Creating Yourself.

DSC04850Last 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 DSC04857live 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.

DSC04851This 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 DSC04853esteem 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.)

β€œLife isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Brilliant entry. I am currently a full time artist, running a business in selling artwork and doing commissions – I struggle with all of my money responsibilites. I will probably never earn enough to live independantly but I am working so hard to see how it goes. Getting a job out there were indeed difficult especially my inability to speak and bond with hearing people and I eventually decided to be my own boss because sometimes i feel this is an only option even though I want to be an artist

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  2. Liz Ward says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting! Money is difficult, I know – I’m 28 and it still gets the better of me sometimes (okay, most of the time…). I think what keeps me going is the thought that creating things is one of the best things in life, whether that’s art, writing, photography or whatever. I know what you mean – its far better to your own boss in a hearing world, sometimes its really hard but I don’t think I would change it. Your art is great! Its always the first few years that are a struggle, sometimes you just have to remind yourself of why you started and what you love about it.

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  3. Dounia says:

    This is a fantastic post. It’s so well written and I could relate to it in many ways. Although I’m not deaf, I understand your struggle with finding work and the vicious cycle of “you need experience to find a job, but if no one hires you, how do you get experience”… Since moving back to the USA 3 years ago with my husband, I’ve struggled to find work. I speak the same language, have degrees, but I never studied or worked here before, don’t have any contacts, so I’ve got all the odds stacked against me. There are days when it can be very frustrating, but I also know that not finding a job has allowed me time to do what I love: write. I started my blog, published 2 articles so far, and I have felt so fulfilled doing that. I’ve also found a new love for photography along the way. It’s not always easy, but maybe it’s meant to lead us to follow our dreams – you’ve clearly understood that and I think it’s amazing. Thanks for sharing your story and your journey – I needed to read something like this, and I absolutely love it.

    p.s. Sorry for the lengthy, somewhat rambling comment! πŸ™‚

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    1. Liz Ward says:

      Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚ I’m glad it has helped you, I know it’s a situation that a lot of people are in at the moment, not just deaf people. It was hard to finally write this post, it’s been brewing for a while but sometimes writing about difficult things helps us to grow and understand things better. I love how blogging brings people together and how we can find people on the same wavelength! Wishing you lots of luck – we can do it πŸ™‚

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  4. Maria says:

    Thank you for sharing this Liz, I am so impressed by your perseverance and inspired by your determination not to just sacrifice your dreams. Getting out there is hard, although I am not deaf, my diabetes can cause me all sorts of problems (especially when I am under a lot of stress or pressure) that people just don’t seem to understand.

    Maria xxx

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  5. Heather says:

    I was a technical writer for 20+ years … Nicholson Baker also worked as a technical writer. I now have a different high-tech job that involves less writing. I feel that “non-creative” (of course there is really no such thing, there is creativity involved in technical writing) may sap creative writing juice. It’s a discipline much like journalism. At the same time, it’s always possible to do what you really make up your mind to do. I could have been doing more creative writing all these years.

    There’s a part of me that’s glad I didn’t publicly document my opinions (well, not many of them …) when I was younger, because much of it would no doubt be cringeworthy now. I’m OK with the way things have turned out, which is certainly for the best since I can’t change it now πŸ˜‰

    It sounds like you’ve decided to go down a different path, but if you ever have any questions about technical writing, I’d be happy to discuss it with you.

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    1. Liz Ward says:

      Thanks, its tough figuring it all out. Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

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