Obstacles to Work - remembering the horror of a schizophrenic breakdown
Years ago if you were mentally ill or disabled it was likely that social security would pay you benefits and leave you alone. And if you wanted to get a job or do voluntary work, it was entirely up to you and you had this choice. These days though many mentally ill and disabled people are forced to look for full time or up to sixteen hours work each week, or their benefits could be sanctioned or even stopped.
As a long term schizophrenic on the benefits Disability Living Allowance and Employment And Support Allowance, I am now expected to look for part time work. The job centre have linked me up with an organisation that find people work, and even though they say that they won’t force me to look for work, the way they operate makes it feel like they are subtly putting pressure on me to do so. I feel this is very unfair, because I’m ill a lot of the time, and I’m often worried that if I don’t comply with them they will sanction or stop my benefits. And me and my wife, who is also my carer, are reliant on these benefits, not just to provide for us, but also our children.
I wrote the document below for my emplyment advisor - other people may find it helpful.
DOCUMENT FOR EMPLOYMENT ADVISOR
I am 47 years old and the main obstacles I have that prevent me from being able to work regular are the fact that I have had schizophrenia for 23 years and I feel like I’ve only got about a third or quarter of the amount of physical and mental energy as what a normal person would have.
I have an inconsistent sleep pattern. I’ve been semi nocturnal for years and usually don’t sleep till between 2 and 4 Am, though sometimes I stay awake all night and don’t get to sleep till about 7.30 in the morning. I also need to sometimes sleep for up to 12 hours or more at a time.
I don’t really feel comfortable with many people except close family and friends. I am very nervous and shy a lot of the time. I often feel uncomfortable in crowds, and enjoy spending time alone. I believe this is because I spent 8 years of my youth in prison and spent months in solitary confinement as punishment, starting from when I was a teenager. I was often violently restrained, stripped naked and sometimes beaten up by gangs of prison officers.
I also took a lot of drugs when I was younger, including cannabis, heroin, crack, and ecstasy, and I took a lot of these drugs whilst in jail. I believe taking drugs and burning myself out in my final year in jail by writing what I believe is probably a world record amount of letters to people is what caused me to break down.
Since I’ve been ill I’ve felt like I’ve got less mental and physical stamina than many pensioners and when I had a breakdown after I was released from jail in 1992, I sometimes starved myself of food and drink for several days at a time. I’m six foot tall and went down to about 8 stone in weight. I stopped washing for weeks sometimes, would wet myself, and walked miles around the streets crying, hallucinating and feeling like I was demon possessed. I did things like try to eat raw frozen food, I dragged knives across my stomach and once smashed a bottle over my own head as I was so tormented.
Because I was forced into a routine for so many years in prison, I now find it very hard to cope with repetition. Also as a multi talented person, doing a variety of creative things is my balance. Though because I’m doing so many different things, I don’t know if I’ll develop any of my talents to professional standards. I am a writer, and very occasional filmmaker, poet and film extra, and I do a variety of different things within these roles.
I’m also worried that if I did a part time job, in a field that wasn’t creative, I wouldn’t have the time or energy to work on my creative projects, and its creativity that is one of the main therapeutic things in my life.
On a positive, I believe that all of the negative, and also positive things I’ve experience in my life will one day enable me to write and make films etc, that are unique and award winning. And I hope that I can one day earn a lot of money from my creative projects. But this may just be a dream and so far I’ve very rarely earned any money as a writer and filmmaker.
The main obstacle I experience to finding regular work is the fact that I lack confidence, am often a very fearful person, and experience a lot of doubt. I also panic a lot and can’t cope with complication, and my mind is so sedated by medication that I feel slow and thick and often feel technophobic and generally afraid of so many things. But I’m still grateful for the medication as without it I’d be so much worse and would be extremely ill.
The thought of having to find a job feels like incredible pressure to me. As a schizophrenic I experience a lot of double minded confusion. And also frustration as its very difficult to show how disabled the illness makes you.
I doesn’t take much to make me anxious, tense and unable to sleep or feel sick with worry. But if it wasn’t for my Christian faith and the relief I get through prayer, praise and worship, and the support of my family and friends I think I would kill or harm myself. Jesus though stops me from doing that, and when the pressures off I feel his loving peace, which I appreciate as its real respite from the suffering and torment of schizophrenia.
I’m also still happy a lot of the time, and mature enough to be content with life, despite having the abnormal and limited capabilities of illness.