Wednesday, July 23, 2008

23rd July
Yesterday was a strange day.

The day began by my going to the occupational health doctor for an assessment of my fitness to return to work.

What I had realised the night before was that my thinking about this before - "I'm basically OK just so long as I can get away from working at that awful place" - was actually based on self-deception.

In the sense that even if by some miracle I got offered an equivalent job at another instititution I would not be able to hold it down.

I found this very distressing. As if it made me some kind of failure.

And when after running through the catalogue of real disasters that have befallen me since my breakdown in 2003 the doctor asked me, straightforwardly, not unkindly, what the obstacle was that prevented me going back to work, I burst into tears.

Because, when it comes right down to it, I couldn't bear the strain of it.

If I remember right, my dad used to make jokes about people who said things like that - "It's my nerves, doctor" - and assume that the problem with them (with us) was that we were just workshy.

And I remembered how when I had my breakdown, a kind of feminine complaint, in a sense, that involved having to admit to incapacity and weakness, i felt very ashamed and guilty at "letting my colleagues down".

But when a few years later I was off work because I needed heart surgery - a most respectably male complaint that could be measured and monitored on all kinds of high tec equipment and could be solved in a high tec manner too - I didn't feel the slightest shame.

And now perhaps the fact that I can back up my incapacity through "emotional weakness" (to paraphrase my dad) with concrete evidence of physical symptoms such as high blood pressure and palpitations weirdly strengthens my position.

For we do live in a world that utterly devalues the simple fact of emotional misery.

And I think there was another dimension to it also.

For yesterday, seeing that very straightforwardly male doctor, and me dressed in long skirt, strappy top and light cardigan, I found myself utterly unabashed and unafraid of him. As I knew i would have been had I still been presenting as male.

Not ashamed to cry in front of him, either.

And felt at the end of the interview that he was actually, beneath that male demeanour, a very understanding man and that we had got on well.

But even though he recognised I could not return to my job; nor would be able to hold down an equivalent job at another institution; he still thought it highly unlikely that my pension fund would accede to my request for early retirement on health grounds; or release to me my pension (which I have, after all, paid for out of my earnings).

Their policy, as he put it, is "robust".

Because granting my request would entail them in extra expenditure, they employ a panel of doctors to refuse all requests, except the most glaring emergencies.

By their logic, I should return to work until the demands of work wreck my health completely and reduce me to a state of more complete incapacity.

Which is just another example how we all accept living in a society where the demands of money override every consideration of humanity and common sense.

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