14 September 202114 October 2021 Mental health Churning Hannah Appleby I’ve been churned, perhaps you’ve been churned, too. Maybe in the future someone you care dearly for will be churned. Churning is a tactic employed by employment services and employers, specifically in the disability sector, to extract the most amount of energy and time from an employee before they burn out and return either to hospital, unemployment, or both. On a strategic level, churning keeps the working class subdued, tired, hungry, doubting, sick. It is an adage that the world is sick and not the people who inhabit it. We have known this for ages, and when I mean ages, I say all the way back to the start of industrial society. But let’s keep it simple: I’ve been churned, you’ve been churned, your children, mother, or your friends have been churned. What can we do about it? I really don’t know. One answer is to resist. What would a blueprint for resistance look like? How can we mitigate churning? How can I make sure I am not churned again? Right now, in hospital, I am asking myself that question every day. We want to know if we will get on the Disability Support Pension. We want to know if NDIS will cover us and the supports we require. I want to know if the social safety net recognizes psychiatric conditions as a disability. Let’s leave it at that for now – and forgive me for ignoring the intersections we all know implicitly count in this situation. Yet, how disabled must we be for the state to look after you and me? Is it necessary that we sleep all day, feel so depressed we are unable to move, forever oscillate between high and low, lose touch with reality in waves and crests, go against some frame or sense of consensus we all are not quite sure exists – do we really have to hurt ourselves? Can I beg now? Can I ask you? Please. Please can we be recognised and seen? Please can we tell our stories? And please can we please recognise the world in the illness, and the illness in the world? I’m asking and I’m begging. But still perhaps it’s not enough. I’ll tell you what. Every day I see people – veterans, shaken mothers, frontline workers, dog men and street cats, all trying to make it through the day and make some paper, too. Ultimately, we simply try to make it through. Through life, through damaging relationships, through violence and abuse. I see them trying. To stay out of danger, to hide in the security of their rooms, beneath cameras, motion sensors, heat sensors, fire alarms, algorithms, and routines all aimed to coerce, control, and lead to wellness, people who might never find the horizon, the light on the hill, the peace beneath the mind. Perhaps we are all just looking at the void. How cliché, I know, sorry, but this is too serious not to think about. It is life or death. Or perhaps in truth, death in life already. Could it be too late? And could the final answer, to some unasked question be this: health is dead, and we have killed it. But no, I don’t believe it. I have hope, a weak, meek, and sad hope, a hope that there is some revelation, some end point where we, each of us, get taken care of. Perhaps I am naïve, but hope is all we have left. I’ll tell you this. To speak beneath the weight of something as heavy as this, forces one to ask questions. Endless amounts of questions. And still, there are no sure-fire answers, only remedies and half-truths. Medications and ameliorations. I’ll tell you this: to speak beneath a crushing, pounding weight, is to say ‘HELP we are losing our breath!’ We hyperventilate, we panic, we smoke, we vape, we chew, we feel our bodies losing. We pray for some hidden absolution, without too much melodrama, without even clasping our hands. And sometimes, yes, our prayers do get answered. We get medication, specialist appointments, respite, and a little dose of freedom, staring at the sky. But most of the time, we wait. We become experts at waiting. Waiting for the next point in the cycle. The next time we are thrown back into the meat grinder, to be burned and churned, to try not to make the same mistakes. This is all very sad, all very negative, all very skeptical and critical. But right now, before we have the findings of the current Royal Commission, this is going to keep happening. And this is going to keep happening until policy is enacted that makes change, that provide the public with adequate supports. But maybe, in truth, this is always going to happen. And we must do our best to think it through and try and make decisions. Maybe the only decisions we can make given what we have at hand. Image: by Danist Soh Hannah Appleby Hannah Appleby is a neurodivergent queer archivist living on Wadjuk land. More by Hannah Appleby Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. Related articles & Essays 2 First published in Overland Issue 228 14 October 202119 November 2021 Mental health Reclaiming personhood against the rise of mental health discourse Daniel Zola Contrary to neoliberal institutions that seek to liberate individuals from their pathologies only to the point where they can participate in the realm of economic necessity, the left must offer a vision of freedom that treats our needs and vulnerabilities as challenges to be collectively grappled with. 2 First published in Overland Issue 228 9 September 20217 October 2021 Mental health The harder questions we should be asking on R U OK? Day Amber Gwynne Even in its sensible bid to ask, listen and encourage action, R U OK? Day obscures a more complex and uncomfortable reality: that appropriate professional support is not always readily available, and that many individuals most at risk of depression, self-harm and suicide are those whose repeated efforts to take action have already been frustrated by demoralising interactions with the healthcare system.