Struggling Starving Paralegal

I am struggling, but don't have it as badly as some. I just need a little assistance to help me survive while I work hard to improve my situation. Can you help?

There are other folks struggling who have it as bad or worse, and I don't blame you if you opt to help someone who is having a harder time than I am. I'm hungry, but I don't have hungry kids, too, and, so far, my pet is still eating every day (even if I don't). I live in a run-down old house, but I have a roof over my head, and some people don't. I have some health issues, but nothing life-threatening, and some people struggle with chronic diseases and illness every day.

That said...I am having a really hard time.

I'm currently a student trying to earn a Paralegal AS degree. I already have two BAs and an MA, but I also have a gap in my resume due to caring for an elderly relative and going back to grad school to earn that MA, and have had difficulty enticing employers despite excellent references and skills. I'm working on the AS, my fourth degree, in hope that I can change career tracks and earn a living.

I've had a run of bad luck which has included an expensive and stressful breast cancer scare that was not covered fully by medical insurance (I ended up paying about EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS that my supposedly excellent insurance refused to cover for STANDARD breast cancer tests like mammograms and biopsies), a sick pet who needed thousands of dollars in surgeries and vet care (and then died anyway, as they do), lightning striking my home and destroying most electronic devices in it, burglars breaking in and stealing what little of value was not destroyed by lightning, my 18-year-old car having engine trouble, and so on. I have no savings left. No credit. No bank account. No income. Nothing of value left to sell off.

I have one relative who allows me to live rent-free in a very old home which is under construction constantly and in desperate need of upgrading (it has no central air, for example, in an area where the temperature is over 100oF for 3-4 months out of the year; the roof leaks, the fixtures are 60 years old, the outlets are almost all two-prong rather than three-prong, the fuses are ancient, etc), but you know what? I'm grateful I am not homeless and living in the backseat of my car. She also helps with some bills when she can, but I never know if a particular utility will be cut off or not. Every few months or so she gives me a few dollars to buy food, but never that much, and she is very begrudging about it, and complains that I am always asking for money. I actually don't, because I don't want to hear that I'm "always" asking for help that is so grudgingly offered, so I am hungry a lot of the time.

I have lived in poverty for almost ten years now. I do not go shopping, or buy fast food, or drink alcoholic beverages (too expensive!), or get haircuts, or watch premium cable channels, or go out to eat or to see a movie, or buy books or CDs or DVDs, or travel to see friends. I had to forgo seeing my friends and family for Christmas last year because I couldn't afford the gas money to travel. I haven't been able to buy Christmas or birthday gifts for anyone for about five years, and I have two nieces, both under the age of 7. Kids should get presents on holidays. I'm a bad aunt.

I can't see a dentist, and I badly need to have a filling checked and my teeth cleaned. My glasses are years out of date and need to be upgraded (I worry that I won't pass my eye test next time I have to renew my driver's license), but I can't afford to see an eye doctor or buy new glasses. I lost my medical coverage because I couldn't afford it anymore, so I don't see a doctor: neither a general practitioner or an ob-gyn. I have a bad back, and I'm supposed to have a doctor keep tabs on it. I can't afford to. I am supposed to be going in regularly to make sure I am definitely free of breast cancer, as my results are always inconclusive, due to "dense tissue," but I no longer have access to a doctor. I have applied to several local free medical clinics and have not been accepted (at least not yet, but it has been several months). I do not live close to a Planned Parenthood, and they also still require a little money for things, even if it is a reasonable amount. I can't afford a career counselor or therapist, so I have no one to talk to when I get stressed or depressed (and I have had clinical depression since childhood). I can't afford ANY medicine or medication, not even aspirin, Neosporin, Clearasil, Band-Aids or Pepto-Bismol. I can't afford the vet, and my pet is overdue to get his annual shots (by several months). I can't afford pet food, and if a friend hadn't helped me by sending him some, I don't know what I'd do. He's an exotic pet (a ferret), and he won't eat cat food, dog food or people food, so it's not as if I can go ask a neighbor to borrow a cup of chow for him to eat.

My "good" shoes, which I wear to the rare job interviews I get, are about to fall apart, and I've run out of glue to glue the soles back on. I can't afford to buy a pair of pantyhose, mascara, or a lipstick. My professional portfolio website went offline after several years because I couldn't afford the hosting and server fees anymore. My car is on its last legs, and, as noted, is 18 years old, so I try not to drive anywhere. At least it is paid for! I can't afford to take the bus anywhere (I don't have enough change to pay the fare) and I can't afford to feed parking meters downtown. (A family member borrowed my old car this April while her car was in the shop and was so miserable without any cool air in it that she generously paid to have more freon put in, so at least I don't cook inside it when I do drive it around.) I do not drive anywhere very often, though.

If it isn't too hot and I haven't perspired, and if I'm not planning on seeing any other human beings that day and thus I think I can get away with it, I skip washing my hair, or skip a shower for the day altogether, and just clean up with a washcloth or something, because it makes the cost of the hot water and the soap and shampoo and so on stretch and last longer. I have always been almost neurotically clean and well-groomed, so this is torture for me. I feel gross.

I lived without an oven or a stove for three and a half years, most of the rooms in my house are dark because I try to save on lightbulbs and only replace those in rooms where it is necessary (that's a total of four rooms; I have a flashlight for the others) and at one point I lived without phone service for almost a year. I now have my 8-year-old "dumb" mobile phone turned back on, and have the cheapest possible plan, so potential employers can call me. I can't actually use it as a mobile phone, as its old charger died, and so now the only way it can even hold enough of a charge to accept calls is for it to be plugged into my (10-year-old) computer via a USB jack.

I tried to earn money by selling plasma and had such a horrible physical reaction to the process that the plasmapheresis place refused to allow me to donate any more. I could go to a doctor, if I still had one, and maybe I could get his or her permission to donate, but I don't have access to a doctor. So I don't qualify to sell plasma.

I looked into medical research tests, but I don't qualify for any in my area. So I can't even volunteer to be a medical guinea pig. On the plus side, I'd have to have some pretty awful diseases to qualify, so I'm not sad that I don't.

I did some online editing and proofreading, but it required being available online for about twelve hours a day, and competing with other editors over who would earn a dollar for editing what, and my perfectionist tendencies meant that doing thorough editing work (for what ended up being peanuts) started to cut into time I needed to be using to focus on my course requirements and homework--and I have a LOT of homework, plus dense legal documents to write and textbooks to read every day--so I reluctantly put that option on the back-burner. I liked doing it, and liked my co-workers, so maybe I can do it again once school is done.

I was looking into doing virtual assistant work, which is a way to telecommute but do administrative assistant work, but I had to cut off my landline since I couldn't afford two different phone numbers (heck, couldn't afford a phone at all for months on end), and a landline is a requirement for those positions. I also have earned a little money by petsitting, housesitting, and doing webdesign, but I can't count on that as steady income.

I'm fairly artsy and craftsy, but can't afford art or craft supplies to make things that I am not guaranteed to be able to sell to anyone. Not that I have a lot of free time to make anything anyway, given that I am OBSESSED with studying and getting excellent grades in school and pleasing my professors with my hard work and diligence and responsibility, so they might be inspired to help me find employment once I graduate.

I have a friend who donates leftover food to me so I can eat. My family has railed about that, claiming to be ashamed that I am accepting charity like that...but they also let me languish in a house with NO food in it AT ALL, and did so once for four days, so I can't afford to worry about how embarrassed they claim they are that I eat donated food. I have to eat. Sometimes I defrost a bag of donation food and discover I have defrosted a bag of gravy--just gravy. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for the food, but a Ziploc full of gravy isn't a meal. (It's pretty funny, though.) As for other edibles, well, I can't afford fresh vegetables or dairy products or sweets.

I've had some friends mail me toilet paper and tea and shampoo. I've had other friends buy me lightbulbs and ibuprofin because I couldn't afford to, and was sitting in the dark (helping me buy $3 worth of lightbulbs was apparently not a priority for my family, as I asked repeatedly for help with burnt-out fixtures for about nine months until a friend took pity) and dealing with headaches and cramps without medicine. I have had friends buy me delivery pizza and, you guys, I hadn't been able to enjoy hot pizza in months, and it was absolutely delicious. Delivery pizza is a scrumptious luxury.

I do not qualify for any government assistance, as I don't have children. I had food stamps for two months (which only covers food, not shampoo, pet food, razors, Tampax, soap, conditioner, toilet paper, deodorant, etc.) but was told I don't qualify for that aid. I will probably have to pay back what little they allowed me to have. There is a work requirement--which is fair--but I can't get hired to work the required minimum of at least 20 hours per week. Online work does NOT count.

I have applied to many temp agencies and to fast food places, big box stores, mall retail stores and other businesses and been told I'm "overqualified." I keep in touch with the Department of Labor, but my unemployment benefits have long since expired. The local paper prints about a dozen want ads per week, and most are for jobs I am not qualified for, such as long-haul truck drivers, nurses, plumbers, electricians, accountants, dental assistants, and live-in nannies. I am signed up to at least a dozen different job-search websites and send out resumes and applications every day, but rarely get a response (besides "no"). I'm no longer a cute young thing in my early twenties, either, which closes some doors, even though I have extensive executive assistant, editing, proofreading, and medical librarian experience (you now need an advanced Library Science degree to get hired, or I'd gladly still be a librarian).

I owe the IRS taxes because I cashed out what little savings I had three years ago, out of desperation. That counted as income, surprise!, even though I had earned no other income all year (or the year after that, or the year after that, or the year after that). I have, in fact, HAD no income, and have nothing whatsoever of value to garnish, put a lien on or confiscate, so they settle for sending threatening "pay us" letters every month. I'd really like to, as I've been responsible about such things all my adult life, but I HAVE NO MONEY. So I CAN'T.

My class schedule is discouraging to potential temp employers, as apparently they don't really want temporary employees, but actually want to "try before they buy" and are looking for temps they can underpay and then transition into permanent employees. That's just a guess, as I have accepted any and all offers the temp agencies have suggested to me, and expressed willingness to interview with employers or work anywhere (or do ANYTHING!) but nothing has panned out so far. I am required to take several classes on campus and there are few available at night or on weekends. I'd be willing--and thrilled--to take all my classes online, but I cannot get ABA-certified unless I take at least four on-campus courses. I will also need to participate in an externship in a few months as one of the last requirements before I graduate with my AS degree and can apply for full-time paralegal work.

I am out of--or running out of--dish detergent, laundry detergent, feminine sanitary supplies, cleaning products, hairball remedy for my pet, batteries, face soap, conditioner, and a hundred other things. I don't drink coffee, but doing without caffeinated soda or tea in the morning--or even some fruit juice--is really difficult.

When I get extra-hungry, I try to just go to sleep and ignore the rumbling in my belly, but I have been having problems with insomnia, partially because I am hungry and stressed out about financial woes and school, so this is not a very effective tactic. I'm lucky if I sleep two hours a night. Sometimes I don't sleep for about two days. I don't feel well, as a result.

I just need a little help to get by until I can get my degree and until my professors--who support me, as I am a good student who gets an A in every class and works hard--can help me network and find a good position in a law firm. I have about a year to go. My family is helping me with some of the tuition (the rest is going to add to my school loan debt), so I just need help with very basic expenses.

Any little bit you can spare is appreciated greatly. I will use whatever I get for necessities like food and toiletries and cleaning supplies, not frivolous things.

I am required to place a goal total, so I selected $100 per week for a year ($5200). A year is the approximately the amount of time I have left to earn my degree. I don't expect to get anywhere near that much; it's just a round number to satisfy the requirement to place a number in the required field.

What your donations can fund:

$1 buys an ink pen for taking notes at school, or a cheap dollar store notebook, or two postage stamps.
$5 buys me a gallon of skim milk with a little change left over, or some fruit juice, or a package of store brand one-ply toilet paper, or a box of Tampax, or a box of dishwasher powder.
$10 buys a bottle of shampoo AND a bottle of conditioner, or a couple of 12-packs of Coke Zero, or ten cans of Chef Boyardee pasta, or three cans of Chunky soup, or toothpaste AND mouthwash AND floss.
$20 means I can open an account at the local credit union, which will make my life a lot easier. Ever try to cash a check with NO bank account? I don't even know where a check cashing place IS, now that the one down the street has been razed to build another CVS.
$25 or less covers a pair of faux-leather Payless work shoes that do not have glued-on holey soles.
$30 buys a big sack of pet food for Murphy the ferret.
$50 buys a tank full of gasoline.
$65 covers my annual car tag (it's that low because my car is that old) and keeps me from getting arrested for not having the right color sticker on my license plate.
$75 buys me an hour with a career counselor or therapist, and that means someone to talk to about my troubles who can offer good advice. (This is her much-reduced rate for very poor people.)
$80 covers all the medications I need each month (which I am not taking because I can't afford them.)
$100 buys a decent amount of groceries, cleaning supplies, pet needs, and toiletries.
$150 usually covers a standard vet visit for Murphy, including standard shots and a check-up, unless the vet finds something wrong, in which case it gets ridiculously expensive.
$200 covers ONE textbook for a paralegal / legal studies class. Sometimes I can get them used, though.

$1,500 pays for one college class per semester (the part that loans don't cover).

$2,500 gets the IRS to leave me alone, as I owe taxes for a year where I made no income, but instead was forced to withdraw every last cent out of my meagre savings to survive. That withdrawal was supposed to have taxes withheld, but didn't, and it's 100% my fault that I failed to catch that.

You get the idea.

Every little bit helps.

I reiterate, though, if you see someone who is in greater need, please help them first. Anyone who is about to get evicted, or who is struggling to buy school supplies for his or her kids, or who needs an operation or medicine for a human or animal family member...whatever it is, if someone is having a worse time than I am, it would please me if they got help before I did. I can wait my turn, or continue to try to stick it out as I finish the last few months of school.

I have helped struggling friends before, with food, money, a place to stay, hand-me-downs, gifts, and so on, and I honestly prefer to be on the giving end when I can, but I'm not in a position to offer anything much of value to anyone right now. I do promise to "pay it forward" when I am able to do so.

Thank you in advance for reading my statement and considering helping me.

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