Zero Dollar, Zero Dignity

System D, squalor, and depression

Kitty Hannah Eden
Aug 18, 2018 · 5 min read
Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

ave you ever seen a table wearing a dress shoe? A few weeks ago, it wore my husband’s, superglued heel and all. He needs new work shoes but can’t afford a new pair so a bit of DIY was called for.

Do you think rolled up shirt sleeves look cool and lend you that ready for anything vibe guaranteed to impress your boss and peers? Fashion aside, it’s a great trick to hide fraying cuffs.

Going commando this summer? Me too! As there’s not much difference between wearing nothing or paper-thin ancient underwear with saggy elastics, I’ve decided to treat my cheeks. And once you feel the breeze on your bits, believe me, your definition of comfort expands to encompass new possibilities.

Ashamed, me? Mortified, to be sure, but also sometimes amused by the absurdity of it all. So I try and reframe the drab into fab, or as close to it as I can get.

For example, we don’t eat just the one meal a day because we can’t afford three, we practice intermittent fasting.

Our clothes aren’t tatty and full of holes, they’re vintage.

Our house isn’t mostly unfurnished and echoey, it’s mi-ni-ma-list.

And no, my hairdon’t isn’t called “poverty roots”, it’s ombré!


haven’t slept, my stomach is roiling, my eyes are ablaze with insomnia and poor air quality. When I look out of the window, the mountains are nowhere to be found, rubbed out of the picture by wildfire smoke still blowing down from Canada. Loud snores from my tiny tabby cat asleep in a seedless cucumbers cardboard box from the wholesale place remind me that life continues apace, somehow.

The middle of the month is always a tense time in my household as we try and cobble together overdrafts and magical thinking to keep a roof over our heads.

This month, we failed. The bank processed payment a day sooner than expected. As the funds weren’t there yet, the check bounced. Cue another set of fees taking a big bite out of our diminutive food budget. It isn’t the first time this has happened and it won’t be the last.

This is on me.

It is my fault.

Depression has grounded me, catapulting my household into squalor.

To keep up appearances, I’m not even supposed to talk about it, it’s taboo, it’s humiliating, and it jars with my self-image as an erstwhile competent and accomplished professional. The keyword here is erstwhile, which means it hasn’t been the case for a long time.

Although depression would like me to believe this is likely permanent after five years and I’m tempted to agree, I’m done for if I ever do.

Much as I long to curl up into a ball on the floor, close my eyes, and wish the discomfort away right now, I know it won’t work.


America, sickness is punishment.

As is lack of means.

That one often causes the other and vice-versa is irrelevant. There’s scant empathy for limitations of any kind. As a human who has the good fortune of living in America, you’re supposed to be in control of everything at all times, exceptional in every way.

No pressure then.

Then again, how can you expect a nation weaned on superhero narratives and tall tales of greatness to fully grasp what it means to be a human in the world? While health care is a basic human right in all other developed nations, it remains a commodity here and paying for insurance every month doesn’t even guaranty you’ll be able to use it. I’ve always had insurance. Alas, it’s co-pays or food so no prize for guessing which we choose.

Because everything has a price tag in America, including human dignity.

In America, you’re one of two things: a profit or a loss.

And if you’re a loss, fuck off and die because you’re a burden and an embarrassment. It’s bewildering how little regard for human life a country that takes so much pride in its godliness has. (Unless said human life is still in utero. Alas, I’m a little past that, by a few decades.)

Forget lifting one another up, it’s every human for themselves here.

To me, American life often feels like depression itself; if you’re sick, America eats you alive, dreams and all.

That’s why I try to jam a pen in its maw as often as possible; my survival depends on it. And it’s not just mine, but that of millions of other folks without the means to get well.

Having the occasional giggle and a regular whinge is the only way I can keep going. Plus the myriad indignities every member of my household faces on a daily basis occasionally make for good copy, that is when I manage to shift my perspective and inject a little humor into the mix.

It’s a good exercise, especially since the disease is solipsistic by definition. Through no fault of their own, a depressed person is often oblivious to their surroundings because the mere act of staying alive uses up all their attention and energy.

Although trying to get well is a pursuit that takes up much mental bandwidth, I can’t help but worry about my husband buckling under the weight of it all and running himself into the ground.

It astonishes me daily that we’re still married — he evidently doesn’t abide by the “me first and screw you” national ethos, and yet he’s a born and bred American.

When depression puts your every thought through the wringer, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s good in your life. Although most Americans are conditioned to believe said good has no value unless it is quantifiable in dollars, what matters most is largely intangible.

To have had someone by my side for the last five years is priceless.

A paw on my shoulder and purrs in my ear is priceless.

Being able to write again after so long is priceless.

And eventually, someone might even pay me for it!


I’m a French-American writer and journalist living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

Invisible Illness

We don't talk enough about mental health.

Kitty Hannah Eden

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🇪🇺 🇫🇷 🇺🇸 person(ne) + journalist(e)✏️💌 khe@tuta.io ✨☕️✨ 𝗽𝗹𝗲𝗮𝘀𝗲 𝘀𝘂𝗽𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁 𝗺𝘆 𝘄𝗼𝗿𝗸: http://ko-fi.com/kittyhannaheden [she/elle/ela] ❤️🇵🇹

Invisible Illness

We don't talk enough about mental health.

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