When I meet people for the first time (for example, at a party) often the first thing they ask is “What do you do?” (meaning, what paid work do you do.)
I have very severe health problems that prevent me from working, but that’s a very painful, personal subject, and I really don’t want to mention that when I’ve just met someone.
I don’t look sick, and I don’t want to come out as invisibly ill/disabled to someone I’ve just met.
What’s a good response that doesn’t make me seem odd, or make the other person feel uncomfortable/awkward?
Goat Lady here, LW, answering you from her bed because she is even more disabled than usual due to an unfortunate hay incident, and on enough painkillers to speak of herself in third person. Woo!
Which is to say, I really really feel you on this one. I am extremely lucky in this situation to be the Goat Lady, so when someone asks what I do I can say, “I’m a goatherd.” and leave it at that. But before goats, and before the wheelchair which I use sometimes when standing is just not going to happen, I hated this question with the power of a thousand fiery, grumpy suns.
Let’s face it, we live in a capitalist society that places a lot of worth on “being conventionally employed” and yet socially we pretend we don’t, so “What [paid work] do you do?” is not treated as the kind of fraught question it is, but rather appropriate small talk for strangers. And for some people, it most definitely is. But for people like you and me, where the answer on a given day may be “mostly I lie in bed out of my gourd on opiate painkillers and read Captain Awkward,” well.
At any rate, you probably don’t have goats, so playing the “I’m a goatherd.” card and then fielding all their ruminant-related curiosity is most likely not going to work for you. But maybe there is something else that you do, that you love passionately, and that you are willing to share with strangers? If you volunteer somewhere, you can always use that. Should you feel up to sounding a little odd, “I’m an international person of mystery” can work quite well.
Whichever way you go, the next thing to do is immediately turn the question around and then follow up on it. “I’m an international person of mystery. How about you? Oh, you’re an elf-wrangler? What’s your favorite part of the job?” I’ve also heard that responding with “That sounds difficult.” when they tell you how they’re employed is a sure-fire way to get people to forget about you and talk about themselves.
Because I am currently in my bed and out of my gourd on opiates, however, I’d also like to explicitly ask our lovely community here to help you out and double-check that my advice is not going to cause an international incident or other disaster. Y’all, and especially the other disabled-and-unemployed, how do you suggest handling this one?
And on behalf of those of us in the same shoes as the LW, can I suggest that if you ask someone “What do you do?” you’d be doing us a huge favor if you tack the words “for fun” on the end? I mean, I’m going to tell you about my goats either way, but for the non-goatherds it would make things so much easier.