Yes, This Hurts!

Some of you will already know that I’m losing my motability car on the 23rd of April. I’m incredibly angry as this effectively leaves me housebound. So I’m having to spend money I can’t spare on buying an ‘old banger’ so I can get out.

So why is this happening?

  • Because this govt don’t want people on disability benefits
  • Because in conjunction with the MSM they have wrongly demonised disabled claimants as scroungers
  • Because they’ve moved the eligibility goalposts to make it even harder to evidence disability
  • Because their contracted “health assessors” (who aren’t experts in many conditions including mental health issues) are targeted on reducing benefit levels
  • Because their contracted assessors blatantly lie, misinterpret & make erroneous assumptions in their reports which are then treated as gospel over claimant evidence, scans, & consultant correspondence
  • Because they f*cking can & the MSM is complicit in covering up their lies

I know I’m not alone in this, I know other people who’ve been through this right to the appeal tribunal stage & won back their rightful benefits because at a tribunal you’re dealing with humans, not dwp targets. But I also know so many are just too ill, too tired, too anxious, too stressed, too alone, too defeated & too confused, and have given up without appealing even though they know they’d likely win. The fight is too hard & this govt are relying on that to cull numbers.

Almost a third of DLA to PIP claimants lose benefits, cutting their independence & their income. Disability charity Scope said these figures are “deeply concerning” and called for an “urgent overhaul” of the assessment process

“It’s deeply concerning that so many disabled people are facing a sudden drop in vital financial support,” said James Taylor from Scope.

“Life costs more if you are disabled. These extra costs haven’t disappeared just because there is a different assessment process.

“Without an urgent overhaul of the PIP assessment process, the system will continue to work against disabled people, instead of for them.”

I won’t go into my medical details here because much of it is very personal, but I cannot emphasise the following things enough;

The stress & anxiety have been absolutely horrendous. Imagine some unknown & unsympathetic stranger has complete control over your finances & your car, then imagine they won’t tell you for month after month what they’re doing next. I had my initial dwp letter in June last year. My assessment wasn’t until 1st December. I didn’t get a decision until February (and I had to chase them).

So I completed with Citizens Advice the initial Mandatory Appeal (which is known to be a pointless exercise but still took us two hours), unsurprisingly I’ve had a letter today denying the HR disability again & repeating what was said in the last letter almost verbatim. So next stage is to go to court for a legal Appeal Tribunal, which I understand from others can take up to a year.

My depression has absolutely been impacted by this process too, I’ve had more down days, the black dog nips a little closer when even thinking about not having reliable transport, & also of being accused of being a liar which is essentially what the dwp have done to me & thousands of other disabled people. I’ve been agitated & restless & I know exactly what the cause is.

My rage has settled down to a simmer now, but I was so bloody angry when I finally got my report copy. (Confession – I may have written certain rude words in pencil all over the margins). It’s outrageously poor.

Bear in mind here for a minute that in a previous life I ran huge contracts across the South West for (plot twist) the dwp, supporting the unemployed into work. The irony isn’t lost on me! But had any single member of staff in one of my centres turned in a report of this poor a calibre about a client some very serious conversations would have been had.

I’ve not picked it up for a few weeks because it’s still a bit raw, but off the top of of my head…. It’s a badly written cut & paste job, some of which obviously came from doing someone else’s assessment. It’s practically illiterate. The same phrases are repeated over & over like magic, as if when you say something stupid/untrue often enough it becomes reasonable or true. It contains as I said earlier outright lies, glaring inaccuracies and erroneous assumptions. There is no logic or consistency.

It took me a few days to work out that at least part of my anger was precisely because of the poor composition and lack of attention to the construct and meaning, as well as the errors. I know I’m a detail orientated person and these things matter to me, but surely in doing work that will actually impact people’s lives, wellbeing & financial circumstances everyone should pay attention to detail?

Almost a third of DLA to PIP claimants have lost benefits, cutting their independence & their income. Disability charity Scope said the figures are “deeply concerning” and called for an “urgent overhaul” of the assessment process.

“It’s deeply concerning that so many disabled people are facing a sudden drop in vital financial support,” said James Taylor from Scope.

“Life costs more if you are disabled. These extra costs haven’t disappeared just because there is a different assessment process.

“Without an urgent overhaul of the PIP assessment process, the system will continue to work against disabled people, instead of for them.”

Call me naive, but I guess I expected better from a government employed organisation when producing an official report on someone’s mental & physical health & ability. So yes, on top of everything else I was actually incredibly disappointed.

In my previous life with a fully functioning brain I would have torn this report to shreds in a couple of hours, referring to the DWP’s own guidance point by point to emphasise each and every error. Unfortunately with frequent brain fog, cognitive difficulties & fatigue unpicking this to refute it for a tribunal will take me weeks. But if needs be I will do so, with the support of friends, and the fabulous Citizens Advice, because even feeling as ill as I do daily I’m too bloody angry & stubborn to let this go.

I hope the above has made sense, I’ve probably rambled but this is the first time I’ve felt calm enough to write this out without ranting &/or swearing (a lot)!

Thanks to everyone who’s supported me, especially the lovely Essia who attended with me in December to literally & metaphorically hold my hand.

Quotes pictured above are from the incredibly useful Disabity Rights website which can be found here if you’re looking for further information

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Whispering Darkness…

Some of you will be aware I write when I need to process. Never more necessary than this week.

I’m struggling right now, both physically & mentally. This is totally down to our disastrous current government. I make no apologies for being political when those very politics are affecting my physical & mental health.

I received notification in June/July this year that even though I had been previously awarded lifetime DLA (Disability Living Allowance) for my chronic & progressive conditions, due to govt changes to the benefit system – namely the introduction of the new PIP (Personal Independence Payment) benefit – I had to reapply. Yes, reapply.

You’d have thought the sensible thing to do for people with lifetime disability awards would be a simple transfer, but no. Reapply as if you’re a completely new claimant. There was an option to allow them to access your previous assessment records for DLA to support your claim – “if they are still available”. Yes, it appears the DWP may have failed to actually keep records properly. Who’d have guessed.

I want to be clear here before moving onto the effect this process is having on me personally – the only reason the govt have rolled out PIP is to get disabled people off benefits. It’s that simple & that barbaric. A UN report in 2017 “accused the Tories of creating a ‘human catastrophe’ in the UK” which violates disabled people’s human rights, the text below is quoted from The Canary, the full article is available here

The UN are currently carrying out another investigation into UK poverty and the impact the current government has had on this, looking at key areas including these listed below – text again is from The Canary, full article is available here.

I kind of wanted to be clear on this – this is not me as a benefit claimant just being awkward or heaven forbid “ungrateful” – but a widely acknowledged truth. Disabled people are being disadvantaged by this government, the facts prove that. The United Nations knows it.

So, back to to this process. I had to call to apply after receiving the letter which was incredibly difficult for me – anything to do with benefit changes causes me severe anxiety – I was physically shaking when I rang, despite being prepared by Citizens Advice on what to expect so I had the information I needed right in front of me. It took a stomach churning twenty minutes. Just to ask for the form.

Once the form arrives in the post there is a four week deadline for completion. The earliest appointment Citizens Advice had was for almost six weeks away. So again I had to go through the ordeal of phoning, this time to request an extension which thankfully was granted.

I cannot begin to describe the vile process of completing that form, even with a trained & sympathetic advisor. I can’t write for any length of time myself because of the RA in my hands, so they had to complete the form for me. It’s invasive, incredibly personal & embarrassing. Answering questions on what medications you take, their side effects, how often you manage to wash yourself, use the toilet, leave the house, eat, get out of bed, the assistance you need but don’t get, and the intimate details of every symptom of your conditions & disability from bowel movements to insomnia, light sensitivity to Myoclonic Jerks.

The awful thing is on a daily basis you are mostly able to avoid thinking about the vastness & sheer weight of multiple conditions & symptoms alongside chronic unceasing pain, you simply deal hour by hour because that is manageable, mostly. This is like plunging into the abyss with your eyes taped wide open. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s traumatic.

Every tiny personal detail of your life is discussed & transcribed, ready to be pored over by faceless strangers – without the requisite medical knowledge – but with the power to remove your income & your car & leave you destitute & housebound. Yes, it’s that f*cking huge.

So – my appointment with the lovely & very empathetic lady at Citizens Advice? Three hours. Three grueling & exhausting hours. And I wasn’t done yet.

It took me another two hours at home to go through, copy & annotate twenty-seven separate pieces of medical evidence going back about 18 months. Scan reports, surgical reports, consultants letters, radiography reports, it all went in there. This took me about three days.

So finally it all went into the post. I had a text on the the 8th August to say my form had been received.

I then heard nothing until Saturday 3rd November when a letter dropped through my door. Yes, just over twelve weeks, or 3 months. Every single day since August my anxiety has grown worse. My depression is also pressing at the edges of my consciousness, whispering of hardships & darkness. My GP is fully aware & we’re monitoring my mental health, the frustration is that we know the exact cause & have no power to remove it.

So the last couple of days I’ve basically gone turtle. I’ve retreated inside my shell, alternating between Netflix & reading depending on my ability to concentrate. The minute I stop either my thoughts are immediately back to this planned assessment. I feel dreadful as stress flares everything. Fortunately I have a wonderful friend who has agreed to be with me for the appointment which is incredibly helpful.

My next task which I couldn’t bring myself to do today is to call them & ask why they’ve not taken on board the request on the form from Citizens Advice & myself for a home visit, and see if its possible to change it. Honestly from what I’ve heard I’m not particularly hopeful.

Then I need to prepare, think of this as a job interview but twenty times worse. Its so easy with fatigue, anxiety & brain fog for me to use the wrong words, forget whole symptoms & conflate conditions. It’s basically a quiz about me where I can get the answers wrong much too easily. I’m terrified of this, and not without reason – so many horror stories of poor assessments are a matter of record.

One last note – DWP or whomever, if you’re reading this and thinking even for one second “well if she can write a blog that makes sense she can work” you are stunningly misinformed about what being chronically ill & disabled looks like.

This, as with many of my posts takes hours – but never all at once. Initial thoughts, a few notes, finding links, remembering what the hell I was talking about when I lose thread mid sentence, stopping for sleep or rest, editing, rechecking, a final read through to make sure I haven’t made a compete idiot of myself. It all takes precious time and energy spread out over days, to do something that when I was well I could have rattled off in ten minutes.

This is my reality, please simply believe me.

PS – for anyone who has bought into MSM (Main Stream Media)’s outright fairy tales about benefit fraud & demonisation of claimants – here’s the real deal from the government’s own data. A tiny 1.2% of benefit claims are fraudulent.

Like HMRC, the DWP also estimates fraud and error for its benefit payments. Its most recent estimate shows that overpayments to claimants in 2017/18 were £3.8bn, or 2.1% of its total bill. Of this, 1.2% (£2.1bn) of its £177.5bn budget was claimant fraud. Full article here.

The Gift of Being Present

There’s a campaign which raises awareness for ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) called #millionsmissing. There will be events around the country next week on May 12th, with many sending in shoes which are laid out in public areas to represent those who are unable to attend. Others will post online, anything we can to raise the public (and sadly medical) awareness of just how devasting ME is. Details can be found at:

http://millionsmissing.meaction.net/

In essence there are millions of us across the world who feel we are missing from our lives. Many are bed bound, some for years. I often thank the stars my ME isn’t quite that severe, although there are many days I’m unable to walk around or get dressed, let alone leave the house. I’ve made a pact with myself that I will try to see other humans twice a week, even if just for coffee and a short natter, because I spend so many hours at home, alone.

I’m a natural introvert who has always enjoyed my own company, even as a child, so thankfully I don’t often feel the loneliness of many. But it is incredibly hard to maintain friendships when even a phone conversation can be exhausting, and sometimes the thought of replying to a message feels about as doable as climbing mountains. So I keep my pact with myself as best as I can, and will do for as long as I can, we all need human contact and shared laughter is a beautiful medicine of it’s own.

Over the past few years I’ve missed weddings, birthdays, lunches, and have completely lost my once active social life in the evenings. It’s difficult sometimes when you know your social group is all together having fun and you are yet again laying down quietly to conserve the precious little energy you have.

But…!! Today I wasn’t missing. Today I made it to a friends annual wedding anniversary barbecue (first time in three years I’ve been able to go) and it was so, so lovely. The sun was even out which is miraculous for a British May Bank Holiday! I managed to find myself a seat in a corner in the shade, I treated myself to a rare alcoholic drink and enjoyed a heavenly Mojito, surrounded by friends, dancing children, chatter and laughter.

I left when things were still in full swing but that’s okay, I know even on better days not to push too much and it was starting to get a little louder which I struggle with (background noise can be draining).

So I’m home now, windows open, sun shining, listening to the birds tweeting on a quiet Sunday evening. And I’m incredibly grateful for today, for these few hours of sunshine and laughter with people I love.

As always, Namaste 🙏💙

Dear Newly Diagnosed…

You obviously feel in need of support.
I do remember that feeling – that you are really struggling with the whole idea of having RA – of becoming chronically ill.

So you’ve joined a support group, seen a few posts about surgeries and disability and people trying their third biologic, now you’ve gone from slightly concerned to terrified!

It’s important I think that newbies to #chroniclife are made aware that it tends to be those with more severe symptoms who gravitate towards support groups or twitter, and stick around. It’s important we acknowledge that around 40-60% of those diagnosed with RA and treated early will likely achieve controlled remission with medication. That’s actually pretty good odds. And those people often never feel the need to look for support groups online or to stay around if they do.

So our tribe tends to be those who’ve been a bit battered, often suffering with mental as well as physical issues that ergo cause emotional as well as physical pain. It means sometimes posts and tweets can seem dark or bleak, but it also means we have a fabulous empathy with each other and are able to give outpourings of love and support and prayers whenever they are needed – we’ve been there, and many of us have come out stronger for it.

And that’s a really important thing to know – we do come out the other side. My first year with RA was dreadful, I lost my job, I was made homeless. My depression spiralled. It was a dark time, perhaps not dissimilar to where you may find yourself now, and without my online tribe (not forgetting my wonderful IRL family & friends!) I’d have collapsed. These fabulous, generous strangers kept me putting one foot in front of the other when I couldn’t see the way forward. They held up a light.

It was hard and it was sad and it was painful, I won’t pretend otherwise. Antidepressants helped, my GP helped, psychotherapy helped, group therapy helped, and very gradually my feet found new, firmer ground. On balance now I can honestly say chronic illness has brought more good into my life than bad.

The worst happened and the sun still rose and set. That’s life changing right there. Survival. Some great therapy led me to mindfulness which lead me to meditation and gratitude. Despite being ridiculously ill and in constant pain I am genuinely happier with myself than I’ve ever been in my life.

RA was the brute force needed to make me stop & smell the coffee. I know it touched me for a reason. I live more spiritually and much more slowly, I treasure my friendships, I’m more sympathetic, more patient & more kind. I’m grateful for the smallest things, a warm bed, hot coffee, a good book. I’m no longer impressed by the material, but hearing a bird sing or watching the clouds move can and frequently does fill me with with joy. My path has been irreconcilably altered by RA and I’m the better for it.

Yes I still have dark days. I’m very ill, with RA, ME, Fibro & other conditions. So I have constant pain and take a lot of meds. I’m still on antidepressants and fully expect to be for life, they boost chemicals I need to be me and I’m more than fine with that. But my darker days are just that now – days. In the past they would have been weeks or months, my coping strategies developed and yours will too.

I wanted to share this with you not because you’ll do the same or feel the same – we all walk our own path through this life. But to hopefully reassure you a little that you absolutely will find your way. Chronic illness is not an end but a shift to a new beginning, an altered life does not have to be a lesser one.

My newcomer tips?

  • Get enough rest.
  • Listen to your body, if it hurts, stop.
  • Build your pain toolkit – meds, gels, ice, heat, tens, marijuana, movies, whatever works for you.
  • Let go of worry about what others may think – it really doesn’t matter.
  • Look after you – baths, chocolate, candles, pamper yourself.
  • And always, always remember to be as kind to yourself as you would to others – we are way too hard on ourselves.
  • Practice #selfcare daily

Sending blessings, Namaste 🙏🕉️💙

Please watch #Unrest

Some of you may know I have Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, or ME/CFS. Many of you will have no idea of what that actually means beyond “being tired” which is so far from the truth. For too long the medical profession & the media have treated ME/CFS as a joke, a mental illness, or fakery. It is none of the above, and the mindset is insulting to every single one of us.

It affects waking & sleeping. It affects cognitive thinking and speech, memory, writing and listening. It causes seizures and myoclonic jerks. Clumsiness. Bowel problems. Joint pain. Muscle pain. Exercise intolerance and PEM (Post Exertional Malaise) which can last for weeks or months. Flu like symptoms. It affects every minute of waking life every single day.

In the face of ignorance and incompetence from those with whom she sought help, Jen did what many of us do. She went online and found a tribe. Somewhere where we are heard, seen and understood. Where we are validated.

She then went much further, eventually creating and filming Unrest. This is her story, but it’s also our story. Thankfully I’ve never been as severe as Jen, I pray I never am.

But I have periods of days when I am invisible, when no-one sees me. I don’t get dressed or leave the house. When I wake from an 18 hour sleep then have a three hour nap. When holding a conversation is impossible. When simply sitting up is just too hard, let alone leaving the bed or sofa. I am too often one of the #millionsmissing

Please watch #Unrest – it’s now on Netflix. The link to the trailer is below. Yes it’s hard viewing. But it will open your eyes to the reality of the lives of millions with ME.