“What do you do?” is the classic question that people meeting for the first time make small talk with. When I was able to work, this seemed like a natural question to ask and I was happy to share and to hear what others had to say. Since having to stop working due to my Ankylosing Spondylitis and Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, I have a hard time with that question and I really don’t know what to say when someone asks me “What do you do?” I can say that I’m a stay at home mom, but I’m not personally satisfied with that answer because it’s not true. I wouldn’t have ever chosen to not work so it doesn’t feel like I’m sharing who I truly am. Also, the few times I said I was a stay at home mom to keep the conversation moving along, the reaction I got from people was “Wow, must be nice”. It’s one of the most infuriating responses because being a stay at home mom isn’t easy in the first place and it’s that much harder when you have a chronic illness.
On the other hand, I can tell my truth and say that I’m disabled and not working. In a first encounter, people don’t always notice my disability. As those of you who suffer with Ankylosing Spondylitis or another chronic illness know, many of the symptoms aren’t visible and if I’m not doing a lot of walking, I can blend in with abled people no problem. That makes me stating that I’m disabled so much more confusing for people who are meeting me for the first time. I feel like I need to explain my story, but I have to do it quickly because after all this is just small talk, so it ends up being a mish mash of sharing too much mixed with being vague.
“What do you do?” I never thought such a seemingly innocent question would make me so uncomfortable. It’s actually a very personal question when you think about and I would argue beyond small talk. It’s something to consider when meeting someone for the first time. You never know what people are going through. They could’ve just been fired or laid off or just sick like me. I’m not saying that it’s not an important question. I’m just saying that it doesn’t have to be a question that we lead with during small talk because at the end of the day, it’s not small talk for everyone.
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