I was brought up in an upper middle class family where everyone knew of my family. Today, I live in a single bedroom apartment that is decorated with only a couch, chair, television, my purse filled completely with receipts and my stack of precious books. Without my dog Duchess, my television and my books I would be a lost soul. Today, I am completely isolated. Today, I am living in poverty.
My life has been nothing short of a best selling novel and many would not believe me, if it were not documented. I have experienced more in my lifetime than many, fortunately, will not face. Reflecting on my life and seeing how I am living today, it is safe to say my life has changed drastically. If you would ask me what I would change about my life, I would tell you that I would not change a single thing.
I lived in Oklahoma with my family for a good portion of my life. I later moved to Muncie and have stayed here for 35 years. I met my husband, married at age 20 and then life happened. After realizing my husband had been unfaithful, we divorced and he moved to Oklahoma while I remained here in Muncie. At that point, I had a nervous breakdown.
As if being isolated wasn’t enough, I could no longer work because I was disabled. I was diagnosed with synovial cell sarcoma five years ago, and I have never tried chemotherapy. Now I also have pulmonary nodules on my lungs. I do not own a car, and when I first moved into my apartment, I did not own any furniture or even a Christmas tree. I lost many treasured items in a house fire in December 2011. All of this has brought me to my single bedroom apartment where I currently live on SSI.
Living on SSI has been a new experience for me. Obtaining assistance can take some time, but I became eligible in only three months On SSI, I am allotted 10 hours of help a month and I get that through LifeStream Services.
This help includes taking me grocery shopping, helping with my apartment chores, and any other miscellaneous things I need help with. The help is nice, but 10 hours every month is not much time. I also receive $698 every month in SSI assistance. This is a $4 raise from last year, which is the first time in six years there has been a raise. I also receive food stamps.
Keeping myself positive is the one thing that keeps me going strong. I always told myself and my two children to keep the word “can’t” out of our vocabulary. I have found myself eating the word “can’t” multiple times, and it really is bitter tasting.
Even though I do not have much, I have a favorite memory from living in my apartment. It was Christmas Eve, and my son was visiting with his girlfriend and her daughter. He knew I did not have a Christmas tree so he bought me one and the four of us decorated the tree together. As for our Christmas meal, we did not have a turkey, or a ham. Instead, we had my famous spaghetti, which we now call “Sonja’s Spaghetti” and chocolate chip cookies. To this day, that is one of my fondest memories.
My life has been a complete whirlwind. There were some very dark times that haunted me and led me astray, and this is a life I would never wish upon any soul. Fortunately, I overcame it all and realized that I had no other option but to remain positive. Any scenario that has ever happened to you cannot define you. It took tearing myself up into one thousand pieces and piecing them back together one by one to find myself. I have learned from my struggles and I have learned to live without materialistic items. It is surprising to realize there are some things that you really do not need in life. I could use a number of negative aspects of my life as an excuse to give up and quit fighting, but that is not the kind of person I am. I am stronger today because of my past.
I want others to see life for what it really is and learn to find strength in any adversities. I have witnessed the best and the worst of mankind, and I think it is important for everyone to accept and love one another and all of our faults. If I were given the opportunity to change my life, or anything about it, I would not change a single second of it. Had I not walked down this path, I would not be the person I am today. If I am able to help just a single soul, then my life has not been wasted.
— As told to Siara Sparkman, Ball State University Magazine Journalism Major
This story originally appeared in Facing Poverty, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by TEAMwork for Quality Living in Muncie, Indiana.