November 11, 1998 will mark four solid years since I've held a job longer than six months. Despite what people might think, collecting disability is no picnic. Although I may be a tad above the poverty line, I can't tell. I'm usually broke by the fifteenth of the month. Therefore I often have to do without the things that used to be simple pleasures like going to the movies or purchasing a book.
Originally, not working brought me a lot of sleepless nights and left me angry and despondent. I was so sensitive that I'd be expecting the type of slighting comment that my friend recently made, and when they didn't come, the issue fell to the back of my mind, but was never really resolved. When my friend made his crack, he hit a raw nerve. Yes, I knew then by his tone and the context of our original conversation that he meant no harm. However, knowing something intellectually does not necessarily lessen the feeling of being attacked.
I felt this way, unbeknownst to him (until now), for a multitude of reasons. At the time I was still regrouping from my last hospitalization, and not feeling particularly good about myself, nor optimistic about my future. I was only beginning to work through some difficult issues from my last position of employment. Progress on freeing myself of this baggage was already hampered by my own ongoing inner conflict about being unemployed, rather not being able to trust that my body would not give out on me again, something that I used take for granted.
Like myself, both of my parents are immigrants. Divorced, both remarried before I was old enough to understand what was going on. Growing up, I lived with both sets of parents for extended periods, and if nothing else they all instilled in me one strong ethic: "Work, work hard, and you will be rewarded."
So on the inside, I'm a real mixed bag of emotion. On the one hand, I'm ecstatic to have all this free time. I get to indulge myself in strengthening my skill as a writer, tinkering with different styles, and genres, all in the name of finding and becoming secure in my own voice.
On the other hand, I, to this day, suffer with bouts of depression because I'm not doing the 9 to 5, but, instead, receiving Social Security disability. Through counseling (at Positive Impact) my depression is becoming less and less frequent these days, but I'm still carrying some guilt for not pulling my own weight. On days when I'm feeling particularly healthy, I'm more prone to feeling a great sense of loss, of self-definition. Intellectually I realize that these feelings stem from my upbringing. In addition, the fact that, from my mid-teens throughout the majority of my adulthood, I've punched the proverbial time clock also contributes to my less than adequate feelings at times.
No doubt someone out there is thinking, "Okay, Adrian, you've said all this to say what?" Well, thanks for asking. My point is that I, like many if not most folks who've been benched by HIV or some other terminal illness, have already put (and at times still are putting) ourselves through enough stress over our condition. Perhaps you might consider this before you make that next jest.
To you, my "friend," or anyone else who has thoughts on saying something to me about my being unemployed, please SAVE IT. You see, I've spent countless sleepless nights, and even more paranoid moments, torturing myself over this issue. Not that I'm at all a religious person, but here's one that I think applies: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."