There is a lot of information on how being unemployed often triggers depression and anxiety. Obviously, this is accurate, however, there isn’t much to help those whose mental illnesses stop them from working. Unfortunately, these individuals are referred to as lazy, stupid, and “scroungers.” Contrary to what the government tells us, work isn’t a magic cure for all mental illnesses.

We live in a society celebrating busyness and workaholism,  and it looks down on anyone who can’t participate in the global rat race. Critics are harsher on those suffering from so-called “invisible illnesses”, even more so mental illnesses. If we look good, smell amazing, and don’t foam at the mouth, surely, things aren’t that bad?

Workaholism is often a trauma response: keeping really busy so as to not feel or think about our inner turmoil! Aren’t we all told to “leave your problems at home?” “Fake it till you make it!” and “Work will distract you from your problems” It doesn’t matter how we feel, as long as we can work 40 + hours, with a fake smile on our faces!

I, myself, kept myself very busy, for years. At one point, I worked 48+ hours a week, behind a bar, with no holidays nor breaks for a year. In my last job, as a trainee Support Worker, I wasn’t well. I was cutting myself, but I didn’t listen to my inner voice telling me: “You aren’t well. You can’t do this!” What choice did I have as a single mother? Until my mind and my body took a real hit and I had to resign from work. At Job Centre +, a Work Coach told me: “You left your job so I am not sure you will get your Job Seeker Allowance.” and “You don’t look depressed.” I got paid but, hearing these words made me feel anxious and angry.

I used to envy those individuals who found refuge in work, at least they didn’t have to, also, deal with claiming and “living off” benefits, worrying about supporting themselves and their children. Yes, they too suffer a great deal (and need support) but, without the added financial burden. The shame I carry is twofold: I was used as a housekeeper, in my childhood home, always told I was rubbish at cleaning when I was doing my chores, and I was called lazy when I didn’t. This is what pushed me to work and work and work, for so long. “Doing nothing” fills me with anxiety,  and futility, which sometimes brought suicidal thoughts up. “I am useless so, where is the point of being alive?” Second, as I mentioned above, as a society, we are brainwashed into thinking if we can’t work, well, we are worthless. So, it feels like I was abused and shamed at home, and I am still abused (Yes, the Tories are abusing the most vulnerable people in the UK) and shamed, as an adult.

Victims and survivors of child abuse aren’t stupid or lacking in skills. We are often sensitive and creative. A few of us do want to work, as I do, but our depression, or C-PTSD or whatever else we suffer with, takes over, paralyzes us, or bullshit us into thinking we can’t do anything of value. We feel we have nothing to offer to this (cruel) world. It isn’t that we don’t want to, it is that, at this moment, we can’t, nor should we be pushed to do so! Is it really wise to carry on with a job as a trainee Support Worker while I struggle every day to get up? When I am cutting myself? When, behind the fake smile, do I want to die? No, it isn’t wise nor it is fair on employers, clients, and myself. Other people will not want to work. Why shall we judge them? For some, work can be helpful, for others, it is the last thing they need. Any support for unemployed individuals suffering from childhood trauma needs to be person-centered and compassionate.

The effects of child abuse listed below, from NSPCC’s website, clearly show why it is difficult for some adult survivors to focus on their education, get a good job, with a good salary, and, ultimately lead a fulfilling life.

  • negative effects on a child’s health, relationships, and education
  • adults who were abused as children may find it harder to cope with life’s stresses, get a good job, or be a good parent
  • mental health problems, drug or alcohol issues, criminal behaviour – or showing signs of harmful behaviour themselves.

As long as vulnerable people aren’t supported and respected, they will never feel safe to step into the world and being a full participant in Life. Pushing people in poverty into further poverty, because they can’t work is despicable. Some of us grew up shamed and belittled, for things out of our control, and now, we deal with more shame and critics on a bigger scale. This needs to urgently change, for everyone’s sake.

Sylvie

Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.

(First published on Winter Turns into Spring)

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