What You're Worth: Why Everything is the Absolute Worst Right Now, But I'm Still Trying

I have been having violent and terrifying nightmares lately. These dreams cause me to wake up covered in tears and sweat, and look around my room to make sure men with knives and guns aren't standing over my bed, waiting for me. It's made me dread sleep, which has made me a daytime zombie.

I've talked to a few people about these terrifying dreams, including my doctor, and the general consensus is that I am unsettled in my waking life. And that's not surprising: to be honest, everything is the worst right now. I'm unemployed, and have been underemployed ever since 2012. In a few weeks I will be homeless in Ottawa. My beautiful pink couch has gone to a new home. I have no money and few job prospects. I've never had a successful relationship, and I've actively avoided speaking to single straight men for approximately 9 months. I've fallen so far behind on my training schedule for a 10k race in October that yesterday my running app asked me if I was still alive. The only successes I've had lately is making it to level 21 in Paradise Bay, and figuring out how to stream The Great British Bakeoff from the BBC website.

In the midst of this persistent and baseline of terror that my life is a complete and total waste at the age of 28, my sister called me. "I have a request," she said.

"...okay. You may proceed," I said.

"I want you to write a blog post about worth."

I stopped swatching eye shadows and stared at the phone. "Like, monetary worth? You know I don't understand the economy. I just hear the word 'taxes' and I start to hyperventilate."

"No, obviously not," she sighed. "I mean people's worth. What it is that makes people valuable."

What prompted this request was a post she had seen on Facebook. A friend had wished a happy birthday to their daughter, adding that she had a nice house, a good job, and a husband. What bothered my sister about this was that it seemed like such an obvious statement: what made her daughter worthy was a trio of surface successes.

Even though I want to believe I'm strong enough and smart enough to know that marriage and money isn't what makes a person valuable, hearing of another engagement or someone getting the very job I had also applied for causes me to crawl into bed and watch Community for the 13th time. It isn't that other people are experiencing cool and exciting things in their lives; it's that I feel like I'm reminded that I have nothing to show for myself, and therefore I do not matter; I am worthless.

Rationally, I know this isn't true. Of course I matter; all lives matter. But the doubt and fear and pressure of the media and Facebook and social circles remind me that some matter more than others. If you can tick the boxes of success - love, employment, purchasing power - then you have hit the jackpot! You win! Your life is more valuable because we can quantify it.

And I think it boils down to ease. It's easier to congratulate someone on a new job or gush over a cruise to Mexico, than it is to remark someone's ability to contemplate important social issues. It's easier to see a wedding as mark of success, rather than the ability to be vulnerable over and over again, risking heartbreak every time, as a mark of strength. It's easier to congratulate someone on buying a house than it is to congratulate them for waking up to another day of unknowns and simply trying.

I've been lucky, in that I have parents and a sister and friends who have reminded me consistently over the past few months why I matter to them - I'm funny; I'm smart; I have thoughtful insights to their problems; I can cook; I am passionate about stuff, which in turn makes them passionate too. These tidbits have shone like lanterns in the window while a blizzard rages all around me. And these people have also reminded me that they were once where I am, or their future is uncertain too, and that this isn't it, and there's so much to be excited about. That I am not alone.

I guess what I really want, with this entire rambling post full of feelings, is to be able to celebrate the little successes. To post on Facebook "I got out of bed today, and I applied for a job, and then I paid my internet bill on time" and have a surge of "likes" and comments: congratulations! well done! good luck!

Because I think what makes us worthy not our successes; it is simply that we are trying.


Marley said…
Brillantly written and expressed. Don't worry about checking the tick boxes ...the text fields of life constantly change. And that's good!
Marion said…
Having worked with people with compounded mental, physical, and social health issues (e.g. drug addiction, homelessness, anger issues, schizophrenia, and Hepatitis-C), I feel that many people pass beneath the "worthiness" radar, at least according to where society sets the standards.

Just a thought that has no conclusion to it. Also, I'm glad we were (are, I hope!) friends. Come live in Vancouver.
Anonymous said…
Well, here I am a blubbering mess because you have succinctly posted what I felt like for years. Worth was only in what others thought of you and not in what I thought of my self. Worth was only in having things and 'having others 'own' me as a wife, daughter, Sunday School teacher, etc., and the fact that I really didn't measure up to their perceived vision of worth. It was not in the fact that I did just get up one morning and greeted the day with an "I'm going to get through this day with love" and gave one daughter Cheerios and chocolate milk for breakfast (her fave) and put a note in my other daughters lunch bag that said "I love you" and I smiled knowing I made them smile.

II'll never forget being at church one morning when a bunch of us parents were talking about behaviour of kids and I interjected a comment into the conversation. One of the parents(a teacher), laughed out loud and said "what would you know about it-you're just a babysitter". No one spoke up, no one commented, I just walked away feeling worthless.

My worth came from everything that I did every day with all my heart and soul -living my children and other people's children (as a just a babysitter and a church volunteer). My worth came in ways where I could focus and use my creativity by writing for myself. My worth came in tackling hard things for me that may have seemed easy for others. My worth came from going back to university after over twenty years and pursuing what others felt was a worthless waste of time, effort and money, and doing far better than I'd thought possible.

And up until 4 years ago, my worth came from knowing at the end of every day, I did it all to the best of my ability and not what others thought I should have been able to do.

Funny thing, you were and are a person I always admired greatly for pursuing what you loved and for speaking your mind. I always saw you as confident and happy and loved. I often said to myself 'I wish I could be like her', even though I was 22 years older than you. You had spark and joy and enthusiasm. And love for your family and friends and writing and books and makeup and cats...you had love for your life and it loved you life.

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