Reasons to be Cheerful part 2

chumai
Not a picture of me, but a beautiful lady I met in Mexico many years ago, who was growing older with style and grace (which I won’t be doing)

Continuing my looking-for-good-things on Mondays…

It’s very easy to get down about getting older, we are told to feel as if life will end when we get old and decrepit, but this week I have been compiling a list to put me in a good mood. My plan for when I’m too old to work and gad about:

Computer games – I’ve played them on occasion, they’re quite fun, but they just seem to eat time and when there are so many things I want to do while I can, I tend to avoid playing. However, once I’m old, and computer games are even more advanced than now, then I’m throwing myself into them with abandon. Fighting zombies in a bombed-out city with a machine gun? Brilliant. Going virtual diving in the sea looking for buried treasure? It’s going to be incredible.

It won’t matter that the world is going to Hell in a hand-basket – well, it probably isn’t doing that any more than it was when I was young, but I’ve spent a life time stressing over global warming and nuclear war and when I’m old that can stop. I’m not saying those things won’t matter to me anymore, but my time of being able to do something to fix them will have passed; it won’t be my world anymore so I’ll stop fretting.

Vanity – I’d say on the whole I don’t worry about how I look. The last time I got a haircut was in 2000 and I haven’t worn make up in years. However, there’s still a small part of me that panics that I’ve got something stuck on my tooth, or that my clothes look scruffy. When I’m old, I’ll look any which way I want and it will be called eccentric, people will excuse my odd appearance with fond, patronising smiles. It will be wonderful. As the poem says, I will wear purple.

Alcohol, drugs and smoking – I used to be a bit over the top with drug-taking and self destructive behaviour when I was younger, in many ways it was great. Then I grew up and became super careful, concerned I might cause myself long-term harm. When I get old enough for long-term not to matter anymore, I will make the most of this. It will be ace, I’ll be a tripping, smoking junkie granny. There may even be some exciting new drugs by then.

These are just a few of the things that no one seems to mention, and there are still all the traditional reasons to be happy – family, going on holiday (if you’re able) and even studying (my mum got her degree when she was seventy). So how about you? What’s going to make your twilight years a joy?

Banishing Gloom – a Monday Good Thing

20161108_080717

A lot of bad things have been happening in the world recently, and now it’s cold, everyone is miserable and I keep forgetting to notice all the good things that are around me.

So I’m going to make a point of, every Monday, posting something good from the week. Either a photo, an observation, a piece of news or a delightful fact.

So what about you, what has brightened up your Monday? What good things are in your life right now?

If anyone feels like joining in, that would be fantastic, I’m happy to link or feature.

This Monday’s good thing, some photos of the frost where I work…

20161108_080724

20161108_080700

Because of I, Daniel Blake…

How our benefits system costs the tax payer more money

Last weekend I watched I, Daniel Blake (late to the party, as always). It was moving and beautiful, but I’m aware there are many people in this country who think that a film about benefits does not apply to them. So, using this film as inspiration, I wanted to point out a couple of things to those people:

Our benefit system is costing you more money by punishing claimants.

  1. The benefit system makes sick people sicker for longer, so they claim for longer.
  2. The benefit system creates benefit cheats.

daniel-blake

The benefit system makes sick people sicker for longer

We all know that stress is a killer, but stress also makes sick people more sick, so they can’t work, for longer. I had a brain injury, but what really prolonged my ability to get better was extreme stress. The stress was rooted in the accident, however, I didn’t show any symptoms of it until I tried to claim for benefits and that was clearly a trigger. One of the most stressful things you can experience is to have your survival in the hands of lying, incompetent people who don’t think of you as human. The film explores how this feels, how it destroys vulnerable people, breaks them down.

While claiming I found the system so relentlessly illogical and devoid of a duty of care that I became convinced that the government was trying to kill me, that was first sign of psychosis I experienced, after that it got worse. I was on benefits for six years, I think if I hadn’t been pushed to that point by the benefits system, if I could have relaxed, safe in the knowledge I was cared for and concentrated on recovery, I could have gone back to work in a year.

This may sound like a one off extreme experience (or maybe melodramatic), but it has happened to every genuinely sick person I have known who has tried to claim; because all illness, mental or physical, is made worse by stress. And everybody, no matter how ill, goes through the same system of being treated like a scrounger, lied to, tricked, dismissed.

Add to that the situations shown in the film – people being sanctioned and then not being able to eat properly or heat their home – all these things increase stress, prolong sickness and lead to the claimant needing benefits for much longer.

The benefit system works better for cheats than for the seriously ill – so the sick become cheats

The system is designed to be illogical and exhausting in order to put off benefit claimants. The problem with this is that benefit cheats have the mental and physical resources to deal with endless nonsensical and wrong instructions, they have the energy levels necessary to spend hours on the phone and they know the system so know just how to play it. People like Daniel in the film have never claimed benefits and don’t understand the system. They tell the truth (because they assume that is the right thing to do) and they are short on the strength necessary to play the game, all of which means they will not get money.

As a result, many seriously ill people give up trying, they rely on friends and family to survive or they kill themselves (see below for some  info about casualties). Dan sold his furniture and went hungry; and this is a seriously ill man who has just had a heart attack. I was lucky enough to understand computers (which Dan doesn’t) and I had a good friend to take over filling out forms and calling up advisers. Even with this help, I learnt that if I was to get money to live, I needed to change how I acted. Honesty and doing what I was asked to do, simply didn’t work. So I learnt to lie and cheat and manipulate, and that was how I got the money I needed to live.

Which is where the problem lies for the tax payer: The benefits system creates cheaters because honest people don’t get money. And being a cheater doesn’t just go away when you get better. If you have ever had someone repeatedly screw you over when you are at your most vulnerable you will perhaps understand: it changes you, it creates a cynicism and an anger that don’t vanish, and cynical, angry people, who have learned to work the system, aren’t good for society.

 

This blog was originally going to be a review, but there are plenty of excellent reviews about this important film and I had nothing helpful to add. In case you missed them…

Some facts about the system:

And finally a quote taken from the review above:

“I must emphasise one point. I, Daniel Blake is not a “poverty flick”, nor even a film about poverty. It’s about dignity, about society recognising you as a human being and not as a number. It’s about the relationships we create with one another to save us dying from state-imposed loneliness. The way we treat people on benefits becomes a metaphor for our society’s radical failure to recognise the humanity in others.”

My Ridiculous Anxiety Dream

I have variations on this dream quite often, but I think this is the daftest. I do sometimes drive a tractor for my job and occasionally I have to check on trees after a storm to make sure none have been uprooted or become unstable, so it has some basis in reality.

So I’d been driving a tractor out in a field and had stopped to check that none of the trees had toppled.  Suddenly I noticed that it had got dark so I needed to get back to base. I reached down to release the handbrake, but it wasn’t there! I felt for the gearbox, but it wasn’t there either! And there was no steering wheel! I was really panicking by this point and there were a few minutes of fumbling about, wondering why I wasn’t wearing shoes or a coat, before I finally worked out that I was in bed and not on a tractor at all. Instead of deciding that everything was fine and going back to sleep, my brain started on a new course of panic and I thought,

“But if the bed has got no gears or steering wheel, how am I going to get to work tomorrow?” Feeling frantic, I switched on the light, muttering to myself,

“I drive to work everyday, how do I normally do this on a bed with no steering wheel?”

A few more tormented seconds passed while I looked at my bed in confusion, before finally realising,

“I don’t need to drive my bed to work, I’ve got a car.”

Selfselfself: Brain Injury etc

DISCLAIMERS: This is intended as the first of series of posts talking about B.I. and PTSD (I hope to release one a week), but I am not good at writing about myself, I’m not comfortable with it, therefore they may come across as cold or clumsy, I’m sorry about that.

I am only writing from my own personal experience, which may be narrow and/or inaccurate. I welcome any addition or dispute in the comments.

Something happened a decade ago and it keeps pestering my head, oozing itself into mundane moments, when I’m working, when I’m cooking dinner. The thoughts are always there, ready to seep and I think maybe it’s because I never did what I swore I would do – share what I learned to help other people in the same situation. So, here in a lumpen fashion, is my beginning, hopefully it will get smoother as time goes on…

Ten years ago I was in a bad accident. My heart stopped, the flow of blood to my brain stopped, organs ruptured and I got bashed up. The two enduring problems as a result of this were that I got PTSD and a brain injury. A year after the accident (from now on known as P.A. Post Accident) my IQ was tested and found to be below 80. Three years P.A. and I was still spending a lot of my time in bed, mostly unable to listen to music or read, often even unable to open my eyes, but with my mind never resting. Five years P.A. and I read my first book (I could read short things before this). It was a Mark Steel book, but I have no real memory of it now, except that it was an intensely difficult but beautiful joy. At that time, I also started working as a volunteer at a wood. A year later and I was working part time as a gardener. Eight years P.A. I got the full time job I have now, only one person there knows about the accident, although sometimes I get odd looks when my brain goes wonky.

Before the accident, I was always self-sufficient, somebody others thought of as capable in just about any situation. I loved throwing myself into danger, just to see if I could cope. This meant that I floundered and fucked up a lot, but I always found a way of looking after myself – somewhere to sleep, a job, food to eat. With the accident I lost all that, I became afraid of the dark, people, imaginary monsters. I relied on others for everything.

Before the accident I had never thought of myself as somebody in tune with my emotions or body, but I was. I knew how much effort it took to move, I knew what felt good, I knew how I would react in any given situation. I was familiar with the pattern of my own thoughts. I had emotional routines that I would follow without ever having to pay attention to what I was doing, I just felt, and connected with people. With a brain injury everything changed completely. I couldn’t eat what I used to, food made me feel ill. Everything smelt wrong and looked wrong. I couldn’t sleep. My body would do odd things, suddenly lurching to one side, contorting in bizarre ways or becoming completely paralyzed. My emotions became wild unpredictable animals that would leap out at me without reason. I would overreact to everyone and everything and then feel terrible for doing so. The inside of my brain felt wrong, the way my thoughts moved and connected was disturbingly unfamiliar. For a long time I believed utterly that I was an alien inhabiting this dead person’s body. I felt like an imposter with my friends and bored when looking at my old photographs. Plus I was in constant pain with no idea why.

That was all a lot to process, let alone to try and fix. Whenever I tried to focus on one aspect, to solve one problem, all the others mounted up. I was completely overwhelmed. I felt like I standing at the edge of the sea in a raging storm, just when I found my footing I would be picked up and thrown into the waves with no idea which way was up or how to grab a breath.

Working how to care for this new, bizarre, sensitive self took a lot of learning. Despite my crappy brain, I had to learn more about myself, life and the mind, than I had learned about anything previously. How to look after myself, how to act, what mattered. I found that all the doctors and psychologists I saw didn’t really understand my symptoms and I assumed that I was the one being weird. Having met other people with B.I. since, I’ve realized that while B.I. can affect people in an infinite number of ways, certain things I experienced are pretty common. I’m hoping that by passing on what I managed to learn, I can be helpful. I’m going to give it a go.

Some of the things I’m hoping to talk about in future blogs:

  • Understanding what the brain is and how it goes wrong
  • The basics of looking after yourself
  • The myth of getting better
  • True boredom and an ocean of time
  • Psychosis, paranoia and all that drama
  • How to talk to doctors
  • How to become a sick person, how to become a well person
  • Staying awake forever
  • Learning to do stuff again
  • The mechanics of belief