Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Doing what counts:

'Holding hands' is Hannah's job description, even though she only gets paid in "peanuts and hugs".
By Hannah
Date: October 22 2014
Editor Rating:

One of the strangest and most annoying things about being on any type of government support is that along with the social implication of ‘failure’ comes the ever present public judgment that leaves people receiving welfare with no presumption they have as equal a right as everyone else to enjoy things.

No right to laugh, to play games, eat what they like and go wherever they choose to.

Beyond that though, is the even more nefarious assumption that you're not entitled to beauty or happiness of any deep or spiritual kind either. The message comes in: Fulfillment ought not to be gained or sought in anyway while you are 'a recipient'.

Over time and with constant berating from the media, politicians and people - even if your claim is legitimate - somehow you accumulate this shroud of dark messages around you. Despite yourself, you begin to believe them more and more until, one day, if you're not too careful, you just 'exist'. You end up somehow finding it necessary, in being a 'recipient', to remain head bowed, low in supplicated gratitude in fear of being further labeled or marginalised.

Shut up, sit down be silent and grateful in this particular prescribed manner.

This is how many people, including me, often end up living in depressing head spaces while on welfare instead of enjoying a full life, supported by welfare. It's a reaction to the constant pressure to be ‘guilty’ of something, as if being abandoned to sole parenthood, being old or having disability were your fault.

It’s a hideous message fed by media, fear, doubt and disparagement.

But that’s all beside the point of this post though, as I want to write that I think there is a large difference between being employed to work and actually doing your job.

I have been disabled much of my adult life, but I have also volunteered all my life.

When I was younger it was in HIV/AIDS projects and later in AIDS palliative care at a time when the community was still very much in fear of the disease. I was a hand-holder, a story-listener, someone to be there when families that had too much work to do, couldn't be there for their loved ones or had dumped them long before to 'go work on themselves'.

Then I was with the SES, roadside rescue of the old-fashioned type, holding hands in the dark under a bus in the mud and rain because someone who had been working too long fell asleep and killed 78 people. I worked as a volunteer internationally for a while too, holding the hands of women who were tortured and raped in other countries, listening as they told their stories for the first time.

I've been a secretary of this and that group, body in a chair for friends starting new groups, I’ve been a canteen mum, a counsellor of many runaways and an art therapy support person. I've run a shelter for small furry animals and some big seabirds as well, and stray people and stray dogs just seem to always find a way to my house.

I've volunteered as a school nurse too, listening to the stories of your children as they come in for company more than a headache and just need to rest for five minutes, to breathe. They are so tired, these kids who go home every day to make their own meals. ‘Independent’ sure, but with no one to talk to, because everyone's off working.

I've been yelled at by a mother when I was volunteer coaching, because I didn't like her calling her kid stupid, then leaving him there shattered, missing his big goal anyway, and leaving me to hold his hand to sooth his tears and then up in the air in celebration as she rushed off to work; the same woman who called me a single parent leech on society in front of my own kid; in fact, in front of everyone there that day, who when I looked around to see their reaction, where very busy too.

These experiences are why I guess that, despite all the rhetoric against single mums, the aged and disabled, I've started to come to see "being employed" or "working" as most people call it, as being the real avoidance. It’s become a mechanism of denial in our society. Sucked the life out of so many lives - and for what? At what cost?

In too many cases, working has become a metaphor for just running away from actual human responsibility IN life.

From where I hobble, everybody is employed, but no one is doing their job at all. Since being unable to work and being forced to stay home I've had a chance to really listen and look at this and that's what I see right now. Employment is an excuse to avoid doing, real jobs.

This hand-holding and listening that I do has always been my job. I'm good at it. I'm natural to it. I don’t get paid but it fulfills me. It also fills a role in our society. Unseen sure, but unseen does not mean unimportant. My employers may be different and pay me in peanuts or hugs.

And while I might get snarky about those who work, I really am grateful – not just for the support of welfare, but for being how they are and what they are and giving me such a great job to do. They have no idea.

This is why I smile when these people denigrate me and others like me. I'm not mad or ignorant. I just don’t think they are better off than me.

I am even grateful for my incapacitated life that has allowed me to do my job and be there at the most precious times of peoples’ lives. Nothing anyone can or ever will say, can take those moments or my legitimacy in this world away - ever.

I am a mother - that IS my job.

* * *

Hannah is the writer's real name. She has two children, aged 18-26.

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