Name: Amethyst DeWilde
Turning point: Leaving my job in a toxic workplace and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder
After housing costs has to live on: $331.20 a week
My name is Amethyst and I have been on the disability support pension since 2004, a fact for which I am intensely grateful by the way. My bipolar and other various conditions have trammelled my life and energy in ways that hitherto were unmanageable. For the longest time I was undiagnosed and unmedicated, perhaps because Australian culture loves a party girl – and believe me, my manic episodes were full of party!
The subsequent depressive dips, however, were as vile and enervating as the mania was invigorating and fun. Not a pleasant way to live. All in all, the illness is one I would not wish on my worst enemy … not even Trump! Oh hang on, hmm, let me think about that … No, not even him.
So here I am at the age of 51. I have begun so many degrees that I could get a PhD in first year (I’m just short a couple of credits). Every attempt at bettering my life has been stymied by the Leviathan within. I go, I succeed, and exceed expectations and then WHAM! my stupid bloody illness raises its repulsive head and I am reduced to a sepia-toned life once more. It sucks, but it is what it is and I am used to it now.
Despite all this I am lucky. I know this. I have family and friends who love me and laugh at my jokes (the poor things) and I am also extremely fortunate to be able to live in assisted housing in which my rent is capped at 25% of my income.
I understand that most of those who read this article would not be privy to the trials and tribulations of life on a meagre income, but it’s difficult to make ends meet or, in my case, not meet so much as turn towards each other and stretch hopefully towards a vague middle point.
There is so much about being poor that you never admit to anyone due to its embarrassing nature. You hope that others have open hearts and don’t judge too harshly, but the daily realities for poor people show otherwise.
Once I have been paid, I have money for that day and perhaps the next if I am lucky. After rent, electricity, phone, gas, internet, registration for the car and petrol for college there is no discretionary income at all. Notice that I haven’t included food. That is because I buy that last with whatever is left over.
I regularly go from one fortnight to the next with not a cent in my pocket. I’m used to that now.
I have picked mould off food and eaten it anyway. People are kind enough to give me food for my two chooks (Freya and Houdini-Boo) which I then pick over to see if there is anything edible for me.
I no longer have any pride. That is a luxury I cannot afford.
I am quite used to returning things at the checkout because I cannot afford them and have miscalculated the cost of the shopping.
My idea of retail therapy is grocery shopping at Coles.
My idea of a treat is a second-hand book from Savers.
I have schlepped a hard rubbish mattress home on the top of my car because it looked better than the one I was sleeping on. I have become inured to judgmental stares as I pick over rubbish in the street to ascertain whether there is anything salvageable that I could use.
I have swept up instant coffee from the floor and sifted the broken glass from it to ensure I have coffee for the following fortnight.
I have in the past turned off my fridge to save on electricity because I had no food to refrigerate.
I have missed days at college because I had no petrol and no money to buy a bus ticket.
I rarely visit people because I cannot reciprocate their hospitality.
The last time I bought a new T-shirt was more than three years ago. It cost $6 and it was pricey, but it was my birthday.
People who knew me when I was working in the public service, before my illness took over my life, would be shocked by this. Back then I could be classified as a fashionista. I wore $400 suits, Levante stockings and all my underwear – nay lingerie – matched. Now my clothes are given to me by friends with incomes, those of us lucky enough to be well enough to work. No, they don’t fit and they are definitely not my taste, but who can afford to look a gift horse in the mouth these days?
Recently my internet bill, car rego, licence fee and phone were all due in the same week I had to take my dog to the vet. Needless to say I chose the vet because my dog means everything to me. Mojo is fine now (thanks for asking) but the vet bill meant that for the next 13 days I did not leave my house except to walk him.
I spoke to nobody because I had no credit to ring anyone. I visited no one because I could not drive my unregistered car. I had no contact with anybody because I had no internet. I didn’t watch TV because I don’t have one. I didn’t read because I can’t afford reading glasses and the $10 cheap-as-chips variety don’t work for me. I spent those 13 days in bed counting the days down until my next pay.
Needless to say the social isolation brought on a depressive episode which resulted in suicidal ideation. If I didn’t have Mojo to care for I wouldn’t be here today and this story would never have been written.
I don’t tell my parents this because I don’t want to worry them. They are pensioners themselves and can’t afford to bail me out.
But what if this were your daughter’s story? How would you feel?
This is me. This is my story.
If you need to seek help, in Australia call Lifeline on 131114 or go online here, in the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email email@example.com, in the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org