The day the brown envelope struggled under an admittedly undersized letterbox flap, I was expecting nothing worse than a credit-card statement, or a wad of spam that was addressed to The Householder, or simply yet another menu for a hard pressed ethnic takeaway.
What I was not expecting was a highly personal, four page communication that triumphantly proclaimed that in 365 days’ time, I would be fitter than a ferret on speed.
That is, Fit For Work.
I have always disliked window envelopes. Any shade. I work on the assumption that anybody writing to you with good intent would only ever buy good, solid envelopes without window, and write neatly your name and address on the front. And, should it be a personal letter, mostly with a stamp affixed. A portrait of the queen is a sign of security and stolid Britishness. This particular envelope should have, being a somewhat dour manila, coarse grained and accusing, alerted me to impending bothersomness; but, alas, I had been lured into a false sense of security, the last two such envelopes having brought joyous details of a 5% increase in my Incapacity Benefit and Disabled Living Allowance. The shock, therefore, was all the greater to find out that I had been, somehow, miraculously selected for a long-distance, miracle healing at the hands of the DWP and their über-agents, ATOS.
For it stated that I should, in the next 365 days, become Fit For Work. During such time, I should have calls to attend JobCentre assessments, and possible medical assessments, in order to ease me into the world of work. The benefit that they were paying me would transmogrify from the accurately named Incapacity Benefit to a much more proactive and menacing Employment and Support Allowance. I was no longer incapacitated; I no longer was to receive a benefit in respect of a life of work’s contributions, but I was to receive an allowance, like Bunter of old. I was to be allowed – for a maximum of 365 days, no more – to receive, by some state beneficence reserved for folks like me, a payment of funds from the hard-pressed, hard working taxpayers who were not scroungers like me.
The very language had changed. As had my world.
A request for the medical raison d’ètre brought forth another envelope, this time mysteriously white and non-windowed. It contained the report which a ‘registered nurse’ had compiled – presumably with the aid of heartless software – that opined I would be fit for work ‘in the next year’.
My wife is a nurse. I trained to be a nurse. I had never heard of a training module that gave such amazing powers of prescience in the medical world; had I done so, I would of course have enrolled myself speedily, in order to predict six whole integers between one and forty-nine on a Saturday afternoon.
It is not, to be honest, about the money. Of course, things like the car may have to go, and belts tightened. That’s a given.
What troubles me is the newspeak that demotes my illness to a nothingness, postpones it, marginalises it, places it in some official State-sponsored limbo – or, more accurately, purgatory, where I am destined to atone for my sin of being disabled through healing fire and excoriating pain. I shall no longer be considered ill, therefore I shall not be ill – a sleight of words that cleverly renounces all need for the State to either Employ or Support me. I am become a new creation, I am born again, by the power of the prescient Nurse; as worthy a trick as the faith healer in his Revival Tent, the demagogue State now pronounces me clean, and banishes all previous uncleanliness to the nothingness that is prepared for it.
Mental illness is a nasty, spiteful kick in the kidneys; at once a socially demeaning, isolating condition, and a pain that can only be viewed internally by the sufferer themself; being a disease of the id, the inner consciousness that no-one but the unfortunate self can comprehend. A missing portion of logic that stops the soul from believing rational explanation, makes at one moment depressed to the exclusion of life-supporting activity, and at another a nervous, hyperactive embodiment of activity and panic. It hides deep; it is mostly invisible to the onlooker, even if the sufferer has not chosen to mask it through fear of social derision or isolation, of violence or abuse. It is occult, buried, and often – oh! so often! – a fatal disease that numbs and invades the lives of those left behind.
I, and those who suffer likewise, those whose illness is a more physical one too, can do without the additional stigmatizing, pigeonholing and judgementalism that disease and disability provokes in the general public, urged on by a mostly baying media; but when the State, whose duty it is to protect, serve, and aid its citizens, turns into the enemy, at once abusing the sufferer, and in the same breath denying their suffering exists, then the burden is increased, day to day, exponentially. And this is no asymptote of fear and pressure; this is a curve that drives inexorably for the axis, that will not be stayed by a mathematical nicety, but hurtles toward a collision between life and death, from which few return.
That they cut services to those who are ill, make lives more painful, more difficult, is bad enough; to degrade and deny the suffering of those who are the target of their dogmatic State Wrath is ofttimes the final straw.
It is now 360 days and counting, before my rebirth (shades of Logan’s Run) into the world of the well, the able, the employable.
I’ll be telling it like it is until then.
Until the next time
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