Hard days of not working


Hammer, Flickr image by thefixerMy stepchildren don't ask for much, which is handy, because I haven't got much. I've been on the pension for eight years and, aside from four hours cleaning a week, it's what puts food on the table. But there is not much left over for the stuff teenagers like.

Sometimes I feel guilty. Sometimes I feel like I don't do my bit and that I'm a blight on society. Am I disabled? Or am I just lazy? Is Bipolar Mood Disorder real? Is my tremor real? A little voice in my head still says I'm just over-emotional and weak. That little voice haunts me sometimes.

I come from a long line of hard workers. Three generations of Wharf Labourers, in the days when the docks meant hard physical labour. I remember my grandfather and father talking about work: about Appleton Dock and Station Pier, and the names of the ships they unloaded. Their work was a big part of who they were.

They headed off on shifts that sometimes turned 'double header', which meant they'd work 16 hours straight. They kept turning up day after day, year after year. Sometimes I wonder what the old boys would make of me. What would they say to a bloke who doesn't work? Would they be as generous as the government is? Or would they just not mention it? Would they see me as a failure? Or is that just me projecting my self doubt?

My three brothers are hard workers. They're all in the building trade, and God knows that's a tough game. During the past eight years while I've done nothing, the boys have kept right on working. Building, producing, earning. I love and respect my brothers for who they are and what they've achieved, but sometimes feel like a weak link in the chain.

Like their forbears my brothers often talk about their work. They say they hate it and that getting up each day is a struggle, but I know deep down they wouldn't have it any other way. They don't rely on the government. They're supporting themselves.

A day's work is a ritual to them. Their trade is a type of religion, while the endless cycle is almost a prayer. Down the street I see workers in overalls, and for some reason I can't look them in the eye.

When I get a bit despondent my wife Carolyn tries to reassure me that I do enough. She tells me that my cleaning job at the church and being a good husband and stepfather are really important work. I love these roles, I love her encouragement, but even so I often think I should be doing more. My brothers love their wives and kids, and on top of that do a full week's work. The two things are done in tandem by millions of people every day. So why can't I do it? What's so special about me, that I can't be a full time worker?

I used to be a worker. I left school at 15 and worked continually till I was 45. So I remember the steady beat of full time work. But it now seems that I was someone else then. Who am I? Often late at night I ponder that question. But how can I find the answer without a job title to define me?

The year before last I got a full time cleaning job. I lasted six weeks. Six weeks that almost sent me back to the psych ward. I gave it up. Went back on the pension and licked my wounds. I'd had this idea that if I could work full time I could spoil my family a bit. Buy my wife flowers, get the kids an iPod. But it just didn't pan out. Now I do my four hours work, take my pension and try not to listen to that little voice.

Barry GarnerBarry Garner is a 53-year-old DSP pensioner, husband, father of four and grandfather of four. He is studying writing part time at St Albans Victoria University TAFE.

Topic tags: Barry Garner, disability, not working, pension, Bipolar Mood Disorder



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Existing comments

Well done young man. The professionals probably have a word for this kind of writing - confessional maybe, anyway something esoteric. But you write a clear, simple prose that gives delight to a fellow wannabe. I assure you that this is in no way meant to be patronising. Any more than reminding you that you are a young man and have plenty of time.
Frank | 09 June 2010

Your writing gave me goose bumps. Go well.
Andrea | 09 June 2010

We are what we are, although sometimes it would be lovely to be something - somebody else. I have been a Carer for over 20 years, although I wish sometimes; more often than not I had never become one. I am one essay off finishing my fourth university degree; a masters this time. Study keeps me sane.

I am now an aged Carer, I will never see 65 again, and I would love a job. I costs six times what a Carer is paid if the person they care for needs to be incarcerated in a nursing home. I wish I earned what I save the government and people of Australia.

Keep studying, who knows it may bring you the job you yearn for. Good luck.
GeoffB | 09 June 2010

Thank you for such an honest and lucid piece of writing. Hope to read more of your insights in the future.
Donald | 09 June 2010

Barry, keep telling your story. Outsiders do not understand the pain and the suffering of people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and similar illnesses. They are are people with acute feelings who want to enjoy the little things that other people can enjoy, but their illnesses almost invariably get in the way. Worse still that such illnesses may have symptoms that are not obvious to the uninformed. Hence, there are accusations, covert or overt, of bad behaviour, laziness or even of bludging on the community. I have seen good men, close to me, hurt by unfair criticism, ridicule and contempt at the same time as their suffering increased because they blamed themselves for their inability to use their talents. Please continue to tell your story in the hope that more people will eventually understand.
Sheelah Egan | 09 June 2010

You need to keep publishing this bloke!
Bruno Lettieri | 09 June 2010

Beautiful writing Barry. Your words remind me of a time I was working through a severe injury. I could not work either. Almost a decade. It was bloody tough. Lost my job and no income. I was helped along by a loving family.

One day I asked myself a simple question, ‘What am I?’ there came a response, ‘I am a human being, not a human doing.’ Yes mate, our deepest call is to be.
Keep up the writing. I loved the rhythm of your words.

Vic O'Callaghan | 09 June 2010

I support the above encouraging and deserved comments AND well done to your wife as well. With her positive and heartening approach you have it made - and being a good family person is such an asset to your family and to our society in the future.
Julia | 10 June 2010

It’s hard to describe the generosity in the act of working at your own pace and in your own way. This is especially so against the glare of hard (usually physical) work ethics. You do this well, Barry. Thank you.
Margaret McCarthy | 10 June 2010

Barry... your plight echos some of the pitiful situations I envisaged when working in the industry rationalisation area of government and have had similar experiences since.
There is an opportunity now for government to take a deeper study of the Henry review to alleviate some of the hardships experienced by those unable to enjoy a deeper experience in the work force. With all the rationalising over the last two decades there have been pitiful attempts at providing for those swept away by restructuring.Even Martin Fels now believes thatmicroreform has gone too far.I was unpopular many years ago for my view that should a micro sector not be serviced by local manufacture there would not necessarily be competition among importers to compete on price, as the way is left clear for the middlemen to profit. Australia is being short changed.
Stephen Coyle | 23 June 2010

Thank you Barry for the well written and easy to read insight into your world. It's brave of you to let others see what's on 'the inside' of you. I hope through your writings you find the answer to your question "who am I, without a job title to define me?". I think your determination and commitment to live your life and also the love and devotion you have for your family speaks volumes in regards to defining Barry Garner! Don't think a defining job title would do you justice! Best wishes with your studies
Sandra | 03 July 2010

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