The great Shame of welfare

So I dragged my sorry bum out of bed early on Friday morning. Shortly after my boyfriend left for work at 7.30am early. It was horrific, thank you for asking.

The reason I inflicted this torture upon myself was that I decided to apply for welfare. Not even decided really. Was told. I was told, by my parents, that I should do so. And I read about it. And I groaned a lot – mostly because I couldn’t apply online – and then I agreed.

So I got up at 7.45am and eventually made my way down to Centrelink to be told I didn’t have enough forms of identity but that I should start the application on the computers there anyway and then return with the correct amount of forms of identity. As a result I am now trying to summon the courage to ask my former employer for a separation certificate and then I’ll hopefully, by the grace of our government, be on my way to actually receiving money.

And this is all well and good, except I feel so weird about it. There’s a lot of ~stigma~ about welfare recipients in Australia. Everyone makes jokes about ‘dole bludgers’. The stock standard image of a young person being “on the dole” is a layabout who refuses to work.

It doesn’t matter that this political narrative has been proven untrue time and time again, it sticks. It’s become a part of the cultural narrative, it’s the probably the nation’s only acceptable running joke. Because needing help is offensive to rich, white men and preventing people from living an acceptable life seems to win votes election after election.

So I feel a great deal of trepidation and almost shame about my situation. Even though I have applied for work and trawl various classifieds and websites every day. Even though I have plans to return to school. Even though I have worked under extreme mental (and sometimes physical) duress and continued until the bitter end. Even though there are approximately 800,000 people vying for approximately 160,000 jobs in this country.

Despite all of this, I have been conditioned to feel shame in my hour of need. As if I don’t already live with enough shame and guilt (thank you BPD) every single day.

Sometimes it’s difficult to choose to willingly live, when this is what you’re working with.

I Exist.

I’m starting to really feel the crushing weight of how much nothing I have going on in my life.

Watching everyone around me get up and do things every day is getting increasingly difficult to watch. Everyone else seems to have a job, things to check off and achieve every day, things to save for, goals to meet. And then there’s me; I’m just….. existing.

My days are washed with mixes of anxiety, distress, frustration, emptiness and sadness. I’ve been unemployed since the 22nd of July and I’m running out of distractions. I’ve been using my excessive free time to throw myself into a health and fitness routine. I walk for in excess of an hour nearly every day and visit the gym two to three times a week. I try to eat healthily, though its often difficult to do so in a family environment. You can physically see the difference this has made for me. Mentally, the results are a mixed bag.

But this routine I’ve forged is entirely dependent on the goodwill of my body. A body that notoriously breaks down frequently and inconveniently. Just yesterday I sent myself into a spin after increased pain and decreased mobility surfaced in my lower back. I haven’t used heat packs to soothe my spine in six months and the panic that was clawing it’s way up my throat was suffocating.

Thankfully after a tune up with my osteopath today things look like they’ll settle quickly and any major crisis that was near averted. I plan to go back to the gym tomorrow, for better or worse.

The real kicker, in my jobless and empty state, is watching my finances deplete. I’m afraid to spend money. It stops me going out, seeing people, making the hour trip to see my boyfriend. He nearly always comes to me. I’m acutely aware that I’m missing out. People are planning holidays, saving money, buying new things and I’m sitting on the couch wishing it was bed time so I could stop consciously existing for a few precious hours.

On Sunday night I cried on my boyfriend. This is not new experience and he’s so very good about it. Tonight I cried when Mum asked me how my day was.

I exist. I cry. I exist. I sleep. I exist. I exist. I exist.

Nothing more.

A Funny Story about the Day I truly became Australian

There is a great tradition in Australia that rolls around once a year. It commences at the changing of the seasons after a long, cold winter. The sun starts to come out and warm our pasty, white shoulders and we all leave our houses to bask in it. It’s wonderful. Amazing. Absolutely idyllic. But it’s just not safe.

I am routinely informed that their are many hallmarks that truly define your (white) Australian-ess. They invariably concern watching the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics and Commonwealth Games (bonus points if it’s hosted by Australia), eating and enjoying Vegemite, being a regular at a Bunnings sausage sizzle and having a vested interest in whether Melbourne or Sydney is the better capital city (ps. it’s Melbourne). But there’s one more experience that truly defines what it means to be Australian.

Magpie swooping season.

It is widely acknowledged that a proper Australian has been swooped by a magpie at least once in their life time. And after the weekend I can truly say that I am Australian.

I decided to visit Living Legends on my way north on Saturday afternoon. ‘Why not visit some champion racehorses?’ I thought, ‘it’s been awhile, it’ll be nice.’ 

I paid my entry fee and was casually strolling down to the paddocks when something wooshes past me. And in a matter of milliseconds I managed to freeze, look up, panic and begin a sprint for my life. Above me was a magpie with death in it’s eyes.

Now, I’m well known for holding a decade old grudge against magpies. At age 12 I diligently raised a caterpillar. In time that caterpillar made her chrysalis and shortly thereafter burst out a gorgeous butterfly. I carefully placed her in our old lemon tree so she could find her wings and be free! Only for a magpie to swoop in and steal her right before my eyes. I have experienced many traumas in my life, but this was a new one and it was devastating. My Dad quickly shooed the magpie away and left me with the dead butterfly’s little body. Her shiny, new wings now tattered.

So seeing my assailant begin another dive I just legged it. If you’ve ever been swooped, you’ll know that this is the wrong thing to do. You would certainly think that removing yourself from the magpies “territory” would remedy the situation, but it doesn’t. The murderous bird followed me, swooping again and again and again.

Realising that running was not helping me I turned around and started swinging at it with the only weapon at my disposal. My iPhone. Did it work? Not really. Why did it eventually stop swooping? Because I had my eyes on it.

So if you, like me, are awaiting your baptism of magpie – do not run away. Glare at it. Glare at it so hard in those beady, lifeless eyes that it’s afraid to move. Even if that means you have to walk backwards to your car and trip over a rock.

And that is the story of how I tried to have a pleasant afternoon and instead learnt that I possess amazing sprinting powers, how to fend off homicidal birds and that I am a bonafide Australian at last.

The $0.65 Banana

I’ve been on a bit of a health kick lately. Don’t get me wrong, fitness has been important to me for a long time, but with all the time I have to waste I’ve really gotten back into it. I’ve been hitting up the gym and walking for at least an hour most days.

I’ve also really gotten into good food. For weeks now the only breakfast/lunch (and it’s not really brunch because breakfast/lunch occurs around 1-3pm day depending) food I’ve been eating is fried eggs on avocado, cheese and toast. With the full knowledge that I will eventually lose interest in this delicious concoction, I sought to broaden my horizons. And I settled on protein pancakes.

I found a recipe I liked, bought some (admittedly budget) protein powder and went home pretty excited to cook these up the following morning. Only to realise I had neglected to buy the banana I needed.

So I summoned the energy to saddle up and go to the supermarket and buy one, single banana. And I was really embarrassed about it as I went to the (self serve) register. The bananas were like $2 a kilo, so this single banana was going to be so, so cheap. I nearly didn’t buy it because I felt so awkward. My unease ultimately forced me to buy two Cherry Ripe bars so that the total became a minutely more acceptable $2.65.

The irony of going to the shops for health reasons only to buy unnecessary chocolate was not lost  on me, I assure you.