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I Grew Up in Poverty

I grew up in poverty, in a family of 9 children in rural Maine. We had a small sustenance farm with animals and a very large garden. I have no memories of being hungry, but looking back on it our diets were very restricted and simple. We did not bring lunch to school — either we skipped it completely or we a piece of fruit, and sometimes a peanut butter sandwich with the thick government commodity peanut butter. When I began school I noticed for the first time that other children did not live like me. They had clothing, food, and matching socks!

It is difficult to pull apart where the mental illness started. My earliest memories involved severe neglect and abuse from my mother. I also have vivid memories of animal slaughter, whether it was for food, to control animal over-population, or pleasure. I turned to the animals for comfort and companionship. The sheep and lambs would occupy me for hours. It was also an adventure to climb into the hayloft and find the latest batch of kittens. I would play with them quietly and try to keep them a secret so they would not be found and put in the old wringer washing machine with chloroform. I even had chickens as pets but their fate is far too gruesome to detail. I was five when I was forced to pluck.

I learned to play dead. Avoid any facial expression as it would mean a slap regardless. Stay invisible to minimize the danger. Somehow even as a child I knew that my life was different. Eventually, I had two younger siblings I tried to protect from the abuse and neglect.

I think I had depression even as a small child. I was always in slow motion. At school I preferred to be alone. Getting off the school bus in the afternoon simply brought dread. The long walk up the driveway seemed like miles. I was afraid to go home. What would be in store? Brutal beating with a little sexual overtone for spice, or peel potatoes for 11 and do the farm chores? Either way I was visible during that time. I would get a slap, kick or a knock daily.

At night I prayed for death. I prayed that my pets and I would miraculously die together so the suffering would end.

I had older brothers who enjoyed beating me up and molesting me.

I don’t remember ever not being hypervigilant. I would watch and try to sense the danger and stay my invisible self. My father was an alcoholic and his beatings were intensely painful. He would beat me with his belt or a paddle or whatever seemed handy. I had welts upon welts. Why did I keep the secrets? I never told. I never told anyone. I knew I was weird and bad. I had to be very bad and unlovable to have the life I had. I made up different lives in my mind and daydreamed constantly. Mostly I daydreamed that I would be held safely by a teacher or a friend’s parent. Even if they tried though I would stiffen and push them away.

I Grew Up in Poverty

Personal Story

A personal story contribution is a story told by someone who is living with mental illness, a caregiver or family member, or a professional who treats mental illness. We believe in the importance of the patient's voice, and those most impacted by the effects of mental illness. These stories are a vital part of the mosaic that makes up the complexity of living with mental health concerns.

APA Reference
Story, P. (2020). I Grew Up in Poverty. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 9, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.