I should preface the following by noting that this post has not been written by Pandora. Rather it is a guest post by her partner, known to regular readers of this blog as A. The views expressed, needless to say, are not necessarily those that are held by the Serial Insomniac herself. Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, I’ll proceed.
Over recent months, I have sometimes found myself wondering to what extent worklessness, quite independently of Pandora’s mental health issues, breeds the kind of motivational collapse that this blog so often and so effectively chronicles. The question seems particularly apt with the Coalition government taking forward very significant changes to disability support and out of work benefits.
Let’s get something straight from the outset; in raising this question, I’m not for one moment suggesting that Pan is in any position to work at the moment or that she isn’t deserving of the support that she currently receives. What I am asking is this: is being away from work for such a long time a contributor to the difficulties that now stand in the way of Pan resuming a ‘normal’ life? (Cue all the usual reservations about the word ‘normal’.)
In speculating on the life-deadening impact of worklessness I speak to an extent from personal experience, albeit not a long stint of same. When I completed my university education some years ago, I naturally went job hunting. I didn’t think I’d get anything quickly, and in the interim determined to enjoy myself, drink in (sometimes literally) the freedom that being away from full time study could bring. Without a care in the world, I could begin on any number of projects I’d always thought I’d like to do – writing some short stories, composing music, improving my guitar technique, learning to program a computer in a much less amateurish manner, honing my understanding of the world and its most important issues through wider reading. Sounded good. And yet I’d been warned that prolonged exposure to the dole could be psychologically debilitating. A friend of mine, a long term doleite, told of the fact that he had come to the stage where he couldn’t even be bothered getting up or having a shower on many occasions. I dismissed such thoughts; that was him, I was me. Nothing like that would happen to me.
Well, for my first four or so weeks of freedom, I was right. I had a whale of a time. No commitments. No pressures. I could go out when I wanted. I could stay up as late as I wanted for some deeply interesting all night philosophical conversations. I could catch up on series upon series of the good TV shows I’d missed, read good books, experiment with writing, compose bits and pieces on the computer, and so on. I could pursue what I wanted to pursue, all the while job hunting, attending a few interviews – not having much success – but oh well, time would sort that out, wouldn’t it?
Week five brought a niggling feeling that things were starting to veer off course. I’m obviously an impatient person, because by the time I’d reached this stage, the boredom had subtly, insidiously started to set in – and with it, the transformation of my motivation into molasses. That morning shower? Bah! Showers were for losers! [Pan - yes, they are. I'm actually scared of them, and since I am soooo awesome, anyone who thinks that showers are cool is wrong. Matter closed]. It could wait. Going to the shop to get milk? Black coffee would do just fine. Tomorrow, maybe. Getting up? Well, surely past midday was perfectly respectable. Maybe I could even practise some lucid dreaming! In short, postponement and procrastination gradually became the order of service, and with this development, the ebbing of creativity marched dolefully in step. Days blended into other days. Weekends were the same as weekdays. Friday afternoons weren’t the great escape they once had been. Time to do stuff was, well, just more time. And I had plenty of that, so why rush?
By weeks six and seven, my brain was beginning to atrophy. By week eight, I was finding it an achievement to force myself to take a daily walk into town – I’d even set this as a bloody goal, so pathetic was my motivation by this stage. That was the height of my ‘achievement’.
Luckily for me, I’ve always been driven by some sort of guilt trip which prevents me from giving up entirely – so far, at least. I continued the job hunting, somehow, and eventually secured a position.
But enough about me. The point I am trying to make is that worklessness – or so it seems to me – creates its own challenges which are generated separately from, or at least contribute in a separate way to, the challenges brought about by what I will call, for want of a less generic description, clinical depression.
I’ve now had this conversation with Pandora on a number of occasions. What part of her is unable to get out and about, to find motivation, to look for work, etc, as a result of her condition? And what part of all that is the result of being in the situation she has been in – without work, without what one might call external responsibilities – for around three years?
This thought process of mine should not be interpreted as a suggestion, as some would have it, that people struggling on benefits are necessarily work-shy and simply need a good kick up the backside. Do such people exist? Certainly. Are they typical? I doubt it. The long term unemployed who have lost hope need help back to work – a carrot and a stick, probably – but at the same time there are plenty of mentalists who, for various reasons, are unable to work, who want to work but are simply not currently in a place where they can do so at this moment. Let me put it like this: would you want your colleague having paranoid delusions, or bursting into tears/storming out of the office or off the building site because they can’t cope with what might seem an ordinary task? I have an acquaintance who sees conspiracies everywhere and who is working. Or was. Until he was fired. For threatening colleagues. On more than one occasion. Even after formal warnings. Because he erroneously thought that people were engaged in a conspiracy against him. He needed help. He ultimately couldn’t stay in work. He needs help now to get him back to a place where he can resume work. (That he fails to acknowledge this [I'd say 'doesn't realise he needs it'] does not negate the fact that he needs it.) I’m sure about this: a person like him should be nowhere near a workplace until he has had an opportunity to deal with – and be helped to deal with – whatever conditions afflict him.
I’m somewhat worried that the proposed changes to the system will fail to recognise cases like this; the medical assessors, as I understand it, won’t be specialists in the field they are assessing. Does that make sense? Not to me.
To return to Pandora’s case, and I can’t and won’t generalise about others, I still wonder how much her chances to get back to a ‘normal’ existence are constrained not alone by mentalism but also by having become stuck in a rut – through no fault of her own – for so long. Adjusting again to the concept of work, after the passage of a long time sitting in the house, will almost certainly be very difficult. It would be difficult for most people, I’d venture. For me, definitely.
So what’s the point of this post?
I’m not sure, really. I suppose I want to reassure myself, and Pandora, that a return to work will be possible, but I need to acknowledge that, independently of mentalism, it will be a gradual process, perhaps starting with some very light voluntary commitments and working its way up to some part-time, low pressure role. Eventually, of course, the objective will be a return to a full-time and, ideally, fulfilling career. You may have observed that Pandora is a smart cookie, and I think she’ll do very well for herself as a professional, provided she is able to reach a sound level of stability and find something that she really doesn’t mind (or, dare I say, enjoys) doing [which is all I've ever really wanted out of life].
I don’t have the answers, but would certainly be interested in the views of others on the ‘worklessness breeds worklessness’ theory.
You can follow A on Twitter at @TheNyarlathotep.