Melanie Test is a web and graphic designer living with her 13-year-old son in the Crystal River Valley. After moving nine times in as many years, Test is still seeking to provide a stable environment for her son.
As a single mother, she has experienced significant stigma about her circumstances that lay the blame at her feet. Test expresses that people cannot understand her situation without being in her shoes. She said, ”I think the challenges of juggling work and motherhood and balancing my own mental sanity so that I can continue to work and care for my son can be overwhelming at times.”
Test said she doesn’t feel like a victim but thinks it’s essential to recognize the reality of her situation. As a single mother, she is responsible for all the childcare, dictating her need for a flexible work schedule and restricting her job opportunities. She currently works two jobs and freelances on the side to try to survive on her single-income earning power. She said the pay is not competitive, and both employers keep her as a 1099 contractor.
She enjoys the people she works with and believes in the organizations’ missions, but they are located upvalley, and the commute is increasingly expensive with the rising price of gas. She is also responsible for the cost of all the software, equipment and industry publications she uses for her work. “There is a constant vigilance of needing to be ahead of the game. I need to be planning for the future. I need to make sure I have a third job in my pocket in case one of my jobs disappears,” she said.
Test doesn’t have much time for self-care, but she ventures into nature when she does. She relies on the Valleys’ natural resources as a balm for her stress. She said living in this environment, the community and the good schools are “tradeoffs” worth her struggle. “I want to provide a safe and stable environment for my son. It’s really important to me that he is able to continue at his school, keep his routine and to keep his peer group.”
Test finds herself scrambling to make a living wage as the Valley becomes prohibitively expensive and salaries don’t adjust for the cost of living. She hears people talking about all the available jobs in the Valley, but those don’t pay enough. Test said, “I am stressed because I have no safety net. If something happens, I don’t know where we would go.”
Her landlord renewed her lease but also increased the rent. Test said she’s trying to establish an emergency fund in case her housing falls through. Having to pick up and move at any moment is terrifying, a fear she knows from experience.
Healthcare is also an issue for Test. Colorado’s Child Health Plan Plus covers her son, but she is ineligible for Medicaid and has to choose between paying rent and the cost of Obama Care. Lacking healthcare coverage, Test recently experienced a critical health event she attributes to stress. She thought she was having a stroke, “I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t read. I could barely see. I definitely couldn’t drive myself to the hospital,” she said.
After an ambulance ride, a few hours in the emergency room and some testing, she emerged with no diagnosis and a bill for over $20,000. She has concluded that her body “just crashed” because she was “overworking.” She said, “It crushed me … what am I supposed to do? I am already doing all that I can, literally everything that I can to try to stay above water and to do it on my own. I definitely don’t have the money to pay a lawyer.”
Test says she knows many people in the Valley in similar circumstances and wishes support resources were easier to find. She has been experiencing panic attacks while filling out the extensive application for charity assistance provided through the hospital. She recently discovered Mountain Family Health Centers, where help is available to complete paperwork and research health insurance options for fluctuating incomes.
Test said, “More public funding would definitely help. Which I know is difficult, because of all the second and third and fifth homeowners who are here that don’t want to contribute … to the local communities.” Stable housing could allow her to relax and focus her energy on other areas of her life.
A list of additional resources, curated especially for single mothers in Colorado, is available at www.singlemom.com/colorado-assistance/
Update: Melanie Test submitted this article along with her charity application to the hospital. Upon being made aware of her circumstances the hospital decreased her Emergency Room visit bill from $20,000 down to about $1,095. If you receive an unexpected medical bill that you are unable to pay from a hospital in Colorado, check if they offer charity assistance.