So, I am currently at something of a milestone in my life and in my recovery process.
Change is a-foot.
I have been living via the state for the last twelve years; I have been receiving disability benefits every two weeks for the last third of my life, due to long term and pervasive mental illness, and have paid for my flat via housing benefit, and my council tax via council tax benefit. I have not had to work for my money; I have not had to earn a living in the traditional sense.
You could say that my work has been of a different kind, because the last twelve years have definitely not been easy, or been a free ride of any kind. I haven’t exactly been kicking back and relaxing, smug in the knowledge of my freeloader status. I have been battling a malignant and pervasive illness, one which is, to all intents and purposes, invisible, yet wreaks chaos and havoc inside my own mind.
It hasn’t been an easy twelve years- but then again, we all have our trials and tribulations. Who knows what might have happened over the course of the last decade if I hadn’t become unwell; I might have had challenges of an entirely different kind.
Anyway, that is all in the past now, and not relevant to this post and where I am now! I am starting a full time job the week after next! A full time, paid position, as an assistant support worker for a homelessness charity in South London. I am so excited, and nervous, and overwhelmed by the fact that this has come about- I can’t quite grasp the entirety of it yet.
I’ve had a good progression, I think, up until this point. The last job I had before this one was enjoyable, and rewarding, but highly stressful and not one which I ever really dreamt of doing full time. I eventually left because the working environment had become fairly toxic. A lot of good people left, and the management changed, and it became somewhere which stressed me out more than it offered me anything. I wasn’t sure, at the time, whether or not that was the right thing to do, and the whole process made me doubt that I’d ever find a job which I actually enjoyed, and could do full time.
I then started volunteering at the organisation I am working for now, and I instantly felt at home there. It is the kind of place I had been searching for, and the position I had been dreaming of. I have quite an understanding of the role of support worker, because I have had support workers and social workers myself! So I understand, on a level, what makes a good one, and what the job entails. I have been volunteering since last October, and now they have offered me a 9 month, full time contract; absolutely ideal because Ru and I plan to go travelling next year.
When I left the office, after the successful interview, I felt really strange. Strange in a good way, of course(!), but strange all the same. I have tried to hold onto that feeling, because it was on of entering the world. I spoke to Ru about it that evening, and said to him- I’ve never thought too much about the fact that I didn’t earn my own way in this world, because, up until now, there wasn’t too much I could do about that fact.
I have always believed that I would eventually recover to the point that I could start working; but it has been a long journey to this point, and now that I am here it has made me realise how much I crave inclusion. Inclusion on my own terms, of course; and I am so grateful and so blessed to have found a job which actually inspires me and gets me fired up. I am extremely lucky.
Because, I don’t know if you can understand the strange half-life which existing off of benefits is. I have never worried too much about it, but I have always felt a little at a distance from my friends and from Ru, because I do not partake in the process of Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 work.
I have never experienced the highs and the lows, the challenges and the achievement; the relief at the end of a day, and the occupation which takes up the majority of most people I knows time. It is a massive thing, and I thing which unites people. People who work have a common understanding; an understanding which I have only glimpsed at, because I simply receive money, for doing nothing more than existing with an illness.
I remember a close friend of mine saying to me years ago, “nah, you can’t be on benefits for the rest of your life Ally! You’re better than that!” We than got into something of a heated debate because I took issue with the idea that my worth should be intrinsically tied to my work status, or my ability to hold down a job. I said, “well then surely I am better than that, and that holds and remains true despite the fact that I am currently unemployed?”
I think we argued for a while before realising that it wasn’t worth it, and then we shared a beer together.
I have never felt diminished, in any way, because I did not work. I know that my reasons have been justified, and I have been working tooth and nail over the last twelve years to recover. Work of a different kind, but still work. However as I get older, and meet more and more people outside of my own friendship group, and become more aware of the wider world perhaps, and I know that many people would form an instant impression of me if I were to tell them I am unemployed and living via benefits.
Water off of a ducks back, tbh- this wouldn’t get to me too much. What is important to me now, is the sense that I am going to get the chance to be included in the world which Ru accesses, and all of my friends access. I am to be included in this massive facet of most peoples daily lives and existences. I don’t know if you can grasp the thrill of this, unless you’ve been living on the outer periphery of it for ten years. I have watched all my friends grow and develop, and mature through working and the challenges and responsibilities it has presented for them. They have gained experience and life-skills which I have yet to fully engage with.
Now, finally, I am going to get a chance to access this world; I am going to get a chance to flex my own muscle and see how I fare, and see what the changing tide will bring me.
It also marks such an important stage in my own recovery. I will be earning my own money; I will be tearing up the safety net which has existed beneath me for twelve years. If something goes wrong I will have to face the consequences and face the odds, lol just like anybody else. This is the best feeling.
Utterly terrifying, but a good kind of utterly terrifying I think. It still gives me massive butterflies, and still massively freaks me out when I think about it for too long- but this is living, and this is real and this is life. This is a kind of terrifying which needs to be embraced and not avoided.
I will have a real sense of purpose again; a sense of purpose over and above just getting better. I will have a real and undeniable reason to get out of bed every morning at 7am, rather than simply reasons which I have created for myself and hold no significant consequence if I do not fulfil them.
My start date is next Tuesday, or once all the relevant paperwork gets filled in and completed, and then I will be adrift in the vast sea of full time employment. Free to make my own decisions and them ride my own wave of success and failure, and then the consequences of all that. I will be at sea without such a complete and all encompassing life raft- I will have no backdoor, no exit strategy.
I better stop now before I freak myself out too much!
But, safe to say I am rally chuffed with myself for reaching this stage, and reaching a point where I am relaxed and confident enough to take this next, massive, step.
I know I will be faced with new challenges and new situations to get to grips with and understand, but I am champing on the bit now!- And I am more than ready to see what happens next, and see what this whole new way of living has to offer me.
Wish me luck!