I am a person with a non-visible disability. I present well until you ask me to speak; then, I sound like an 18 year-old…that’s because at 18, I became very ill.
I was never very normal as a kid growing up. Now looking back as an adult with insight, I was always the “weird kid”. All I wanted was to grow up fast and get beyond the reach of parental control and bullies. In short, I just wanted to be loved. Yet, despite the many people who have come and gone in my life, I am hardly able to bond. Perhaps it’s my fear of rejection. Perhaps it’s my stunted emotional growth. Perhaps it was all the bullying I received without giving permission.
In any case, I now have a mental illness. It is as crippling as it is pervasive. Everything from simple chores to the complexities of relationships – and all things in between – are affected. This includes competitive employment. Short-term memory loss, lack of organization, the inability to plan for – or foresee possible consequences in – the future, poor executive functioning, and poor impulse control all contribute to a demise in daily functioning. It also worsens as one ages. My now-retired psychiatrist used to say that as we schizophrenics grow older, we’d become motionless and mute – simply staring at walls all day if we didn’t have a TV or Internet connection. And such things cost money. If Pops or Uncle can’t pay for it, our quality of life disintegrates. Personally, I don’t ask for very much. I don’t smoke, or drink, or do drugs, or dress fashionably, or gamble. I don’t do Vegas or go on annual vacations. Just give me an Internet account and my own furnished apartment, utilities and food, with some creature comforts like coffee and music, maybe a cat, and I’m all set. Really. It’s that simple. My closest friends live from 3 time zones to 3 continents away. I don’t get into trouble. What’s the big deal? Why deprive us mentally ill people of some basic human dignity and quality of life? It was, before the wonderful PM Trudeau stepped in, a culture of surveillance and mistrust under the Ministry responsible for the government dole. With the new Prime Minister of Canada, it all ended. Almost…
The current provincial government party had been as generous as they could be dating back to the late 90s through the 00s, when the then-Premier Gordon Campbell, following the example of the previous socialist party’s lead, established a benevolent disability benefits plan for us. However, with the current premier succeeding the former Premier Campbell, the “L” in the party’s name stands for Lazy, Laconic, and Lip-service in Lotus Land. Never mind that it took two terms for the present premier to maybe make mental illness a “disability”, as she had promised while campaigning 9 years ago, but she appears to have further colluded with the transportation lobbyists to raise the 9-year freeze on disability payments to increase by $77 minus $52 in clawback so that disabled people would have to pay for their own public transportation. Which means, in plain English, that the “raise” of $77 monthly to our cheque gets clawed back to the net amount of $25 monthly because now we would have decided to keep the Compass Card (our bus pass costs $52 monthly from September 2016 onwards). While it doesn’t bother me to have to pay for the transportation, $25 monthly more is too small a sum to counteract the rising cost of living in Vancouver, BC. It’s a slap in the face, and saying we’re stupid, worthless and powerless, while we’re already being downtrodden by poverty, stigma, and illness. And what has the current, provincial premier done in terms of personal transportation during her history being in office so far? This said premier, erstwhile, charged taxpayers tens of thousands for recreational flights to family vacation spots (just google “<premier’s name> scandal”) justified it through silence and dismissal, and stayed in office as Premier of BC.
So they’re taxing us. Again, after freezing our benefits rates for 9 years, our provincial government is giving each individual on the dole a net increase of $25 a month – should we opt to keep our bus pass. The BC provincial government is taxing the disabled for transportation. Statistically, 1 in 5 of the general population are mentally ill. Given that some of us drive, others aren’t even on Disability Benefits, that leaves maybe 100,000 supposed freeloaders taking up space and breathing your air on public transit. My goodness! What a sacrifice! Now, that might not seem like a big deal to you. Just wait. It gets better.
When we ask why we can’t get a raise that reflects inflation and the high cost of living in BC, the government ministry tells us repeatedly that they expect us to work. “Who knows, right?” the office clerk would say with a flippant, lilting and practiced giggle, and only to terminate the call with curtness. So, perplexed, we trudge on to find work.
But when we approach employers with our resumes, we’re questioned about the holes in our resumes and just exactly which disability we have. They’re not allowed to ask this. But they do. And when we tell them the truth, they show us the door. Literally. It happened to me four times. There was once-upon-a-time when I was still new to this illness and lied; I got the job (though they complained I was too slow and they threatened to fire me). They used to ask right on the application form if we have ever been hospitalized and what for. And all I was doing was busing tables at a university cafeteria. Now they’re not allowed that, but they take a different route to the same, insistent, discriminatory question.
So, then, we’re told to try vocational rehab for the mentally-ill and those with persistent barriers to work. These are “non-profit” organizations who get paid at least $5,000, from our provincial government, for each “client” who signs up with them (just to clarify: we don’t get the money, the rehab Centre does). Whether or not we get jobs at the end or have to repeat the course is a matter of indifference for them (another failed client is potentially a repeat customer, and means another $5000 in the organization’s coffers). They have been notorious for not graduating the bulk of their “clients” onwards towards jobs, and for making many of us clients believe, if we just come for the fourth time to the same program, we may make it, this time. It is a revolving-door industry for organizations capitalizing on the chronic desperation, innate confusion and eternal hopefulness of some of our most vulnerable citizens. Meanwhile, the bottom line is that we’re jobless after finishing 3 months of “job rehab” sessions, and no closer to working than 3 months ago.
The only people who give us the time of day are certain mental health professionals, and even then, not all of them. But, then again they are remunerated for their services. Who are we kidding? Once they are no longer paid, they will stop treating us. They can only do so much. It is most likely that it’s in the universally-free and socialized medicine, and the affordability of living above the poverty line, that we would be saved from an inevitable and worse demise. Oh wait, we already have that, yeah. Sad, yes. True, sure. Surprising, no. Outrageous? Ya think? ~V
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