Responding to a Facebook status update in which I asked for advice on a tenancy snafu I am currently experiencing, a friend asked if there was was a compelling reason why I am not planning a return to the US. (She probably asked this in consideration of the sum of my personal upheavals this year). Many others have also posed this question, and it is a concept I have struggled with, particularly over the past six months.
There are, indeed, compelling reasons for me to remain in Australia, at least for the time being. Some are complex, inherently personal and difficult to describe. Others are simple and direct. I'll start with the latter, and if after I have explained those, I feel I haven't grown weary or simply want to end the writing of this blog post, I will try to give some insight into the more complicated reasons.
In my current situation, Australia provides a safety net that the US does not. I am eligible for financial assistance through a social welfare system that is far from perfect, but provides for its citizenry and permanent residents (C/PR) in an admirable way. (My Aussie friends may scoff at that, but I ask them to take my word for it.) Like many going through incredibly tough emotional, physical and financial turmoil, it was tough for me to admit the need for welfare assistance and make that first appointment to seek it, but when I did, I was treated with compassion and without judgment by all involved.
Setting aside (with difficulty) the fact that a great number of asylum seekers, including children and physically/mentally disabled people, are wasting their existence behind razor wire in off-shore detention camps, I mean, "processing facilities", the Australian government looks after C/PRs in ways that include mental and physical health, and by providing financial help. Yes, my US friends, that's right. For those who meet the criteria and survive requisite waiting periods, money is deposited directly by the government into one's bank account (or a check is mailed) on a fortnightly basis.
In my case, it's called a "Newstart" allowance. Even the nomenclature makes me feel better, but then I worked as a lexicographer for over a decade. Words mean a lot. Plus, I can save the phrase "on the dole" for conversations among those who know where I'm coming from, and for joke mileage among those who don't. It's the funny thing about epithets: they are treasured hypocorisms among those who own them, but the crudest insolence when used by those with the gall to co-opt them.
The financial benefit provided by Newstart (and a smidgeon of separately calculated rental assistance) isn't all that much, but it is, I think, 100% more than I would get in the USA. Centrelink, the Australian government agency responsible for welfare assistance, has its detractors (and its abusers, as does any welfare system), but it helped me enormously after, 1) my split as a de facto partner with my ex, and, 2) my lay-off from the abovementioned lexicographer job. And now, after being bullied six weeks ago to the point of resignation from a job I loved, it will help me again. I am grateful it is there. [Sidebar: it is my aim to pay things forward through volunteer service in some capacity. One could argue that I have "earned" assistance in a number of ways, but I feel it is time for me to return some of the good that has managed to rise to the frothy surface of muck in which I have swum since leaving the Northern Hemisphere in July of 2005.]
The second, most directly compelling reason for me to stay in Australia is that I have access to free or low-cost healthcare. I have been fortunate in life, in that I have had good health. I am a firm believer in preventive medicine, and my healthcare coverage here provides that. It will also help me if the touching of (and knocking on) wood that I just did upon typing this paragraph's second sentence proves an ineffective superstition, and I am stricken with a broken tooth, bone fracture, another kidney stone (please NO!) or something far worse. [Another sidebar: my fellow US citizens who may be reading this, I implore you NOT to underestimate the importance of access to free or affordable healthcare.]
As for the more complex reasons for staying in Australia, I think I'll leave that explanation for later. First, I'll need to look at the aspects of shame, defeat, obstinance, parenting, depression and other topics that I will no doubt begin to explore when I resume therapy over the next couple of weeks.
My path forward is shrouded in a thick haze that over the past few weeks has seemed to clot my lungs with suffocating fear and sadness. I am still scared. I remain profoundly sad. But, at this point, tiny beams of optimism are finally piercing that shroud. However long I end up staying in Australia, I am thankful for those beams. Yes, many of them come from friends, but some of them come from a system that is helping me edge my way forward. Honestly, aside from my wonderful and much-loved friends in the US, I think the system would fail me. And I cannot bring myself even to imagine what that might bring. Let's hope for the better there. Or pray, if that's what you do. Please. I don't mean to sound maudlin, but there are people in worse shape than I am.