I, am a product…



The story of Crass and David King

…I am a symbol of endless, hopeless, fruitless, aimless games.

I am aware, through bitter experience, that the benefits system is a filtering mechanism by design. Having taken my claims to tribunal twice now to prove my mental disability, I have gone where few have the resources and stamina to go. As with most claimants who persevere to that stage, my appeal was successful. But it’s a dehumanising process.

At the moment, I qualify for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Severe Disability Payment. Yet still the Department for Work and Pensions seem intent on making life as difficult as possible sometimes. It deadens the spirit and devalues the person.

I’m going through the same process as I did two years ago and, like then, I’ve won recognition of entitlement and am now battling to receive the funds due to me. I can see why so many claimants simply don’t (or can’t) go through the whole process because it is enough to make one ill. The irony is, that seems to be the intention and my successful appeal feels a somewhat pyrrhic victory.

This latest battle is just drawing to a close and my benefits will be back paid to my original claim date. In the interim though, my benefits have been sanctioned and although I’ve managed on my own, I can see how others with more responsibilities and dependants might not. It is a system which I would rather not be a slave to but upon which I am reliant, because I have quite serious mental health issues preventing me from doing any kind of work.

The fact that I’m a writer is a fortunate coincidence and one which I’m begrudgingly grateful to the system for allowing me to do. It has been recognised that I am unfit for work but that writing is therapeutic for me. Furthermore, I am permitted to work and be paid within certain parameters. Being a self-employed freelance writer, working from home, fits into all of those guidelines.

As I’ve mentioned more than once, the pay for freelance work is poor but it’s a means to an end for me. Writing for others allows me to divide my writing day into paid freelance work and my own work, which I hope will pay one day. Until then, my benefits keep things topped up and allow me to live.

With writing going so well on all fronts, I’m fairly up-beat but when you live on what can seem like the whims of others, the anxiety never goes away. That dark stalker is always there.

I have a list of conditions: They are my mental illnesses and factors which a tribunal panel agreed as being severe enough to entitle me to disability allowances. Alcohol dependence, depression and PTSD (on several accounts) are all listed, but at the top of the list is anxiety. Just as it’s always there, every day, it will always be there. It’s only smoking cannabis which lessens my anxiety and allows me to function.

Without marijuana, I simply can’t relax. Having had a smoke though, I can happily immerse myself into some writing, reading, watching TV or a movie. I am at my most relaxed, yet stimulated, when I have smoked some weed. I’m also more creative.

Cannabis, in fact, enhances my depression; which may sound slightly counter-productive. But my depression, in common with many others’, does have a manic element. I am on the Bi-polar spectrum: I’m not schizophrenic but I have a personality disorder: It’s one of mood swings and different personalities; It’s manic depression. So cannabis can mean that I get more down but it also increases the pleasure of the times when I’m up. It is simply a magnifier of my illness.

My illness is one I’m at ease with, because it is the reason I’m so inquisitive and imaginative. It’s my mental health which guided me to becoming a writer. It is my friend and ally, even though it can be my nemesis. When I’m suffering internal conflict because of my wonky brain, I always remind myself of the documentary which Stephen Fry made, about his own Manic Depression. In the end it comes down to the metaphorical big red button: If I could press a button and simply switch off my mental health issues once and for all; and that would make me normal, with no depression nor manic periods. If I could press that button, would I? Just like Stephen Fry, I would answer “No”.

I won’t stop smoking weed either.

So, I’m one of those you read about in the red-top tabloids: A person on benefits who has a drinking and smoking habit. Hopefully this blog serves to educate, not just about my situation but those of others.

I, have mental health issues. I, benefit claimant and writer. I, Guardian reader and liberal. I am an atheist, anarchist, restless spirit.

I, am a slave to the system: I, robot.

I, human.

I am an example. I’m no hero of the great, intelligent, magnificent human race.
I’m part of the race that kills for possessions
Part of the race that’s wiping itself out.
I’m part of the race that’s got crazy obsessions
Like locking people up, not letting them out.”

(Crass, End Result).

The Sodastream of consciousness



I write a lot, I read a lot and I think far too much. I watch TV and movies, and I think some more. Pretty much every blog entry I write for clients as a freelancer gives me an idea for a story. I have piles of media, a lot of which I’ll probably never get to. I have short stories and books planned, but most won’t see the light of day in my lifetime. I have a lot of stories inside me and many won’t be told.

I also have a new fridge freezer. I’ve not had one for the last three years, through a lack of space and money born of a transient life. Now that I have the financial means but with little space, I’ve got a mini unit, clearly designed with the caravan and studio-dweller in mind. It’s a neat little thing: The size of a standard fridge and it’s black with chrome door handles. It looks like a short and stocky Darth Vader; How he might look in Minecraft. It’s opened up all sorts of refreshment ideas to have on hand in The Studio, where I live and write. It’s stocked with snacks, chilled coffee and fizzy drinks.

On any given day, Darth Vader dispenses refreshment like I do opinion: spewed forth for grateful recipients of propoganda. There’s a certain irony to being a contemporary left-wing thinker, having my drinks served by a reduced right-wing terrorist. But then, I live in the once United Kingdom; a divided nation, under the rule of a stealth dictator in the form of Theresa Hitler.

The problem most of the far right have, is the same as other fanatics: They’re passionate about being “right” and get frustrated with themselves when their limited intelligence and vocabulary can’t convert others to their cause. They’re all sadomasochists.

So they retreat and devise mechanisms by which the opposition is silenced and the gullible follow like sheep who read The Sun newspaper. I wouldn’t wipe my left-wing arse with that pulp fiction.

A lot of me goes into a story: Experience, beliefs, persuasions and deviances. Fiction takes a long time to write, if you’re any good. Sometimes I just type away on the laptop, not knowing where the writing will go. Occasionally, I’ll write a really good story. Usually though, it’s just stream-of-consciousness stuff. Like when I was writing a blog entry for a client today about actors. I wrote the article, submitted it and invoiced the client. Afterwards, I thought more about the word, “Actor”.

The evolution of “Actor” into a non-gender specific term is a recent phenomenon and one for the good. Even though the term “Actress” fell out of the general vernacular only recently, in liberal circles at least, the word is practically archaic. Is it now time to consider other gender specific words, or will our recent evolution continue and simply take care of it?

Might “heroine” go the way of actress, so that both males and females are all heroes? Is the modern move towards de-sexualization sufficient alone to do away with historical masculine associations with words once used only in a male context? How do male and female groups feel about all of this? Perhaps if we can move away from our sexual insecurities, it might be easier to evolve into a more generic, non-specific societal mindset quite seamlessly.

If the same ideal might then be applied to greater causes of conflict and discrimination (race and religion mainly), we arguably have fewer things to define us; We all become the same. But we are all the same: We are human. Remove all secularization and we all think the same. Only then do we have the chance to discover what really defines us: Our individuality.

Economic and historical scholars will agree that history repeats and that economies follow historical cycles. Right now, we could be headed for a period of unrest, rebellion and conflict, at home and in the world around us. After the storm, comes calm and it could just be that eventually, we realise in the midst of the calm that there’s another way.

So that’s yet another story for yet another day. And if I never get to write it, at least I’ve planted a seed.

I write a lot, read a lot and think far too much. Most people get a cold drink from the fridge. Mine comes from my in-house Minecraft Darth Vader.

An expression of perpetuity



I first dared to call myself a writer about a year ago now. Back then, it was more like an admission, and only to close friends. I’d had a few short stories published, I’d won an award for one of them, and I’d self-published my first novel. To those who are late to the party, The Paradoxicon is a semi-autobiographical story of a man searching for answers in life, while he battles his own demons. And still it goes on.

That first book was written in about eight weeks, when it was my sole obsession. Even my harshest critic (me) would say that The Paradoxicon is a pretty good book, and others agree. When I compare it with my writing now though, I realise how far I’ve progressed.

Now I’m earning money from freelance work, as well as writing my own material. Now, I’m busy enough to be able to call myself a writer with and not in confidence. People enjoy reading my stories and my freelance clients like my style.

I was compared with some truly great fiction writers by a sub-editor and praised for my authorial voice. There is a part of the writer in every story: An aspect of a character, or a memory on the fringe of experience. Good writing comes from the heart. As I become ever more prolific, I hope that others will read my work and judge for themselves.

Writing was never going to be a highly-paid vocation and it would be a fool who got into it thinking it would. I’m clearly not a fool and writing is one of the more admired professions for its required intellect. My living costs are covered by the disability benefits I receive on the grounds of my alcohol dependence, PTSD, depression and anxiety. My modest writing income is for permitted work, which is recognised as being beneficial to me and my mental health.

So my overall income makes for a modest but comfortable life. And this second life I’ve made, after my breakdown three years ago, is rather perfect. Mentally, I had to accept that I wasn’t kidding myself; that I really am as good as people say: If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have clients. Turning it into a sole-trader business mindset was key. Now, I’m a professional writer; an author and a freelance writer. It took a long time to realise and just as long to set everything up so that the business worked, but it does.

What I earn through freelance work is one side of things: Signing contracts, writing for clients and invoicing them. The other side of the business is my own work, sold on Amazon and Lulu through my various online presences: My website, this blog, and Facebook. My general outlet on the latter is in recognition of where I came from: Gilbert House Publishing on Facebook. Gilbert House was the name of the building I squatted in when I was homeless.

As a writer, I read a lot and my newspaper of choice is The Guardian, perhaps unsurprisingly. Their in-depth reporting and analysis provides me with a lot of material for both sides of my business. It is true that there are a few writers who’ve become very wealthy and it’s not just bitter jealousy which drives other writers’ disdain for some of those people. Like all writers, I appreciate the craft of others’ work. And like all writers, I critique the work of others.

There are writers whom I admire and aspire to. There are others for whom I have no time whatsoever. It’s not so much intellectual snobbery as not finding some writers particularly engaging or challenging, and wondering how the fuck they got their publishing deals. John Crace sort of summed it up with a satirical piece in The Guardian recently:

The news so many people have been dreading. Dan Brown is writing a new novel called Origin featuring his world-famous symbologist, Robert Langdon. It won’t be published until next year but Brown has been kind enough to offer me a preview: “Langdon’s mind was a vale of darkness. His eidetic memory had failed him. ‘You’ve been shot,’ a woman said. He looked up to see a lissom figure with gentle brown eyes that held a profundity of experience rarely encountered in someone of her age. ‘I’m Carla Miller. A doctor. We have to get you out of here. Someone is trying to kill you.’ ‘Why would anyone want to do that?’ he asked. ‘Because they read The Da Vinci Code.’ Just then, a masked woman with spiky hair burst through the doors, firing a metallic gun made of metal. Carla opened a hidden trapdoor no one had guessed might be there and she and Langdon slid down a curved tunnel that took them to a secret hideout. Langdon looked out the window. ‘From my observations, I deduce we must be in Florence, the most populous city in Tuscany, with 370,000 residents,’ he said. ‘There’s no time for you to quote Wikipedia,’ Sienna reprimanded him scoldingly. ‘The world is under threat.’”

It rang true for me, as I’ve read a lot of bad prose written by others. Perhaps I am an intellectual snob.

Others will be the judge of me as a writer: Something I don’t mind standing in the dock for. For now, I’m good enough that I’m able to get paid for what I do as a freelancer. My first novel is out there for me to be critiqued on. But it will be my greatest pleasure so far to be judged on my forthcoming anthology: Now a collection spread over the last two years’ writing and including some deep and thought-provoking tales.

I remember how things were before I even dared to call myself a writer. I remember all that I loved and lost. I remember every day that I’m now serving a life sentence. Beyond this second life I’m now living, I hope others will read as I remember. And still it goes on.

The Perpetuity of Memory will be available in hard cover at the end of December.

The politics of feeling good



Thought provoking quotes about medical marijuana from Potbotics.com

By unfortunate coincidence, my work and real lives clashed again this week, even though I’ve got all my internal personalities working well together. The unfortunate thing was that a very dear friend of mine has been diagnosed with an incurable, degenerative illness. By coincidence, I was writing some articles for a client about cannabis.

As well as writing about marijuana, I smoke it: I’m a recreational user, and I use cannabis to deal with my anxiety. My friend confided that she also uses the drug to help with her condition. For me, the answer to the cannabis “problem” is one of legality: Legalise, regulate, medicate, educate.

The subjects I write about for clients are varied and interesting. The pay is poor but the satisfaction is in learning through research and putting that knowledge into an entertaining and informative piece. Because the articles were written for a paying client, I do not retain copyright but I can publish excerpts.

In the course of my research into all things weed, I naturally had to familiarise myself with some history, to place the law into a certain context within an article which was very much pro-consumption. What I found out was quite shocking and I had to tone down the language of a US politician to make my piece suitable for the intended audience:

..Cannabis was outlawed with the introduction of The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Some of the reasons given by Harry J. Anslinger (Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics) for the banning of cannabis, speak volumes about some of the ignorance and attitudes of the time:

Anslinger believed that cannabis was an ethnic minority problem and described non-whites and “entertainers” as diseases infecting the white population. Their “Satanic” music resulted from marijuana use, which caused insanity, criminality and death. Cannabis was “the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind”, he said. He further stated that smoking cannabis made ethnic minorities “think they’re as good as white men.”

Despite Aslinger’s naive and narrow-minded views, in less enlightened times, his bill was passed and the recreational use of marijuana became illegal. At the time, cannabis was prescribed by doctors for pain relief, and was an accepted part of American life. Although cannabis was the common name for the drug at the time, the Spanish word – marijuana – was used in the name of the act to further encourage racist sympathies…

It took a lot of editing to remove words which were offensive, even to me, whilst still making it a legible section. Then I continued:

…Thankfully, attitudes have changed. Medicinal and recreational use of cannabis is legal in certain states and being debated in others. Medical research and progressive politics have combined to realise the benefits of cannabis, both socially and economically. Regulation and taxation are made possible with legalization…

The article (and the writer) is not pro-legalisation (I used the American in the article itself, as it’s for a US client) just because of the benefits of decriminalisation (not getting locked up). The pro-legalisation argument is for cannabis to be regulated, taxed and sold for recreational and medicinal use. I went on:

…[Users] will experience a range of feelings, sensations and personal benefits, including a general feeling of wellbeing, hightened awareness, uplifting and cerebral thoughts. Recreational cannabis is therefore unsurprisingly referred to as a “mind expanding drug”.

For some people, marijuana is an occupational drug. Many people working in the creative arts cite recreational cannabis use as an aid to their craft. Writers and artists especially take advantage of the creative effects of the drug…

I then researched the two main types of cannabis which are cultivated for recreational and medicinal use: Indica and Sativa.

…Indica dominant marijuana strains provide a very relaxing and strong body high that is helpful in treating general anxiety, body pain and sleeping disorders. Indica is most commonly smoked by medical marijuana patients in the late evening or even just before bed. Sativa dominant marijuana strains provide an uplifting, energetic and cerebral high that is best suited for daytime smoking…

…In summary, Indica effects and benefits are relief from body pain, headaches and migraines; muscle relaxation, relieving spasms and reducing seizures; and relief from anxiety and stress.

Sativa effects and benefits include feelings of well-being and of being at ease; uplifting and cerebral thoughts; stimulation and increased energy; increased focus and creativity; and relief from depression.

Cannabis (marijuana) has many beneficial effects for the casual and medicinal user. Sativa and Indica effects are different and can be combined for the most effective tailored benefits…

At my recent (successful) tribunal appeal to prove that I was entitled to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), I mentioned to the residing judge that I smoke weed. She nodded. As a poker player, I’m pretty good at reading people and I’d bet on her nod not being a despairing one, nor one of resignation. Rather, it was a nod of understanding. I shouldn’t be surprised nor judgemental if the judge herself liked a bit of a toke on the reefer.

I’ve completed dozens of freelance assignments over the last couple of weeks and submitted my invoices for payment from the clients. All were interesting, even when they were about things which would normally hold no interest for me. Writing about a cause which is close to me though was the most satisfying. Because as a writer, I can get points across effectively and in an engaging manner. I may prompt debate but that’s part of my job.

In the other part of my job, as a fiction writer, I can use my writing to raise awareness of many things. With my friend I mentioned at the top in mind, I’m working on a short story. My stories have helped a family dealing with the loss of a pet; a friend’s daughter coping with growing up; and a teenage friend who self-harmed. I’m hoping I can help a friend who’s just been diagnosed with MS:

“…The curious thing was, it was the diagnosis which hastened the condition. It had lain dormant, without troubling me. Then as soon as I heard its name, it made itself known. What a cunt.

I wouldn’t be had. I decided to wager with the thing. All my life had been one long gamble anyway, most of it working out for the best. So I bet my life with the thing.

I bet this thing that I wouldn’t beat it on my own: That confused it. I was betting that my opponent would win. But I continued: I bet, that although I knew it could win, I would put up such a long fight that it would lose. Because I would fight for so long, through times of medical research, personal resolve and those around me, that I would live to see the day when a treatment was found.

At first, the thing taunted me. But gradually, as I learned to live with it, it was as though I were growing all over my own parasite. It was far from its kin but I had my team around me. The bet couldn’t be annulled, because I’d told the thing that I couldn’t beat it alone.

That was a pretty big bet: I was playing the long game. I’m still playing my opponent, so I may yet win the wager…”

(To be continued)

Even though writing doesn’t pay much, the rewards are far greater than financial. And the pain of depression and anxiety is made bearable by writing and by smoking weed for my recreation and occupation.

The politics of feeling good are simple: Legalise, regulate, medicate, educate.

The re-invention of solitude



Finding peace in solitude, Disjointedthinking (Jeff Hughes)

The Invention of Solitude is one of many novels by my favourite author, Paul Auster. His work has been a major influence on me and he is a silent mentor. Often, my internal dialogue is between me and him: I talk to myself, in my head, where my mentor resides. In there, things are created by an alchemy which can only work in the solitude I find in my inner voices.

All of my personalities are now in order and working well together. But the real me is still the one inside, the one who hides behind the words and disguises the anxiety.

The anxiety is probably the most debilitating aspect of my personal illness: Alcohol dependence, depression and several counts of PTSD, recognised as a disability by a tribunal judge last week and entitling me to PIP.

Just like the depression which holds all of my contributing conditions together, the anxiety part is difficult to explain because it’s so personal. It’s hard to convey how it feels because however I put it, it sounds irrational. Even at the moment, when everything is going so well, I still get anxious.

I’ve written before of how the various aspects of my illness might feel to someone else, in an attempt to get across just how debilitating they can be. A panic attack feels like being mugged: I know, as it’s happened to me. An anxiety episode feels like being stalked: I’m also qualified by experience of that one.

So why, when I have every reason to be happy, do I still feel anxious? I’m busy with freelance work, writing for clients and getting paid. I’m busy with writing under my own name: Still churning out short stories, editing my anthology and hoping to make some sales when it’s published in December. I’m happy doing both, because I love to write. So why, at the end of a productive day of work, do I still suffer anxiety? I don’t know.

In my day job as a freelance writer, I’m in my element: Reading for research, learning, writing for the education of others and loving every minute. Just today, I’ve written articles on progressive prescription lenses for an eye care website; and about Nicosia in Cyprus for a property company: Not subjects which would otherwise trouble me but I’ve enjoyed learning and passing that knowledge on in my own idiosyncratic way: a style which people seem to like. In the other part of my job as a fiction writer, I’ve continued with my next short story, Cardboard Sky:

As I continued to read George’s captain’s log, I realised that the fantastical situations he described could just as easily be real. I only had to read between the lines to see the parallels. It took a while because George described his night time adventures in a dream-like state. It required a lucidity of the reader like that of the writer to imagine the sub-texts.

Or perhaps I was simply dreaming in the world around me as George dreamed in his. He wrote of things he encountered in his sleep, as though he were dreaming as he wrote. I was fully awake as I read his words, relating them to the world around me. I wonder whether my words betray my waking state? It would be for a reader to tell me but a writer cannot hear a reader.

My short stories now are deeper and longer than the schlock horror I used to write, because the life I’ve made enables me to craft each one more carefully. Consequently, my anthology will have fewer than the promised 42 stories but those that are left and still being written are much better works. I love all aspects of the life I’ve divided up to make one. I’m passionate about writing, yet I’m still anxious.

Anxiety is the feeling that something is about to go wrong: Not at any minute but sometime and in a massive way. It’s a feeling of impending doom, with no idea where that next shit sandwich might come from. Everything is good for me but there’s still that feeling. Everything can change, suddenly and forever.

That’s the frustrating thing about mental illness: It can be irrational and unfathomable. I’m very intelligent and as such, I get frustrated when I don’t understand something. I’ve been saying for a long time that my high IQ is a poisoned chalice. Depression does tend to favour the enquiring mind. But I’ve written also of the big red button and whether I’d press it: If there were a button I could press, which switched off the anxiety but also caused me to stop questioning, would I press it? The answer is still a resounding “No”.

So, I’m on benefits: I’ve proven my entitlement to them. They are what they say on the papers: Employment Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payment. Once they’re coming in, they do what it says on the tins.

But I’m not just sitting on my arse. I do have a job and it’s the only one I can do, with my conditions: The judge recognised this. I’m not pissed but I’m an alcoholic: If I drink to excess again, it will all go wrong. I’m happy and content but I have depression and anxiety. I’m sad but I’m happy: Isn’t it ironic? I receive benefits but I’m a professional writer. I’ve got one hand in my pocket but the other one is giving a peace sign.

Everything can change at any moment, suddenly and forever. You can’t put your feet on the ground until you’ve touched the sky. There’s hope for everyone. That’s what makes the world go round.”

(Paul Auster).

The clacking keys in my head



Image from Sheila Glazov, Personality Expert

I’ve sectioned myself. That is to say, I’ve successfully compartmentalised my brain into my constituent personalities. There are three things I’ve learned to like about what goes on inside my head: My mind. Talking to oneself is perhaps a sign of madness. It may be true that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity. My IQ has been measured at 147, so go figure.

I figured out that what was holding me back was the merging of a passion into a profession. I love to write; to create. It’s become clear that I can make money from something I’m good at. Writing has been my life for a while now and although I enjoyed the freelance stuff, I needed a separator between work and pleasure writing. That said, the paid stuff is great fun when it’s so varied.

As a freelancer, I get to choose what I take on from the various agencies and my main regular client is certainly fun to work with. They’re a media company in Eastern Europe and they have a constant need for blog entries and articles for their own clients. Just today I’ve written copy about mobile phones in the near future; and Facebook / cafe culture. The work is varied, interesting and fun. I get to choose how much I do, when I do it and how long for. With this particular client, I can message them through an app and let them know my availability for the next day, then arrive at my desk in the morning and have work waiting. With a coffee and doughnut next to the laptop, I’m a contented writer. If I have the odd bit of time to spare, I can fire off a message and get an assignment by return. And it pays.

It took a while for me to accept that I’m a writer, simply because it’s what I’ve always wanted to be, now that I know. It just took some time to work that out. I had to have arrived at the point I did where I had nothing, in order to be able to start from scratch: That’s my life, summed up. The biggest personal hurdle though, was realising that I’m good at what I do, because it’s all happened relatively suddenly. But having won prizes, been published and now working as a writer for hire and gaining business, I feel fully qualified to introduce myself as what I am: A professional writer.

I can’t share any of the writing I do for my clients because I’m contractually forbidden: I’m paid to write for them and what’s published is what “they” wrote. With permission from individual clients though, I can use pieces from my growing portfolio to send to other prospective clients and demonstrate what I do. I really am in business and I love it.

My pseudonym ghost writer (me) is about 1000 words into the next short story to be published under my name, with a final working title of “Cardboard sky”:

…Like mankind, George could only imagine. He could only wonder at the sky, or lie in bed and dream of what was beyond the ceiling. Humans travelling to other stars was one lifetime away. It was only a matter of generations before the dream could be anyone’s reality. George wanted to be anyone…

For the second time in as many years, last week I proved to a judge that my mental health adversely affects my life. Thus I am recognised as being disabled, through alcohol dependence, PTSD, depression and anxiety, and entitled to the relevant benefit payments. So although the plastic police will never leave it, that’s the end of the conversation as far as I’m concerned.

The system may section me one day but for now, it pays the bills and allows me to earn a little with the therapy of prose, narrative and making dreams come true.