Saturday, 10 October 2009

Where I am now

My book ended on a positive note. I still feel quite positive but I now realise that I was more hopeful than confident. The truth is that I am still struggling. I need to make a plan for the future and make things happen. They don’t seem to happen by themselves.

I have to get a life, whatever that means. I have joked about it online but there is a serious aspect to it. My life was always intrinsically linked to my work. As long as I pursued my career in IT, I had friends and I was quite contented. The problems started when I couldn’t work or I couldn’t find work. The further I moved from my career, It became impossible to go back. My career had changed and I had become something of a dinosaur. I was fine as long as I was in a job. I could adapt in the job and embrace new technologies. I was no longer qualified for the jobs that were advertised. No one wanted to hire someone and retrain them. They didn’t need to because younger people had more relevant skills. There was a major change in IT in the 80’s to 90’s, a move from Mainframe based systems to more PC based systems. There were still mainframes but they worked more on autopilot and didn’t need the fine tuning that was my specialisation. It is somewhat sad that someone with 27 years IT experience became almost unemployable.

I eventually accepted that my IT career was over. What next? I struggled to find something that would utilise my skill set. The answer always seemed to come back to some sort of Admin work. One problem was that most admin jobs had many applicants. Many of these applicants were younger and far more qualified. No amount of tweaking of my CV/Resume could convince employers to interview me. As time went on, my CV/Resume was so fragmented. It would be clear that I had problems, whatever spin I could put on the various gaps. When I was interviewed, the job would go to someone more qualified, that’s if they even bothered to let me know. There are rules about discrimination but they didn’t need give age or mental illness as a reason. They could simply say someone else was more qualified. The government wants to give more access to jobs for the mentally ill or older person. The only real way I can see is for them (or other public sector concerns) to employ them directly. This would only be a token effort but it might set an example. Another way would be set serious incentives as with the car scrappage scheme. Sort of a people scrappage scheme!

To cut a long and miserable story short, I became increasingly unemployable and stressed out by fruitless job hunting. Everyone cares about people who are laid off from jobs. The government sets up schemes to find them new jobs. Meanwhile, the old and mentally ill are on the scrap heap of life. The government sets up schemes and makes great plans in white papers. They are sure to keep reminding us that there is no money for this innovation. At the same time, they insinuate that people on incapacity benefit are shirkers and unwilling to work. The truth is that there are few jobs and they are not for the disadvantaged.

The benefits that the mentally ill receive are a lifeline. They don’t provide the lifestyle enjoyed by some benefits recipients. They are just about kept out of poverty. The government and the opposition want to re-classify those who want to work as unemployed. This further stigmatises and reduces what meagre income is received. Being unemployed makes no difference to a person’s ability to get a job. In my experience, the employer is not aware of whether the applicant is on benefits or not.

I seem to have drifted off subject, whatever that was? The conclusion is that finding work (or not) was causing me more stress than was worthwhile. In 2007, I effectively called myself retired. I am not in any of the government’s statistics. I am probably one of a very small minority who live on their savings. This is only possible because my mom passed away and left me with some money. I am left to run my own life, including budgeting and financial planning. Not many bipolar folk would be able to do this or even want to. One of the common symptoms of mania is the reckless handling of money. After being ill for so long, I trust myself with money. There is not much of an option. My only help comes from 4 monthly psychiatrist appointments and my GP who keeps me supplied with mind dulling medication.

I am increasingly thinking that a lot of manic problems are caused by an underused mind. In many cases, drugs like lithium are just wet blankets that dull everything. A chemical straight jacket of sorts. I am glad to say I have been off lithium for 5 months (with the help of my doctor). Apart from a recent adjustment to my other meds, the dropping of lithium has been a successful experience.

That’s where I am. Watch this space and I will try to look forward. Maybe I will get a life or something approximating one.