by Dark Angel
trigger warning for self mutilation, psychological violence
The heat wave hit me as I stepped out of the air-conditioned unemployment offices. I felt numb. I wanted to cut myself for the first time in ten years. I’d been doing well for most of that time – there were friends and lovers, I made art and I had fun. It wasn’t perfect but it was a good life.
I work every month. Managing work, self care and mental health, and a social life is a difficult mix at the best of times, but somehow it (mostly) worked. Managing mental health sure is wild in a world where fascists are taking power and human-made climate change is burning the earth. But I try.
Usually the unemployment office leaves me alone, since I work enough. The past months, I was feeling a bit off and there weren’t many new jobs. Still, a few jobs every month made sure I could eat and pay rent. The lack of new jobs made some alarm go off in some computer program somewhere, and triggered disciplinary action. So there I was, in that office again. Always the same chair, always the same feeling of dread.
The unemployment office is housed in an enormous gray tower that dominates the landscape and exudes corporate power. The tower makes you feel exactly like the churches of old were supposed to: insignificant, a tiny speck to be wiped out if it resists. It’s filled to the brim with bureaucrats. I can’t ever not feel sad or angry when I look there, because I know the pain, the terror, the destruction of lives that this machine causes.
For some reason, this was the time the masks fell off. They were done pretending to be helping me, it was thumbscrew time. Even worse, they did pretend I had an actual choice. I could choose to be set on fire or to drown! Your own choice, don’t you feel empowered now… I broke down halfway through the conversation and started crying. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do everything they asked of me, and I felt terror. The man behind the desk – who definitely sees himself as one of the good ones – asked why I was crying, as he was typing up a list of demands for me to meet every week.
It felt like an existential threat – because it is. I’m supposed to jump through these hoops, exactly, or they will punish me and I will lose part of my income. Which means I can’t pay rent / food / clothes. Which means they threaten my life. Neoliberalism was never really about human rights.
The purpose of an unemployment office is not to help you, the purpose is to discipline and control. Every time, every time I go there, I feel worthless and helpless. That’s how they want to make me feel, to break my resistance to the machine. It works, that’s the worst part, I felt the towers in my mind collapsing as I left. I will be going to therapy again. Which is ok in itself, we should get rid of the stigma. Getting help is a good thing. But extreme pressure from bureaucratic machines that trigger health problems is not.
I’ve reached out and I am getting help. But these inhuman machines should be abolished, there is no place for them in a just society.