• Expert By Experience

Solidarity In Union: What My Mental Health Taught Me - Finances and Jobs Are Not All You’re Worth.

Written by Misam Merza

With today’s political and economic climate it is no surprise that so many of us in society struggle to make ends meet; being a paycheck away from homelessness hasn’t rung true to so many of us before. With the Conservative party set to be in power for the next 5 years, many of us can’t see change coming any time soon. The bleak reality of a decade of raging inflation and staunch austerity policies have meant that a looming doom is continuing to hang heavily above us all.

Coming from a family who were refugees, I watched as my father struggled through job after job trying to provide for us throughout my childhood. While I’m sure baba’s ticked every cliché immigrant job out there, he gained no real financial prosperity and instead became riddled with physical ailments. We relocated to the UK as another attempt, another chance to gain some form of financial stability and ensure we had a better chance at a better future. While that didn’t occur for my parents, the hope was that we still could. And so, the pressure to make it was always amplified by various stressors and expectations.

Being an immigrant, a woman of colour within the working class meant I was more than just privy to the intricacies of how intimately austerity affects people’s livelihood. Yet, while my parents had no space for self actualisation amidst trying to survive and making sure we survived, having the privilege to do so seldom comes without shame and guilt. Although I was able to find some space to recognise my mental health and it’s steady decline throughout the years, the need to take time to heal is still a privilege not many of us are afforded. And so, I often found myself spiralling in guilt and shame when I knew I had to give up a job - for what worth am I bringing to the table without a stable job and what help am I providing my parents when I couldn’t maintain myself financially? While I am aware capitalism has beat it into many of us that our worth in society and to those around us is firmly cemented in our revenue and jobs, it still does not make it easier to seek help and choose yourself at the expense of your job.

With social media’s constant reminders to put oneself first and maintain a healthy balance in life has come to greatly shape society’s outlook on mental health, many of us have hardly seen this translate into our work environments with our employers. The disconnect remains prominent in the capitalist world we inhabit, it’s no surprise of course, but where does that leave those struggling with mental health in an environment that more often than not remains to be toxic to our wellbeing? How many of us have had to fake physical illness to take the day off because we knew informing our employers of our declining mental health would not be enough? And how many of us have had to face the repercussions because we dared to mention our mental health? The constant cycle of trying to maintain a job that is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting yet vital to our livelihood, meant the strain on upkeeping our health forced many of us to drop our wellbeing to the bottom of our priority list.

With so many barriers up against people from underprivileged backgrounds, you often fall into the trap of believing you’re the problem. Despite knowing many around you don’t face the same hardships, you still find yourself comparing their abilities with yours, and each time, you come up short. Never mind the fact that your colleague has never had the financial struggle you’ve had or the racial discrimination you face, or dealt with the mental illnesses you do, you should still somehow be able to perform to your best ability and maintain that no matter the toll it takes on you. And although many of us have mastered the ability to work on autopilot mode out of sheer necessity and fear of losing the string of stability we hold onto, it has done nothing but perpetuate the notion that our health does not matter and our revenue is where our worth lies. In other words, to be an immigrant, to be a person of colour means you’re forced to believe you should work yourself to death in order to be worthy in this society, to hold status and some form of respect in the eyes of others.

Having been there myself, I didn’t start unlearning this idea until recently and only because life forced me to. Because, while yes I aim to make my parents proud and hope to one day provide them with the stability society took from them, it is not something I can achieve if I’m not around, and not just around, but healthy.

It was not until I started to recognise my health matters just as much as my peers (namely my white counterparts) that I realised, my mental health is crucial and should take precedence over jobs that do not aid me in any way, especially. For why should I put myself under further mental pressure when my employer refuses to recognise my clear work ethic because I requested a day off? Why should I run myself dry while my colleague does the bare minimum and gets paid more than they claim they can afford to pay me? For the most part, it’s crucial to recognise that our immigrant parents did not break their backs to be here so we run ourselves into the ground for undeserving companies, and a society that cares not to blink twice at our plight.

The reality of the postcolonial (debatable, I know), capitalist world we tread within, is that we remain to be at the bottom of the priority list. Our livelihood does not come into account when considering the wellbeing of the various companies’ employees, but that does not mean we should treat ourselves as such. While many discussions remain to hold the same old narrative of millenials, generation z etc., (especially POC’s,) are far too sensitive and fragile for the “real” world— whatever that means, we arguably have come to not only realise but experienced how today’s social constructs of a fast paced capitalist world is running us all dry. We simply have the vocabulary and space to state a situation for what it is and dare to do so.

The shame and guilt we feel, at times, in retrospect, feels engineered by society for the most part, not to say the feelings are not valid but it’s worth questioning why our white peers seldom ever feel shame or guilt by taking time off— think of how many around you have spoken about taking the time to travel for the year because aside from the eat, pray, love venture, they feel burnt out. Yet, you feel deep disappointment towards yourself because despite pushing through the tough illnesses, your body has finally forced you to stop, to breathe, to recuperate.

Despite the underprivileged backgrounds we have risen from and still are rising from, our health should always come first. For if we do not look after ourselves, who will? So, take the time to check in with not just others around you, but yourself. Ask yourself, is this situation serving me and my mental wellbeing, or, is it far more detrimental than it should ever be. And while it is never easy to grapple with the various stressors within our lives, socially constructed or not, there is no grappling let alone surviving and overcoming, rising from such situations if our wellbeing remains to be where society wants it to be— at the bottom.

My only wish is for more of us to recognise we are worthy beyond our finances, to take the day off, to switch jobs or quit toxic environments, does not make you less than your colleagues or peers. It makes you human.