Thursday, 25 August 2016

Mental Health

What is fear?

It is the distance between where you are and where you want to be.

It is measured in units of aspiration and regulated by conformity. To do what must be done is to invite fear. To resist what is expected is to invite fear.

It is the voice you hear when no one speaks.

It is what you do when you can't do.

Mental health is a shadow that obscures the reality of your experience when your experience falls short of what is expected. When you try to show the world that something is wrong, but there is nothing you can show them because your problems are invisible and can't be measured in broken bones.

This is the one aspect that separates mental from physical difficulty. Even though physical problems can be just as debilitating, perhaps even more so. Even though society can be just as judgemental toward those with such issues, these problems can be seen. As such they can be understood. A person with a broken bone can wear a smile and earn sympathy, a person with a broken mind can wear a smile and nobody will see how hollow it is. In fact in the eyes of others that smile will betray the depth of what they are feeling.

Not drowning but waving. Nobody sees the problem for what it really is. Nobody wants them to. .

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Measure of a Life

In truth, there is no future.

I should have lived a life markedly different and better than how things worked out, and I feel judged everywhere I turn. I feel as if I have to apologise for that life. For not conforming to the standards imposed by our culture.

I feel as if I have to apologise in advance because this post will seem indulgent and self pitying. I can't (and won't) help that; it's another cultural judgement.

This is not the life I would have chosen. It was not how I wanted things to be. I had dreams, but I didn't have the strength to realise them. That's my failing. Dreams are permitted only where and when they can be realised. Anything else is just shirking. That's the message.

I could tell you about the art teacher who didn't give a damn about the students when I was interested in art. I could mention the music courses that shut down while I was applying for them while leaving me with no clue as to what to do, or the education establishments that didn't care about offering any support in that context. I didn't even know what UCAS was while everyone else I knew at college was applying for university. I only went to college because the sixth form at my school weren't remotely interested - and I only applied for that because that was what you did. I had no idea how to live my life or how to do what I wanted. I was interested in things, but with no guidance I was adrift.

And that's how it's been ever since. Now here I am with nothing to show for it, except this self indulgent crap I doubt anyone will give a damn about. I never conformed and I paid the price for it.

Today I met someone in the street who has moved in to a nearby house; someone that moved away years ago and made a life for himself whom I knew as a child. Now he has a wife, kid, career and a nice home. Now I have to walk past it every day if I want to get around. Just one person in my neighbourhood I know will be judging me. That's what people do. I don't even walk out my front door these days, I don't need or aspire to the opinions of neighbours who, if they see me, will be thinking, hey, he's a joke. That's how we are socialised; it's the values of the Tory party as expressed in comments about inappropriately closed curtains.

We hide our lives behind appearances. When asked about our well being in the street honesty isn't required, just a polite acquiescence to the positive. But what can I say afterwards? Sure "I'm fine", but I'm not fine and I have nothing more to say - and if I say nothing then I'm rude and standoffish. I'm neither of those things, at least not internally. I care about people, but I care more about how they view me and so I'd rather not talk because talking reveals the paucity of my life and invites judgement. I'm not married, I won't be buying a home, and I doubt I'll ever have kids.

What are my options for changing this above and beyond the magical thinking that people indulge in when discussing the failings of another's life. Just pull yourself up by the bootstraps, or indulge in some cosmic ordering and wish it all into being. If wishes had currency, things would most assuredly be very different.

But they aren't. I have never felt comfortable in this society, or even in my own skin. That isn't a cry for attention, though it will be seen as such (as will that), it's a statement of fact. I didn't aspire to be created and I certainly didn't choose this fucked up society. But even expressing that invites more conformity: if you want to change things, get a job and vote. What good will that do? Plenty of people vote and nothing changes. Nor will it. First past the post Westminster style democracy is a pit of snakes and demagogues with no interest in actual change. No vote for a British politician ever amounted to a damn, and what compels these liars to even listen? We even make light of it, acknowledging that we understand our complicity in this charade, yet instead of accepting responsibility for this and addressing it, we blame the less fortunate or those we perceive to be lazy.

I don't see a future at all. I have a CV that's slightly less convincing than a blank sheet of paper. I have to compete in the labour market, both concepts I abhor, with that CV against people who have achieved more. My inevitable failure will enable society to dismiss my efforts and traduce everything I aspire to. I can't cope with the conventional work structures, but that will be seen as another excuse. The problem is that this isn't a two way street. They talk, I have to listen; that's the balance of power between state and citizen in this country. The DWP aren't likely to help me, even if they wanted to. Instead the government will hand money to private companies to waste on schemes intended to help, but never do, rather than actually give that directly to people to help them achieve something themselves.

In the end even that would be a sop. It's no substitute for a real society where people can take responsibility for their lives. When affored that opportunity they really can blossom, but our system stultifies genuine inner aspiration and replaces it with greed and ambition. A system where one must start out at 'the bottom' in order to reach 'the top', whatever that may mean. One must endure working through shit, in terms of pay and conditions, becasue that's character building. But I don't need to build my character, I need the means to live my life. I do not consent to be exploited and I don't need to be judged for not conforming to that exploitation.

There are no systems that can help. Mental health isn't interested in actual wellness, it is interested, at best, in simplistic triage. That why I'm continuously referred to a simple CBT service that will be over in a few weeks. A service that cannot address the root causes of the alienation I feel and that, like the rest of the medical service, seeks only to engage in victim blaming while using vapid excuses such as "other people manage" to mask it. This term has been put to me more times than I can count, yet it lacks any explanatory power and nothing to back it up is ever preferred, despite the asking. How do they manage? Who are they? What are they doing? Are their circumstances even remotely similar?

I had nothing to say to the person in the street and now I feel even more alienated. This isn't a personal attack. I do not begrudge him his life or his success at living it. I just don't want to be judged. I would rather he wasn't in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately there's nothing I can do about that except die inside a little more.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Two Months In Politics Is A Long Time!

I've allowed this to slide for too long, but I had to say something on the recent watershed in British politics. What a joke!

At first the news seemed to imply that remain had won the referendum, then the news revealed the reality. A shocking outcome, certainly, but when you think is it really that surprising? We've been subject to years of political arrogance that has disenfranchised the working class. This has coincided with the latest wave of migration, particularly from the continent. The Labour government, though certainly not alone in this, did precisely fuck all to help communities on both sides integrate and arrogantly assumed that people would tolerate the situation. It is here that the rampant and vicious xenophobia of the exit campaign took root.

But it is erroneous to assume that the working class are intrinsically and comprehensively racist. This was a shout of rage from still-deprived, and increasingly so, communities who want change. It was inchoate, possibly even inarticulate, and, quite possibly, in some small quarters even racist. But the message is clear: we are fed up with YOU: the people that take our power and act against our interests while claiming to do the opposite. People that claim they know best while communities crumble through deprivation. People want an easy scapegoat and that was provided by migrants, but they are a symptom and not the cause.

People were right to reject the EU. It is a vastly undemocratic institution - at its core. It is run by an economic elite comprised mainly of white men. It is unrepresentative and almost unaccountable. Unfortunately to reject it entirely is simplistic, because there are benefits that come from being within it; free movement of people for example. I believe in open borders, but I also believe that people should run their communities, not states or governments. The EU cannot really provide open borders because it is an institution built out of nation states and nationalist structures. Open borders means nothing if you can't get a passport or can't afford to travel anyway. These are still elitist propositions.

It is a fortress that, in recent years, has allowed refugees fleeing war in the middle east (largely fuelled by western imperialism) to drown rather than be helped. As such it is itself racist, never mind the thuggish rhetoric of those campaigning to leave; there is racism on both sides.It is a capitalist institution that seeks trade deals which oppress the working class: TTIP, for example. Fundamentally it is a structure whose existence cannot be justified and is not necessary. All the advantages it offers (such as movement across Europe) are temporal; they can be revoked just as easily as they can be offered. It is a sop offered for the benefit of capital, nothing more. Movement of people exists because it is economically beneficial to capital. That is all. Should that change, so would the policy.

People might argue that the EU protects human rights. But that merely shows the paucity of our own laws. If people have to appeal to the EU courts to get justice then something has already gone drastically wrong. Why is this not being addressed? What guarantee is there that the EU will be any more just than local courts? Does it address the fundamental problem of justice under capitalism: that justice exists only for those that can afford it?

 This was a shout that toppled a leader that had only been in power for a year. It seems like a small victory given the hawk that now sits in number 10, but don't forget, Cameron didn't comprehensively win in 2010. He had to appeal to the traitor Clegg to be his kingmaker. When that ended he won the first election for his party in decades - only to foolishly offer a referendum intended to appease the swivel eyed eurosceptics within the Tory party. That cost him his head and his legacy. A result that won't put food on the table for those still suffering the injustice of austerity (a policy supported by the EU, I might add), but a result nonetheless.

It's also a result sneered at by the liberal media. The soporific snobbery of Polly Toynbee and Owen Jones has been insufferable; they cannot understand why we would want to leave. Yes, that's the problem! You lot sipping Pimms in Islington don't understand!

And speaking of the odious Toynbee she's been a cheerleader for the leadership challenge initiate in the wake of Brexit against Jeremy Corbyn. This is an extraordinary state of affairs that has culminated in Labour spending the income from members to exclude those members from having a say in who leads the party - while landing those who resisted that effort with a whopping tens-of-thousnds-of-pounds legal bill. Is this the party against or for austerity?

It is a futile and brazen affair: Corbyn, like him or loathe him, was elected legally according to the rules accepted by all concerned. He's not even been the leader for a year and the knives couldn't have come out quicker. No sooner had remain lost the referendum, Corbyn was scapegoated. We have the likes of Margaret Hodge arrogantly blaming him while ignorant of the fact her constituency voted to leave. But they don't care about that, they have sought this opportunity from day one. Consequently this situation will not be resolved when the hapless and desperately unpopular Owen Smith (coming out from behind Angela Eagle and stabbing her in the back, while arguing that Labour is egalitarian) inevitably loses. Another crisis, another challenge, and so on until 2020. Corbyn will end up being ousted by the death of a thousand cuts. This to me is a dismal inevitability. They do not like him, they do not like his views, they do not care how hypercritical they are as long as the Blairte scum once again get power. They will do whatever it takes, with increasing desperation, until Corbyn is bled dry.

This then is the immediate future. People need to forget Corbyn. Don't get me wrong, he seems like a nice guy, but he is stuck within a system that will destroy him. He refuses to fight against that system while running a capitalist party. Labour is exactly that and that is why they want him gone, because they want that capitalist element to reassert itself. Owen Smith is just another corporate lackey, just another voice for a slightly less red blooded version of capitalism. He won't offer change, and he can't deliver it. He hasn't a prayer of winning this election, no matter how desperate the tactics of the anti-Corbyn contingent. But the reality is that Corbyn and the ballot box will not give us the change we need. That can only come from the grassroots. We must reject the system and replace it through direct action, making it and its representatives irrelevant, as they surely are.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Ghost Whistler vs the Internet

Over many years I've been online and one thing I've noticed; the internet is an awful place for conversation.

Don't get me wrong, I think as a source of information and even opinion it's superb. There are many positive aspects to this technology, which is good since nothing I do or say will get rid of it! Not that I want to.

The problem is message forums. I don't know what it is but I have managed to cross almost every single forum I have been on. Not deliberately, you understand; but the nature of the medium makes it impossible to discern honest intention and to differentiate between that and dishonesty.

But by far the worst aspect are the cliques that form. Even on places that profess to be more open minded, or to oppose accepted norms and values, such as capitalism. These forums will still be governed by prevailing attitudes determined by a clique who will refuse to extend the slightest charity when interacting with someone new or someone different.

There is also a curious phenomenon wherein those who are subsequently marginalised will be unable to respond in any way to defend their position. If they try this will be taken as evidence they are lying, because well he would say that, wouldn't he!

I don't think we see this in real life. Talk to someone for real and you have to acknowledge their presence in all aspects. They might be in your face. At the vbery least they will be right there talking to dyou, and that demands respect. It's a lot harder to bullshit to someone's face, than through a series of pixels. Tell someone to their face they are a liar and see what happens.

The internet has sanitised that vital aspect of communication and thus made it easier for people on forums to create vapid echo chambers wherein dissenting opinions, regarldess of evidence, can be silenced. It has become easier to dismiss someone who may simply have misspoken, or someone like me who finds communication difficult.

I can write text, I can put words together (you may disagree of course), but the problem individuals like myself have is that we have to dwecode our own thoughts. There is a cypher, created by cogonitive (dys)function, that takes what we intend to say and translates it, through the very same language, into something we may not. The problem with that is that we don't know this is happening. When input into forum converation there are no allowances made for this and attempts to explain are ignored. Again this is because people do not extend charity or courtesy online as they must in person because real human presence demands this.

Finally the last corrupting facotr is the prevailing cultural values that seem to find a home online. Currently there seems to be a backlash against progressive values and understanding. Advocates of these values are deemed regressive and examples of fringe or outlier behaviour are proferred as justification for intolerance. These people make no sense to me. What is wrong with tolerance, compassions, respect or courtesy? Why is the assumption that, when someone seems to mispeak, it can't be because he might have a cognitive impariment or anomaly? Why is it that they are instead deemed ot have subscribed to a regressive ideology? What in fact is regressive abotu this other than to limit people's ability, if not desire, to behave like an asshole to others? Why is it assumed that such cognitive anomalies are instead just loony left excuses for laziness?

I can't deal with people that think like this. To me racism, misogyny, and other oppressive social structures must be challenged. Why would anyone want to adhere to them. The answer is simple: because they benefit, directly or indrectly, consciously or otherwise, from the privilege offered. Why else do people object to Black Lives Matter, or feminism, or...whatever? We all benefit from supporting these efforts to dismantle established hierarchies. Even those who think they don't.

Unfortunately the internet is full of people who climb inside to have their conditioning reinforced and their prejudices pandered to. We are all raised within a certain culture and that includes submitting to the propaganda we've heard all our lives, and thus normalising and rationalising those values. There's nothing difficult about that and it is nobodies fault for how they are raised. But there must come a time when we challenge these views. It is sad that efforts, including my own, to understand these structures and to learn about what they are have been marked by dealing with some of the most intolerable and repugnant people I've ever come across who are every bit as unpleasant as those they criticise.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

How I Survived the Cameron Years...

That was the subtitle I chose for this collection of thought vomiting I laughably call a blog. It appears to now be complete, since the Cameron years are - almost - over. His arrogance has cost him his job as Britain's premier feudal overlord and, as I write, he has been replaced by Theresa May about whom the less said the better (condescendingly, she promised to be a champion of the poor but her voting record says otherwise).

So it seems that I have survived. These words are not coming through from the Other Side (tm) and are not the product of a seance. In fact I appear to have been returned - unlike Cameron - to the Work Related Activity Group. I received a letter on Thursday informing me of my victory over the forces of ESA darkness. At least I hope so otherwise I'm in for a nasty shock! :D

I have not recorded my experience at the interview since there really wasn't much to tell. Most of those reading will know what to expect; it was a routine affair (fortunately I suppose). My appointment was 20 minutes earlier than when I was seen, despite there being no one else present. The same receptionist was present as the last time, but, pleasantly, she was much less snarky than before. Perhaps we can attribute that to a change in management as these tests are carried out by Maximus and not ATOS. Though I imagine it's too much to assume they are significantly improved over their predecessors.

The interview process was pleasant enough: the interviewer could well have been from any medical (or not) background. I have no idea and didn't see any point asking. The questions were the usual psuedo-friendly mix of polite medical inquiry and subtle pressure - i.e., asking how I attended and who my companion was is all an attempt to elicit a kind of response. We all know this.

There are two fundamental truths I can point to by way of advice to anyone else undergoing this experience from my own:

1. Take someone with you. I had a friend who very kindly volunteered his time to attend and offer invaluable support. I can't express my gratitude enough for this, particularly as he was left to sit and observe. Not the most fun way to spend your time! I cannot offer hard data to support this, but I strongly suspect the presence of another really helps the case.
2. The moment you knock on the door the test starts. From that point everything, including how you enter the building, ascend the floors to the waiting room, how and whom you speak to, is part of the test. It's not Bladerunner's Voigt-Kampf test, but it's close. In fact, and again without hard evidence, I suspect that being kept waiting for 20 minutes is also part of the test. There was no real reason for it, they have plenty of assessors - in fact the whole top floor of the DWP building is given over to this process. Everything is there to test you, no matter how pleasant it may appear.

So this is a happy way to end the Cameron years, for now at least. I am supposed to now be available for Work Focussed Interviews. I've technically already had one, back in June, when I spoke to the adviser on the phone. At that point I was ready to throw in the towel. He was supposed to get back to me but didn't, now I suspect he will.

But the problems still remain: this is still a horrific situation and any victory, and associated happy feelings, must be tempered. There are also plenty of people with far more serious conditions experiencing far worse than I. This system is ridiculous: I mentioned that the entirety of the top of the DWP building is devoted to the medical testing. That itself is absurdity: why are these tests not done by one's own GP or even through the NHS? Why is this bureaucracy necessary? Why is money spent on hiring a private insurance company to administer a test we all know to be, at best, arbitrary, at worst discriminatory? These questions betray the reality: that the poor and sick are to be treated with utmost suspicion if their value as production drones is ever called in to question.

That is the worth of a man, and, to end on a considerably more downbeat note (the struggle is far from over): this isn't really a victory. I don't want to be in this situation. I don't want to be dependent on the capriciousness of capitalism and the whims of its neo feudal aristocratic overlords. I remain at their suffrance and what they deign to giveth can justeth as easily be snatched back.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Still Going

I started this blog thinking I could do something useful, provide some decent citizen journalism, or at the very least offer something credible for, at the risk of stroking my own ego, posterity. But in truth I have found it very difficult to keep up with my own standards. This is true of all the writing I engage in. It isn't that I don't enjoy it, or that I don't know how (YMMV), but that I just struggle to maintain the concentration. This is part of the problem, mental health-wise, that I have tried to address in recent years; all to no avail. Unfortunately it is simply perceived as an excuse by our society. In response to that, I offer none. I am what I am, and if that means I'm lazy then lazy I must be.

I was due to have a WCA on the 7th; instead I rang and said I couldn't go through with it and that they could pursue whatever consequences they saw fit. Curiously they offered me the opportunity to postpone the interview, which I did, though I'm not sure why. Apparently claimants have the right to a one-time 'no questions asked' postponement.

Today I received the new appointment, which is Monday the 27th at 9-40am. I can't say I'm looking forward to it. I don't really want to be sat in the waiting room, which I will be because one of their tactics is to deliberately keep 'customers' waiting. It's part of the assessment process. I don't want to be surrounded by strangers, and I don't want to the attention of staff like the receptionist who was present last time. Her attitude was thoroughly unpleasant and judgemental, with that permanent "I'm better than thou and I can barely tolerate your presence" attitude.

I also don't think I have a cat in hell's chance of passing a Work Capability Assessment. Amusingly I compare my chance to pass to my certainty that I will most assuredly struggle in a working environment. I believe that I need support, but support there is not.

I was supposed to have a Work Focussed (aren't they all?) Interview at the JC last Thursday. I didn't attend and again rang up saying that I wasn't going to attend and that whatever consequences were forthcoming I would accept. I've no wish to fight these people any more, I haven't the energy. I was offered a telephone appointment instead, which I took. It didn't go anywhere though. The guy was friendly enough and his attitude was sympathetic, to be fair, but what can he offer? What can he do? The system isn't designed to help or support people. He mentioned that I should write to my MP. But why; the guy is a Tory who voted to cut ESA by 30%. He wants me to court the attention of someone like that? Irony! That aside, all he could offer was to talk to colleagues in the Work Choices programme and that we would talk in a month. I did tell him that I had no chance of passing my WCA, so there's not much point. I guess we will find out, I saw no point in refusing to talk again.

Work Choices is another DWP programme, which immediately makes it suspect in my book, even though I don't' know it very well. It specifically targets people out of work for health reasons, but I can't see what it can offer. Ultimately it's going to be the same old same old, maybe with a slightly softer approach so as not to be seen as bullying the disabled. Not that bullying has ever been something the DWP has had a problem with. Who knows maybe they will have something unique to offer, but in terms of healthcare, mental health support, training, etc, none of it will meet the need. A little bit of 'confidence building', some box ticking, polishing up the old CV etc. Meaningless: no amount of polish will make my CV competitive, I haven't the experience, and, with a history of unemployment on grounds of mental health, there is precisely no chance of finding a job, never mind a decent one. That assumes I can tolerate the nightmare anxiety labyrinth that is Universal Jobmatch.

What future is there?

PS: I notice that comments are apparently being made, but they aren't showing up on this page, only the email notification. If I don't respond to anyone kind enough to comment, know that's the reason why.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Looking For A Job

I've no idea how I'm going to handle full time work, but as there is no way short of a miracle that I will pass another WCA, I have little choice. I'm not even sure of the point of attending and, given that I don't have three forms of ID (as required), I doubt I'll even get in the building. The receptionist at the place is a stone faced haridan who has a habit of deliberately making people wait - all part of the test no doubt.

Consequently - and for a long time now - I have been searching on the still-appalling Universal Jobmatch website. This site is so broken and so poorly designed as to be completely useless. In fact it's beyond useless to the point of actually being counter productive.

Nothing is stored correctly, adverts are mislabelled and misrepresented, out of date and in some cases, don't even provide the means to actually progress forward. I would have used the word apply, but since clicking the link takes you further down the rabbit hole of online recruitment website links, one after another, it would be erroneous to do so.

The overwhelming majority of adverts pertain to telesales in one form or another, often mislabelled as 'customer service' or even 'sales assistant'. So jobs that should be retail, which is the most likely gig I'm going to get, are never actually shop work. All of these jobs require someone that is committed to being a profit hungry sales jockey. That is most assuredly not me and there is no way on god'd green earth I can fake it. Nor should I have to, it's absurd to expect a successful labour market to be built on such mendacity.

One of the worst features of this site is that, instead of moving through the adverts as you click next page, it reshuffles the existing adverts. Consequently you just end up looking at the same adverts repeatedly. Given that most of them are the same kind of job, all mislabelled, it's like a terrible hall of mirrors where nothing is real. Since none of these agencies ever bother to respond to emails the whole thing, really, is a massive waste of time.

Of course the government won't give up this system any time soon. The contract may be up for renewal soon, but the site requires more than a change in ownership, it needs scrapping and a complete overhaul. It is utterly broken at the most fundamental level and functionally useless.

This just leaves dealing with jobs advertised in real space. Unfortunately this is no better. I saw that WHSmiths (do they still exist?) wanted part time staff (everything is part time). But the application requirements called for a five year checkable work history - for a job selling magazines and Top Gear dvd's! Hardly Fort Knox! Waterstones too had a couple of adverts; you might think they'd be a good place to work, but no. The first was for a 'bookseller barista'. Their shop now, inexplicably (though probably due to the exorbitant price of books these days), has a cafe and as such they need someone to man the espresso machine while on hand multitasking flogging paperbacks. Unfortunately, the barista required someone with coffee shop experience. Such is the nature of the job that it requires an exotic moniker to make it sound more exciting than the reality of making tea and serving it to yuppies at silly prices.

Annoyingly they also listed a vacancy that turned out instead to be a CV gathering exercise. I asked about the position (my CV is useless and I don't carry a copy around with me since there's no point). But they said that not only did they not actually have any vacancies at present, but they had lots of CV's on file anyway. What is the fucking point of that? Why even bother? I complained on social media, which of course is the equivalent of pissing into the wind. What can you do? Had I made a fuss in the shop it would have had the opposite effect.

The reality is that jobs like this, shops and business in the city, will get their staff from the local student population. I've no doubt they have similar adverts regularly placed in student unions and that loads of kids, who make ideal part time staff (the least likely to complain about shit terms and conditions as well), will give their CV's in. You can see this in the make up of the staff in these places. Someone like me doesn't stand a chance.