Just after Christmas I went for a meal with my school friends – we’re still pretty closeknit despite all kinds of distance caused by university and school – and it was great. We stuffed our faces, were a little too loud and probably made surrounding tables of families feel a little awkward, oops.

I can’t remember how the conversation got onto money but it DID and someone said “we’re all on salaries now aren’t we? Awesome.” Thankfully it seemed to be a rhetorical question but that didn’t stop me from stuffing as many chips as physically possible in my mouth to get over how awkward I felt. Classy.

Now, let me get this straight: my friends are lovely and supportive and all brilliant. No malice was meant by what was said. But the truth is I’m not on a salary. I’m the only one in that group NOT on a salary. I’m not even scratching together payments here and there for writing.

I’m on benefits. A lot of people – especially my nearest and dearest – know this, yet that inadvertently horrendous question made me panic. Why? Because *whispers* I’m embarrassed about even being on benefits, let alone having to talk about it. So, now’s my chance to try and get over my own guilt. 

As I touched upon in my first official GoThink Big piece (which I’m still not quite over) unemployment amongst us yoofs is a little too commonplace. As a result, a lot of us may have found ourselves unemployed, on some kind of benefits or earning next to nothing as we try and make it in the big wide world. My favourite (and by that I mean least favourite) conversation goes something like this:

“So what are you up to these days?”

“You, know same old. Still studying, doing some writing on the side.”

“Does it pay well?”

“Um…”

Hands up who’s been in this situation? I’m going to pretend I can see a LOT of hands. 

The thing is though, as if being unemployed/perpetually skint wasn’t horrible enough, there’s a massive stigma you get lumbered with to really rub that salt deep into the wounds. Everyone has an opinion on everything, ESPECIALLY money and employment. 

Benefits in particular seem to really rattle people’s cages. You think talking about money is bad, try talking about benefits. The venomous tripe that people can come up with is enough to make you never speak ever again, but is anyone justified in being so critical of ANYONE on benefits? Not really.

It’s not a black and white subject, it’s every damn colour under the sun, but unfortunately, and thanks to some unflattering portrayals in the media of people “abusing” the system, we’re all tarred with the same brush. I just want to run around wailing “it’s not like that! I WANT to work! I don’t understand how people afford flat screen TVs either!” but I’m pretty sure it’d fall on deaf ears OR people would avoid me like the plague.

The thing is, whatever people may or may not think of the unemployed or the “Strivers and Shirkers”, the fact that anyone should be made to feel guilty in this situation is absurd. It’s hardly a situation that people CHOOSE to be in yet it’s become almost expected to judge those going through a hard time. And believe me, I STILL get hell for it. 

Shall we try and stop kicking ourselves when we’re down? Yeah? That’d be nice. Being unemployed or on benefits or not really having a dream job is, to put it lightly, REALLY BLOODY AWFUL. The last thing anyone needs is to feel ashamed. But we do. I can’t really preach and say “stick up for yourselves! There’s nothing to be ashamed of!” because I’ve been on benefits for five years and STILL would rather eat all my own fingers and toes than discuss it.

I guess I kind of HAVE spoken about it now, haven’t I? Maybe I don’t have any fingers and toes left either…

The point is I kind of feel like just hugging everyone and telling them it’s OK to be whatever age, and receiving whatever support, and not yet know if you’re on your way to a dream career. Because you know what? It’s OK to not be there just yet. And it’s not something to be ashamed of. Ever. 

Time to start listening to my own advice.