2012 Continues its Shittery, But Reports of My Death are Greatly Exaggerated

Good evening (or morning, if you prefer). It must have been about three weeks since I last posted, which is pretty much a record absence for me in the almost-three years that I’ve been writing this blog. There are some underlying reasons, I suppose, but primarily my disappearance can be attributed to the usual culprit: that of crippling, fuck you anhedonia. I haven’t been as badly afflicted by the phenomenon since I was a teenager. I mean, depression always carries this demon in its clutches, that much is a given, but it exists in degrees. The depression that has blighted my life so far this year was, initially, relatively free from anhedonia and its cousin, avolition – I blogged quite prolifically around the time of Maisie’s death, after all. I gravitated here when that happened; as it had been, Confessions became my outlet, my place to vent, my catharsis and analysis. In the last few weeks, I haven’t felt that at all.

This apathy and utter dearth of motivation have been compounded by an exhaustion of a magnitude I cannot describe. I’ve been sleeping poorly, and waking early when I do manage to find slumber for a few hours – but it’s more than just that sort of tiredness, for I’ve lived with that for many years. Every step I’ve taken recently has taken the effort that I’d imagine normals would put into a bloody marathon. My head constantly droops somewhere down in my chest – giving the unfortunate impression to the cameras and any other onlookers that I’m orally pleasuring myself – because I have not an ounce of strength to hold it up. My mind is either blank, or thinking repetitive, monotonous, lifeless thoughts. I have, on many days, literally had to tell myself what to do: “move your left foot now, Pan. Good, now move your left. No, no, fuck, sorry! Move your right. Yes, right. Good. Left now. Well done.” And my body aches with this…something. Aches aches aches. And sometimes my mind joins it: it can’t even summon the energy to feel anything with my usual levels of desperation. It currently doesn’t feel raw pain, just like my body doesn’t. It just aches.

[Coincidentally – or not? – the last time I felt tiredness on this scale was back when The Everythinger was here in August. More thrilling musings on that later…]

Perhaps ironically, therefore, I think the depression to which I alluded has abated a little. I’m confident that were I to take any of the usual diagnostic tests that I’d still be deemed ‘severely’ depressed, but, again, it’s about degrees. I do feel a bit better than I did when I last wrote. This could be the normal cyclical run of my supposed manic depression, or it could be down to Lamictal. I mentioned last time that Christine was going to ask NewVCB to increase my dosage of the aforesaid drug; however, NewVCB adamantly refused. Her rationale was something that I didn’t entirely comprehend – something along the lines of not raising the dose when I was planning to cut down on Seroquel, which I think translates as “don’t let her get too used to the stuff just yet, because she’ll need a fuckload more when we start titrating the Seroquel down.”

Why, then, has the drug possibly made a difference? The reason is that effectively the dose has increased. Confused? Well, I’m not sure if I mentioned it before or not, but since I’ve been taking 100mg of Lamictal, that has (theoretically) meant ingestion of one tablet in the morning, and one in the evening. In effect, this has meant one in the evening only – ie. 50mg daily – due to the toxicity that is the infamous Seroquel hangover. Even when I had dezombified five hours later, I simply forgot to take the damn thing. Of late, however, I’ve taken to leaving a strip of the stuff on the bedside table, in order that it is the first thing I see each afternoon morning. With the sun rising earlier, I’m waking (assuming I’ve slept, which is not always the case) earlier anyway, so the morning tablet is taken at a more appropriate time, meaning that the stuff floating around my body is more regulated and less quickly half-lifed away.

So, that’s medication. What else? Ah yes. As reported in the last post, I’d received the brown envelope that all ill or disabled people in the UK fear most: that of a social security assessment form (an ESA50, in this case). I also noted that Christine has said she’d fill it in for me. When I saw her last week, she had indeed done so, the poor, lovely woman. Bless her.

Can you spot the impending ‘but’? To my regret, there is one. To be honest, she’d really written very little about my hallucinations and delusions, referring to ‘hearing voices’ or ‘feeling paranoid’ – and that was qualified by the hideous words of ‘sometimes’ or ‘on occasion’. I hadn’t the nerve to say this to her, but I felt that this wasn’t really an accurate presentation of the issues, so when an brought it home, I modified some of the content, and added stuff in. For example, it asks something like, “are other people frightened by your behaviour?”, and she had ticked ‘no’. I don’t agree with that; I know from experience that people find experiences of those like ‘They‘ deeply disturbing and, yes, frighhtening. Even some cheery ramblings of, “oh, look, that sign’s trying to tell me I’m beautiful!” sees neighbouring eyes widen in horror and concern. And something as ostensibly simple as a panic attack can have people shifting their eyes, crossing the street and then running like the hammers from hell.

By the time I’d modified that which I felt needed alteration, of course the form looked like I was trying to make my condition sound worse simply for the purpose of getting more money, rather than attempting to present reality. I therefore asked my mother to ring the Social Security Agency (SSA) and ask for a new form. “Whilst at it,” I instructed, “ask them why I’m actually being assessed.”

She responded a few hours later advising me that they refused to tell her anything and that I’d have to ring them myself. Cue fucking panic stations galore. Asking me to use the phone, as ever, was like asking me asking me to translate War and sodding Peace or Beowulf into Sanskrit. But needs must, so after perusing the SSA’s website in painstakingly close detail in a futile attempt to obtain an email address for a relevant member of staff, I took a deep breath and called them.

Naturally, this was not a simple process. At first the robotic female who ‘answered’ my call advised me, after talking frustratingly slowly through six years of patronising explanatory shit and in doing so costing me a lot of money, that my call could “not be taken at the minute. We are sorry.” (Read: “we’re on our fag break. Fuck off”). When I called back immediately, after listening to the same initial bollocks, Robot intimated to me that my call was in a queue. How surprising. “Please continue to hold and someone will be with you as soon as possible. Or, if you prefer to call back later, our opening hours are [x, y and z].”

I did not prefer to call back later, so held. Robot repeated the soft and still enragingly slow monologue about 100 times. Why the fuck do they use that voice? Are its lulled t
ones supposed to hypnotise you into compliance? If so, they’ve supremely failed. The only compliance they’ve evoked in me is a willingness to comply with the invoice I’m expecting from the people I sent round to break Robot’s non-existent legs (and yes, GCHQ, that is/was a joke and is not to be taken literally, seriously or as anything other than just a joke. OK?).

The real cunt, though, was fucking Vivaldi. Fuck Vivaldi. To think once I appreciated what I then found to be the majestic chords and melodies for which he was responsible. I swear to fucking God that I nearly rang Matt Smith’s agent to inquire about TARDIS rental. A trip back to 1677 to prevent the birth of the composer seems to be the only solution to this widespread problem; it’s always Vivaldi that is played when you ring any sort of call centre, and so it proved in this case. In between Robot came the first 30 seconds of (I think) Summer. Over and over and over. It would put a sane human being into an asylum.

In the end, the call itself was very straightforward. The girl was friendly, if clueless – when asked why I was being reassessed, she said, “um…well, I think they do this every year, I’m not sure though.”

“Even for people in the support group?” I checked (interruptive spluttering and stammering not included. You can obtain these with my all-singing, all-dancing in-blog purchase function, denoted by a button displaying the word ‘Donate’, at the bottom of this post).

“The support group?” The poor cow sounded genuinely mystified. “Uh…uh, yeah, I think so.”

It was a futile effort, so I told her I’d lost the ESA50 and asked if she’d send another. She cheerfully told me that this was not a problem, that she’d get someone to do it forthwith, and – apart from checking if Mum could ring on my behalf in future (yes; I just need to give details on the form) – that was really that. A simple, inoffensive, unconfrontational discussion that still left me hyperventilating. I wish I could overcome this fucking terror. My only other serious phobia is the old formulaic one of spiders and, as a general rule, that doesn’t interrupt my daily living. Sadly, if I ever want to work again – and I do, I do so much, when I’m well enough – my farcical and excessive anxiety about phones will significantly interfere with my everyday functioning,

Why should it? Why can’t people move into the 21st century and use fucking Twitter or email for their communication needs? Fuck phones.

I can’t believe I just wrote eight paragraphs about a phone call. I become increasingly ridiculous by the day, dearest readers. Moving on, I have now been back under the watchful eyes and perked-up ears of everyone’s favourite psychotherapist, the inimitable Paul, for three sessions. I will actually discuss these in more detail, though to my abject alarm, I’ve lost the notes I kept on sessions two and three. Now, the reason for my apprehension is to do with the fact that they could easily have fallen into the wrong hands, if I am in correct in my assumption that they fell out of my bag or something. However, I will admit to also being irritated for an altogether less ethical reason: I will not be able to record these two appointments here in the fashion to which I’ve become accustomed. Fuck’s sake. This blog has taken over my life. Incidentally, that’s something that actually came up with Paul – in session two? – but I’ll leave you veritably on the edge of your seat in anticipation of that. I’m sure you’re on the brink of self-immolation because you simply can’t stand the wait any other way. Burning ‘grounds’ you, to use modern therapeutic parlance.

What else? I suppose before getting to The Big Thing that I should apologise to many people on Twitter. I dip in and out of it erratically; even if I’m sending tweets, I am not necessarily reading others’ messages, or their @s or DMs to me. I often tweet by text message, and now have a quirky little iPhone app that allows me to tweet under this identity whilst being in another account. So it’s not that I’m ignoring you; I just don’t always see you. Every so often, I log in and see a few messages to me, and sometimes reply, but I’m pathetically incapable of catching up on everything. I don’t know whether this is social anxiety, increasing apathy, an identity crisis or just my being a total knob. Whatever the case, I’m sorry.

Right, then. I live in Northern Ireland, as most of you know. People on this island like to drink alcohol – a lot. Once a year, something comes up that seems to grant them complete impunity to engage in this pursuit: St Patrick’s Day. Perhaps it wil not shock you to hear that I loathe this occasion with a fucking passion; I have a pretty low tolerance for the obnoxious behaviours that many irregular drinkers display when inebriated out of their skulls, and I can’t cope the busy-ness around the place. This year, the event fell on Saturday past. A and I went out for dinner but had to come straight home, which is not at all common for us on that evening of the week. We’re usually in our local.

Anyway, the silver lining around the cloud of St Patrick (who gives a fuck about him anyway? He sounds like a bellend to me) is that A gets the day off (or gets it off in lieu when, as in this case, it’s at a weekend). Monday was therefore free, so we went out on Sunday to make up for our inability to do so the previous evening.

Exactly 51 minutes after we’d left the house, A’s phone started ringing. When he withdrew it from his pocket, we were both perplexed to observe that the caller was my mother. Thinking she was trying to get hold of me, but that my phone had lost its signal or something, I answered it (yes, yes, phone phobia notwithstanding).

The alarm was going off. If they can’t get hold of A or me, they ring my mother first, as she’s closest to our house, and then A’s mother second. A worked out the purpose of my mother’s call, and got ready to leave. I hung up and told him I’d stay in the pub; I would only hold him back by accompanying him (he’s a much faster walker than I am), and anyway, I reckoned it was a false alarm. That used to happen all the fucking time, to the point where I’ve wondered of late how the company responsible for running the thing had managed to improve their product so vastly. So A went back himself, advising that he’d call if anything untoward had happened. Otherwise, I supposed, he’d just return.

A few minutes passed, during which I caught up on some blogs on my Google Reader. In the middle of this, though, I was interrupted by a phone call incoming from my brother-in-law. Truthfully, at my core, I knew why he was ringing – but I let myself pretend that he was calling about joining us in the bar, especially given that he and A had exchanged a few messages about the outing earlier in the day. I duly ignored him.

When my mother-in-law’s name appeared on the screen of my phone, although I again tried to ignore the ramifications of this telephonic confluence of events, I really knew the game was up. This time I answered. She told me that they’d also called her and that my brother-in-law, who was at her house as it transpired, had called the police. In return, I advised her that A had gone back to the house to check that things were in order.

I’d only just hung up when A phoned. It wouldn’t be the last discussion via this medium that day…God, I wish
I believed in exposure therapy. I got a lot of potential practice with it on Sunday.

I knew as soon as I answered that he was horribly distressed. It doesn’t take a skilled conversationalist to decipher the first intake of breath before a single word is spoken; cheer, shock, thrills, anger – they and many more moods besides can be deconstructed in that split second. I’ve often heard parents say that when their kid reaches a few weeks or months old that they can tell by the ‘type’ of cry it emits that it wants x or y. Maybe this is a similar type of thing.

A’s gasp was one of shock and panic. Jesus Christ, I thought within the nanosecond left to me. Not again. We were burgled last only back in June, for fuck’s sake!

“They’ve taken the TV [42 fucking inches! In a heavily-populated terraced street!], the X-Box, the PS3, the iPad…” he was gasping. “They’ve smashed the door between the kitchen and the living room in…”

“I’m coming now,” I said. I hung up and called a taxi.

I could go into my usual level of detail about this, but it’s late and I’m tired. So…

  • The cops had been when I got home, but had apparently spotted some potential culprits, so legged it after them before talking to us and examining the house.
  • Without touching anything, I managed to piece together what had happened. The burglars – or, rather, a burglar – had crawled through the tiny window we keep open for the cats; I know this because it was completely fucked. Then he (and I use the male pronoun for a reason, which I’ll detail) saw the keys hanging up, opened the back door, and let his companion in.
  • They tried, I assume, to simply open the living room door – but, as we have done since the last burglary, we had locked it before leaving the house. They smashed the poor thing in with the Dyson, which was sitting in a corner of the kitchen. Unsurprisingly, they broke that too.
  • Entering the living room would have set the alarm off, and given all that they took and the bloody mess that they’d made, it was obvious that they knew the layout of the place. They couldn’t have got away with all that they did with the alarm (which itself calls the police) curbing their time had it been any other way.
  • They shoved the smaller items, which now seemed to include my old laptop, in bags, exited through the now-open back door, and onward through the gate at the back to the entry (which they’d also used the keys to unlock).
  • They hadn’t gone upstairs. Thank fuck I’d taken my current laptop up to the office; it was safe there. Curiously, they also hadn’t taken my Kindle. It was behind the door they’d smashed in, so perhaps they didn’t see it, or perhaps they didn’t identify it as a piece of expensive electronics because it was in its case, mimicking (to a point) a normal book.
  • Before we’d left, I’d deliberately moved the Kindle and A’s iPad out of view of the window. I neurotically checked the back door was locked about seven times, as I almost always do since the last break-in. Fat lot of good my caution did us.
  • The peelers returned. We were advised that they had taken two blokes into custody (hence my use of the male pronoun in reference to these criminals), and as I detailed my theory of their entrance to the female officer, her male colleague went to look around the back entry for further clues.
  • ….
  • …..
  • I am writing this post on A’s stolen iPad.
  • …..
  • ….
  • The policeman found everything out the back!
  • It seems that when the wankers were spotted, they unceremoniously dumped everything – or perhaps not quite everything? – and ran like fuck. But they were too late :)
  • The police were here for quite a while. In short, they took statements, got the forensic people in and liaised back and forth with their station colleagues. The girl from forensics was extremely thorough – much more so than any of her colleagues we’ve previously met (bearing in mind that this is the fucking third time we’ve been burgled). Although she didn’t say much, it did appear that she had got some evidence from various things.
  • The male peeler had been around the entries of the surrounding area, and came across a small but slick, and quite evidently new, flat screen TV – in a bin. He reasonably enough supposed that it would be unlikely to have been chucked out by its owners, and thus brought it round here briefly for the forensics woman to dust. He and his colleague also revealed that other burglaries had been reported in the area that day.
  • As the cops were rounding things off, the bloke said, “just to check, you didn’t happen to have any wallets here, did you?” We responded in the negative. He nodded, but added, “any foreign currency, no?” It then occurred to me that yes – we did have a wallet in the house after all. We go to down to the Republic every so often, and there’s always leftover Euros. A has kept them in a wallet in the kitchen for months. I relayed this information to the cop as I went into the kitchen to see if it was there. It was not. The cop asked how much was in it. “At least €50, plus coins,” I told him. “There was a €50 note in it; I’m not sure if there were additional ones, but there was definitely a fifty.”
  • I watched with interest as the police exchanged satisfied glances. The wallet with the Euros had been found on the person of one of the personnel that their colleagues had in custody. A couldn’t contain his delight at this wonderful revelation; he jumped up and down screaming, “YES!!!” with the peelers standing there watching. In later conversation, the man said to me that he’s always thrilled in cases like this – both for the victims of the crime, and for officers themselves. “It’s always really nice when we manage to get a conviction,” he smiled. Indeed it must be. They don’t get very many of them for offences like this.
  • After they’d left, I ran down the street to a lovely lady, the only one in the whole area we’ve ever really spoken to, who’d offered us tea when she first realised what had happened. I wanted to let her know what had transpired, and also to apologise if we’d appeared ignorant in refusing said tea. That was weird, because I have never been in a neighbour’s house since I moved in with A, and have only ever exchanged pleasantries and cat-related anecdotes with this woman before. But I appreciated her kindness, and enjoyed the tea and cake that she was decent enough to serve me.
  • I came back and joined A in the clean-up operation. There was glass everywhere. There were strewn bags, clothes and other assorted pieces of fuck also everywhere.
  • Thankfully, the cats were both safe. Srto Gato was here when A got back, and sat down on the sofa, right in the middle of the carnage, and went to sleep. Mr Cat was, however, nowhere to be seen, and we both worried that, twisted as these fucks clearly are, they’d hurt him. H
    e turned up about about an hour after I got home, which was a relief, though he did seem unsettled all evening. Whether he merely sensed our moods, or whether he’d borne witness to some frightening events, we are of course unable to tell.
  • Another set of cops turned up after 10pm, when things had got vaguely back to normal. They had brought the wallet, the €50s and the various Euro coins in separate evidence bags for us to identify as ours. Needless to say, we confirmed that they indeed were. The bloke said as he was leaving that he had “no doubt” that the case would come to court, though he added drolly, “and then they’ll get their 25p fine and get back to their games.” He stressed, assuming as he erroneously did that we completely lacked any knowledge of legal infrastructure, that things were out of their hands then. People can be imprisoned in Norn Iron for burglary, but it’s rare. Even when it happens, custodial sentences tend to be pretty low.
  • The worst thing in the aftermath of all this was that the house wasn’t secure; a bollocksed window and a cunted internal door require supervision. The upshot of that is that I’ve had to stay here when A’s been at work. I don’t mind that, but it does inhibit our ability to live our normal lives. Determined to buy fags before Gideon’s shite budget whacked the price of the vile things up by 37p per packet, I ran out at lunchtime today. In the half hour or so that I was gone – I dropped into a few food-ish places as well – I was panicking, panicking, panicking that the little cunts were out on bail (as they almost certainly are by now) and would break-in again as revenge for our part in their apprehension.
  • On Monday, A rang an “emergency” glass fitter and then The Everythinger (to whom I alluded millaria above). The glass people came out later that day, removed the window from its frame and stuck a temporary board up in its stead. They said they’d be back on Tuesday to fix the window itself. They weren’t. They weren’t today either. They eventually contacted A to tell him that it’ll be at least tomorrow, as they’re waiting on hinges. What double fucking glazing company runs out of hinges?! “Emergency” my arse. At least The Everythinger, who was horrified to hear we’d been burgled only months after he was here the last time for the same reason, is coming tomorrow (later today, whatever it is).
  • Hilarious incidental. The peelers speculated that the theiving scum were on a drunken bender as they went about the area pilfering what they could. As such, they nicked beer from our kitchen. In fact, the one bottle that was open seemed to have been drunk out of, thus meaning potential evidence. Anyway, the burglars were clearly pissed off, as evidenced by their smashing of a few of the bottles and dumping of other ones. This, we’re all pretty sure, is because they had they discovered that they contained Becks Non-Alcoholic beers :D Hahaha!

So, if it isn’t death, cancer scares, missing cats, depression, NHS cuntery (and the destruction of that already flawed system), a potentially impending financial desert (and the macro implications of that too), or other assorted nasties, it’s fucking burglary. Thanks, 2012. You’ve brought me the bleakest start to a new year that I can recall.

Yet, comparitively speaking, I’m OK, and thus must sound a note of optimism. Well, not optimism as such, but perhaps a little faith. Overall, I was extremely impressed with the Police Service of Northern Ireland on Sunday, and I was very touched that the lady from down the street had offered the basic but important kindness that she did. The hard work of the cops and the generosity of this sweet stranger reminded me that sometimes when you see the worst of humanity, you also see the best too.

Thank you to Mental Healthy, their judges, nominators and sponsors for their very kind short-listing of this blog for the 2011 Mental Health Heroes awards (in the ‘Creative – Writer’ category). It’s a big honour to be featured alongside such people as the wonderful Kayla Kavanagh, her partner and carer Nigel, and the lovely Fiona Art, so thank you again :)

Anyone want to volunteer for TWIM or TNIM? You know you want to. Email me.

I can’t be arsed to proof-read this right now, sorry. It always mortifies me that my narratives could be error-laden, but I’m too tired to care as much as I should.

Thank Christ(ine) for Christine

A lot happened this week, but I have neither the time nor inclination to discuss it in detail. Perhaps next week. In summary: I saw Paul on Tuesday for our first ‘proper’ therapy session of the new stint. A bit of a weird dynamic was present – I babbled relentlessly, flitting from one random tangent to another rather than discussing anything remotely meaningful. Not that he agreed, of course; he opined, as he always does, that anything that runs through my mind (aside, perhaps, from “oh, look, the sun’s out” – though could that be read as an example of avoidance?) is worthy of raising in the therapeutic setting, and can give insights into my psyche. That said, he did admit at the end of the appointment that things had been a bit up in the air (I forget his specific terminology), and said we’d get down to some proper work next week. I await it with interest – but not at all without trepidation.

Last weekend I decided I was going to turn a corner of the kitchen into an office. I don’t think I can do much about it right now, but I think if I have a future, then I ought to have something to aim for – and I’ve decided that this will be professional writing. My dream: to register as a sole trader business, and make at least a part-time income from writing – and no longer have to claim at least some of my welfare benefits (I would like to think I could keep my Disability Living Allowance, on the grounds that the disability remains, but that in having my own workplace I don’t have to engage with general office tradition, which would exacerbate my illnesses). I know I’m capable of professional writing now – or, at least, I know other people think I’m capable, and that matters much more in this arena than my own self-assessments – and I’m building a few contacts. For now, that is all it is – a dream. A few commissions here or there doesn’t really mean much, but I’ve narcissistically (why is that not a word, spellcheck? Incidentally, why is spellcheck not a word when it’s the precise term WordPress uses to refer to this utility?) got it into my head now that I can achieve this if I don’t do myself in any time soon. When I mentioned the proposed office to A, he suggested that instead of setting it up in the kitchen, I actually reconvert our former study – lately, since the advent of The Everythinger, nothing more than a place for dumping stuff we can’t be bothered to sort out.

It seemed more palatable than the kitchen, admittedly: for one, it’s fucking cold in the kitchen no matter how long the heat stays on. Secondly, as I am not wont to be in the former study much, with a bit of re-configuration, it will feel more like an office than part of this house. Currently I do all my work sitting on the sofa with the laptop on my knee – but I do all my fucking about in this fashion too, and ergo it is difficult to associate the environment with work specifically. The study in many ways resembles – or will resemble, when I have it sorted – my office in my last job: small, but with everything necessary to get on with the task at hand. As such, I feel that I can ‘trick’ my brain into thinking that the proposed office will actually be a workspace, rather than a mere spare room.

We ordered a new desk, which arrived on Wednesday. I sat down to it last night and, aside from a few side panels that A had fitted, built the entire thing from scratch. It is (optionally) an ‘L’ shape, and has ample surface area, meaning that aside from the PC and laptop, I’ll have plenty of room to write by hand, consult the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, or study the professional writing course materials I bought several years ago.

All of that, particularly my suggestion about setting my writing projects up as a business, is a long way off – because right now I’m not a professional writer, but a professional mental. I even get paid for it! Though for how much longer?

As you may have gathered from the last couple of posts, things are dreadful. It’s at the point now where people are noticing: when I can no longer maintain a façade, then I know things are bad. My mother has even realised that the excrement has been liberally sprayed in the general direction of the thermantidote, and that is a tremendously dangerous sign, since I have always attempted to muster every last atom of energy my mind and body possess into convincing her that everything is fine (the reason being that she shouldn’t have to worry about me all the time).

As if things were not bad enough, therefore, when I got up yesterday morning and found an ESA50* form waiting for me, I thought I was literally going to have a heart attack – I hyperventilated so fucking much that I could see no way that my heart could continue to pump blood around my not-insubstantial body.

My ma immediately said, “we’ll take it to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.” Reasonable advice, to be sure, but she’d missed the point; the point was that, re-fucking-gardless of how competent the CAB may have been in the completion of the bloody thing, I would almost certainly still have to attend a medical examination with the fuckwitted social security agency. I know I’ve written in passing about one of my previous exposures to this immense trauma…where?…ah yes, here it is. (*This post also explains a bit about ESA ((which stands for Employment and Support Allowance)) to those of you outside the UK. Basically, it’s a disability/illness benefit – but it has two components that complicate it, which the aforelinked posts discusses). After that experience – and even regardless of it – I genuinely don’t think that I can go through another assessment of this ilk (or of any, come to that). Not any time soon; pipedreams or not, I’m still really ill. I told my mother that if I had to go through such an encounter, that I would end my life.

Fortuitously, I had an appointment with Christine in the early afternoon. Since the hospital in which I see her is close to the CAB, I took the form with me. I went in, sat down, when asked reported that since our last encounter everything was still appalling, uncopably (new word) terrible, and that “the icing on the fucking cake” had just arrived, at which point I pulled the ESA50 out of my handbag.

She shook her head in frustration – “everyone’s getting those bloody things!” – and I repeated my promise that if I was called to a medical I would commit suicide.

Christine said, “I’ll complete it for you. At least that will be a weight off your mind.”

“That would be brilliant, thank you,” I replied, “but won’t they still send for me anyway?”

She told me that she is getting the impression that the Social Securitcunts have been sending out the forms to weed out the few “scroungers” that exist in the system, and also to catch out those with a mild to moderate illness, who they (quite possibly erroneously) perceive as being able to work. She exemplified by telling me about a patient of her’s that has mild, borderline moderate, depression. “She’s been found fit for work,” Christine explained, “but honestly, Pandora, there are things she could do. Not everyone’s in that boat, and in fact most of my patients haven’t even been called to a medical, and these forms have been arriving through their letterboxes since the start of January.”

“Are you saying that you think I won’t have to go to an examination?” I checked.

“I’d make an educated guess that when I’ve finished with this” – she nodded with contempt at the form – “it’s highly unlikely.”

She smiled conspiratorially at me, but I pressed on with my concerns. She wasn’t saying definitively that I’d not have to go to the fucking thing, after all.

Eventually she said, when I had finished yet another monologue of social security-driven angsty misery, that if they did call me to an examination, that she and NewVCB would write to the bastards advising them that I would be unable to attend, as to do so would be “severely and dangerously detrimental to my mental health.”

I stared at my CPN in something akin to wonder. “Really?” I murmured in a small voice laden with disbelief.

“Yes,” she said definitely. “So don’t worry. I’ll deal with this, send it off to them, give you a photocopy at our next appointment – and if an ‘invitation’ letter turns up at your door, contact me, and we’ll make it go away.”

“Thank you,” I almost-sobbed. “Thank you. I really appreciate it.”

Christine dismissed my gratitude – not in an unappreciative way, just in the sense that she was happy to provide the service and information that she had – as part of her job. Then she said, “you’ll be horrified when you read what I’ve written. Try not to be. They need to hear the very worst aspects of your illness; yeah, some people could accuse me of extending the truth, but I don’t think that’s the case. The case is that all of what I am going to write has happened and even though you’re taking measures to control these things, the unfortunate truth is that they also have the potential to happen again…possibly at any point.”

“Why would I be ‘horrified’ that you accurately explained the most severe symptoms of my illnesses?”

She sighed. “The voices tried to get you to kill yourself. They tried to get you to kill your baby cousin. Cameras follow you wherever you go and GCHQ are obsessed by you. You’re endlessly suspicious of people, and are cripplingly anxious when you’re forced to be in any proximity to them. Some days you can’t get out of bed due to overwhelming depression. You have, at times, to be watched to make sure you don’t harm yourself. There will be occasions on which people have to remind you to take your tablets – or even make you do so.”

She paused, flicking through the form, then added that one of the key parts of the mental health section of the ESA50 was about interaction with other human beings. “Given the aforementioned symptoms, that’s not…er…well, it wouldn’t really work for you, would it?” Ah, the sweet scent of diplomacy.

We talked about other stuff. Paul. Writing. Mum’s cancer scare. Rhona’s operation (with which there were no complications but lots of pain followed by a hook-up to morphine, which was removed five days after the procedure and even then caused quite significant withdrawal symptoms). An increase in Lamictal to help me with this current vault of depression (she’s going to discuss this with NewVCB on Monday). The exact nature of how low I felt, not that I could quantify it in words. I was acutely aware that I was acting very differently around her from my norm; regardless of how I’m feeling, I usually witter on and on and on, engaging with her non-verbally too – often it belies the reality of my mental (ill) health, but it seems to come naturally around her anyway. This was completely different. I steadfastly avoided eye contact, one of their favourite observations, and apart from issues surrounding the ESA50, I didn’t speak much at all. In fact, to my abject horror and disgust, at one point I believed I looked like I was close to tears. I didn’t cry, thank fuck – I can’t imagine the shame that would have been wedded to that – but I suspect that Christine thought I was on the verge of it.

Anyway, she was brilliant. My current episode continues, and no doubt will not abate for quite a while – either more Lamictal will help, or the vileness of the low will end itself in some sort of cyclical fashion, or I’ll off myself before any improvement manifests. But for now, what would have been one of the most serious stressors this year – as if there have not been enough already – has been removed from my responsibility. I didn’t thank her enough, because I can’t thank her enough.

The only downside to her brilliance is that it makes me even more sad and distressed that thanks to non-sensical bureaucratic bullshit I may well lose her. Good mental health professionals like her, ones that actually seem to care about you, are sadly uncommon :(

I’m in a rush so haven’t proof-read this, for which my apologies are due to you. Please forgive the probable multitude of errors of grammar, punctuation and spelling in the foregoing. Thanks x

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Statty-Wats

The latest post on Karita’s blog, where she talked about having filled in the Goldberg Depression Scale, inspired me to find out exactly where I am vis a vis my depressive symptoms. My guess would have been that I was in a moderate depression, because although I’m not exactly running through fields of corn with fluffy puppies and a smug, fat grin exercising my facial muscles (though I like my face to be fit, which is why I normally wear a frown instead), I feel like I have a certain amount of cope left in me. Serious depression doesn’t have that feature, in my experience. This current state, relative at least to the rest of those over the past three-ish years, is about as close to ‘normal’ or ‘OK’ as it gets.

The first test I took was the same one that Karita had consulted. This is how it’s scored:

54 & up – Severe depression

36 – 53 – Moderate/severe depression

22 – 35 – Mild to moderate depression

18 – 21 – Borderline depression

10 – 17 – Possible mild depression

0 – 9 – No depression likely

I scored 82. 8fucking2!

Alright, then, I thought. That’s just one test. Try some of the other ones, and see if you still get that kind of result.

So, once again I made contact with everybody’s favourite detective, the omnipotent DI Google, this time searching for the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). The scoring for it is as follows:

0 – 10 – not depressed

12 – 18 – depressed

20+ – very depressed, take action

I scored 33.

This was not turning out well.

The next test was the Hamilton Depression Scale (HDS). A score of 28 or over indicates severe depression. I scored 43.

Finally, for a laugh I completed the Modified Scale for Suicide Ideation inventory (MSSI). I think it’s important to bear in mind that I am probably at my least suicidal than I have been in years, so the results of this one were especially interesting.

The MSSI is scaled as follows:

0 – 8 – Low Suicidal Ideation

9 – 20 – Mild – Moderate Suicidal Ideation

21+ - Severe Suicidal Ideation

My result was 32.

EDIT 13 February 2011: Purple Sapho has written her own version of this post, in which she includes another scale – The Burns Depression Checklist (BDC) – across which I’d not yet come.  So I took it today.  It is scored thus:

0 – 5 – not depressed

6 – 10 – normal but unhappy

11 – 25 – mild depression

26 – 50 – moderate depression

51 – 75 – severe depression

76 – 100 – extreme depression

My score?  90.

I know that these scales aren’t always to be considered as 100% accurate, and to that end I am regarding these results with a pinch of salt. However, that the results were so consistent on all of them is possibly telling. Have I lost my conceptions of what suicidal ideation and depression actually are? Am I so normalised to them, so absolutely inured, that I underestimate just how ill I am?

In the spirit of empirical results, I went back and did each test a second time, picking the absolute lowest value possible in each question rather than the statement that is most frequently true. For example, at one point the MSSI asks…:

Over the past day or two, when you have thought about suicide, have they been intense (powerful)? How intense have they been? Weak? Somewhat strong? Moderately strong? Very strong?

…the possible answers to which are as follows:

0. Very weak.

1. Weak.

2. Moderate.

3. Strong.

Over the past few days, I would say that my modal answer to this question would be ‘2. Moderate’. However, there have been a few occasions when the strength of the ideation could have been described by the lesser value of ‘1. Weak’, so instead of the picking the most frequent description in my second round at the test, I chose the latter.

The reason for this is that apparently I’m a histrionic, exaggerating freak when it comes to psychological scaling. I therefore felt like I had to prove to myself that my responses were as honest and non-dramatic as possible, but if anything, the answers I gave the second time round felt dishonest, as they aren’t a fair reflection of the frequency or intensity of those very things that they’re supposed to assess. Even so, it seemed the only feasible way of making sure I wasn’t being melodramatic.

My new results were as follows:

Goldberg – 67

BDI – 29

HDS – 29

MSSI – 29

EDIT 13 February 2011: BDC – 81

29 must be my unlucky number. So even when I am downplaying my symptoms, I am still considered severely depressed and/or suicidal.

What is depression, anyway?

If this is severe depression, what the fuck have my darkest days been? A literal manifestation of hell? A delusion? I’m not under some impression that I’m doing well at the minute, but I really would never have supposed that clinically speaking, things are as serious as they are. This makes me question the very nature of major depression: what even is it? I know what it feels like – or, according to all these testwankthings, I don’t, but you know what I mean – but I can’t quantify it well in words. My first reaction is the word ‘black’, which is certainly accurate, but a small word compared to the magnitude of the actual condition. I described it on my other blog as a “crippling treacle of blackness”, a quote that someone apparently viewed as “poetic”, which was a welcome compliment. I’m not sure I’d use that term myself, but it does serve as very brief description of such levels of depression.

In my experience the worst forms of depression are when suicide is about as unlikely as it’s ever going to be. Although you wish that you were not, you just don’t care enough about anyone or anything to have the motivation to hit your own ‘off’ switch. Perhaps that’s one over-riding characteristic of this state; complete and utter apathy. It’s inherently narcissistic too, but I don’t mean that in an offensive way; you are utterly consumed by yourself, but only because depression forces you to be. It’s full of hatred, mainly for the self. It’s irrational, it’s bleak, and it’s so, so lonely. In the unlikely event that a severely depressed person were in a room full of people, he or she would still be utterly alone.

Is it possible to just ‘get used’ to being severely clinically depressed? I know that it can certainly be done for certain types of physical pain, but I also know that I’d rather experience a lot of physical pain before I experience the bleakest days of depression. So how can you just not react to it being there? Being miserable every day is my norm, but it seems ridiculous to think that one can take a stoic attitude towards it. It just seems completely inconsistent with the reality of the illness.

What does depression mean to you? How do you demarcate between levels of it?

Lies…

To topically diverge completely, I have good news. The Social Security Agency have finally paid me the oodles of lovely cash that they owed me! I mean, they were completely full of shit when they told me, when I lodged my original complaint, that I’d be paid within a week; it was nearly three weeks later. But at least it’s there now, and fuck am I relieved. Not as jump-up-and-down-and-open-the-Champagne excited as you might expect when I’ve just found almost £2,000 in my bank account (probably as a lot of it will go on bloody bills), but I’m glad to finally have the matter sorted.

I took a deep breath and phoned the fuckers yet again on Friday. After 700 parsecs of Vivaldi and a string of utter fallacies about how my call was important to the Agency, I finally spoke to a helpful geezer named Alan. He said that the money had been paid on Wednesday, the day after Pamela had phoned them, and that the reason that I then still didn’t have it was because it tokes three days for the bank to process. There was no money on Friday, but on Saturday – hark! ‘Twas there, in all its glory. I was stunned at this because, even though all transactions are surely computationally automated, banks use any excuse to get out of doing their jobs, and the weekend would surely be the perfect opportunity for them to do fuck all.

On the point of Pamela, I told Alan that she had called me and was seeking my dubious company at what would no doubt be a wonderfully helpful and interesting “interview.” I asked him to confirm that I was, indeed, in the ‘support’ group of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

He looked at the records, and then reported that yes, I had been in the ‘support’ group since week 14 of my original claim for ESA (about July 2009, although that was retrospective in that I first had to appeal against their original decision, which I won in June 2010).

To that end, I asked Alan why I had been “invited” to a “work focused interview”. He asked me to hold the line whilst he consulted his manager. Though he was, overall, helpful, I couldn’t help but think that I knew more about the fucking benefit than he did.

Anyhow, back he came after a few minutes, sounding rather perplexed. He said that he and his boss had no idea why Pamela wanted to see me, stating that I was correct in my understanding that her “interviews” are not a requirement whilst in the support group. He asked was I certain that she knew my group allocation.

I relaid a redacted version of my conversation with her. “I did tell her that I’d won the appeal about my original placement in the work group,” I told him. “So she cannot fail to know the present circumstances.”

I could almost hear the cogs of his brain whirring on the other end of the phone, as he searched for possible reasons for her behaviour. Eventually, he simply said, “all I can suggest is that you ring her back and make sure she knows that you’re in the support group, and that attendance is not required.”

My mother rang me about an hour later, and I reported Alan’s advice to her. She said that she would ring Pamela and get back to me. She rang back about five minutes later; Pamela only works to 2.30pm so had gone for the weekend, but Mum did manage to briefly converse briefly with another member of staff, who confirmed that support group claimants are not required to attend this shite. The woman said she’d pass a message to Pamela and get her to ring my ma back on Monday.

I am cautiously hopeful that maybe this bollocks can be avoided after all.

…and Damn Lies

***Beware of sex abuse triggers***

Last night after a few pints and half a bottle of wine, I admitted something big and dark to A. Well, in the grand scheme of things it’s not that big and dark – but in my life, it is. I was once (I think it was merely once) penetrated (or ‘raped’, if you prefer) with some sort of pole thing – my adult self supposes that it was the end of a brush or mop or something, but the child couldn’t figure out its use in this world. I don’t suppose it matters, at the end of the day. And it was just an inanimate thing, so I suppose I shouldn’t really care. But I do care, unfortunately; perhaps it’s because the inanimate, non-living thing seemed to me to be a reflection of how Paedo viewed me. A useless piece of crap that serves only one purpose in this sorry world. The whole sordid business seems even more degrading than actually being fucked by him – I mean, he had to put some effort into fucking me, an indication of giving a shit on some level. Or something. A pole doesn’t possess any such considerations.

Anyway, I don’t know why I wrote that paragraph, because it isn’t true. None of my allegations of sexual abuse are true, and I am nothing but an evil Münchhausen-esque, attention-seeking liar of epic proportions. I know that Paul and, when I see her later in the month, NewVCB, will respectively say that “denial is easier than facing the ‘truth’,” and that I am in another “delusional psychosis”, but what do they know? They didn’t bear witness to my childhood.

It disgusts me that I have sucked people into this little web. What kind of vile human being creates such a saga, especially when it inevitably has an impact on other lives? Why have I done this? What an evil, twisted bitch I am. There are no words strong enough to articulate what a repugnant human being I am.

I’m sorry.

(I’ve just read over this and find it interesting that I’ve ended on such a hideously depressing note, when I was earlier stating that I was surprised to find that I am “severely” depressed. Ah well. Its just more of those defining, idiosyncratic contradictions).

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Will I be Forced Back to Work?

***Beware of triggers: self-harm and (potential) benefit loss***

You may recall that a few weeks ago I wrote about how the delightful Social Security Agency (SSA) had managed to fuck up my ongoing claim for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) rather epically.  The bloke to whom I spoke on that occasion advised that I would get the money owed to me since the fucking 12th of October within a week.

Did I?  Did I fuck.

In light of their continued failures, I sent my ma a text message from the Republic last week asking her to ring them and find out what was going on.  I was fairly sure that they wouldn’t tell her anything – a correct assumption, as it turned out – but still, I figured that it was worth letting the fuckers know that I hadn’t forgotten that they owe me over a fucking grand, so I got her to ring despite the likelihood that they’d reveal fuck all to her.  In the end, they shockingly did advise Mum that they would get one of their people to phone me by Tuesday of this week; ie. 1st February.

No such phone call was forthcoming, of course, but as I was driving home yesterday (Wednesday), a blocked number did call.  Of course as I was behind the wheel I didn’t answer it (though I’ve been known to do so in the past, to my shame), but when I got home I checked the answering machine straightaway.  The message that had been left confirmed that the call was from someone who, it seemed, was allied to the relevant governmental department.  On those grounds – ie. because I wanted to know when I was actually going to be deigned worthy of payment – I returned the call.

Oh dear.

I should have recognised the woman’s name from back in 2009.  I should have known that she was not ringing about the SSA’s pathetic yet monumental fail.  I should not have called her back.

Because she is not involved with payment of ESA, or any other out-of-work benefit.  She is there to get people back to work.

I’m not sure if I ever explained exactly what happened about this matter.  I did rant a bit about it here, and a little more here.  To cover it again in a very rudimentary sort of way (more details are here), there are two ‘groups’ of ESA – the ‘work’ group and the ‘support’ group.  If you are placed in the former, you are considered to have ‘limited’ capacity to work; if the latter, you are essentially considered incapable of employment for the foreseeable future.  I was initially placed in the work group; I appealed against this, and I won (see the second link at the start of this paragraph), thus seeing me placed in the ‘support’ group.

Those in the work group are required to undertake wanky “work focused interviews”, which are allegedly voluntary for those in the support group.  When I first received correspondence from the woman that rang me yesterday, she had invited me to one.  At the time, I wrote back and said that I was way too batshit to cope with such an eventuality, and she kindly agreed to postpone it for 18 months.

So here we are, o my little brothers.  The 18 months is fucking up.  Which would be terrifying but at least understandable if I was still considered to have ‘limited capacity’ for work – but I’m not.  I’m supposed to be too mental to work at all, as the SSA themselves fucking decided.

I rang the woman – let’s call her Pamela – and quite innocently started wanking on about my ESA claim, wondering if she could confirm when it would be paid.  She listened to me without interruption, to be fair, but when I finally shut my gob, she explained that she effectively has nothing to do with social security payments and was in fact calling about work focused interviews.  Did I recall, she asked, the correspondence with her about a year and a half ago in this regard?

My blood ran cold.  I could almost visualise blocks of deep red ice falling out of me, tantalising me into a deeper madness.  In a reverse of what are apparently cultural norms, I saw my future – not my past – flash before me.  A Mental Bird being talked to by things that aren’t there and dissociating into a fucking child nervously opens the door to a large, cold office.  The assorted, hard-nosed personnel turn to see The New Girl, staring her up and down, making crude and probably cruel judgements within seconds.  The voices, probably rightly, scream at the Mental Bird about how much her new colleagues already regard her with utter contempt.  They chatter, chatter, chatter – louder and louder – until the cacophony builds to a sickening crescendo that sends the Mental Bird running out of the office screaming.  Bye, job.  Bye, sanity. Bye, benefits.  Hello, increased dosage of anti-psychotics.  Hello, crisis team.  Hello, hospital.  Hello…suicide?

I must have thus ruminated for a few seconds, because Pamela broke through my thoughts.  “It’s not a job interview or anything like that, Pandora,” she was saying.

“Right,” I murmured, pointlessly, pathetically and frustratingly submissively.

“It’s just…well, its just to see where we are with things, and how I can help.”

“Right.”

“I’ve sent the appointment letter out…if that date doesn’t suit you, sure you can let me know.”

“OK.”

In fairness to her, she is actually quite nice.  Having explained the situation with my lack of ESA payments to her, she said she would ring the fuckwits responsible for same and attempt to ascertain what had happened – and when I should expect to receive the back payment.

“Can I call you back on this number?” she queried.

“Yes,” I said, with that same empty, obedient blankness.

When I had hung up, I sat down on the sofa and stared into space in a sickened daze.  I simply can’t go back to work.  I mean, I want to go back to work, and as noted with Paul in week 11, that is what I’m trying to work towards.  But I can’t do it yet, no matter what the consequences.  I have to sort my head out first, otherwise not only am I screwed, but my potential employers aren’t exactly going to have gained much advantage either.

So much ran through my mind, though if you’d seen me, you could have been forgiven for thinking I was catatonic.  I thought of Ali Quant’s post on her proposed way out if her benefits were removed (ie. suicide), and how I now identified even more than ever with what she’d written.  I thought of the lovely Phil Groom and his admirable idea to save her, which has now morphed into the wonderful charity-to-be, 5 Quid for Life.  I thought of One Month Before Heartbreak and my own post for that campaign.

I had always known that all this stuff was worryingly close to home – but I thought I had a little bit of breathing space before it was knocking right on my own door.  That particular illusion has now been well and truly shattered, as if someone has thrown a rather large rock at a rather small mirror.

Once again, my nihilistic thoughts were interrupted.  This time it was Pamela phoning back, having contacted the cunts at the ESA branch.  She said that they were unable to give her any explanation as to why things had fucked up, but that they had claimed that they were checking the final details of the claim (given that the backpay is so large), and that I would get the money by what is now today at the lastest (I haven’t).  I thanked her for looking into the matter for me and rang off.

I spent the rest of the afternoon lying on the sofa with a tension headache of migraine-esque proportions.  Not only can I not go back to work, I don’t know how I can even so much as meet this woman.  I can’t bear the idea of it.  It’s alright for her to say that it’s informal and friendly, but when speaking to anyone beyond your partner, therapist and, arguably, mother seems an impossible task, how can it be reasonably done with a complete stranger who by virtue of her job is meant to at least encourage you into something that is, for now, inherently dangerous?

When A arrived home, he had already read my despairing tweets on the matter.  He offered to attend the meeting with me, which may be beneficial, and believes that it’s probably an exercise in civil service box-ticking.  Maybe so, but it seems horrific to me that the simple act of a tick on some cunt of a form is allowed to create such appalling distress in those to whom it relates.  I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: can’t they just contact one’s consultant or GP if they need to confirm your illness or disability?  And in any case, if I’m supposed to be in the ‘support group’, why the fuck am I apparently required to do this?  As noted above, it is supposed to be voluntary for such claimants.  Have they fucked up my particular group designation as well as the last three months of my income?

I couldn’t sleep last night, so at about 3.30am I knocked back a Zopiclone.  Mercifully, it worked – but when I awoke today it was with great horror and dismay.  Out of the corner of my eye, I happened to notice my old friend the scalpel sitting there.  I thoughtlessly picked it up, and within seconds was cutting my lower arms to complete shreds.  When I say ‘thoughtlessly’, I mean it in the most literal of senses; I didn’t think “oh, I should self-harm here, yay” – I merely acted.  Perhaps it was as if I were a robot – behaviour on rote, I suppose, with apparently nothing to actually consider.  As I later sat with disinfectant and bloodied paper towels lying all around me, in a classic example of “too little, too late,” I considered what I had done.  I had cut my arms, which not my MO at all.  The actions of my subconscious now seemed cynical, even manipulative; if I was self-harming to relieve anxiety (and, to be fair, I think at least to some extent I was), then why not cut my abdomen or upper legs as normal?  Why slice my arms?  Stupid, pathetic, borderline, attention-seeking freak. I have clearly cut myself in this particular location in order to ensure that people will see the fucking things (even though this evening, when out for coffee with A, I went to great pains to try to hide the fuckers).

I am scared.  I am really, really scared.  I don’t blame Pamela; she’s just the messenger, doing her job as dictated by our wonderful cunterngovernnment.  But whoever is to blame, I am still – potentially – in a great deal of trouble here.  I am making progress in therapy, but I am very far from recovery – nowhere near enough to even begin to deal with basic human interactions, nevermind the complex stresses often observed within working environments.  If I have to go back to work or face losing my benefits, I have no idea what I will do.  The ‘s’ word strokes my mind from the fringes, despite the campaign that has resulted from Ali Quant’s discussion on same (see above).  One way or another, I don’t think I can cope with the worry, the degradation, the anxiety and the results of everything that this impending meeting is likely to bring.

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