THE WRITER’S LIFE
…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 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).