To Hell And Back Again

After the last post, I fell into a really dark hole. For every problem solved there appeared to arise two new ones, and between a lack of energy (which was bordering on apathy) and near-despair, I had some really horrible weeks. None of the bills due June had yet been paid, and I’d really had more than enough of those troubles over the last months: we got threatened with having the gas / electricity switched off twice and had to borrow money from a friend to pay those bills. I had my bank account terminated because I accidentally went over the credit limit and (thanks to being preoccupied with the side-effects of venlafaxine) didn’t notice immediately, so I ended up being blacklisted as a “financial offender” for the next three years – it will be as good as impossible to get any kind of loan, and I had to go begging at the bank to be granted another bank account, and on top of everything else I will have to pay off almost 1250.- Euros for the old account and in penalty fees. I tried explaining my situation on the phone, but first I had to wait three weeks for a call-back since the people holding the decision power were always busy, and when they finally did get back at me, the lady berated me for it “being all my fault”.
We just about managed to pay for my husband’s German classes and get some food on the table, even though the latter was perilously close to uncertainty at two times at least. There was one day when we had all but € 9.- between the two of us, and all that was left to eat was a bit of frozen vegetables, half a jar of jam, pasta and potatoes. No bread, fruit, rice, cheese, meat, fish, butter, milk or soy drink or whatever we usually eat. Our options were plain potatoes or plain pasta, with a bit of spinach or peas. Nothing you’d traditionally serve for breakfast – and having just asked a friend to help us out with money so we wouldn’t have the gas / electricity cut off, I didn’t want to go begging again. My mother-in-law unwittingly saved us from this by sending some money, and my friend scolded me for not telling her earlier when I related the story to her… All I can say is that there’s a difference between having to ask for help once, because you got into a tight spot, and having to do it again and again, week after week or month after month. It wears you out mentally.
I believe my husband became more worried about me and my state of mind than about the money, because even though I was not entertaining thoughts of suicide, he made me promise I wouldn’t do anything to myself. Nevertheless, even getting dressed became an almost insurmountable obstacle, and I oscillated between apathy and fits of crying. I felt like I had nothing left in me: no energy, no fight, no will. And even though I had successfully fought off the denial of the application in April, nothing appeared to move forward in that regard ever since – until the beginning of June.

The money came in about three weeks ago, and despite the fact that we didn’t get approved for March (when I was still officially a university student and not available for welfare), we got monthly allowances retroactively from April 1st on. We could pay our bills, and get rid of the debts with the health insurance and the energy provider. I made a payment plan with the collection agency to pay off my old bank account in rates, paid off my sister since she had covered the contents insurance of our worldly possessions earlier this year, and gave two months’ worth of rent to my mother, as a thank you for supporting us when my parents were on a budget themselves.
Having this existential problem lifted off our shoulders has done more for my mental health than any other measure taken during the last months. For the first time in years, I go to bed without being afraid of what the next day is going to bring: even though I still get a fright when one of those “official-looking” letters comes in, I can immediately remind myself that we have the money to take care of whatever is heading our way.
The German welfare system is far from perfect and much criticized, but compared to our situation during the last year – and especially the last couple of months – we are doing peachy right now. Of course, we are not eating steak and lobster, but I can buy everything we need and some more, whereas before I would have to prioritize and calculate whether I had enough money to buy some yoghurt, for example, or whether it had to wait until the next time since it was not strictly necessary.
There was one day when I went to the neighbouring town for shopping, since the local supermarket had some offers which justified spending money on a tram ticket as we would still save compared to buying the same products in our hometown – and I made a mistake when calculating the expense. It was just a minor figure I was off, about 50 cents, but I ended up those 50 cents short for buying the tram ticket back home. I did not dare taking the tram without a valid ticket because of the € 60.- fine if I got caught, so I had no choice but walking home. It was a relatively warm day and I was dragging / carrying about 30 kg (roughly 65 pounds) of bottles and groceries in my shopping trolley and two bags. I had called my husband to meet me halfway, but by the time we got home, I was completely exhausted.
That is only one story out of many about how destitute we were. I walked around in jeans ripped from wear and tear for over a month, because I could not find a pair cheap enough in my size. When I finally found one, it had a bad, unflattering cut and I didn’t like the colour, but at least the prize was very low and the fabric not torn, so I bought it anyway. After just a few short weeks, the pull tab of the zipper broke – cheap material, I guess – so I had to put a safety-pin through the eye of the slider for using the zipper: the result was that every time I went to the toilet or got (un-)dressed, the safety-pin popped open and stung me in the finger. At that point, I made such a pitiful figure that my mother and sister gave me a part of my birthday present, two pairs of jeans, about ten days early.

Maybe that gives a little insight into why I have not been blogging. At some point, I just got too exhausted – all my mental energy went into making sure we would get on state support. And I wanted to escape from the daily struggles, not reflect on them.

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