This being New Year’s Eve, there are plenty of articles and thinkpieces floating around the internet summing up 2015. I originally didn’t want to clutter that already-packed space with my own thoughts, but I felt like I needed an exorcism.
Because personally speaking, 2015 was pretty damn hellish for me. Up until the last couple of weeks, really, it was a cocktail of near-constant anxiety. It’s supremely difficult not know how long you’ll be able to keep paying your rent.
Long periods of unemployment and working for free have become taken for granted, and they really shouldn’t. We’ve gotten so used to this state of affairs that underemployment and poverty have become normal.
If they aren’t normal to you (whether from your own experiences or from your social circle), then you’ve become dangerously disconnected from your own world. But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. It doesn’t mean people don’t suffer from mental health problems or terrible stress in their relationships and friendships thanks to unemployment and poverty.
January 2016 will be the first month where I’ll have actually made enough to cover all my basic expenses (food, utilities, rent, transit) since April 2014. Since 2013, I’ve either been unemployed, employed in jobs that didn’t pay enough, retraining in college without work to support me, or looking for work.
Yes, my best opportunities for next year came from my internship and volunteer activities over this year. And those opportunities as a communications consultant, in Toronto’s film community, as a labourer, and in political activism make me extremely hopeful for my future in this city.
But there have been a lot of crises and breakdowns along the way. And I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to support myself on savings and the support of my family for this long. If not for some very fortuitous luck, I wouldn’t even have had a home.
I don’t say this for pity. I say this because there are a lot of people out there like me, struggling simply to survive. Many of those people are losing that struggle and have already lost.
And whenever I see an article or a meme mocking the Millennial generation for its laziness, self-absorption, or sense of entitlement, it enrages me because it encourages people to look away from poverty and suffering in their midst. This is especially true in Toronto, where fantastically wealthy and horrifyingly poor communities exist in easy walking distance of each other.
What truly saddens me is how often people who suffer the mental health issues of the struggle to escape poverty and perennial underemployment are told to hide it.
“Why are you in those online groups for people who have panic attacks? No one will hire you if they think you’re unstable!”
“Why do you talk about mental health on your social media? People can google that! They’ll think you’re crazy.”
“No one wants to hire someone who’s unreliable and who’ll need to take time off for stress.”
“Look at all those job ads asking for someone who can handle fast paced work and stress. They won’t want someone who has to take time off for medical appointments. Especially if it’s for therapy.”
“You’ll never get a job if you admit you have anxiety. They’ll think you’re weak. What are you, stupid?”
Sometimes, that’s what I’d tell myself. Sometimes, it’s what people who loved me would tell me. Because it’s in my best interests never to admit that being underemployed and low-income for a long time causes stress and anxiety.
I sometimes feel as though very few people understand that making someone constantly afraid to be honest about their health makes that person less healthy.
This was my 2015. This back-and-forth between the stress of having too much to do and the anxiety over never earning any money from it to support myself. Now it seems this will finally end, and I’ll be able to begin a real career instead of just hoping things will work out.
There are still plenty of people around us who are struggling. Many are worse off than me – they’ve lost their loved ones, their homes, as well as their jobs and careers. Some have even lost their countries. Though the determination of those people to regain what they lost can lead them to greater success than ever before, but not if we abandon or refuse them.
We’re people. We live in communities. We all begin to prosper, the more of us we help to prosper. We’re not each other’s competition. We’re stronger when we support each other.
This is true at the personal, political, national, and global levels.
We will win.