A few minutes after posting my second piece, I went into a shock collapse again – this time complete with my gut becoming molten with diarrhea and accompanied with vomiting. It was one of those experiences where I almost ended up lying on my bathroom floor (I’ve needed to do that before now… but not for a very long while) before I collapsed onto it anyway. I didn’t, but the experience left me with abdominal pain for 48 hours afterwards and my ability to ‘self-care’ ( a Mental Health profession standard) was completely shot to bits. It’s taken me a week to get back to a place where I can write again. I need to be able to write… I’ve still got my ESA form to complete.
Every time I contemplate filling in that fucking form, I start falling to pieces again. The Goddess alone knows what kind of state I’ll be in once this blog has been posted (and before I’ve even completed the 20-page form itself). But it has to be done if I am to have, at least, a fifty-percent chance of continuing to live in a way that sustains my life… if I don’t, then loss is 100% guaranteed. I lose my benefits along with everything else. Indeed, now, each time I contemplate writing another blog-report on how I’m doing since the form arrived, my ability to function falls to levels where my clumsiness and forgetfulness is endangering. I forget to turn the gas off after cooking; I drop knives as I’m preparing food; everyday things I’m trying to tidy/clean fall apart in my hands making worse messes than the one I’m attempting to resolve; nothing goes smoothly ~ if it can go wrong, it does. It gets to the point where I have to stop (or not start at all) before I make matters any worse.
When this happens, I wonder what sane employer would engage me to work for them… unless they actually wanted to go out of business. If these is my physiological/psychological responses to the arrival of a form in the post, it’s not hard to imagine what kind of damage I might unintentionally inflict on any employer who even contemplated hiring me. So, it won’t just be me I’m helping if I complete my ESA50 properly, in a way that accurately reflects my health and mental health situation – there are employers ‘out there’ I’m helping too.
Which brings me back to my unfortunate DWP decision-maker.
I know I said, in my first post, that I would only talk to my Coroner but the fact remains that the first person I must talk to is my DWP decision-maker. I’ve thought a lot about them – whoever they are – in the last week.
Any decision in my case will be made by this human being who is working in an environment where the over-riding narrative kills the very people it was originally designed to serve. Because I have no idea who this person might be, I am left to fill the empty spaces with imagining: Who are you? What fears do you have? Who do you love, and why? What kind of life do you lead? And how will you manage a case like mine, with me saying what I am saying?
I wonder how what it is like to be placed in a position where you have the power of life or death over another human being? Did you know, when you took the job, that this is what the government would require you to do? And how does it feel to be treated that way?
These are not answers my decision-maker can share with me, not within current DWP narratives, but their answers might be something they’d like to know for themselves. The system I rail against in my first post is not of our making – we are simply actors in a narrative created by the last Labour government and continued to its logical conclusion by the subsequent Coalition and Tory governments. This narrative places my decision-maker in the role of deciding whether or not I meet the criteria these governments decided would be applied to the both of us. From this perspective, we – my decision-maker and I – are both victims; me, because its my life in the balance; and this unfortunate DWP employee who must come to a life-or-death decision about someone who falls to pieces the moment the question is asked.
It is easy to say that decision-makers should refuse the decision being required of them but that excludes the human element in their narrative as much as it excludes mine. Perhaps my decision-maker has a family and children; perhaps they are carers themselves. What would happen to their dependents if they did refuse to decide, and is that anything I could ask another human being to do, to risk the lives of others simply to ‘save’ mine? I don’t think so.
My decision-maker’s bosses know they are asking their staff to make life or death choices over the lives of others. What on earth does that do to the people required to carry out such instructions or face sanctions themselves? How does it affect DWP staff to be the tool used to harm thousands upon thousands of people, all in the name of austerity? Every single DWP employee I have met, face-to-face, has treated me as human. Despite a catalogue of social labels that ‘ought’ to have rendered them cold and austere, they never took up that opportunity and I have nothing but gratitude for the ordinary human kindnesses they showed me as I showed them my claim for ESA was authentic. It is because of these people that I remember to stand in my decision-maker’s shoes; that I remember to separate the human aspects from the inhuman system they work in; to include their possible narratives with my own. Yes, there are those DWP staff who choose to be as inhuman as the system they work for, but the fact is I have not met them. I met those when I encountered Atos; who are known to have been employed at Capita and, despite any ‘assurances’ from Maximus, are likely to be employed there too, simply because the system is unchanged, only the firm ‘delivering’ it. There are always fewer checks and balances in profit-making businesses because that’s the nature of the beast. The way things are structured in the UK, public services may only do what the law allows; the private sector can do anything apart from that which the law forbids, and it perhaps why consecutive governments have always outsourced this aspect of my assessment. How do I know? I was once a public servant myself.
In an inhuman systemic narrative – and I’ve life experience of a few of those – the only way I know that works is to face it down with the consequences of its beliefs. It was those repeated confrontations, particularly in prison, that eventually resulted in my heart attack and subsequent progressive heart disease. For every cold-hearted bastard or bitch I faced down – because the system can only be cruel if the people within that system collude with the narrative – there were warm-hearted women and men who brought me back from that edge. When they asked me what I wanted, my reply was always the same: ‘I want a life worth living’.
So what is a life worth living? In the case of the ESA50, I’d like to be treated as the intelligent but seriously ill human being I actually am. I want to be seen as something more than just an inaccurate social label that denies my capacity for faith, or love, or kindness. I need to be more than soulless ‘stock’ to be herded out of DWP statistics, measured by my ‘worth’ to a system that sees my humanity only in terms of work to procure larger profits for those who already have more money than they will ever need or spend. This money-based narrative kills all that is human in me… and if it does that to me, it will be doing the same to every other human being it seeks to control, including my DWP decision-maker.
It’s not ‘work’ itself that is the problem; until my health collapsed, I’d worked all my life both as employee and, at the end, self-employed (for 12 years). My second post speaks of recent charitable shamanic work I did for another. That work was possible only because I’d been given a lot of space to be human in. I like to be active and contributing to my community… but I have to be well enough to do it. Although that work was successful, by the time the main part was completed, I needed ten days to recover. If anything, it taught me that I was still not well enough to hold down a job and that was before the ESA50 arrived. Since then, both my health and mental health have nose-dived and any ‘goal’ of returning to work is further away than ever. Honestly, if there was another way to live that didn’t involve subjecting myself to the inhuman systemic narratives of the DWP, does anyone honestly think I wouldn’t take it?! If I don’t try, how do I know whether I can return to work or not, yet after I posted the blog I thought my decision-maker might think my unpaid shamanic work meant I was well enough to return to work full-time. Damned if I do try and damned if I don’t – the same lose/lose systemic narrative I kick off about in my first post.
So, if my decision-maker is querying this aspect of my additional information, let me say this to you.
I am cognisant of the fact that I am in receipt of tax-payers money (a system I contributed to for 35 years) and I am grateful. My faith tells me that, as a recipient of the kindness of others, I have a social responsibility to give back when I can. In this instance, I was asked to help another’s dream come true; it was within my ability to do this and my conscience would not permit me to refuse. I helped… and their dream has come true. Of all the work I have ever done, this is my finest. I do not regret giving back to a world that has enabled me to live long enough to do it. It came with a price – my health did suffer but nowhere near as badly as it is suffering now. I still don’t regret it. This is my human narrative in the face of the systemic inhumanity we all live in. My shamanic disciplines are part of the deal – I cannot be separated from them anymore. My shamanic narratives sustained my life through prison, through probation, through desistance, and might even sustain me through this DWP repeat-testing of whether I’m lying about not being well enough to return to work. But here’s the thing…
… if I don’t make it out of this alive – and, Goddess-knows there are enough reasons to suppose I am facing my own death – I’ll be dying within a faith narrative that says it is possible for me to make the dreams of other human beings come true.
What can be certain, however, is that I won’t be enabling the ‘aspirations’ of money-centred inhumans who call me ‘scrounger’, ‘skiver’, ‘stock’ or ‘untermenschen’ – my work will be enabling and empowering the dreams of humanity to come true when facing down narratives peddled by liars, crooks and thieves who force others to comply with their corruption. And, who knows, perhaps my DWP decision-maker will be among those whose dream comes true too. I would like to believe so.
Now I need to go collapse again, because I promised myself that this week, I would complete that ESA50.