When I became unable to work, I felt guilty and ashamed. There were those who found it expedient to encourage those feelings but they weren’t my neighbours. I live in an area mixed with private and housing association homes. Before and after surgery I spent a lot of time walking around the area, trying to keep moving and get stronger. My neighbours were unfailingly kind and supportive. They offered practical help and were my cheerleaders. They kept me going and made me feel less of a failure for my inability to work. I lost count of the jokey words of support I had from total strangers as I hobbled along (metacarpel jokes were the order of the day, thanks to Wayne Rooney).
I also had a lot of support from elderly people at my local pool. They dubbed me “mermaid” because my swimming was strong and elegant (albeit very painful!), even though I could barely walk on dry land.
Along the way, I also met other people with similar disabilities and one thing I discovered was that, for all the support I had from able bodied people (or people with different disabilities), it was important both to me and to them to have someone to talk to every now and then who understood all of the challenges, including failings in the healthcare and benefits sytems.
Local shopkeepers were friendly and concerned and one shop even offered to deliver bits and pieces to me (I refused because it was necessary for my health to keep walking the quarter of a mile to his shop). Outside my direct neighbourhood, I encountered more kindness. In the supermarket, staff were helpful when I let them be (I’m pretty stubborn about wanting to do things myself, even when it’s obvious I shouldn’t).
You could argue that I had it easier than some. I’m blatently middle class and it’s true that people might react differently to me than, say, a couple of the men I know locally with similar disabilities. One elderly man I met one day said “It seems so unfair that someone so young, slim and pretty should have a problem like yours.” He meant well and I thanked him but it did make me wonder whether he would have felt the same sympathy for some other people I know.
Six months after surgery, I decided that enough was enough. I wanted to buy my Christmas cards myself and damn the distance I would have to walk (a half mile each way) to do it. I made it. I bought two packs of cards but, by then, I was wiped out. I felt like the packs of cards were a full bucket of water in my hand and felt tears of frustration at my own infirmity well up. Two men, both complete strangers, each separately attempted to help me. One even offered to go up to the train station to get a taxi for me. They didn’t know me. They just wanted to help a fellow human being. So many people do.
Any unpleasant incidents which occurred were always thoughtless bullying connected with the disability itself, not whether I was working. I never heard a word about that.
All of the kindness I experienced mattered to me. It really did. I felt less alone. I don’t know what George Osbone and his ilk experience in their daily lives, but I certainly don’t recognise their picture of resentment driven griping from mine. Not everyone will have the same experience as me. I know that but I hope that more recognise my story than his. If you would have treated me the way everyone else did, I’d appreciate it if you would read and sign the WOW Petition calling for a full impact assessment on proposed changes to benefits for sick and disabled people.