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IS WORK THE HOLY GRAIL?

by Chris Barchard

I went down the day centre a few days ago, ending over two years of self-imposed avoidance of it and partial isolation in general. I had been reflecting during that time about, amongst other things, whether I was copping out by not aiming at gainful employment. I finally came to the conclusion that it might not be reasonable to toy with the idea that at some point I would lead a normal life, with a paid job in keeping with what I supposed was my ability; a family, a social life with normal people and so on. There just wasn't any viable way out of being a patient as far as I could see. So I went down the day centre and it wasn't that bad.

In the past I had had rammed down my throat the idea that I had to work, even if I was actually being exploited and living below the bread line or close to it. I'd like to ask Tony Blair if that's his vision of returning people with mental labels back into work? I don't see a lot of evidence of very favourable prospects for us.

So should we keep hanging on to the dream of employment, good jobs, good money and the social arid family life that go with it? Or should we focus our aims in a more limited but maybe more real way? Are dreams of earning a living providers of hope or just continued frustration? Are these dreams, which most of us have whether we openly admit it or not, a holy grail that is not worth believing in?

Personally I don't think holy grails are necessarily a bad thing, so long as one sees them as something that gives one a direction to work in, but not as something that one feels has to came true. The idea of accepting the idea of being used as cheap labour is not a very nice prospect. The alternative to that may be living on a very modest income and only working in a basically recreational way, but doing things that are more interesting. It doesn't exactly realise dreams and ambitions but may be less soul destroying, even fulfilling.

Being bullied with the work ethic by my father, and the description by Erving Goffman of admission to a mental hospital as being a degradation ceremony, both contributed to preventing me feeling at all comfortable with the limitations my situation has put on my life. It is still only half a century since the asylums started to open. Society takes a lot longer to properly accommodate people who have been alienated and locked away. At present we are in an interim period when people who have been in asylums tend to club together. There is clearly a lot of unused talent or at least talent that is being turned into the user world and not so much reaching society generally. While we need to be doing something to further the cause of integration with the world we need at the same time to be able to explore our talents without the usual social pressures. In some ways the latter idea sounds like a bit of a luxury. The only justification for it is through seeing what would happen if we were just thrown into society and expected to fend for ourselves without extra support. I have gone through a lot of guilt about not working for my living but I am coming to see that it is not something I can very easily put right. It is not surprising when there are so many things I can do to find it hard to understand how there can be so many things I cannot. The mind is very complicated.

I think we have enough on our plates not to worry about leading completely normal lives. Never mind the health fascists and the work fascists. Work, of sorts, is good but I am not on a crusade to find the holy grail.