Work does not save us

Today is not going to plan. Pain and other issues in the night kept me from sleeping, and it’s not the first time in recent days this has happened. Normally I’m working by about 7 in the morning. Today I took the decision to start later in the hopes my body would cope better. It’s not a choice everyone has the luxury of being able to make.

This leaves me wondering what life would look like if health and wellbeing were social priorities rather than work and profit. Wealth without the health to enjoy it isn’t a great deal of joy. But then, the people with the wealth tend to be healthier, the people without as much money tend to have poorer physical health. The stress of poverty causes mental illness.

Working when ill isn’t very efficient. I’ve noticed that in the last year, where I’ve been taking more time off and resting more. I work faster. I get far more done in far less time. The idea of work as an inherent good is not upheld by exploring what happens when I work less. If we’re measuring quality or quantity of output, less time working equates to more and better work done.

Yet we treat more work as the answer to all social problems. We treat it as the answer to poverty, even though the single biggest issue is rent costs and unaffordable mortgages. In the States, the crippling cost is health care, often. Most of us can’t hope to earn our way out of those traps no matter how long or how hard we work. Here in the UK our government seems to have decided that work is also the answer to disability and chronic ill health. Make people work and they will magically get over it. I’m not sure which planet they come from, but I do wish they’d go back there.

We all need the space, time and resources to be kinder to ourselves and kinder to each other. Relentless work doing nothing of much use, just burning up finite resources, is something we need to get rid of. Making things that benefit no one, half of which go rapidly towards landfill, is not an answer. A marketing culture of disposable everything where you throw it away to get the newest one is eco-suicide, and it’s also make-work. There have to be better ways.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

10 responses to “Work does not save us

  • Viviane

    I really agree with your post. My work has been less than understanding about my surgery this year and the chronic illness I was now diagnosed with and its impact. The sheer stress had made things so much worse and in the end I took a deep breath and I handed in my notice.
    I used to come in staggering from pain, tight smile on the face. What a thing to do…I need to break that habit amongst others.

    I am not rich and this is not an easy choice. I really hope things get better going forward on my end and I hope you feel much better again soon.

    • Nimue Brown

      The odds are I’ll be out of this in a day or two, at least for now. it’s crazy that anyone should be put in the kind of situation you’ve experienced. Crazy, and incredibly cruel, and also stupid because overall making people stressed sick costs a country, it doesn’t save any real money by any measure… radical change is required.

  • Michael Peterson

    I like what you said, good thoughts. Answer, a more equitable distribution of wealth, socialized medicine? I think more compassion on this Earth and for this Earth.

  • Jade Hall

    Say it again ‘the stress of poverty causes mental illness’.

    The mental health services in the uk are stretched to breaking point. Unpaid carers stepping in to plug the gaps in the system are getting physically and mentally ill themselves as a result of hardship and unrewarded, unrecognized, labour without the benefit of breaks and holidays or training and so placing yet more stress on the system.

    The emotional and unpaid support work people do in their families and communities is seen as unskilled and unimportant yet props up the economy from the ground, keeping people alive, allowing other family members to work etc. This often falls most heavily on the poor, femme, disabled, elderly and otherwise marginalized sections of society who are locked out of education or ‘important’ roles due to status and poverty and other barriers. The returns are not equal in terms of finance, recognition or support.

    Those who are ill and socially isolated and not propped up by the unofficial care and labour economy happening under the financial economy are first to vanish from the statistics.

    The dead and missing are not able to vote, speak or be recorded as waiting for medical or social care, unemployed, living in poverty etc. Suicides are often not recorded as such. Or known about.

    The homeless tend to fall outside of the statistics as a group of ‘others’ with little acknowledgement of how they got there or where they came from.

    The picture for the most vulnerable is the bleakest under the production first, work as a solution culture you describe and often missing from the full picture.

    As someone who was previously working full time now disabled unemployed, mostly due to lack of flexible working options, ie, work from an office full time, be able to work every working day with only the average time sick as applies to a healthy non disabled person or don’t work at all- the nonsense of the work-first culture is very clear and the impact on individuals devastating. Thanks for your post.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    We work so hard, for so long to earn a living, and we still have not near enough money,nor near enough time to actually live. Sort of counter productive if you ask me.

  • Robin

    Even I who have never had work in the conventional sense am effected by this deadly tyranny of work until you fall into the coffin culture, this all seems to be implicit with how we live in this system that is just burning itself out and devouring resources (including us) with no thought for the future, i’d describe our world at the moment as locked into an addiction that is ravaging its health critically because we have pushed the Earth and ourselves to the limits of what we can give and the blind machine still wants more and more….even now when it is clear this is it, there is no more! Stop!

  • Jen - Liminal Luminous

    yes! chronic illness is my wisest teacher on this. I’ve found it best to not force myself to work on bad days, because I’m not being productive, I’m highly stressed and making myself worse.

    Deciding to rest or doing something nourishing means that I can work better on a different day.

    I have built my life to be able to do this and it is really important to me. If I forget and book in too many meetings which I have to attend then things go downhill quite rapidly

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