To say that running my own business is a bit of a strain is a slight understatement. Actually, it’s a complete and utter lie. Trying to do everything that I need to do is an utter nightmare. It is not helped when you discover that people that you trusted were actively working against your best interests at various points, if not actively betraying you.
I have experienced the struggle of trying to make a success of yourself as an honest, working class, person with permanent health problems and I can honestly state that it is hell on a daily basis. It has been a long hard road since 1999, dragging myself back to a given value of normal life, through breakdowns, madness, homelessness, agoraphobia , pain killer addiction, depression and anxiety and now heart problems.
If you think of it as climbing up a ladder, trying to get on the first rung back to ‘normality’ is an absolute nightmare, we all scurry along through life, juggling work, finances, relationships, keeping healthy and keeping a home, never quite realising just how near we are to the whole lot just blowing up in our face, of course, that is until it does just that. All it takes is for one thing to go at the wrong time and all the rest start to suffer. Your health goes, then your job goes, your relationship doesn’t stand the strain, then you pop a few more gaskets until one day you are sleeping on a relations sofa, with them pretending that you aren’t getting in the way, none of your clothes fit and you look dreadful because all the medication is puffing you out, your friends have all started distancing themselves from you as if mental health problems are catching and you are flogging all the things you can’t drag from one place to another to keep yourself in cigarettes money because it is the only thing getting you through the days.
The first rung is admitting how bad things are and getting help. The problem is, what help? Much of it doesn’t come until you are actively making a nuisance of yourself and the waiting list for ‘polite nutters’ like myself is phenomenal. Then there are the issues of what you do get in the way of help, what is fashionable amongst the mental health services at that moment and what is affordable. You may get cbt (cognitive behavioural therapy), mood stabilisers, anti depressants, anti psychotics, group therapy or if you are really lucky, jungian/humanistic/ talking therapy. They each work for a give value of working for different people, some people are lucky and they hit the right combination of meds and therapy first go, but for most it is a long and drawn out process with the welfare services making it worse all the while. Let’s be honest here, the biggest factor here in the likelihood and speed of recovery is how wealthy and supportive your family is. For me, they were neither and so…
After ten years I finally got to rung two, that is, interacting with the world again. It isn’t an easy thing relearning how to do everything you need to do to get back to living that normal life we all crave. Learning how to recover from set backs is tricky and requires a great deal of practice. Having a breakdown that lasts a hellish fortnight can be regarded as a success if the one before lasted a month and the one before that six. I started living independently again, working hard to do those things that others take for granted. It took a year of monthly session with a life coach at forty pound a time to learn how to sit on my own in a cafe without turning into a gibbering wreck. That came out of my pittance of survival money and was worth every penny.
The curse of getting slightly better is that the welfare services start twirling their moustaches and looking for a railway track to tie you to. The Tories hit upon a wonderful way of dealing with the walking wounded in mental health terms, theyjust pretend you are perfectly fine. They pulled out the instructions of the monopoly set and just changed all the rules to fit their own skewd version of reality, ignoring tens of thousands of deaths as a strange quirk in their statistics.
There are wonderful people out there to help but, ironically, you have to know where to look and be sane enough to get that help. It’s a chicken and egg situation, a trap that many fall through and back onto the streets again, your fingers stomped on and off rung two you fall.
As well as the wonderful people, paid and voluntary, out there, their are also so utter wankers. They fall into three main categories, the well meaning ones who don’t know what they are doing and cause harm, the ones who just take the money and do a crap job and the people who are mentally ill themselves, either boosting their ego or fulfilling some sick need to feel superior to the unlucky sods who cross their paths.
I am always amazed at how disgusting some of the things that people do are to the mentally ill and the vulnerable. There is stuff going on that harks back in offensiveness levels to the black and white minstrel show. They aren’t horrible people doing it and they get really offended if you pick them up on how insulting and degrading they are being to people like me but if you asked some jobbing musician in the seventies wearing blackface, I’m sure he or she would have thought the same.
My ascent to the third rung was a bit of an oxymoron as it was a case of jumping rather than being pushed. I’m self employed now and it is not easy, I’m constantly exhausted and my time is never my own. I’m poorer than I have ever been in my life and I am constantly beseiged by worry. And yet, it is an improvement on waiting for the next government sponsored witch trial so send me back to homelessness. I still get help though and I need to down tools for weeks every years just to deal with the admin and paperwork for that help, knowing that all it would take would be some faceless bureaucrat to take issue with the validity of all my work and wipe everything I’ve done into the gutter. That said, when asked what I do now, I make no apologies, here is my business card, those are my web stores, you can buy my stuff from that shop and over there is a mural I have done and if you go and have a look in that gallery, there is one of my paintings, hanging on the wall.
I don’t know if i shall ever reach the fourth rung, I keep reaching out for it but I can never take hold. To get to even a shadow of that ‘normal’ life that has so long eluded me, to have choices, to not be a sitting target for the government to take a pot shot at should they take a fancy to. To take hold of that I have to compete with the norms. Those with families who were supportive or at best not a total nightmare, those who breezed through the education system, those who were handed opportunities rather than having to claw at them with broken finger nails and chew at them with broken teeth.
Now, here it comes, that noise like a plague of locusts, that chittering sound on the edge of hearing that gets louder and louder. Bitter, bitter, bitter, bitter, the deflector shield of the privileged slides into place to cover all the ways they slid into what they do as they silently close ranks and doors and stick out a leg to trip you up. As you try and get paid work, build up a network, get a foot in the door. There they all are, stopping you. Whether through bruised ego or the thought that one day you might cost them that cushy bit of work and their chance to get a shiny new vintage look pushbike instead of you starving and freezing another winter. The middle class mafia stab you in the back just one more time.
And the most twisted thing of all? Why look there! There they all are, the exact same faces in all those well meaning but ultimately useless charities, ‘helping out’ other poor sods, getting their street cred, polishing their halo and doing a bit of networking all the while. Happy to lend a helping hand…. Just so long as you don’t climb too far out of the gutter as the stench might permeate their world. And they can’t have that, can they?