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.