Last year, despite the many things to celebrate, was one of the hardest years I’ve had. I signed on at the Jobcentre for the first time in my life, and in my naivety, assumed that I would be able to find something I really wanted to do and earn good money doing it. Instead, I swallowed a bitter pill – one that led to disillusionment, almost losing my way and losing confidence. What happened at the beginning of the year was that I lost one of the benefits I was entitled to because I’m deaf, due to benefit changes and Conservative policies (plus the legacy of New Labour). I could see why I might lose that benefit and I suppose I just wasn’t prepared for the repercussions. I struggled for a bit, trying to pay my bills and have a life, but in the end something had to give, and that was that I decided to sign on and look for something ‘practical’.
I understand how hard it is to balance your dreams and desires for the life you want to live, and being practical about money, living expenses, and having the opportunity to do things that make you happy (in my case, things like visiting museums, art galleries, the cinema, buying books, meeting friends). It’s difficult to know how to follow your dreams when you have the pressure of money dangling over your head. I had many insomniac nights where I would lie awake worrying about what it was that I really wanted to do, and the difference between dreaming and reality. There is a lot of pressure on us, to do something that brings in money, immediately, even if it crushes your spirit a bit.
When I first signed on, I was told that I wasn’t eligible for JSA because my partner’s earnings were above the threshold (even though we still live with my parents and often struggle). So I signed on not expecting anything from it apart from guidance and advice. The simpler thing would have been to immediately do it myself rather than sign on – but I’m a glutton for punishment and thought it was the ‘right thing’ to do. Eventually, they started paying me JSA as they looked at my circumstances again. I was given a Disability Employment Advisor (DEA) and although she meant well and tried to help the best she could, there was a sense of not being listened to, or being pigeonholed. During this time, I did the best I could to network, go to things that would help me find contacts in the writing community and the deaf community, applied to jobs I wasn’t really sure I wanted, and started to slowly panic and lose sight of what the important things were.
What is it about Jobcentres that sap your energy and verve for life? I stopped writing as much as I used to and felt as though I shouldn’t hope for anything too much – too much as in earning money my way, maybe self employed, maybe as a full time writer/journalist. I was given technical writing jobs to apply to that sounded boring, or medical writing jobs that I knew I couldn’t do because I lacked the expertise. I didn’t have enough experience with certain types of jobs such as Adminstration, even though the tasks and work looked like things I could do, and do well.
This leads me to the poisonous circle that deaf people find themselves trapped in – we need experience in a job to do a job. I spent a lot of energy and time in education, and it took a lot of my effort to concentrate in classes, lipreading and reading notes – which is often the conundrum. I didn’t have an after school or University job because of all that effort – the energy expended meant that I was often so tired after a day of lectures and lipreading that I wanted to crash on my bed. This is the situation that a lot of deaf people find themselves in. So sometimes that lack of experience means that employers don’t always give us chances.
Things like Work Fare and Employment and Support Allowance, just make deaf and disabled people even more less likely to find a job or career that they really want to do and enjoy doing. Making people work for their benefits doesn’t benefit people who want to work in creative or technical jobs, or more interesting jobs. The government doesn’t understand the idea of giving people a voice and a say in their future – where do people really want to work? What skills do they need for the job/career they want? How can they gain these skills? These are questions that need answering and need to be supported.
The only good thing that came out of my six months at the Jobcentre was that I figured out that it’s better for my mental health and self esteem to find my own way through self employment. It has been tough, and I’m not earning a lot of money, but I feel happier than I was when I felt as if I was being pulled in two directions – between the so-called ‘practical’ and my apparent unachievable ‘dreams’. The thing is, what people need is inspiration, encouragement and the space to explore to find a way towards what fulfils them and gives them a sense of purpose. My sense of purpose is connected to inspiring people, telling stories, making things and helping other people find a sense of purpose.
I’m getting there with some of them, but the others are adventures for me to take. This is what life is about – having a sense of adventure, being bold in your pursuit towards your dreams, encouraging others to dream big too. What last year taught me is that there is no sense in trampling over your dreams because of a misplaced sense of the ‘practical’. Yes, you have to make friends with money to survive, but sometimes you have to take a leap. I’m not surviving on much at the moment, but I know there are ways to make money, and that I’m moving towards them. Your own journey might be just as fraught with peril as mine has been, but its worth taking.
(Photos from a degree show last year.)
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw.