This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
I'm in my disability employment services listening to a career officer have an earnest conversation with a fellow jobless-type about "the Muslims" trying to "ban Christmas." It's a conversation I've heard before in a Sean Hannity fever dream.
This is the person in charge of helping me find work.
I find myself between jobs frequently. At best, my employment history would be described as "patchy." Bipolar, depression, anxiety—these don't seem to be conducive to employability, outside of SERCO prison officer or Immigration Minister.
Coupled with hypomania, my propensity to shit-stir often goes uninhibited: my brain lacks the filters that will stop me from telling my boss things like that his wife reminds me of those stories you hear of "midget gladiators being torn to pieces by lions in Columbia." Or that our main client has the "chewed nose and politics of a young Joh Bjelke Petersen."
It might not come as a surprise that I've been fired a bit. A lot. And I've quit a lot too. Or really, I've "left" a lot. Looking back on the big hits, a clear pattern emerges:
The Lemonade Stand
I grew up in Menzies' Australia—the golden 1950s—by which I mean I grew up in Howard's Australia—the mid- to late 90s. Sorry, the two are indiscernible to me.
Hoping to make a quick buck, either for buying zoopa doopas or tucking away in our superannuation accounts, a couple of mates and I tried our hand selling lemonade. Our first venture into the business world was going great until my friend Ed went to get more supplies. Left alone, I intentionally poured sugar all over our sales table and traced "FUCK COKE" in it. To my nine-year-old brain this was my contribution to the cola wars. I guess I wasn't a natural capitalist.
Anyway, my mates asked me to leave.
Do you know who the saddest men in the world are? Dads who get banned from Saturday sport for sledging the other under-11s soccer team run a close second. But it's actually men who are in their mid- to late 30s, working behind the counter at record stores.
I know this because I was the only kid working alongside these guys. They did absolutely no work. They'd just lurk there, using their piddly amounts of cultural capital to hit on 16-year-old girls, getting aggressive with 14-year-old shop boys who don't have a worthy collection of bootleg Triffids cassette tapes.
One day, I mistakenly told my "boss" that his band sounded like the John Butler Trio if their audience was emotionally stunted men in their 50s—as opposed to their 40s—and if John Butler couldn't play guitar.
Anyway, he asked me to leave.
Water Cooler Salesman
I was 21 when I took a ridiculous job as a water cooler "salesman." I saw the ad on Gumtree, and called up the number on the listing. A German guy answered, and almost immediately let me in on his scheme: I'd be signing up businesses to get this water filtration leasing system installed. In the long run, it would cost them five or so times more than buying a water filter outright. What could go wrong?
I spent one record-breakingly hot 43 degree day walking around Perth's industrial district of Kelmscott asking people to sign up to this scam. Quite rightly, I was alternately told to "get fucked," "fuck off," and "take that bullshit elsewhere." The only people I signed up were the Scientologists, and let's face it, you could sell those guys asbestos macaroons.
Midway through my shift, the sun beating down, I took my shirt and pants off, and laid down under a droopy gumtree. Gazing up at the venous branches, I had a good long think re: "What the fuck has happened to me that I am here?" Never underestimate the existential foresight that crippling depression offers.
Anyway, I walked into a pub, got loaded, and never answered that mad German's calls again.
Freelancing is kind of bullshit. You churn out content that contributes to the dilution of societies hive mind, you talk to crummy bands about their crummy EPs, and you don't get paid very much. When a voice in your head is constantly saying "kill yourself" it's hard to churn out another 350 words on the latest psy-rock circle jerk to pop out of Christchurch Grammar.
I was on job trial at a magazine when the owner dug up a photo of me wearing a black strap on and hanging a toy baby (long story). He made an odometer w his hand and said "You are here" (roughly 180kmh) and "We want you here" (approx. 30kmh).
Anyway, he asked me to leave.
Oh boy. This was the one time my boss was definitely madder than me. I could fill a book. I remember sitting shotgun while he sped along, blasting the unmastered soundtrack of the high school musical he produced, literally called Cruisin' the Musical. My boss was bragging to me about how he'd opened for the Rolling Stones when they visited Australia in 1961.
In the next moment, he was pretending to be on the phone with tennis icon Pat Rafter. For lunch, he bought me two double scoop ice creams. I remember trying to eat them fast enough as they melted down my hands at Mandurah fishing boat harbour.
At "meetings" he scribble notes on coffee cups and napkins. I spent hours trying to decipher what looked like a tin-foiled hat attempt at cracking the Kennedy assassination. Our "product" is a grammar video game, designed by a Ukrainian—with a Ukrainian's grasp on English.
One day my boss called me and asked "Where are you?" I replied "I am in America and will be for three months… Uh… Bye?"
These are just a few cherry picked examples. I've played them for laughs because, hell, I don't want to lose this job too (haha, just kidding but seriously). Mental illness—be it mania, invasive thoughts, anhedonia, high anxiety, PTSD etc—makes steady employment about as reliable as steady mental health: it's no sure thing. The reality is that keeping a job is hard when just getting out of bed is a major achievement.
I'm one of the lucky ones though. The work for the dole system is brutal enough when you are "sane." Couple it with mental illness and its something else. As a severe depressive, my mandatory 12 job applications per fortnight and the subsequent 12 rejections take a severe toll on me. The subtext laden dialogue of the disability support workers takes a toll. Watching people who are way worse off than me health-wise also get churned out by this process takes a toll. I can play it for laughs because I have a family that supports me. Few are so lucky.
Our society already heaps a lot of guilt and shame onto the mentally ill. Couple that with the guilt and shame of being young, unemployed, and seemingly "able," and you've got something messier than two double scooped icecreams at an outdoors work brunch. Like Cruisin' the Musical, you've got a disaster.
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