Invisibility

I have a job now. I’ve been working for about a year and a half. There are two of us in the office I work in, and we are both persons with lived experience with mental illness.

I lived on disability for twelve years. It was a long time, and some days were very difficult. It is very difficult to describe, but for those twelve years, I was invisible as far as society was concerned. I was not a contributor.

Make no mistake. I was not idle for those twelve years. I volunteered at the library’s literacy center teaching English as a Second Language. I was very active in the community theatre group where I lived. I even served on the group’s board of directors.

Perhaps it’s because I’m male, but since I was not being paid for this work, it was not highly valued.

I was invisible.

One payday not long after I started working again, I was holding my paystub, and my colleague in the office, the other person with lived experience, said, “It feels good to be paid, doesn’t it?” I quickly and loudly agreed. It felt quite amazing actually. I appreciated it like I’d never done before.

Today was my colleague’s birthday, and I arranged an office party for him with all the other people from the larger office. It was a pot luck, and everyone gladly brought food to share. It was a real feast. We had much too much food. The office refrigerator is bulging at the seams with all the leftovers.

A birthday party hardly seems like a special thing. On a grand scale, it is very small. Still, I was near tears. All these people were celebrating with a person with mental illness. There he was; I was right next to him. We weren’t invisible. We were considered valuable members of the group.

It’s a very big deal.

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2 thoughts on “Invisibility

  1. Yes! I recognise that sense of invisibility as a person without paid employment.

    I’ve been watching a TV show called First Dates, which is a very sweet reality show, where the audience and the show’s producers really want the blind date that they’ve meticulously arranged, to work.

    I’ve considered applying and I’m aware, leaping ahead as I’m wont to do, that almost every person asks “what do you do?” as their second or third question, after name and location.

    As you’re aware, I ‘do’ a lot, but we all know that that question is really asking about income-earning ‘doing’, about paid work. So in those terms, I’m unemployed. Of course, when people ask me that question, I respond with the things that I do do, not those I don’t. And I never say “I don’t work”, because we all know that ‘work’ can look very different to what’s expected.

    So, slightly differently to your experience, the ‘feeling good’ comes less from the recognition of being paid for my contribution, although I totally get that. And I think the weight of gender difference is valid. (And works negatively both ways, but that’s a whole other topic.) For me, it’s important to be visible, recognised and validated for my contribution outside of the employment arena.

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