By Vanessa Leigh
I have been out of traditional employment for years now. And every year it gets harder to be considered for gainful employment. I have been depressed for quite a while. I have chronic moderate depression. When times are good I am highly functional, when they are not, I am less functional. There are days when getting out of bed is a real struggle. There are days when all I want to do is sleep. There are days when all of my emotional content is crying. It’s been a financially and emotional draining period. And finding my self-worth in that time has been very, very hard. Surviving is hard.
Yet and still I somehow find myself existing around the productivity of my day. I am a creative and my mind is constantly generating ideas, some with great clarity, most with far less. Some of those ideas excite me, others overwhelm me and one or the other can lead to my becoming paralyzed in the process as my life full of instability plays out day to day.
When I am introduced to someone new, quite often they ask me, what do you do? And they inquire about my profession. Whenever I am told you are so smart, they often follow with, what college did you go to? In these moments I have a knot at the back of my throat, because although I am a maker, thinker, nurturer, and ally, I have no job nor do I have a career in the sense that they often speak of. I earn very little income, and in the world I live in that makes me less than worthy.
And in these moments my back goes back up a little, and I feel the shame I was taught to feel at the fact that I had the privilege of being a very smart child, and went to very good magnet schools and still managed not to go to college.
It doesn’t matter that I did not know how to go about it and that and no one took an interest helping me to find out. And I never liked school very much to begin with. It was the learning that was of interest to me. It still is. Internships are for college kids and apprenticeships don’t exist anymore. It doesn’t matter that the jobs are overseas thanks to NAFTA and democracy’s lone rangers.
And somehow in the world I live in, intelligence is less a virtue than success and success usually requires being able to wax nostalgic about going to college from time to time.
My worth from my physical self-image to my self-esteem has been defined by someone else’s absurd book of rules my entire life. There are magical people in the path of your life who show you that those rules aka “The American Dream,” are for most of us an impossible story. I cannot let that mythical story define me.
These days, I feel most accomplished when I have honored my feelings, my body, and my experiences. I feel accomplished when I have rested when every bone in my body has screamed at me to rest. I feel accomplished when I have tuned into my emotional well-being instead of trying to push past it and conquer my body chemistry. Feeling accomplished these days has more to do with being self-aware than being (under) self-employed and productive for productivity’s sake.
There are many, who long before me, figured out that success is what you determine it to be. That worthiness is innate. I am a fat, middle-aged unemployed, “uneducated” Black woman and yes, I am valuable. You are valuable too, whether we have amazing careers, a fine pedigree, are the right skin color, body size, body ability, mental or physical health, gender, or not. That being said, I still must survive and deserve, more than that to thrive, because I exist.
Like millions of others, I need a job and I need a living wage. The minimum wage can no longer be the bare minimum. It needs to be a living wage. Justifying my life or worth as a capitalist commodity, defining myself in materialistic successes and valuing myself in the context of a profit driven consumerist ideal, is not working – nor should it.