This Gen Z'er Feels "Expendable" After Chronic Brain Fog Forced Him To Quit School — Here's How It Affects His Budget And Day-To-Day

As an older Gen Z'er, comparing myself to my peers almost feels inevitable. Seeing people my age starting families, traveling the world, and getting far ahead in their careers sometimes makes me feel like I'm "not where I'm supposed to be." I think it's common to feel like you're supposed to have everything figured out by a certain age — but that's not realistic for everybody.

So, to showcase that there's no real timeline to follow in life, I sought out Gen Z'ers from the BuzzFeed Community who were willing to share their lives with me — and the internet — by highlighting parts of their day-to-day existence.

Welcome back to Gen Z Journals.

Collage of notes, receipts, and a dollar bill overlaid with "Gen Z Journals" text, symbolizing financial and personal struggles

This week: Meet Nate (he/him), a 25-year-old from Loveland, Colorado. The remainder of this post will be from his POV.

Person standing beside a vintage car holding a bag with a plush toy on it
Nate M.
Summarized text: Key topics on occupation, finance, tasks, relationships, challenges, and self-reflection in a work context
Dannica Ramriez / Canva
The word "occupation" in cut-out letters pinned on crumpled paper
Dannica Ramirez / Canva

Currently, I'm not doing anything for a living. I had to drop out of college near the end of my computer sciences degree because I got hit with really bad brain fog. I got COVID twice, and my ability to code and handle math severely tanked in that last semester. I've spent the better part of a year now going from doctor to doctor, trying to get any form of relief, which is its own challenge.

Notification reminder for a doctor's appointment displayed on a screen
Dannica Ramirez / Canva

I'd love to have a stable job or even a stable regimen, but the long COVID has made it hard for me to focus on things for about five to eight hours a day, every day, for the past year. As a result, I've learned to keep things as simple as possible so I can brainlessly survive the day if the brain fog hits at a bad time. Typically, brain fog feels like a pain inside my head, but it's unlike a migraine or headache. Instead, it feels like some sort of psychic damage you'd see in video games.

The word "Money" cut out of various papers on a crumpled paper background
Dannica Ramirez / Canva
Receipt showing weekly expenses with dine-out food costs totaling $225.00
Dannica Ramirez

I typically spend under $100 a week on myself; however, since I live in a house of five people (my parents, my sister, my husband, and me), our grocery bill can easily go into $200+ for all the necessities. If I buy anything, it's typically related to a video game or a local event — like $5 to play at my local tabletop RPG place's Dungeons & Dragons one-shots. We usually use apps to save cash on fast food when we go out, and between my husband and me, it's about $20. But when it's the whole family, it can be anywhere from $40 to $80, depending on if we're also grabbing dessert. Honestly, I spent more in the past since I would impulse purchase like it was nothing, but now, I'm definitely more reserved.

U.S. one-dollar bill with handwritten message about dissatisfaction with job wages
Dannica Ramirez

Even so, my financial situation is beyond awful. Even when I had a job delivering pizzas, I felt like I was being underpaid and overworked, with no support from the company. Not to mention the rude and borderline threatening people I encountered. I'd love to work many jobs, but I wouldn't work for the price they pay. When older people say that Gen Z'ers "don't want to work," I feel like they are missing the point: we don't live in a society where working is optional. My parents will likely be working till they die, and so will I. But people are just done working jobs that are crap and pay like crap.

A graphic design of a pizza box with two pizza slices and a "PLS TIP" sticky note inside
Dannica Ramirez / Canva

I wouldn't do pizza delivery again, not because I couldn't or because I hated every minute of it, but because I was getting paid less than minimum wage and was experiencing what I felt was wage theft. All the while, I was at the complete mercy of customers to tip me a living wage cause lord knows the company wouldn't. Who WOULD work that job? To me, it's blatantly obvious what is happening: workers no longer want to work crap jobs only to be treated like crap, all while being paid a wage that they can't afford to live on. It's just simple stuff.

Collage of cutout letters on wrinkled paper spelling "Daily to-do list" for work organization
Dannica Ramirez / Canva
Handwritten weekly agenda listing personal tasks and leisure activities such as playing video games and watching a movie
Dannica Ramirez

First thing in the morning, at about 7 or 8 a.m., I spend some time hanging out with my cats, looking over the news in bed before going and getting ready to change into something nice. During this first step, I set aside time for some doom-scrolling and general worrying about the world so I won't have the desire to do it again until near bedtime. Most of my days from that point on change drastically, as the lack of school or a job has made it to where all I really have is time to spend, which is wasted playing games or hanging out with family and friends.

Original Nintendo Game Boy with a resume game screen, relevant for discussing the evolution of portable work tech
Dannica Ramirez / Canva

When it hits about 6 to 7 p.m., everyone in my house is home, so we'll sit down and watch a movie together while my husband cooks dinner. He's by far the best cook out of us and has perfected managing our shopping lists to be affordable and delicious. It's a good time, no matter what state my brain is in. Then, late at night, like 10 p.m., I'll crawl back into bed with both my cats, go back through the news, then go to bed.

My average day is honestly boring, but the "fun" part is trying to live around what feels like an entirely different part of me. When the brain fog hits, I lose the ability to focus, I have a hard time grasping concepts and ideas, and I have a hard time finding the right words to use in conversations, even if I use them routinely. I go from a "loser-nerd" to just a "dull loser," which is significantly less fun. It's also scary for me since I had to start attaching junk to my phone and keys to make them more bulbous so I don't lose them. I'll set them down in a room when the brain fog hits and then forget about them entirely.

Bedroom with bed, shelves of collectibles, movie posters, and wall art
Nate M.

My sleep schedule is honestly better than ever. I got myself one of those memory foam beds with a frame that can tilt, which has killed my snoring. I sleep about seven to ten hours every night, so I wake up feeling as refreshed as I can be. The only bad thing is that the brain fog is honestly very unpredictable and can even hit me while I sleep, which leads to some very weird, fogged-out mornings.

Cutout letters spelling 'Relationship' on a crumpled paper background, implying concepts of complexity and work in partnerships
Dannica Ramirez / Canva

I've been happily married since 2016, when I was 18. My husband is truly the best person I've ever met and has been the best one to balance me out. I'm very introverted, and he's very extroverted, so we tend to bounce off each other in the best way possible. Even so, I still encounter a lot of loneliness despite having a super supportive family and friends.

Two heart-shaped candies with phrases "I'm tired of talking" and "That's OK"
Dannica Ramirez / Canva

Until very recently, I found it very hard to be myself and take up space, and as a result, I have never really been "me" with many people, including my parents. It's a slow process, but I'm learning! I just think a lot of it comes down to living in a pretty fearful and paranoid society.

"Cut-out letters on paper spelling 'changes & challenges,' concept for workplace adaptability."
Dannica Ramirez / Canva

"Recently" is a stretch, but getting long COVID is both a challenge and a big change. I went from being on top of my game with languages, coding, and computers to having a hard time holding a conversation. When the fog hits, I might as well be a different person; I get aggravated more, I get confused in conversations, I can't plan, and I get very impulsive, which means I've had to learn how to handle that — which has taken the better part of over a year at this point. I'm only 25, but I feel like I'm 85. I go from doctor to doctor, get a ton of tests done, can't remember dates, and all the days blend into a blur.

Assorted role-playing game books spread out on a blue blanket beside a red patterned shirt
Nate M.

Due to my personal history, I've buried many of my hopes and dreams. However, this year, I'm aiming to fix up my car. I'd love to get a new audio system in it, replace a few speakers, get more stickers, get the hail damage out, fix the trunk, and find a way to turn off the dumb "hood ajar" light even though I KNOW it's closed. And — if I win a lottery — I'd love to get the car wrapped like those cars you see at conventions. If I can even get a SINGLE one of those upgrades in 2024, I'd count the year successful.

Collage of cutout letters on wrinkled paper spelling 'Community.'
Dannica Ramirez / Canva

The definition of community I'll go with here is my town, and the answer is that it's better than what I had when I lived in a much more conservative area. But I still don't feel very connected to it. I want to go places in my town and meet new people and just fall in love with the town, but it's just not an option for the most part — and it sucks. Once we get to a smaller scale, like with my family and friends, I'd say 100% my family and friends rock.

Event ticket for 'MEET THE COMMUNITY' by BuzzFeed on 29.08.24 in Loveland, Colorado from 11am-6pm
Dannica Ramirez / Canva

Given the lack of third places, though, I can't even go anywhere and just hang out because I have to shell out extra cash to do anything. Like, how do I meet new people and make new friends without a ton of extra cash?

On the one hand, I've definitely opened up more with my friends about my mental health and inner thoughts, but on the other, I can't help but feel like I'm a broken person who was deemed expendable during the pandemic and left to rot.

The image features a collage of assorted cutout letters forming the question "Do you feel like you're not where you're supposed to be?" on crumpled paper
Dannica Ramirez / Canva

Society says I'm not where I'm supposed to be, but I say I'm right where I'm supposed to be. I'm alive, making efforts to improve people's lives, and I'm happy, and that's all there is to it. Sure, I don't have a job 'cause my brain is busted, I'm not getting a million dollars for shilling for a company, and I don't even technically own my car or have an apartment under my name. Still, I'm living with people I love, making memories with those I hold dear, and I have two brainless cats who can't do basic math but are filled to the brim with love.

A CD case with handwritten labels reading "SONGS THAT HELP", "NATE", and "GET THROUGH LIFE..."
Dannica Ramirez
Handwritten list of songs with artists on a CD, including "Digital Love" by Daft Punk, decorated with stars and a peace sign
Dannica Ramirez

I'm a loser, but I love my life — including the bad — because that's the beauty of life, and you only get one shot.

If you relate to any of these stories or if you're interested in hearing stories from more people, let me know in the comments below! If you have a Gen Z Journal of your own to share, you can fill out this short form with just the basics. We'll be in touch to discuss it further if your story is a fit.

Note: This submission has been edited for length and/or clarity.

Want to read more Gen Z Journals? Read more here.