Please note that this post isn't meant to be a dig at any of the individual people I've had this conversation with, it's a comment on the social situation when everybody feels the conversation is appropriate. So if you know me IRL and have had this conversation with me: I'm not being mean about you personally; I promise.
I've had a bit of a weird weekend. Quite impressively my health held up for 3 consecutive days; usually a sure fire way to guarantee to be ill on any particular day is to make plans to do something. I've had a lovely time, I've hung out with old friends, met some excellent new people, and consumed more cream cakes than I can count.
The weird bit about the weekend was the number of people that called me "intelligent". It's a little bit weird because I'm really not that smart. I think I just talk a lot and with that many words coming out some of them are bound to be a bit clever; and people remember the smart stuff and not "I just spilt orange juice down my own back." (A tip for the hypermobiles: Just because you're flexible enough to pick up the glass of orange juice on the shelf behind you without turning round to look at it doesn't mean it's a good idea.)
The other weird thing about being repeatedly called "intelligent" this weekend is that in daily life I constantly have it implied that I'm not at all. I'm not talking about that common stereotype that people with physical impairments must also have a cognitive impairment, I'm talking about something much more specific than that: I'm talking about the people that keep suggesting ideas for how I might be able to manage to work, as if I'm so stupid that I haven't thought through even the most glaringly obvious of options.
As I've mentioned before, I used to be a stand-up comic. Three and a half years ago - figuring my health problems were only temporary and that shortly down the line there'd be some treatment for me - I made the decision to quit before I pissed off every promoter in the country. On average I'm too ill to function around 2 days every fortnight, which would result in me having to cancel a hell of a lot of gigs at the last minute. It doesn't matter if you have a legitimate medical reason for dropping out; if you put a promoter in a tight spot by leaving them with a gap in their bill they're going to deem you "unreliable" and never book you again. And they'll probably bad mouth you to every promoter they meet.
So figuring my health was just a temporary glitch I made the decision to quit before I alienated all promoters, with the hopes that when I got better I'd be able to return and have people willing to book me. Except I haven't got better so if I were to return now I'd very swiftly find myself unbookable.
But people seem to think I'm an idiot who hasn't thought about (and doesn't think daily about) this and they come out with lines like "but surely you could just book a few gigs here and there?" (I refer you to my statement in my opening paragraph about how making plans is basically an illness guarantor.)
I also get people who seem to think that quitting stand up was a crisis of confidence, or at least that's what I derive from the statement "you should go back to it! You're really funny!"
The next question again assumes I'm stupid; the next question is always, always, "well why don't you write?"
"Because editors expect you to be able to meet deadlines..."
"Oh, yeah. I hadn't thought of that."
So do these people really, honestly, think that I'm smart enough to write but too stupid for the idea of writing for a living to have occurred to me? Or is there something else going on? I think it's the latter.
The current government and media campaign to demonise those claiming benefits seems to have turned everyone into an amateur Atos assessor. The "they're all fakers" propaganda is so pervasive that even people who'd like to think of themselves as left of centre (and, you know, not a cunt) feel qualified to make judgements on a person's fitness to manage to work because they're constantly being told that everyone can manage some kind of work if they really try.
These are people who (I hope!) don't deliberately and consciously think "Lisa's not really ill, she's just lazy," but because of the daily news stories and government briefings about how we're all skivers find themselves thinking it subconsciously. And this rhetoric is so dominant that a couple of months ago I was having a conversation with one of the most leftie and politically aware people in the country who said "now, Incapacity Benefit. That's the one with the huge fraud problem, right?" Despite the fact that the official fraud rate for IB is around 1% (see page 8 of this DWP report). That's just how ubiquitous the bullshit is.
Having to deal with actual Atos assessors is stressful and worrying enough without our friends and acquaintances thinking that they have the right to judge our fitness for work and make assessments about the kind of work we could be doing. Just because you read in the Daily Mail that we're all fakers doesn't mean it's true...