Years ago, I was cycling between unemployed and underemployed for almost a year. Grant-funded job, unemployed, part-time job, temp job. I had every job, but one that was full-time with benefits despite my best job search efforts.
During that period, I saw a therapist. When I told her that I had to stop seeing her due to financial constraints, she insisted that I pay her on a sliding scale. I did that for a while. At a certain point, I started to wonder if I could make the sliding scale payment. Then I told her that the sliding scale payment was no longer feasible; therefore, I would stop meeting with her. She replied that I could start having appointments with her without having to pay the copay.
During one of those therapy sessions, I reflected on my financial situation and wondered if I would ever end up doing a fundraiser on GoFundMe like I saw one of my former colleagues doing online. Apparently, that former colleague had hit such hard financial times that she shared her GoFundMe campaign on social media. In her post, she explained how much she had to swallow her pride to do what she needed for her family. I respected that. As I explained her situation to my therapist, I could see her eyes get wide. She looked shocked and appalled. That is when I decided to drop the topic.
I thought that my therapist was generally a nice person, but there were definitely parts of our conversations that let me know she came from a very different world from me. She seemed to genuinely care about my welfare, but there were times that she was candid about how little she related to parts of my life. There were occasions that she thanked me for educating her.
Yeah, I liked and appreciated my therapist, but sometimes I spent so much time educating her that I felt like I couldn’t receive the support in therapy that I was seeking. Sometimes when the identities of a client and therapist do not overlap, it is difficult to connect. (I could write more about that another time.)
Today that appointment with my therapist came to mind during a text conversation with a friend. She wanted to know how I was doing in light of my recent breast cancer diagnosis. I expressed my new thoughts on gift giving traditions.
“Do you know how people give gifts for birthdays, bridal showers, baptisms, and all?” I wrote. “There should be showers for unexpected circumstances.” I followed up, “I mean that half sarcastically but half truthfully.” I pondered this idea more and wrote, “Desired changes in life circumstances are positive by their nature. There need to be showers for the rough stuff.”
“I totally get that!” she replied.
I lamented on how I had to buy special clothes to wear after my surgery.
“It’s like how people get gifts for a wedding, but not a divorce, ” I explained. “You need more money during a divorce.”
That is when I remembered the conversation I had with my therapist (or former therapist at that point) about my former colleague’s GoFundMe campaign.
I explained how irked I was by my therapist’s disgusted reaction to the fundraiser. “Why is that ‘charity,’ but if I give a friend, who’s not in dire circumstances, a gift, that’s an expected thing?” I wrote. “Messed up.”
“Absolutely!!” responded my friend. “It’s hard to recognize and admit for anyone to need help.”
This can explain why community care is challenging. In my last post, I declared Let People Love You: Community Care Knows No Boundaries, but it actually does. Those boundaries include embarrassment, shame, pride, fear, and other feelings, but those feelings do not spring out completely from the individual’s mind. They are shaped by our environment and traditions around gift giving.
We live in a society where there are no traditional gift registries for divorce, miscarriages, job loss, surgeries, health crises, deaths, and other unexpected dire circumstances. If you’re like my former colleague, you might have the mind to set up a GoFundMe; however, that is not necessarily a practice so ingrained in our culture that it’s a tradition. As I observed from the look on my therapist’s face, there can be stigma attached to asking for money during hard times (even ironically for someone whose job it is to counsel clients through hard times).
There is a disconnect in how we distinguish between gift giving that is acceptable and gift giving that is shameful.
More than two years ago, I bought one friend a pricey Egyptian cotton towel set from her wedding registry. Last year, I bought another friend a slightly less pricey GrubHub gift card when her baby was in the hospital. Guess who expressed more gratitude after receiving her gift.
Of course it was the friend that was in a more vulnerable situation with her baby in the hospital.
When I think about those examples, I wonder why we prioritize gift giving when people are already happy and have all of their basic needs met.
Moving forward, I need to shift my priorities in what merits generosity.
If you have abundant resources, you might have the privilege of buying whatever you want for whomever you want. If you don’t have that luxury, how do you decide which life events are worth buying presents and being present?