Today in class, the teacher asked how many students work in practice (I’m in a vet tech program). Everyone raised their hands but me. The teacher asked what I do and I answered honestly: I don’t have a job. She said “How nice for you” and everyone laughed. Now, she didn’t say it in a snide way, I didn’t feel at all like she was judging me. But I know from telling people I don’t work that the students were judging me.
They know I don’t work, they don’t know I have an anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and that for a year before I started this program I was severely agoraphobic, and struggled with that into my first semester. I’m a pro at “acting normal,” at acting healthy and like my life is peachy keen. I do that because 1) my personal business is just that, personal, and 2) if people knew I was dealing with three mental illnesses, I’d have to deal with their reactions, which I absolutely don’t believe would be positive.
When I was in undergrad, I was a full time student with an excellent GPA, worked three part time jobs, volunteered at Planned Parenthood, and was active with the campus feminist group. I’ve experienced being as busy as the students in my program. I enjoyed it, and it makes me sad that I can’t do that now. But that sadness doesn’t diminish how proud I am of myself for doing what I’m doing now, because I consistently do my best. My best doesn’t look like what it used to, but I’m still doing it. I wanted to tell the people laughing at me what my life used to be, to prove that I wasn’t always like this, that I used to be deserving of respect. I hate that I still have that level of internalized ableism. I do not need to earn money to be valid, to be worthy of respect.
I went to hell and pulled myself out, and I live everyday knowing that I could go right back despite trying my hardest not to. So, today in class I blushed furiously and thought I was going to throw up while twenty people who don’t know shit about my life laughed at me because I have it so easy.