It's that dreaded question, upon meeting: So, what do you do for a living?
It hurts. And what's worse, people often don't stop there; they keep on asking. 'Oh, you don't work? Why not? So are you on the dole then? Are you looking for work? But how do you afford to live? A pension? What are you on a pension for?"
Honestly, sometimes I just want to tattoo it on my forehead: "Hi, I'm Cinnamon Girl, and I'm insane. Thanks for the tax dollars!"
You see, I have a psychiatric disorder, and receive a disability support pension as a result. I don't work to make my living. I also don't want to disclose to every last person I meet that I have a mental illness. But, with that
It hurts because there's a lot of people out there who resent pensioners. There's a lot of people out there who don't believe that mental illness is real. I've been sneered at more times than I can count by bus drivers who look at my card, look me up and down (noting the lack of wheelchair and apparently fully-functional body) and mumble 'yeah right' under their breath. I've had people get angry that they pay tax dammit and people like me are bludging off the system because we're just lazy and we're scamming their tax dollars dammit.
Never mind the excruciating and rigorous process I had to go through to get the pension - no, you'd think people just walk in off the street with a fake sickness certificate and sign on the dotted line.
Never mind the debilitating affect my illness has, how close I've been to death as a result, how much of my life, my life has been wrecked and ruined as a result of this illness. Never mind how crippling it is to my self esteem to not have a job. Never mind that I'm not fucking lazy, and that being able to be consistently employable and employed is my most deepest and most secret desire, and being a useless waste of space is my most secret fear. Never mind who I am, and what I've gone through - all that matters is I don't work and I get money from the government and I don't look sick.
And, although not everyone thinks like that, I don't know who does. I've been hit with other people's ignorance and prejudice too many times to think it's a minority who feel that way. And when you so innocently ask me what I do, my adrenaline starts pumping because I don't know how you're going to respond when I answer. Some of the responses I've had have been nasty and cruel, and my self esteem is fragile enough without spending another few days having to overcome that feeling of worthlessness that these interactions bring up in me.
And even if you don't think like that - maybe I just don't feel like telling you about my illness today, any more than I'm inclined to talk about my yeast infection with a stranger. It's personal, it doesn't affect you, and it's none of your business. Maybe I just want to feel like a normal person and be able to go see some music and meet people without having to disclose my illness - just once.
I keep myself busy when I can. I've studied, and things were easier then when it came to 'the question'. I've done a lot of volunteer work over the years, and sometimes when people ask the dreaded question I tell them what I do - without telling them it's volunteer. Because once they know it's volunteer, you're back to square one. 'But how do you make a living then?'
You see, somehow work has become synonymous with 'worth'. If you have a job which pays money, no matter what the job, you're worth more than someone who doesn't. Even if your job is cutting down trees, or killing people, or painting over old paint that didn't need retouching at all, you're still worth more than me - even if my time is spent revegetating riverbanks, helping refugees, or caring for injured wildlife. If no one gives me money for it, it's not worth shit.
So, if you are one of those people who doesn't think that a person's worth is measured by the fact they have a pay packet, if you're one of those people who understand that mental illnesses are illnesses, if you are one of those people who is mindful of ableist language - please, do me and others like me a favour, and stop asking people what they do for a living.
It would really help.