Last week I got the letter that I’d been dreading for a long time. I knew it was coming but it was a case of waiting until it arrived. At first I was able to put the knowledge to one side and not feel any stress about receiving it but lately it has been playing on my mind more than a little. When the letter box rattled and I saw the brown envelope that was on the mat I knew that it was the letter containing the words “We need to assess you for Employment and Support Allowance.” My immediate reaction was to cry and feel a sense of dread that the process had begun.
I haven’t worked for a long time. The bipolar disorder that first took it’s grip of me when I was 14 years old finally overwhelmed me just after I moved into my current home. When I was able to work I loved it. With work mates I could form shallow relationships to supplement the small group of close friends that only work if I keep the people at a physical distance.
I loved work though there were some jobs which held my thrall much more than others. I did everything from cleaning to being a PA/senior secretary in one of the world’s top four accountancy firms. In between them I’d been a barmaid, a pub landlady, a life model, a beekeeper and loved them all in varying amounts. I hated the mundane and the ordinary and if I was stretched to my limits then all the better.
It all began to travel rapidly downhill when I worked for the accountants. It was a high pressured job in corporate finance. It was exacting work, long hours and I had to fight to get time off. There was far more travel involved than I wanted and I missed my cats too much when I was away from them. It all blew up in my head spectacularly when I was sacked shortly after revealing I had bipolar disorder. The excuse that they gave me that my work wasn’t up to standard and that therefore I no longer fitted their mould. I didn’t want to fit their mould as I found them all little more than egos battling to be top dog. The whole situation was very stressful and I had what felt like a huge explosion in my head and had to return to the uncertain world of temping just to keep my overdraft under control. A combination of the bank behaving incredibly cruelly and an unrealistic manager at the temping agency put me into a place that I was convinced I would never claw my way back out of.
My working life was over but with the help of a good GP and a talented psychiatrist I began to slowly recover. I got medical certificates from my GP regularly until one day, and without informing me, the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) told my GP they didn’t require them any more as I’d been submitting them for a long time. This, my GP told me, was standard practice. It meant that since my GP didn’t have to write certificates, in theory at least, I didn’t have to see him to prove that I was sick. I questioned the logic of this at the time. It seemed absurd that people who could have been on the point of returning to work were sucked into a system that dictated they couldn’t be expected to work again. Those who were swinging the lead, and doubtless they were some, were free to never work again because the system took the GP out of the assessment process. How this system wasn’t more widely abused is beyond me and also beyond me is why DWP thought it was ever a good idea to abandon people and write them off without thinking of the consequences. Consequences that we’re now paying for.
Now that the system is being “repaired” those of us who are genuinely unable to work again are being put through an assessment that has so many flaws the long reaching effect on the mental health of people surely cannot be measured.
So I’m waiting for a form to fill in. This is not the start of a battle because when I look backwards at my life I’ve got a history of fights that I’ve lost and won for 40 years. I’m in the middle of a war with my mind and I’ve got a new enemy. I have to look beyond this particular battle into a future where I have a future however long it takes.
Having my affairs under a registered Lasting Power of Attorney helps immeasurably. It means that I have two people looking after my best interests and guiding me in a practical and caring manner so that I can take care of myself should the worst happen.
I’m taking steps to ensure that, should the worst happen and my income suffers, I’ll have a store cupboard of tinned food to fall back on. My finance attorney is looking at my income, projected income and outgoings to see how long my savings will last me. My medical attorney is reminding me that it’s fine to plan for the future but not to project, to expect stress but not to go searching for it.
The plan is to eat, rest, meditate and take it one step at a time. It’s pointless me finding out about appeals and tribunals before I’ve actually received the form or filled it in. That’s a step in the future and even if it is the near future, it’s not now.
I appealed on Twitter for some advice and got the horror stories when what I really wanted was some practical advice. I know that the form will be difficult to fill in, I know that I’m one of the people who are likely to be wrongly assessed and have to appeal but I also know that with the right support and guidance I can get through this.
Forewarned is forearmed but if advice and guidance cause me as great a stress as my passage through the system then it’s at best worthless and at it’s worst puts me at as great as risk as the process itself. I don’t believe that I’ll get through the process unscathed but don’t make it worse for me, make your advice worth having.
I have to go through the events of each day and pick out the positive things in them be it decent food, loving friends, time with the animals or even just getting enough sleep. If I forget to acknowledge the positives that are there I will only recognise the negatives that perhaps do not exist and, even if they do, do not rule my world.
I will fight because I don’t know how not to, I will win because I will fight whether or not the WCA gives me the result that I need and I will not give up or give in – I’m just too tough to die.