Why is that even though we know we need the help we are reluctant to take it?
For me, it’s because I value my independence. I don’t like relying on others to take care of me. I’m an adult; I should be able to take care of myself. I’m used to being the one offering help.
When the hospital social worker recommended that Mike and I go on food stamps, I immediately said No f*cking way. I absolutely refuse to even entertain the notion of public assistance. The mere thought turns my stomach.
I know we could use the help. Both of us are—well were—full time students. Our income was already limited. But now, while he’s recovering from surgery and undergoing chemo and radiation, Mike is out of work for at least a few months. Our already meager income has been slashed even more.
Maybe I’m letting my principles override logic, after all the social worker said that there’s no stigma attached to food stamps, but I would rather take out additional loans than take public assistance. This way, even though I know it may put me further into debt, at least I can say that I’m still self-sufficient. I can still provide for myself. I can look at myself in the mirror without being disgusted.
Taking public assistance would make me feel like a charity case. It would make me feel like I was using and abusing the system. After all, we do have family and friends who can help. Not everyone has those options. Obviously, I realize that the assistance I don’t take won’t necessarily go to someone who needs it more.
I know I’m being irrational. Everyone I’ve discussed this with, from my Green sister to my Republican brother-in-law, has said to take whatever assistance we’re offered. At least my brother-in-law understands my revulsion to food stamps.
I’m willing to accept some help from friends and family. Friends from NY have sent care packages to our house. Others have offered to take us out or help around the house. My coworkers took up a collection for us. A friend called to tell us to wait before going grocery shopping: He stopped by with more than 10 bags filled with groceries from cookies to a whole turkey. Numerous people have told us to ask if we need anything.
I greatly appreciate the sentiment and it’s amazing how much people are willing to help, but it’s difficult to accept it because I know money is tight for them too. I’m not sure how to repay such generosity. Mike told me to think of it like this: It makes people feel good to help others. Sometimes you need to let other people feel good by helping you.
The difference between government and personal assistance is choice. No one forced family, friends or coworkers to help us. They all decided of their own free will that they wanted to help. As taxpayers don’t have a choice, it would feel more like we were taking rather than being given. Mike has been talking about starting a not-for-profit organization to help people like us when he gets better. After all, we can’t be the only people who need a helping hand but are unwilling to accept government welfare.
Accepting help from friends is reciprocal. They help me when I need it. No one is the provider; no one is the providee. If the time ever comes when they need help, I know I’ll be more than willing to help any way I can.
Originally published in issue 196, April 15, 2005