My experience of living a WWG1WGA life

My experience of living a WWG1WGA life

I am not a saint. No, really, I’m definitely not. Even if one of my friends says I might be: “A saint is not someone who has never been lost in the dark woods, but rather is someone who has found their way out again”.

I myself have certainly been lost in life’s metaphorical scary forest at times, but that is not my focus here. The last three years have involved me making expeditions to rescue someone even more adrift in the thickets, and helping us both find our way out again. In doing so, I believe I have learned some important things about practically living the “where we go one, we go all” (WWG1WGA) ethos.

I have unrelentingly stood between this very frightened and unwell woman, and an abyss of homelessness, hunger and despair. That is despite me facing struggles of my own. I have spent about £10,000 (including liquidating some of my last assets and taking on debt), and raised a similar amount for her, if not more. It has been a team effort, with me as the ringleader.

There was a whole year when she had zero income from the state, and I kept her alive. Meanwhile, several of her friends facing similar struggles have perished in this time. She’s faced eviction, arrest, bailiffs, burglary, bereavement, abandonment, assault, a week-long coma, hunger, cold, malpractice, bureaucracy, and — most of all — a cruel and callous welfare system. This is designed to force people into low-wage jobs (no matter how unsuitable), else make them perish as “useless eaters”.

I first met her when she was begging late on a winter’s afternoon on dark and empty street in a genteel town here in England. To respect her privacy, I will merely state that she has faced violence, addiction, mental health breakdown, poverty, and then spinal damage. She is very isolated, and endures crippling social anxiety. Her only available relative is her alcoholic and aging mother, who is of limited support. Her closest friends are either dead or gone away.

It has been a hard journey, emotionally and financially. I am unashamed to tell you that there are many times when I wish I was not called to this quest. Nonetheless, my conscience has insisted that I continue to support her, even when it means some hardship or sacrifice for myself. Our starting points in life were no so very different, and where she met snakes in the game of life, I found ladders.

I cannot honestly say that I would have made better choices than her given the same life journey, nor would I be any less vulnerable and need of help. The welfare and support systems that most people presume exist or function either don’t or won’t. There’s a constant narrative I hear that explains why the speaker doesn’t need to take personal action or engage in genuine charity.

Firstly, there is the frequent presumption that she lacks motivation to help herself. She’s not a perfect human, by no stretch, but has a work ethos, and has held employed positions of responsibility in the past. Rather, she is crushed by endless setbacks that make a trans-polar expedition on foot seem like a holiday hike. It is not due to lack of character or moral fibre that she finds herself in this predicament. She is fundamentally a good person motivated to do contribute.

Next is the assumption that the state systems of welfare and healthcare operate as a functioning whole to support those who are in need. This is partly true, if you are either extremely sick or disabled, or are very healthy. But for my friend, whose impairments are mostly invisible psychological wounds from childhood abuse and adult assault, that is emphatically not the case. Those who have a duty of care have failed abysmally, especially the profit-driven outsourced mental health care provider.

The end result is that she is caught in a Kafkaesque tale. For example, she presently faces large rent arrears that have been sprung on her from a year ago, resulting in penalties and fines, and more crippling anxiety as she faces eviction yet again. She’s already had her microwave oven and TV taken from her to settle those debts, but that just makes her mental health even worse.

The system requires you to engage with government services online, but that presumes you have electricity, broadband and IT equipment. What if none of these are true? Then you get penalised for non-compliance, and down you cycle. At present she is facing welfare benefit suspension for not attending a job finding appointment when she was an inpatient in hospital. She’s followed the notification procedure, but it didn’t work. She doesn’t have the energy to appeal, as she’s facing basic living problems like mobility and continence.

Finally, and what is my real point in writing this, is the presumption that it’s someone else’s job to act. We all need to have boundaries, and there have been times when I have had to enforce my own to protect my sanity or preserve resources for my own family. I have no religious affiliations, but I observe that real Christians appear thin on the ground. The concern for poverty is abstracted, not enacted. I often wonder if we’d be better off without any government welfare system, as it provides an excuse to avoid personal charity.

The WWG1WGA ethos is a restatement of “there but for the grace…”. It doesn’t involve being a “soft touch” or having ones kindness and generosity abused. It does demand that we have the humility to accept that we too could find ourselves in exactly the same predicament. I have tried my best to embody this belief, even when it has had great cost to myself, and friends have urged me to withdraw my support.

I was very naïve when I began supporting her. The lessons of the last few years could easily fill a book. We’ve got an archive of thousands of text messages filled with tragedy, comedy and hope. My message to anyone reading this at this time of year is to consider your own priorities. If you truly believe in the WWG1WGA message, will you put your time and money into unnecessary gifts of unloved consumer goods, or into acts of charity and mercy to those lost in the woods?

You don’t have to be a saint to pick the latter. Although it probably helps. Apparently.