So next week I have to go to the GP to ask for an extension to my sick note. After initially signing me off for six weeks they gave me another certificate for four weeks, but this time I have to have a face to face before they will extend it. This means that it’s been ten weeks since my disastrous attempt at working, and in that interval I have been under the Crisis Team, hospitalised, under the Crisis Team again and am undertaking a medication change. I hope that’s enough to persuade the doctor to officially sign me off for at least another four weeks, but if it isn’t, I’ve been thinking about how I can possibly explain to him why I cannot do a job.
The thing is, I already have a job. It’s called “Having a Severe Mental Illness”. It’s not a catchy job title, and it’s not glamorous, but there it is. I wasn’t interviewed for this job but now I’m in it, no one will let me resign.
This job is pretty much a zero-hour contract. I have to be available for its demands 24/7, 52 weeks of the year. I do not know when I will be called up for “duty” as an actively sick person, but when I am, I have no choice but to go into the office. While I’m at the office, I won’t be able to do anything else but work. I could be at work for a few hours, or every day for a couple of months. This makes it very hard to plan any alternative career. Really, I would love to get a proper job, but last time I tried my old work came calling after a few days, pissed off that I had tried to seek alternative employment. I would love even more to be able to do some study, a higher degree maybe, but would work let me, even if I did it part time and flexibly?
Zero hour contracts don’t make for a good social life. I can never fully enjoy myself for fear that work will get in the way. I am scared to have houseguests – what’s the point in them coming if I can’t spend time with them because I am called in? Is it worth getting expensive concert tickets, knowing that on the night of the gig I might have to be in the office? Booking a holiday is a particular gamble. I might try and schedule time off but this is always a fragile arrangement and on numerous holidays the call has come and I’ve had to clock in.
I am exceptionally lucky that my husband has a stable income which allows me to even contemplate these things. My financial reward for being constantly on call is Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), but I don’t just automatically get paid for showing up at the coal face; I have to prove over and over again that I am forced to do the job. You could resign, people tell me, if only you dd the right thing. Do more yoga. Eat the right foods. Stop taking the zombie meds they are feeding you. Whatever there is out there, I have tried it (except the Ancient Art of Molten Russian Healing Metals Performed in a Cave in Australia, which was once proposed to me, probably my own fault I can’t get out of this contract now for not taking the person up on that one).
So here I am. Blocked from career progression. I have been in the job since school days, it stopped me doing that higher degree when I was a young graduate and may stop me again now. Any chance at fun is overshadowed by the fact that I might never get to see the band, take the flight, eat the lunch. The job has taken many precious hours away from my time with my children. I am constantly at its beck and call. And every month I have to prove that it exists.