I hate that question. It's the king of small talk questions. It's quite a strange one really. The vast majority of people don't seem to enjoy their work and yet it's the topic that always seems to end up being discussed. Society defines people by their jobs. I suppose it's because we spend so much of our lives working.
Whatever the reasons for the popularity of the question, I still hate it. I know exactly why I have such a problem with it. It's because I don't have a job! There's no easy answer available to me. Just saying, "I'm unemployed" doesn't cover it but giving a decent explanation takes far more time than the questioner really wants to spend on the topic!
For some reason I always begin my answer with, "Well, it's a bit complicated I'm afraid...". I'm pretty much apologising for the awkwardness of my answer from the get go! On the upside it has become a little easier over the last few years as far more people are aware of M.E. as a real illness. Whereas 5 years ago I used to get vacant looks from small talk perpetrators, at least nowadays I get an, "oh yes, my brother's wife's second cousin has that". Although that can actually cause more problems in itself. At least the ignorant usually knew they were ignorant. These days everyone is an expert.
Following on from the apology, my well-rehearsed answer to the evil question usually takes the road of ill 10 years-dropped out of school-no uni-can't work-do voluntary stuff when I can. I'm not one to brag but I like to think that I've refined it to a near perfect answer after all this time! I do the 'I'm struggling on through head-nod' - copyright G.Licious - and smile understandingly to let the question poser know that they don't have to be embarrassed. But let me make it clear (at least in this blog, if not to the big wide world); just because I can answer the question, doesn't mean I have to like doing it!