My Value Doesn't Depend On My Ability To Bring In A Paycheck

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Justin Case/Getty

I have a disability. Actually, I have several disabilities, but my bipolar II is the worst and scariest-sounding, and generally triggers the others. These disabilities are invisible. To combat them, I deploy an arsenal of medications. But those medications can only do so much. I am still often left wracked with anxiety. Basic tasks can become daunting. I can’t manage an eight-hour workday outside of my home. And in our late stage capitalist oligarchy, if you can’t manage at least an eight hour workday, you lose all value. You become nothing but a burden, a drain.

According to our society, everyone has to earn their keep in some form. A staggering 84% of people in America believe it’s shameful to be unemployed, according to a recent NBC poll. Not that I’m unemployed — I have a full-time writing career. But because I’m incapable of taking that career out of my home, or working set hours (I sometimes write at 2 a.m.), people see it as a hobby rather than a job.

There’s Pain In Having No Value

It’s difficult enough to have a disability. Most disabled people, at least those of us with mental disabilities, have long-learned acceptance. There are some things I will never be capable of doing, and that hurts. I cannot function in high-anxiety situations, or what most people would call “a normal workday.” There are expectations there, and too many expectations from strangers overwhelm and frighten me. Can I fulfill them? Will I fulfill them? What if I don’t fulfill them?

I spiral from there.

Luckily I can write and work from home on my own time. I’m a great mom (or a horrible mom; you can look up my work and decide). We homeschool. However, this labor has no value in our society. According to England’s The Times, that includes writers:

It hurts when your labor has no value. When I hang out with other moms, they treat my writing like a cute hobby. Even when I take calls with an editor, they sort of laugh, like it’s an adorable affection that I’d take writing so seriously. My former professors, who imagined I’d get tenure while writing the Great American Novel, see me as a brilliant failure. Too bad she was crazy, their vibe goes.

Except I’m not a failure. My life has value and meaning. I might be quote-unquote crazy, and I may have adjusted some dreams along my journey, but that doesn’t translate to a total loss.

I’m Invisible

If you can’t work for eight hours a day outside the home, you’re weak. If you’re weak, you don’t deserve certain things. I’ll get far less social security, for example, than someone who put in 9-5 for their whole lives. Some people would say that’s fair, because they worked “harder” than me.

No, their labor had more value than mine.

Yes, I’m paid for my writing. But I also homeschool and raise my kids, unpaid. I don’t sit on my ass all day. I have things to do. I might not be able to get out there in a corporate world, but I sure as hell can teach my children, run a household, and do some volunteer work on the side.

I “only” write. I “only” stay home with my kids. I don’t “earn my keep,” and when you don’t earn your keep in our society, you’re worthless. And yes, we all know women’s labor is undervalued. But even other stay-at-home moms who know I’m disabled side-eye me. They know that sometimes my husband has had to take off to care for our kids when I couldn’t — and I wasn’t physically ill or injured when that happened. That makes me a grade-A lazy loser. A better mother and wife wouldn’t make her husband stay home from work because she was freaking out about something.

A better wife and mother wouldn’t freak out.

There goes my value as a wife and mother.

I Don’t Have To Justify My Intrinsic Value

When a world shouts at you that you don’t matter, that you have no value, that you’re worthless, and you already struggle with those feelings, it’s all too easy to believe it. Your family would be better off without you, I think, and so does the rest of the world, because I have such low value; I can’t work 9-5, and a mother who could work, who could shuttle kids around more often and cook better and clean more would be, in its eyes, better. She’d be fitter, happier, more productive.

Productive. That’s what our society demands. Productivity. I am trying to justify myself as a disabled person by saying, “Look, I have value, I really am productive, even though you might think I’m not.”

Newsflash: I don’t have to be productive to have value. I don’t have to do a goddamn thing to have value. As a human being breathing on planet earth, I have value, and I deserve respect, dignity, food, shelter, and care. I should not be measured against a capitalist yardstick, which places Bill Gates at the top and neatly stacks us all by income. Do we really want to live in that world?

Because if I don’t matter, if I have no value because I don’t work 9-5, neither do old people. Maybe we should shunt them into subpar homes and ignore them. Neither do babies — maybe we should ignore them when they cry and smack them when they do something we don’t like. Maybe we should give people like us the bare minimum and tell us to be grateful for it.

No, assholes. Maybe you should recognize that despite our disabilities, despite our lack of productivity and value in a capitalist society, we deserve not only to scrape by, but to enjoy life. I may have less value in our society because my bipolar 2 prevents me from working a 9-5. But my life is still meaningful. I deserve to love and be loved, to be cared for, to be treated with respect.

It’s hard to hold that mindset when the world screams down that you don’t matter. It’s hard to remember, especially when I hit a wall: when anxiety overwhelms me, when I break down, when I don’t have enough mental energy to finish out a regular day. But my need to curl up and sleep because I’m COVID-exhausted and panicked doesn’t translate to a lack of intrinsic value. It translates to a need to curl up and sleep.

I matter. I might have an invisible disability, but I have value. And my ability to contribute a certain amount of cash to my family’s bank account has nothing to do with it.

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