In this commentary, Mary-Faith Martinez opens up about the stigma she encounters as a young chronically ill person who has struggled to find an accessible work and receives financial support from her parents.
This commentary is part of the Voices of Disability Economic Justice Project, a partnership with TCF’s Disability Economic Justice Collaborative. Voices of Disability Economic Justice showcases disabled writers’ first-person perspectives on the economic issues that matter most to them.
Let’s face it: It’s not easy to be a twenty-something these days. Many people are finishing their education or trying to get a job and discovering new financial hardships they’ve never had to deal with before. In the current economy, the situation can be particularly dire. Investopedia reports that “student loans have become the biggest challenge many young people face,” with each borrower owing an average of $31,100. Rent prices are expected to increase by 8.4 percent this year. To top it all off, the job search is more competitive than ever, making it harder to find a suitable position to actually meet all of those expenses.
Now, imagine facing all of this as a person with chronic illness, which is what I’m experiencing. I graduated from college a little over a year ago with a significant amount of student loans to my name. Now, I am tasked with finding a job to support myself. Because of my health, it’s necessary for me to work from home. However, so far I have struck out repeatedly with trying to find a job that I can do remotely. The fierce competition in the job market coupled with the desirability of telework has worked against me. So, I’m left trying to cobble together jobs as a freelance writer and editor, finding work here and there when I can. It is certainly not enough for me to earn a living.
The task of supporting me financially has fallen to my parents. For many disabled and chronically ill folks, depending on family for money is necessary. Many of us are not “disabled enough” to receive benefits through Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Even if we do meet the requirements, it can be quite tough to get approved. On the other hand, many of us are disabled enough to struggle working in any traditional capacity and are left to try to come up with outside of the box solutions.
I am completely aware of the privilege I have to be able to depend on my family financially, but I highly doubt they expected they would still be supporting their daughter once she had reached her mid-twenties. And they’re not exactly wealthy themselves. But without their support, I would either be working at a job not suitable for my medical needs that would worsen my health, or I’d be living on the street.
There truly aren’t adequate words to express my gratitude at being able to lean on my parents. But there is also a certain level of shame that comes with this for me. So many people my age are living on their own while working their first “real” jobs. Sure, it’s not easy. The job market is competitive for everyone, rent increases are universal, and countless people are affected by student loans. But they have something. There is some work. Some hope. Something to help them see beyond the struggle.
For me, there is nothing. When people ask what I do for work, I am forced to come up with some quick explanation that sounds socially acceptable while also maintaining some level of honesty. No one makes a social media announcement to tell the world they’re still living with their parents. I’ve never gotten a pat on the back for not being able to make a living. When a friend gets a new job or moves out on their own, I am left to congratulate them with a smile, while feeling guilty that I am not truly happy for them.
We live in a society in which we are taught to be self-sufficient and productive at all costs. That I can’t do that feels like a personal failing. The discomfort, embarrassment, and comparison are very real. But no one should be made to feel less-than because of the way they pay the bills, or because someone else pays the bills for them. And yet, here I am, trying to shake off my shame.