If you can’t work full-time because of your health, you might be familiar with the dread that comes from hearing the question, “What do you do?”
Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t understand what it’s like to not be able to work due to health challenges, like chronic illness, disability or a mental health condition, so they often make seemingly “harmless” comments about your employment status that can actually hurt quite a bit. You might even be familiar with some of them.
Sometimes “harmless” comments come in the form of a question. (Have you considered that working might help you feel better?) Other times,”harmless” comments are just downright ignorant. (I’m so jealous, I wish I didn’t have to work!)
Most of the time people make these comments because they think they are helping or being supportive, when in reality they are being invalidating and even condescending. We need to recognize a lot of people with health challenges desperately want to work (or work more than they do), but simply can’t.
It’s important to remember what may seem “harmless” to one person may actually be hurtful to another. Whether you’re struggling with chronic pain or illness, your mental health or a disability, you deserve support. How much you can work is not a measure of your worth.
We wanted to know what “harmless” comments people who can’t work full-time due to health challenges have heard, so we turned to our Mighty community to share their experiences.
Here are the “harmless” comments our community shared with us:
1. ‘How does it feel to be on vacation every day?’
“‘Must be nice to be on vacation every day!’ No, actually it totally sucks that my body and mind make it impossible to be a contributing member of society.” — Vicky M.
“I always get, ‘Must be nice!’ (meaning not going work). Because you know I’d rather suffer from mental illness than work!” — Trisha H.
2. ‘You’re too young not to work!’
“‘You’re too young to be in this much pain’ or ‘Ahhh come on, you’re still young. You can do it.’ These things hurt me deeply. I’m already a young adult struggling to come to terms with my ailments, I don’t need other human being voicing my own insecurities back at me from their perspective. When things like this are said to me, I feel obligated to push my body past its boundaries in order to prove some sort of point to those around me.” — Annie S.
3. ‘You would feel a lot better if you were working.’
“I always get the ‘You need to get a job’ speech because everyone feels if I work again, my problems will disappear. A lot of my depression and anxiety comes from the work environment. I just wish they understood that.” — Sarah L.
“‘You’d feel better if you got a job. It’d give you purpose.’ Sure, it’s meant to be encouraging, but do you really think I went from weekly overtime and running a family of four to not being able to leave my room because I don’t wanna?” — Tasha B.
“‘Maybe what you need is to go back to work? It would give you something else to think about.’ ‘It must be lovely being able to sleep in every day.’ It makes me feel as though I’m seen as lazy and a scrounger. Believe me, I’d work seven days a week, 12 hours a day if it meant I wouldn’t have to feel like this. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.” — Jenny B.
4. ‘What do you even do with your time?’
“‘Are you working?’ No. (attempt to explain my illness)
‘Well are you in school?’ No…
‘What do you do with your time then?’
It makes me feel like I’m a waste of space in their eyes.” — Holly T.
5. ‘Are you going to volunteer or something instead?’
“‘So, what are you going to do? Are you going to volunteer?’ When someone doesn’t understand anxiety, they judge and try to push you to do something to ‘be productive’ when you’re not ready. Sometimes leaving the house to go to therapy is a chore in itself.” — Katie S.
6. ‘If you’re home all day, you should be able to cook and clean.’
“’Your husband should be able to come home and do nothing! You have all day to clean and cook!’ This was so demeaning and I hear it a lot. No, I’m not lucky I’m a stay-at-home mom. I want to work, I want to help support my family. I struggle to go to a job everyday and the stress almost kills me. The anxiety from dealing with people and the fear that I’ll do something wrong/say something out of line is immense. I’m in too much physical pain to even clean the house every day and it takes all day for me to do a sink full of dishes. And now that I have a baby, it’s even worse. Why should my husband get to come home and do ‘nothing’? Do you really believe that because I’m unable to work that I am undeserving of any kind of break at all?” — Phaedra-Rey J.
7. ‘We’ve all got to work, why can’t you?’
“‘We all do it, why can’t you?’ or things of that sort are said to me all the time in my part-time job, but I have a chronic pain disorder.” — Summer S.
8. ‘Working from home isn’t a real job’
“Due to my illnesses, I work out of my home. The most hurtful thing that is said is that what I do ‘isn’t a real job’ because I am home, or that I’m not ‘allowed’ to be exhausted again because I work from home. It always hurts my feelings greatly because what I do is a lot of work and it makes me feel insignificant and really affects my self-worth.” — Niki P.
9. ‘I don’t think you really want to work.’
“‘You just don’t want to work.’ Um, no. I use to work two part-time jobs and one small side job all while going to school full-time. It’s driving me ‘crazy’ that I can’t work.” — Caitie W.
10. ‘What did you do all day?’
“I was engaged and living with him and he would come home and ask me what I did all day because it looked like I hadn’t done anything. The thing is on those days just getting out of bed and completing ADLs [activities of daily living] was all I could manage.” — Lauren A.
11. ‘You’re not even trying to look for a job?’
“I was lamenting to a close friend about everything I was going through. I casually said, ‘Managing my health has become a full-time job.’ She responded by saying, ‘So does that mean you’re not going to at least look for a job?’ I reminded her that I’m not medically cleared to work. She scoffed and mumbled as she walked away.” — Gigi J.
12. ‘You used to be such a hard worker, what happened?’
“‘You used to work so hard, what happened?’ This was so hard especially because my depression is from an assault. I am finally getting back into working and going to school, but being compared to who I was, that was the hardest thing.” — Lauren W.
13. ‘I’m so jealous of you! I wish I didn’t have to work.’
“‘I envy you, you must be living the life.’ I’ve heard different versions of that on multiple occasions from people. What they don’t see is when I’m not at work, I’m laying in bed in my room that I haven’t managed to clean in a couple months, forgetting to take care of my basic needs such as personal hygiene or eating. The fact I even manage to hold two part-time jobs is a big accomplishment for me. Just because me doing my best doesn’t look like you doing your best, doesn’t mean I’m not.” — Kyle B.
If you’ve ever heard any of the above comments, you’re not alone. To connect with a community that cares (and understands!), we encourage you to post a Thought or Question on The Mighty with the hashtag #CheckInWithMe.
For more on working (or not being able to work) from our Mighty community, check out the following stories:
- 16 Secrets of People Who Aren’t Working Because of Their Mental Illness
- When Your Full-Time Job Becomes ‘Professional Patient’
- Facing Disability as an Adult Who Wants to Work
Can you relate? Let us know in the comments below.