According to the Melbourne Institute’s Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey, the majority of Aussies are better off now than they were ten years ago. I am not one of those people.
I am in the process of applying for a disability pension. It is horrible enough filling in page after page of personal details for faceless bureaucracy. If I wasn't feeling small and losery and ashamed to begin with, this process would instill in me the levels of shame required for those who will claim support from the government. After all, you cannot make this process too easy or else everybody will be rushing from their cubicles onto the social security bandwagon.
As a further insult to my flaccid confidence levels, as part of my application I have to provide details of my sole trader economic status for the transcription work I've been doing from home for the past three years. Problem with that is that I haven't been keeping up with my tax payments. Money’s tight, especially when you have a chronic illness, and managing my money well has never been one of my strong suits. Which adds to my already flailing confidence because we are expected to juggle fiscal balls along with all the others imposed upon us by a system that serves those at the top far better than it suits me at the bottom. If we don't perform well in the areas that have been assigned to us as recognised markers of adultness – like being able to earn dosh – then we are failures, even if we happen to write some pretty good poetry, even if we say so ourselves.
This system pits its slaves one against the other, so that rather than feel sympathy for someone who’s struggling some may well be inclined to look down on me for being a financial mismanager. It may be an occasion for them to pat themselves on the back, glad that they are not me. It will also serve the purpose of getting them to focus on me, instead of the system we live under. It serves its purpose well, (although there are signs of it crumpling round the edges as more and more of us question why the way we live is so completely alienating to us, the tellers of our own stories).
Some may be inclined to be glad they’re not me because of my chronic illness/pension-claiming/tax-dodging status. Hell, I would. Being me is not something you aspire to. Unemployable (apparently, if job applications are anything to go by), I have been out on the edge of financial vulnerability for years. I am the type of person who perpetuates that starving artist in the garret scenario by stupidly choosing as their passion writing, which does not pay well, if at all, and which is notoriously difficult to break into, requiring a hide of steel that was not made available to my genetic subset. But then again, we do not seem to choose our passions; they choose us.
I am the type of person who feels sorry for themselves, who complains on my blog about my situation instead of sucking it up and getting on with it. But that's the problem with chronic illness – you can't always suck it up because you're ... well, you're not well. I am the type of person who you cannot begin to understand because my illness is invisible and it's chronic and you can look at me and say, "But you look so well!" while I feel sick, and poisoned, and toxic and unhealthy. I'm the type of person who is in bed for part of the day and then suddenly cleaning the bathroom at 10pm because I'm feeling up to it and feeling good and I want to contribute, and be useful, not a liability.
But I am the kind of person who has got myself into a bind so that before I can impose my small and defeated self upon the Department of Human Services I first have to fill in three tax returns and lodge them before I make a claim to the ATO to tell them that yes, paying this tax would mean that I would be not buying food or paying rent or paying for medications for myself. Yes, it surely would, and would they mind it if I didn't pay it at all, or else if I paid it in lump sum installments? And some most likely faceless person working in the cogs of those machinations will decide my future. And whichever way it pans out, I will feel shit. And some will judge me for not contributing.
Because there’s nothing we’re scared of more than someone else getting away with something we can’t.
But if it makes you feel better, whatever the ATO decides I will feel like I want to curl up into a small ball in the corner, a ball so small that I will complete some amazing magic trick of scientific law-defying and disappear into my very own black hole of economic unviability.