 15-year-long friendship of inside jokes and internalized poor taste. We can’t inflict that on just anyone.
But Diania is exactly the sort of brave bitch we knew could handle the challenge. And she’s got some personal experience with the question at hand! So we welcomed her onto the podcast to answer this question from an anonymous listener:
I work in an extremely toxic work environment. My boss is disrespectful, the whole company culture is abusive, and HR has been utterly dismissive of my issues. Walking in the door every morning feels like I’m entering Shawshank Penitentiary. I’m at the end of my rope and I know I have to leave to save myself. But I haven’t been able to land a new job yet. I have some savings, but I’m definitely not financially independent. I’d describe it as a small amount of ‘Fuck You Money,’ but not enough to live on for more than maybe 4-6 months. Should I quit? Even before I have a new job lined up?
Diana floored us with a bunch of great insights. (Did you know if you quit your job because of a hostile work environment, you’re still entitled to collect unemployment? We freakin’ didn’t! Huh, I wonder why workplaces don’t mention that fact more often?) Tune in to listen to the three of us discuss the answer.
I’ve spent a lot of time gazing into the abyss of social media fatigue over the past year. And I guess the abyss is finally gazing back, because we’ve gotten a few questions on this subject recently!
Patreon donor (and effulgent selkie maiden) Georgie puts it this way:
Hello eminent and awe-inspiring Bitches! I have a question that I hope you might have some insight on.
How can I kick ass in today’s activism, corporate, and social world without using social media?
I am autistic, and have found through painful experience that usage of any media that is endlessly scrollable (think Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc) negatively impacts my mental health to the point of being actively dangerous. Most importantly, I have been active in social justice activism for a few years now and find it nigh on impossible to work well within the current BLM movement in my city without Facebook.
Along with this, I know that potential employers, dates, and roommates are searching for me online and finding someone who effectively disappeared last year. Any advice would be appreciated.
May your crackers be cheesy & your wallets be fat,
First, we must pause to admire Georgie’s sign off, which is a 10/10. Now, let’s see what we can do about her problem, which sounds like social media fatigue. Maybe with a splash of activism fatigue. And boy am I familiar with that!
We have a question today from a Tumblr follower. If you don’t follow us on Tumblr, you should! Piggy is one of the Tumblr Deep Ones. She’s been on the platform since its infancy, and she answers tons of reader questions.
Like this one!
I need to move out, but I don’t have any money actually saved up. I do have a job that can cover my monthly costs and still have some left over. So I was wondering just how bad of an idea it is to take out a student loan to get me out of my situation and then immediately work on paying it off.
Ah. A very relatable dilemma.
For most people (and families), housing is the largest item in their budget. Young people spend, on average, a quarter of their income on housing—more than any other age group. Which means that saving money on housing can have an enormous positive impact on your finances. Especially when you’re young.
But is it ever a good idea to strategically spend a lot more than you have to on housing? Spoiler alert: yes, it absolutely can be.
I have a question about maintaining empathy in this capitalist hellscape. I live in NYC and there are homeless people everywhere. I can remember being a kid and having huge amounts of sympathy for the homeless in my hometown; I always gave some of my allowance money if I walked by a homeless person, or asked a parent for a dollar to give. Now I’m 27, have lived in NYC for 2+ years, and have lost so much sympathy for the suffering of the homeless.
I know logically that I should be much more sympathetic to their situation, but I also can’t help but think they are such a nuisance. I almost never give them a spare dollar. I just can’t afford it. I loathe them for inconveniencing me with their shouting and their stench. I think that if they’ve reached the point of needing to beg strangers for help, they must have alienated all of their loved ones; I’d never be in that position. If the people who love them won’t help them, why should I?
But logically I know that’s not true. I could be in that place with just a few family tragedies. It’s this internal battle I deal with every day on my commute: I dehumanize these people, I feel guilty and logically know I’m wrong. I do nothing to help. I want to stop dehumanizing the homeless because I know it’s wrong, and because I know I can do better for them and society can do better for them. What can be done? How do I get over being annoyed and repulsed every time a homeless person inconveniences me?
This is an anonymous question we received on our Tumblr. And… it’s a doozy.
It takes a rare person to be this self-aware, pragmatic, and compassionate. The last thing I want to do is submit this person for public shaming for finding homeless people “annoying” and repulsive. Instead, I want to applaud them for doing something rather difficult: staring straight into the heart of one of our collective societal failures and searching for a solution.
We tend to equate poverty with moral inferiority. And so it can be easy to look at homeless people and dismiss them as individual moral failures. They’re people who’ve fucked up so bad they have to live in a cardboard box, right? I want to challenge that dark individualism.
So let’s talk about homelessness.
It can happen to any of us
As John Oliver so eloquently explains in this clip, the vast majority of Americans are sooooo much closer to being a homeless beggar on the streets than they are to being on MTV’s Cribs.
Our individual financial security is fucking precarious! That’s why we write this blog! Yes, you can build up an emergency fund and save six months of your income, but when you get right down to it, most of us are one major medical emergency away from bankruptcy.
And if you can’t recover from said emergency, if you don’t have a support network to get you out of that mess… that’s it. You’re done. You’re staring down the barrel of homelessness and getting judged by strangers on the street for your inability to stay clean and hygienic while you literally sleep under the overpass and rummage through the dumpster behind Au Bon Pain for day-old bread.
I’m hoping this stark reminder puts things into perspective. Most of us have more in common with the homeless guy at the park than we do with the Koch brothers.
Why are people homeless?
The knee-jerk reaction of the uninformed is that homeless people must’ve really fucked up to lose all support and end up on the street. Surely, someone like you could never end up there because you have people who love and support you, right? And besides that, you’ve taken care to build up your personal safety net. You’ve made responsible choices and Done the Right Thing. Homeless people can’t be anything like you—they’re just irresponsible!
That might be true for some. But a large segment of the homeless population doesn’t fit into that narrow stereotype.
A lot of homeless people are mentally ill and slipped through the cracks left by their caretakers and an imperfect system.
In fact, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 20 to 25% of homeless people in our country have some form of mental illness. They report that the mental illnesses of homeless people disrupt their ability to perform essential parts of daily life: self-care, household management, and forming and maintaining stable relationships.
The result is that these people who desperately need the help of others end up pushing away or fearfully running from those who might otherwise be able to help them: caregivers, family, and friends.
Sadly, people with mental illnesses (read: sick people who truly need medical care) are more likely to experience homelessness than the general population.
Aging out of foster care
Others among the homeless population are kids who have aged out of the foster care system with no helping hand and no prospects for an education or career.
Think back to your eighteenth birthday. Were you expected to move out of your parents’ home the very same day? Manage your own finances? Support yourself?
I’m guessing the answer is no.
Every year, 20,000 young people age out of the foster care system. They have no families, no safety net, no support network. And yet they’re expected to become functioning adults overnight.
Some of them are able to line up jobs and places to live right away. But a lot of them, through no fault of their own, end up on the street.
Some homeless people are gay and trans youth who were literally kicked out of their homes and disowned by their families.
This is where things get really fucking dark. The Coalition for Homeless Youth notes that a staggering number of LGBT youth who wind up on the streets turn to prostitution to survive. Many of those end up contracting sexually transmitted diseases and becoming addicted to dangerous drugs. Oh yeah, and they get to deal with the joys of homophobia and transphobia on top of everything else.
According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, 40% of the nation’s homeless youth identify as LGBT. Of these, 46% are runaways who left because their families rejected their sexual orientation or gender identity. And 43% were forced to leave their homes by parents who would rather condemn their child to a life on the streets than have a gay or trans child.
I’m not a parent, but I’m hard pressed to imagine a more cruel and inhumane thing a parent can do to their child.
Substance abuse and addiction
Other homeless people are addicted to substances in this great nation where we treat addiction like a crime rather than the public health crisis it is.
And again, if we consider addiction a health crisis rather than a sign of moral failing, then homeless addicts are doubly fucked: trapped with a health condition that prevents them from living a normal, financially stable life, and cut off from the resources and support network that would allow them to recover.
Lastly, let’s not forget that many homeless people are veterans who have been totally abandoned by a broken and struggling VA. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, about 11% of homeless adults are vets.
Full disclosure, I am the daughter of a disabled veteran and that life experience has given me strong opinions on the VA. Like, strongly negative opinions. So while some might not think it’s fair to even partially blame the VA for the preponderance of vets on the street, I’m totes cool with that generalization!
The point is that a lot of people join the military to better their lives. Whether it’s to get out of generational poverty, become citizens after emigrating to the States, pay for a college education, or to support a family, many service members view the U.S. military as a way out.
How tragic, then, when they’re discharged onto the streets and provided with little in the way of healthcare and transition assistance. Many veterans struggle with post-traumatic stress, which can lead to the kind of mental health issues and substance abuse problems discussed above.
Above all, compassion
The homeless person you pass on the street could be a runaway, an addict, a mentally ill person, an abuse survivor, or a veteran.
Put even the most normal, patient, chill person in any of these situations, grind them down with bad weather, abuse, lack of nutrition and healthcare for months and years, and I guarantee they’ll get a bit surly.
When you meet a loud, annoying, unhygienic homeless person on the street, you’re meeting them at their worst. I defy you to act any better in their situation!
Let’s return to our anonymous question asker. Because I honestly don’t blame them for their feelings of discomfort and disgust in the presence of some homeless people! They’re not all saints, just like those of us who have homes. Some homeless people can be mean, belligerent, dirty, rude, or annoying. That’s not a pleasant person to deal with. Nobody wants to put up with an intrusion into their daily routine that makes them uncomfortable.
Our question asker shouldn’t feel bad for having an intensely negative reaction to difficult people. But what makes those people difficult is probably not their homelessness.
Assholes come in all shapes and colors
Kitty chiming in briefly to say: I once worked with a woman who was invisibly homeless. She held a good job in the tech industry, had a neat and professional appearance, seemed super put-together, and was genuinely sweet as pie. But she and her daughter slept in a car every night for several months, waiting for beds at a women’s shelter to open up. She spent all of her paychecks on lawyers to keep her physically abusive husband at bay. No one at work had any idea until one day when she was particularly stressed, and the truth came flooding out. Homeless, but not an asshole.
Conversely, in my old neighborhood, a disheveled woman used to pester me for money on my commute home. She told lies about her situation to get kindhearted people to give her money. She’d spend that money on alcohol, drink it on the bench in front of my house, and pass out in a pool of her own piss, leaving bottles and cigarette butts everywhere. If you declined to give her money (and she was feeling feisty), she’d hit you with a big glob of spit, or cuss you out. Charming!
Here’s the thing, though… that woman was not homeless. She lived in the apartment building across the street from me, and was always too wasted to recognize me as her neighbor. Not homeless, but an asshole.
Non-homeless people can be massive fucking dicks on a regular basis, so why not the homeless?
Generalizing the behavior of a group of people by one trait they share is a pretty bad idea. That’s when you hear things like “women love tearing each other down” or “young people are too lazy to vote” or “white people can’t dance” because EXCUSE ME, I CAN SHAKE IT. Lumping all people together by their housing status is exactly as arbitrary as lumping them together by religion, or gender, or skin color. Especially when most homeless people don’t have a different choice.
There is a very thin line separating all of us financially stable people from the homeless. That alone makes them worthy of our compassion and respect. Basic human decency goes a long way to someone who gets alternately ignored and shat upon by most of the human race. You are not obliged to have perfect Christlike feelings towards everyone you meet in New York City. But your blanket contempt won’t improve their situation, and it won’t make you happier either.
Here’s s’more on why we should all cut the poor and homeless a break:
I personally very rarely give money to individual homeless people. But I do donate to a number of charitable organizations that help to alleviate the plight of the homeless and impoverished in my country. I also vote for politicians and policies that will improve life for those struggling to make ends meet.
I support policies and politicians who aim to get at the root of the homelessness problem—not just systemic poverty, but inadequate mental health programs, lack of support for veterans and the disabled, and lack of protection for children suffering abuse or lacking stability in their home lives.
And if you ever doubt that your vote counts, just know this: there are some politicians and states that are going to drastic measures to help relieve homelessness! Take it away, Lloyd Pendleton, head of Utah’s Homeless Task Force:
I pay taxes in the hopes that my money will be used to stab the root problems of homelessness in the heart. When I see a homeless person on the street, I remind myself that I am making informed political decisions to help them. I remind myself that they are the reason I donate to charities and food banks. And yeah, sometimes if I can, I spare a dollar for their plight (though I rarely carry cash). But if I can’t in that moment, then I know that I’ve still done something on a broader scale.
When this discussion came up on Tumblr, one of our followers wrote in about their own experience with homelessness:
I was homeless for six months because of laws in my state preventing me from signing a lease or getting a hotel. I think you’ve gotta be pretty entitled to assume that because someone’s homeless they did anything wrong. I got straight As in school had a full-time job and a large savings account and ended up in my car. My family wouldn’t take me because I’d ‘be an inconvenience.’ My friends wouldn’t take me in either. I did all the things the right way but got screwed by an unfair system. You want to help homeless people? Offer them a ride or some food or something tangible. That’s always what I needed. Even sitting down and talking would help. Homelessness is lonely.
Something as simple as a bureaucratic technicality made this person homeless. And the lack of a safety net or social support network left them hanging.
Yet what they longed for aside from the necessities of survival was respect. Comfort. Being treated like a goddamn person.
We clearly have a long way to go before we’ve solved the problem of homelessness in America. But in the meantime, remember that so little can do so much.
We’ve gotten a lot of questions recently about a hypothetical looming recession. The stock market has taken a bruising; bellwether companies are stumbling. Do such omens and portents mean that another recession on its way?
The good news is, we can answer this one very easily.
Yes. Another recession is coming.
We know this with 100% certainty.
The same way we know with 100% certainty that Piggy and I will be dead within the next hundred years. It is in the nature of a living being to die, just as it is in the nature of economies to grow and contract. The sun rises; the sun falls. The tides go in; the tides go out. It’s just the way things are.
Sounds kinda shitty, right? It’s possible that, someday far in the future, someone will devise some new system that will smooth out or even eliminate these cycles. Maybe the nature of goods and services will change so fundamentally that economies will transform in ways we can’t even imagine. But that’s Phillip K. Dick stuff—innovations that live so far in a hypothetical future that they’re still science fiction. You should plan to endure these market cycles throughout your lifetime.
And yes, there are lots of things you can do to make yourself more prepared. Let’s go through them.
We’re going to cap off our series on mental health with a question from one of our Patreon donors! This question comes to us from Patron Zoë. And it is SO GOOD and SO IMPORTANT! I am thrilled that she allowed me to share my response.
Here’s Zoë’s question:
In a recent article, Kitty recommends peers as an alternative to therapy. Philosophically, I think it’s a great recommendation. US culture seems increasingly dependent on monetary fixes rather than social fixes.
Here’s my problem: as a friend of some people with severe mental hurdles who can’t afford/don’t want therapy, sometimes it’s just… too much.
I feel stuck. I want to love them and assuage their anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts. But I also find myself hitting a wall where they aren’t getting well or coping any better than they did before I tried to help.
It’s not fair to expect someone to just suddenly overcome a mental health issue just because I talked them through one incident. It’s also not okay to treat a friendship as a transaction. (“One breakdown for you; one breakdown for me: that’s the deal!”) But it also starts to become a pretty huge emotional burden and an unbalanced relationship for a while. In my case, the friends most reliant on my care are on the internet, which means they have fairly unlimited access to me.
I don’t think it’s selfish to want to draw a line… but it feels selfish. And I don’t know what to do.
I really can’t understate what a powerful and difficult question this is. Whether your mental health seascape is placid or stormy, being a constant source of support for other people’s struggles takes tremendous psychic energy. Here are my suggestions on how to manage this incredibly tricky situation.
What are you supposed to do if you’re experiencing a mental health crisis and you don’t have a therapist? Or things like money for healthcare? Supportive parents? Access to transportation and time off to visit a doctor? Or like, the ability to shower and leave the house?
We see you.
Whether you have a serious diagnosed condition, or you’re just feeling stressed or blue, this list details free steps that you can take immediately that might help mitigate your circumstances. Nothing on here is revolutionary. Nothing here will “cure” you of whatever ails you. You cannot solve mental health problems with rationalizing and motivation. But because most of such struggles are chronic, it helps to have a sizable toolbox of behaviors to turn to.
Here’s what we’ve got.
Drink a glass of water. Don’t gulp it down, drink it sip by sip.
Eat something. It doesn’t have to be a whole meal. A banana or a granola bar is great. Maybe avoid super salty or sugary stuff. Unless you’re in a place where you need to drive to Five Guys in your pajamas with no shoes on because I have been there.
Stretch and change your position. If you’ve been standing and moving, try sitting or lying down—and vice versa. Stretch like a bear awakening from hibernation. Even if you don’t feel like you have to, your limbs will appreciate it.
Get some light. If your blinds are drawn, pull them up. If you’re in a dark room, move to a lighter room. Whenever it’s possible to put sun on your skin, do so. Your poor brain is confused; help her out by having lights on in the day and off at night.
Get some fresh air. If you can go for a walk, awesome. If not, just stand outside for a moment. Breathe deeply and listen to the sounds you don’t usually notice: birds singing, wind moving, cars going by.
If that’s too much: Open the windows if the weather is nice. If the weather’s not nice, just open them for a minute or two. Light a scented candle.
Move your body. Walks are a solid response to basically all feelings and situations. If you have the energy and focus to do more (go to the gym, go for a run), do that. Exercise almost always helps improve and stabilize moods.
If that’s too much: Put a time limit on it. Tell yourself “I only have to do this for five minutes, and if I want to stop after that, I can.” The hardest part is to get going. Once you’re there, you may decide you can continue after all. In any case, you have permission to stop.
Don’t do anything dangerous. If you’re experiencing severe anxiety or depression, please don’t get into a car or operate heavy machinery.
We’ve been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from our followers. But even better, our lovely readers have come out of the woodwork to share their own stories of life outside the neurotypical spectrum. And this. Is. Glorious. We’ve never felt more warm fuzzies for our community and we’re proud of each and every one of you for carrying on through depression, anxiety, ADHD, and whatever other mental weirdness you’re dealing with.
But some of you might be asking at this point, “I thought this was a money blog. What the hell does mental health have to do with personal finance?”
This post discusses depression, anxiety, addiction, suicide, and self-harm. I think it does so in a pretty constructive and helpful way? But I wrote it, so here are some large grains of kosher salt.
Reading! It’s just like they said it would be! “I can go anywhere. Friends to know. Ways to grow.”
Today I want to share with you my favorite book about mental health. It’s not a memoir or a self-help book. It’s not even nonfiction! No, it’s a little ditty from 1985 about evolution, ghosts, Armageddon, and nubbins. Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagosis a brilliant satire on the evolutionary advantages and disadvantages of the human brain. And it completely changed the way I think about mental health, including my own depression.
The opening scene follows a woman as she attempts suicide, and it’s narrated by the dispassionate ghost of a Richard Attenborough nature documentarian type. Here’s a brief excerpt, with a few plot things trimmed out:
“Mary taught that the human brain was the most admirable survival device yet produced by evolution. But now her own big brain was urging her to take the polyethylene garment bag from around a red evening dress in her closet, and to wrap it around her head, thus depriving her cells of oxygen.
“Before that, her wonderful brain had entrusted a thief at the airport with a suitcase containing all her toilet articles and clothes which would have been suitable for the hotel.
“Her colossal thinking machine could be so petty, too. It would not let her go downstairs in her combat fatigues on the grounds that everybody, even though there was practically nobody in the hotel, would find her comical in such a costume. Her brain told her: ‘They’ll laugh at you behind your back, and think you’re crazy and pitiful, and your life is over anyway. You’ve lost your husband and your teaching job, and you don’t have any children or anything else to live for, so just put yourself out of your misery with the garment bag. What could be easier? What could be more painless? What could make more sense?’
“Just about every adult human being back then had a brain weighing about three kilogrammes! There was no end to the evil schemes that a thought machine that oversized couldn’t imagine and execute.
“So I raise this question, although there is nobody around to answer it: Can it be doubted that three-kilogramme brains were once nearly fatal defects in the evolution of the human race?”
Yeah. This novel completely changed the way I thought about the human mind.