Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Give me liberty, or give me death - Part I: A long road ahead

"Give me liberty, or give me death!", a famous quote by Patrick Henry, of course has very little to do with mental illness, and you may ask yourself why I use this particular quote in this particular context. What this new series will be about is a personal struggle for freedom, in my case a struggle for freedom from the indignity of being an unemployed person in Germany. It is not simply a matter of some personal pride, as you would expect being unemployed in a country so proud of its workforce and working life is, but it is something that goes far deeper, as there are more ways than one that being unemployed in this country makes you feel like less than a man (or woman). It is a state of existence as a subject, a thing, a number, and it is ultimately dehumanising. For me, the only option to survive is to break free from those chains, the only way to be proud again is to be a man again. And that is what this series will be about, the path from being no one to being someone again.

Starting from where I was, years of extreme depression and anxiety with long periods of alcohol abuse, there are of course two major obstacles for re-entering the normal life as a working and self-sufficient person. The first is, obviously, your health. As long as you are still in that state of extreme depression and anxiety, and worse, if the alcohol abuse is still happening, you are not in a position to think of rejoining the workforce. So these had to be my very first top priorities. I have made significant strides in both, but I will go into more detail about that field in the anxiety disorder series. The second is a real world issue, which is what this series will be about.

You see, usually, when you are unemployed in Germany for medical reasons for a longer period of time, you are sent to a government doctor at the Gesundheitsamt (health office), who will then examine you and determine if you are fit to work three or more hours a day or not. This was done with me in 2008, and since then I had been switched from unemployment benefits to social welfare. At the time I thought it was a good thing, because I definitely wasn't in a condition to do anything productive with my life. The problem is, once you have that "unfit to work" ("arbeitsunfähig") status, you are legally forbidden to work more than 3 hours a day. And since it is nearly impossible to find a job that offers work hours below three hours a day, it means in practice that you cannot legally work at all. So my first step after improvements in my medical condition was to start working on getting rid of that status.

It wouldn't be Germany if they didn't make a bureaucratic nightmare out of the simplest things. "Oh you feel better and wanna work? Sure, give us a recommendation from your doctor and get started!" That's how it doesn't work in Germany. It does start with the government agency for unemployment asking for a recommendation from your doctor, yes, but between that and the getting started they apparently want to make it as difficult as possible. I went to that agency today and submitted my application for being rehabilitated into the workforce, and basically, what they will do is give that application to their doctor, who will ask for every info about me from my doctor, then their doctor will talk to me, then after that doctor gives his or her recommendation to the government agency, I can get a preliminary approval or rejection. In case of the letter I will have to go to a clinic again, in case of the former I still won't be allowed to work, but will be allowed to start a three month job training of sorts that has no purpose other than to test my ability to work several different tasks and areas. After that I get another recommendation from that job training thing to, I think, either the government agency doctor, or the government agency itself, and then finally I can wait for a decision on whether I am allowed to work again or not.

The good thing is that I was told that I can make a good impression if I start an internship while I wait for the pre-approval process that would lead to that job training thing, so that's something I am definitely going to do.

The bad thing, the thing that really annoys me, is something I will go into detail about in the next post, that in Germany, it appears that the most commonly accepted and used treatment for depression is to depress people. No, not kidding, not even hyperbole, it really feels that way. Because whatever mental illness you have, and usually it is depression and/or anxiety since those are the most common, over 90% of what you'll ever hear from doctors, nurses, social workers and government officials is how terrible your life is and how you're unable to do anything and how difficult and impossible everything is for you. This is really the last thing I need. If I want to hear about how shitty my life is, I have plenty such opinions in the dark corners of my brain, I don't need to hear these kinds of things from people who are supposed to help me not see life as shit.

That was really what bothered me the most about the appointment today. A social worker who was supposed to help me came along to the appointment and apparently felt it necessary to keep talking about how difficult everything will be for me, how I'll likely fail and fall back into depression, how I shouldn't get my hopes up too much. Basically I am made to feel like a useless invalid when such helpful people talk to me about my future.

You know, because of a conversation with a friend I recently remembered the one teacher I met in my time in school that ever really encouraged me. He was a sports teacher, our term for physical education. And he basically said that sports isn't about how well you do, but about how hard you try. It actually improved my grade a lot that year, from pretty bad (German 4, equivalent to American D) to pretty good (German 2, eq. to American B), because I knew I could work hard and with passion and get a good grade even without the talent for being a sports ace. I wish this message had carried over into the rest of my life, but I am recently starting to remember it and thinking how true it really is for my current life situation. I'm not in it to be the future CEO of Volkswagen - though at the current rate every German will have had the job once by 2050 - but to give my best and show the world and myself what I can do. And I feel I could use a little encouragement from those who are supposed to help me, rather than paintings of a gloomy picture of a hopeless future.

I have taken the first step, and I will fight for each further step I make until I feel I am somewhere. And I know I can do it. It may be difficult a lot of times, but I can do it. If someone with the athletic virtues of a Steve Urkel can get a 2/B in sports/physical education with hard work and passion, I can use the same will to work hard and passionately to succeed in life.


  1. Being able to work will change your life dramatically and for the better. You can do it.

  2. Yeah, you've got a shot man. I came across this blog through the metal-archives btw. Good luck, also great reviews you write!

  3. If you haven't considered starting a meditation practice, please do so. The attitude engendered by meditation is the opposite of these wrong-headed people who tell you some variation of how broken you are. I know people who've pulled themselves and are pulling themselves out of brutal depression and anxiety through meditation. I've seen the process happening right infront of me, sitting with them while it happened! They did it, you can do it.

    The attitude of meditation is that you can start achieving liberation right here, right now. It is not conditional on acheiving anything 'out there' in the world, although hard work is of course (usually) a good thing, and indeed, meditation is not a simple panacea that will fix everything wrong in life. And it might be difficult, because dark thoughts might come to mind in the course of cultivating silence. But there are other people doing this same work, from a similar place of mind, all over the world. And it sounds from your attitude like you are in a place where you are ready to apply sustained mental effort towards acheiving goals. Well, thats what meditation practice is all about.


    There is the propaganda. If you trouble yourself to read the first pages, I think you will see that the author is not full of shit. If your first impulse is to reject my suggestion as simple religious evangelism, consider that the technology of buddhist meditation does not necessitate belief in any of its dogmas. You can focus your attention on the sensations of your breath without believing in anything. Just try it! And if it doesn't work very well the first time, try it again! And again! And again! Eventually something will stick, and things will change for you in ways that you would never have believed possible. Either way, good luck and METTA.

  4. I've actually joined a Buddhist meditation group a bit over a month ago. :D

  5. Thanks for the great post on your blog, it really gives me an insight on this topic.
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  6. Poor fag, really poor fag. I knew him for four years, but he abuses my friendship with his lies and insane shit. I guess he is fucking his dog, it wouldn't surprise me, sad but true.

    1. The insane shit is coming from you, not him. There's a reason he cut ties with your crazy ass. He's better off.

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