Coping With Crisis

contributed by Dawn

She's convinced by her struggles that Americans can survive whatever lies ahead.

Nearly three years ago, I went through a difficult divorce. My oldest had not yet started Kindergarten, and two were still in diapers. My ex-husband was not consistent about sending child support and I was faced with a stark change in lifestyle. Within one year, I went from being a wife, homeowner, and stay-at-home mom who never had to worry about food, clothing or shelter for my family, to a single parent about to be evicted from a small apartment.

Once we divorced, I found myself with an inconsistent income that ranged from between five hundred and one thousand dollars a month. I did some research and found that going to work was not a realistic answer for me since I could not afford to pay for child care for three children and have any bit of a paycheck left over.

I decided to see the situation as one which was only temporary. I broke it down into manageable units of time that I had to get through, then planned how I was going to cope. Sometimes a "manageable unit" was only one day, but this system worked. I also took the experience as a challenge. I reminded myself that this time in my life might end up being my absolute "rock bottom." It might never be that hard again, and I vowed to always make decisions that would make me proud when I looked back on them.

Here are some specific things I did. Some of these things are for the truly desperate, but it might help to illustrate how low you can go and still survive.


When we were broke, and about to be evicted from our apartment, I waited as long as possible, acknowledging the threats of eviction, before leaving. I told the landlord that we would be out as soon as possible. When I finally left the place was spotless. And I made arrangements to pay back rent a little at a time. (I have four payments to go!)

We now live with relatives. Yes, it was a little embarrassing at age 33 to move in with family, but I told myself that this is only temporary. We live in two rooms and my three children share one room. But we have family meals with people who love us, a large yard for playing, a safe neighborhood to live in, and someone to watch kids for me if I need to run out in the middle of the night for children's Tylenol. I have plans to move out by next April. My point is: you can live anywhere for a short time, no matter how little it fits with your vision of a perfect home.

If you own your home, consider taking a housemate to cover the mortgage. Obviously, this might be difficult to do if you have children, or a small home, but if it is possible, it is a good option. If you are late on a mortgage payment, or think you might be, call your lender. Lenders may be able to be a little flexible with your payments, and at the very least, they will document your call and it may help you explain late payments at a later date if it ends up showing on your credit.


We applied for public assistance and got it. We gratefully used food stamps and WIC for a number of months. When that ended, I arranged to work at a CSA (community-sustained agriculture) farm in exchange for vegetables. I volunteered at our church to work when we housed homeless families in an interfaith hospitality network. Word got out that we were food-needy, and when I worked after meals, we took home the leftovers.

When you are working with a food budget of $25 a week, stick to basics. Eat what your relatives ate during the depression. Another thing I did was to learn to cook Indian food from a neighbor. Spicy lentils and cheap vegetables over rice every day for a while. I chopped in a carrot, potato, cabbage or an eggplant. For less than a buck a pot that made three dinners and three lunches for all of us.

Clothes: Tell people you are having a hard time. We got more hand-me-down clothes than we could use for the season.

Utilities: We lived in North Florida, so using less heat was bearable during the winter. Redefine your comfort levels. Again, think of your depression-era relatives and the adjustments they made to get through the cold winters and hot summers.

I will never forget how hard I worked during that tough year. I will never lose the problem-solving skills I gained either. I will always remember how people, even strangers, reached out to us when we were in need. In those times when we were at out lowest point, and we were doing laundry by hand in the bathtub to save Laundromat quarters for food, we had so many dinner invitations, I can't even remember them all. And because of receiving those great gifts of care, I have become one of them. Loving kindness is infectious.

I believe we can pull together and help those people affected by our tragedy in September. People who have lost breadwinners to death, displacement by industry changes, or military duty should know that we won't let them fall through the cracks. We have enough resources to take care of our own, but we shouldn't assume the government is going to take care of it all. We have stores full of food, hospitals, clean water, and most of us have the means to make some kind of money, which is more than we can say for the people of many other countries, including Afghanistan. So reach out to people in your neighborhood and town and do something yourself, with your own hands. We can all help our neighbors, even though it may feel difficult to reach out to a stranger. and after a little bit of reaching out, your neighbors won't be strangers anymore!

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