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.

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The Mercurial Whirlwind..

*Content warning – suicide

On Monday 19th February it was eleven years since my Dad phoned me early one evening to tell me that my younger sister Mary had died. She was 35.

You hear people say things like “I knew it was bad news when the phone rang” but I genuinely went cold on the first ring – I’ve no idea how to explain it, but I swear I somehow knew it was really bad news about Mel.
Unfortunately she had ended her own life. I could speculate for hours (and did initially) on exactly why, but it serves no purpose. The simple truth is that at that moment in time she needed to stop. Undiagnosed depression certainly impacted her actions.
But that was how she ended, it wasn’t who she was. I’m not sure I have the words to capture the mercurial whirlwind that was my little sister. No one else has ever made me laugh (or cry) so hard. She was beautiful, funny, kind, generous, quixotic. She was also stubborn, defensive, argumentative and had a flash temper that raged white hot then just as quickly was gone.

She’d unexpectedly turn that megawatt smile on you and you had no choice but to grin back.

As kids we fought so much, but had each others back, always. I have loads of fabulous memories, good and bad, and that’s how it should be, saintly she wasn’t!

I remember at the time she died being unexpectedly angry with her, simply because we were supposed to grow old together. Losing her was hard, but it was almost as tough dealing with the loss of both past and future memories.

There is no-one else who remembers how to play “mummies, daddies & little darlings”, who knows how you had to step over the second floorboard from the bathroom door because it creaked so loudly, who swears she saw a ghost in our kitchen, who could play connect four for hours, who can remind me how I taught her all the basic swear words after she begged me to! Who was my partner in crime on teenage hair and makeup, and my best friend even when we ‘hated’ each other.

It’s like I lost some of the vibrancy from my past memories when she died, they’re still there, but without her to help me take them out and polish them or argue over them they’ve faded.

Of course we should also already have another eleven years of adult sisterhood to mull over. But she’ll never make a new memory in this life, as much as I carry her with me always.

There’s simply a Mel shaped hole missing from the second half of my life.

So I want to use this post to let anyone who is feeling like they want to stop know they are not alone. You are worthwhile, you are seen, you are loved. This really will pass, so please reach out for support in whatever form feels comfortable. I promise help is out there.

UK & ROI Samaritans – 116 123

USA – Lifeline Chat – 1-800-273-8255.

Australia – Lifeline – 13-11-14

Canada – The Canada Suicide Prevention Service – 1-833-456-4566

Emotional Eating…

I’ve been thinking today as I sorted out my sewing box (how many buttons?!) and my stationery box (how many pens?!) about the how’s and why’s of my relationship with food, and what lies behind it.

I don’t know anyone, overweight or underweight, who doesn’t have problems with emotional eating, and in some ways I think it’s the hardest thing to step away from. Unlike with heroin or crack or alcohol where one just abstains from the substance to deal with the addiction with food we can’t, we all have to eat to survive.

And these are deeply ingrained behavior patterns melded into our psyche as children then carried through to adulthood where they become a subconscious belief – the belief that certain foods make us ‘feel better’.

What do we do with a crying baby? Feed it. How do we cheer a toddler out of a mood? Food. What do we reward children with when they clear their plates? Sweet food. (two lots of issues there – we are all trained not to ‘waste’ food from an early age so we stop noticing when we’re full). What do we have as treats on special days, holy days, birthdays? Food, food & more food.

It’s no big shocker that we associate food with comfort more than anything else. When we eat that bar of chocolate or packet of biscuits we are unconsciously reaching back through time to our first feeds, when food also meant being held close, safe & loved, with no worries or cares. That’s a really strong pull, and in essence it’s what we’re fighting.

I don’t know what makes the difference between people who have a healthy relationship with food and those who don’t. People who can have two chocolates and put the box away for another time. Maybe it’s nurture, maybe nature. I’m sure the answer would be worth millions!!

But I do know my eating issues started in my early twenties, and I’ve had them ever since. I can look back at times when I was really happy and the weight fell off, and then sometimes when I thought I was happy and the weight was piling back on anyway.

For years I’ve watched furtively as slim people ate chocolate bars or ice cream and thought “well they can have them, why should I go without”. Yes they. They (the slim people) are obviously a race of aliens with incredible willpower. Except no. They simply view food as fuel, enjoyable fuel but without the emotional baggage we attach to our eating.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know what it isn’t for me. Diets. Shakes. Low Carb/fat/protein. Intermittent fasting. Atkins. Weight watchers. Banning sugar. Spending three mornings a week at the gym. Yes, I’ve done all of these plus others over the past twenty eight years. And I’ve lost weight. And on it has gone again because I haven’t tackled the cause. My mind.

So for me the change I make now has to be permanent, and yes, if that means I calorie count for the next twenty years so be it. Because I can’t be trusted not to. Interestingly I’m not finding this hard. Difficult yes, but not hard.

I’m rediscovering a love for fruit and salad and veggies cooked well with flavour. I’ve found a wonderful organic granola that has no added sugar or fruit and its gorgeous. I’m remembering to reach for grapes or a carrot or a rice cake if I’m peckish. I’m actually planning meals on the days that I can cook, and enjoying preparing them.

Believe me when I say I could happily ditch this tomorrow, go back to eating mostly crap and put weight back on in a heartbeat. But you know what? I want this more. I don’t want to have to use an extender on plane seat belts. I don’t want to keep looking for the sturdier chairs. I don’t want to keep wearing shapeless tunics because they ‘cover the bumps’. And I don’t want doctors to be less concerned about my symptoms because they look at me & see fat. I want to remove that excuse from their arsenal.

But most of all I want… Leather trousers, 50th birthday 😎👖👢💛

As always comments & opinions are my own and not a substitute for speaking with a medical professional

Choosing to be happy… 

I was reading an interesting thread on twitter this morning and it emphasised something I’ve noticed online over the last few weeks. First I’ll give an example – this particular thread had asked the question of disabled people “With optimal support how different would your life be?”

The answers fell into two distinct categories, either “I’d write/study/move house/volunteer” or “I can’t imagine this / I don’t have the energy to think about this”. Now you could say perhaps some of the responders were more physically impaired by their disability, or that they deal with more debilitating symptoms. But having been noticing this for a while now I don’t believe this to be the case.

We can all choose how we think about something. And making that conscious choice has a huge effect on how we subsequently feel. Bear with me here – if you’d have told me this a few short years ago I’d probably have become defensive or angry and felt you were criticising my thought process. It’s only due to some great therapy and a lot of reading that I’ve been able to reach a point in my life where I’m thankfully able to make conscious decisions about what I think.

The impact this has had on me has been so positive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a cure for my depression and anxiety, I’m still taking my pills and have days where it’s darker. What it has done is given me coping techniques to deal with those days without them turning into months every time.

In simple terms only WE are responsible for what we think. Yes, that inner voice is us too. It’s our head, our thoughts, our responsibility! And we make subconscious choices about what we think, how we react to things, how we will respond. So why not make those choices concious?

Let’s use my Saturday as an example. I woke around 11am, did the usual coffee/bathroom/clothing stuff then went to meet some friends in my local for coffee. I was there for about three hours, sitting down, chatting, crosswording and laughing. Then I went home and crawled into bed, took a double shot of painkillers and didn’t move again for six hours. This is fairly standard. Activity = pain + fatigue.

I could quite justifiably feel angry about this. It’s not fair, other people don’t have to pay for socialising, why can’t my meds work, why did I get this stupid disease, why am I so useless, I’m no good to anyone, my life is crap.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, I know because I’ve been there. But it leads down a very rocky path to anger, self pity, self hatred, and a feeling of total worthlessness. We convince ourselves we have no value. And that’s a self limiting belief, because we withdraw and huddle at home feeling sorry for ourselves, which means we don’t see anyone, which means they all hate us because we’re worthless. It’s a horrible lonely and despairing place to be.

But…! We have the power to change these thoughts. One day at a time, one belief at a time. There’s no magic trick or quick fix, it takes practice, and dedication. Which to be honest are small prices to pay for feeling better about yourself, right?

So Saturday night, laid up in bed. Was I angry, sad, feeling sorry for myself? Nope, not even close. Was I slightly peeved about the pain? You bet, but that’s as far as it went.

  • Rather than being angry I could only stay out for a few hours and then had to suffer I was grateful for the lovely afternoon I’d had catching up with friends
  • Rather than thinking my life is so awful I was thanking the universe for what I had – pain relief, a warm bed, heated blanket.
  • Rather than thinking I was worthless for not spending more time with friends I acknowledged that they love me, and enjoy spending time with me. And I’m very grateful for that gift.

I think the most impactful thing I’ve learned has been to practice self-love and gratitude. Both are simple concepts. Accepting yourself, and loving the unique person you are will be the most important thing you ever do for yourself. And practising gratitude daily is such an easy habit.

Start by listing three things a day. They could be time with friends, a nice lunch, a sunny day. And some days they’ll be bed, sleep, food. But you’ll find you start appreciating the small stuff, and realising it’s really the important stuff. Ever thought about why small children are so delighted by every little thing, so quick to laugh, to smile? They have no learned pattern of negative thoughts, they literally live in the moment.

So next time you’re about to tell the world how dreadful your life is, stop for a moment and watch what you’re thinking. There’s probably a jumble of negative thoughts whirring round all reinforcing your poor opinion of your life. So acknowledge them, and then let them go. Take a minute to think of what’s good about today. Toast, pyjamas, slippers? Great, that’s a start. Aren’t you glad you have them? ☺️

Honestly, give it a try. It is possible to choose to find the joy in your life rather than focus on the pain, and the outcome is you’ll start feeling happier. That’s what I call a win. Namaste 🕉️💙

When less becomes more

I realised this week that I’ve been blogging about RD for over a year! So much has happened in that time, the blog I wrote this week last year, Living in Limbo, was about finding myself homeless, things were certainly very up in the air and nothing felt solid or stable.

I’m very grateful to have had some amazing support since then, I’m settled in my little bungalow with my cats and feel on a much more even keel. Constant change is unsettling, especially when it’s not because of choices we’ve made.

I’d say my key word for the past twelve months has been ‘acceptance’. It’s been a long process but it’s definitely the fulcrum around which my improving mental health resolves… I can feel a whole separate blog there 🙂

It’s often the simple things that can resonate with us the most. A conversation with my psychotherapist a few months ago is a great example, I’d been telling her how I kept looking ahead and just seeing no end, no way out of feeling ill and frustrated and trapped and out of control. She said

‘everything changes – from your pain levels to the weather’

and although it didn’t help immediately as I was having a low day it stuck in my mind, and she’s absolutely right.

Things do change, they will change again, the trick I’ve since found is to try to live more in the moment, enjoy each hour, each day, each small success – looking ahead is actually counter productive, especially when it feels bleak.

Depression is horrid, I’ve had it for over four years now, and of course it’s often common for people to start suffering post diagnosis, which is hardly surprising. But I honestly believe with a combination of meds and talking therapies it’s absolutely possible to enjoy better days!

The second simple thing that resonated was even more basic, but I strongly believe it’s worth sharing.

Change that ‘why me? ‘ to ‘why not me?’

I know it sounds really simplistic but just churn it over for a while. Think about what it actually means. “Why me” implies some cosmic force has said ahh yes you, you need RD! Isn’t it much more likely that it is just down to a random combination of genetics and environment? The simple fact is that it’s not personal!

RA has literally turned my life upside down this past year, I first lost my health, then consequently my home, my job, etc etc BUT…. It has over the same period made me completely reassess my priorities, my way of life, and I’m now starting to work out what it is I really want.

I’m not there yet and wouldn’t pretend to be, but boy it feels good to have had the breathing space. I’ve been forced to step off the treadmill, to stop, take my time, breathe! And the ‘worst’ happened and you know what? Not only have I survived but there is still joy in my life, and in being alive, I’ve just have to look a little harder and in different places. Meditation has helped hugely. I’m more grounded, I’m more peaceful, my life is simpler and calmer, and this enables me to focus on self care and my hope that I will be able to return to some kind of contributing employment in the future.

Yes, of course RA limits what I can do and when – it probably always will, but I will not let it limit who I want to be. You too will find a way, I promise 💙

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