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 ūüôā
  • 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 ‚ā¨50, plus coins,” I told him. “There was a ‚ā¨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 ‚ā¨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 ūüėÄ 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 ūüôā

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 fa√ßade, 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 ūüė¶

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

How Do You Work Full-Time When You're a Mentally Ill Seroquel-Gobbler?

Seroquel has tended to dictate that I sleep until at least 10.30am each day, and often much later. When I say ‘sleep’, I don’t necessarily mean that literally, because of course Seroquel regrettably loses its soporific effects over time, and I have an apparent predisposition to insomnia anyway; however, one way or another, the hangover effects of the drug leave me in a zombified stupor the whole of each morning.

Seroquel may dictate that I don’t do anything at all in its wake, but unfortunately of late circumstance has demanded the polar opposite. You may recall that A and I were burgled (for the second time) about a month ago. Two requirements arose out of this: one was the need to urgently repair the damage caused by the tossbags responsible (that being the broken back gate and the door between the kitchen and living room) and the second was, in respect of our probable desire to move, to get the house into some sort of cosmetic order. A and I live in perpetual mess and don’t really give a shit what the house looks like ordinarily. Of course maintenance of a house is a general chore to anybody, but I appear to have a specific phobia of it. Not that I’m using that as an excuse to get out of it, mind you, because I wouldn’t fucking do it whether I had said fear or not. (At least I’m honest, yes?).

Anyway, A’s father and step-mother have a mate who’s good around the house. He paints, tiles, joins, does minor structural work, blah blah de blah fucking blah blah. He’s trusted, being a family friend, and he charges reasonable rates. Excellent. Brilliant. Amazing.

Does that sound sarcastic? It is, to an extent, but seriously – we’re very lucky to have this connection, because of course it would be just our luck, were we to seek out a similar sort of individual via classified ads or something, that the person contacted would be an unscrupulous wanker with a criminal record the length of one of my more…um…exploratory posts on this blog (that’s c. 4,000 – 5,000 words, for current readers fortunate enough to be uninitiated). Furthermore, the bloke in question is a nice bloke; he’s fairly easy to chat to and seems to do a good job.

However. Fuck me but I’ll be glad to see the back of him.

I have a routine. An inane and, perhaps paradoxically, fairly un-regimented one, admittedly, but something that suits me nevertheless. I get up when Seroquel allows me to get up. Then I write, read or occasionally watch the pointless but inexplicably addictive rolling *ahem* news¬†(read: sensationalised bullwank) on BBC News 24. I sound like a work-shy fucker, I know, but even in these not-so-heady days of pseudo-“recovery”, this is genuinely all I am capable of. I don’t like lying in half the day, and I don’t do it through choice. I do it because the medication forces me to do it. In turn, the threat of potentially dangerous psychosis forces me to take the medication.

Our builder-joiner-decorater-Everythinger, and his penchant for showing up at eight in the bloody morning, has screwed up this seemingly idle but oddly workable routine on an epic scale. I haven’t felt this chronically and soul-destroyingly fatigued since I was plagued with literally months on end¬†of insomnia. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it takes me back to when I was still at work full-time and plagued with literally months on end of insomnia (God, that’s a vile memory. I would lie in bed, awake, all night – every night, for months. I’d get up at 7am and almost throw coffee beans down my throat. Then I’d go to work for 8am, stay there to 6pm in a futile effort to wear myself out, come home, stare blindly at the TV for a few hours, then repeat the whole hideous cycle for another day, and another day, and another day. And¬†this was before my 2008 breakdown came a-callin’. How the fuck did I do that every day?).

It’s the Seroquel’s fault, of course. I would probably be tired if I wasn’t taking it, but I don’t think I’d be so completely devoid of any atom of energy whatsoever. It’s the drug that demands that I rest (if you can call existing in a stupefied Seroquel hangover ‘rest’) so much, and when I don’t do its bidding, it punishes me, like some embittered monarch lashing out at a traitor.

Anyway, whilst I’m on the themes of Seroquel and working both, herein lies a huge issue. Last month, Differently left the following comment on my rant about knobend MP Philip Davies (who, incidentally, was one of the ones to question the Murdochs and Rebecca Rebecka¬†Rebeckah Rebekah Wade Grant-Mitchell Brooks over the News of the Screws phone-hacking allegations – how the hell did Parliament let him¬†on that committee?):

…realistically I‚Äôm unsure that I‚Äôll ever be able to work full time, since a combination of my experiences and the meds I take mean that managing 2 weeks at 10-4 left me looking physically unwell, pale and tired and feeling horrendous, thereby meaning that I hope to work part-time…

Seaneen, who is presently working full-time, has also alluded recently to how much Seroquel has inhibited her at work in the mornings (and she has, as a consequence, withdrawn from it).

I had been thinking, much to my chagrin, that part-time employment was becoming my own only realistic option as far as future return to work goes, but I kept trying to tell myself that¬†eventually¬†that wouldn’t be the case, that¬†eventually¬†I could back to working full-time. But this exhaustion-debacle with the Everythinger has left me seriously questioning that feigned optimism.

I cannot function without devoting most of the morning to a complete state of bleugh. I just can’t. Not whilst 600 daily milligrams of Quetiapine addles my entire system. So, if I continue to take the stuff – certainly at this dosage – there is no way in hell that I could work full-time. It is simply impossible.

I keep looking at other people (especially, to my personal feminist frustration, other women) Рrandoms in the pub, the street, whatever Рand I silently ask them, how Рhow?! Рcan you possibly work eight hours a day, five days a week? How is that even remotely physically feasible? And then I remember that I too did this Рfor years, some of it whilst doing a sodding postgraduate degree Рand I shake my head in stunned disbelief. How did I do that? How was that even approaching possible? Was I an imposter in my own body? (I do love a bit of ((self-directed)) Capgras). I am certainly not that person now. Was I ever that person, really? Who was I then? Who am I now? How did it all change? (And, you might ask, who fucking cares, Pan?).

Those that are masochistic enough to regularly read this blog may be remember that, at my last psychiatric review, I asked NewVCB if I could consider reducing my dosage of Quetiapine. You may also recall that she was potentially amenable to this, citing a maintenance dose of 300mg.

This could¬†help, and I might notice the difference more markedly after coming down from such a high dose, but my recollection of taking 300mg in the past was that it was still very – if not quite, as currently, absolutely and unequivocally –¬†debilitating¬†the next morning. Besides, I’m not convinced that 300mg adequately functioned on the psychotic features of my illness. It sated some of the voices a little I suppose, but it was only when I started ingesting a daily whack of 400mg upwards that they actually shut the fuck up (and random, probably stress-related delusions¬†are¬†notwithstanding).

So, herein lies my dilemma. You all know I don’t buy into anti-psychiatry ideals and (conspiracy?) theories. Seroquel works. I know I whinge about weight gain and have launched a virtual diatribe against the stuff in this post, but it has truly made my life better. As long as I have my get-over-the-hangover routine, I am fine. Venlafaxine at a high dose has worked wonders – well, quasi-wonders, anyway – in terms of my mood; Quetiapine has probably aided in that too, but the key issue with it is that I am almost entirely without psychosis at the minute, and have been (bar that one episode the other week, as linked to in the previous paragraph) for aaaaaaaaaaages.

But, much as I don’t want to be normal in what seems to be the standard, societally accepted version of the word, I want to be able to do the things I always wanted to do. In other words, I want to work. A career – not a job, a career¬†– was all I ever really wanted. Thus far, mentalism has denied me a career, but has periodically at least allowed me to have jobs, which may have – in another place and time – led to careers. Is being mental now going to rob me of both possibilities? Will I be a dolescum forever? Are part-time workers actually commonly sought by employers? Besides which, why is it fair that A works full-time (fuck knows how he does it) and I don’t?

Bah. I don’t know. It looks to me like I have a choice between relative sanity and full-time work. Please don’t tell me to kick the Seroquel, by the way. It isn’t going to happen, at least not in the short to medium term. I’d rather not live with a bunch of nefarious fucktards telling me to kill myself (or, worse, others); I’d rather not live with Paedo following me about the place; I’d rather not have to make sense of contemptuously vicious peccaries and stupid fucking gnomes randomly¬†harassing¬†me; I’d rather not live convinced that cameras are watching my every bloody move. Waaah waah waah, whinge whinge whinge, ad infinitum.

We could argue the toss about the true roots of psychosis all we might like – Paul of course held (and, presumably, holds) that psychosis is an entirely logical response to severe trauma, and he may well have a point – but I don’t think I’m ever going to go all R D Laing/Robert Whitaker on this. At the risk of being infuriatingly repetitive, Seroquel, for me at least, works. It does exactly what it’s indicated to do. (Or, as I mistyped, tindicated¬†to do. Geddit?!!!?1?!!!?11????!!eleven?!?! It does exactly what it says on the tin? Tindicate? No? Meh. Sorry. Humour ain’t my strong point).

So, sanity or full-time work. Full-time work or sanity. Why is nothing ever simple or easy in this enforced existence that the fabled they (not my¬†‘They’ ;)) smugly refer to as ‘life’? Why do we always have to make choices, to compromise, to ‘make do’?

Am I an immature little brat for being irate that mutual exclusivity exists in this context? (Actually, don’t¬†answer¬†that).

Anyway, enough.

(And yeah, by the way, I have¬†sold out and stuck PayPal begging buttons on some posts and on the sidebar. What can I say? I’m a slave to a capitalist world, a traitor to my fellow benefit claimants, a betrayer of my lefty principles, a self-serving money-whore of evil, a rabiator of [insert hated multi-national¬†conglomerate¬†of your choice here]¬†proportions, a twat, a dick, a __________, a &%$(“($, a…yeah, you get the idea. A few of you also did ask about it, in my defence ;)).

marketing

Benefit Claim EPIC FAIL

Finances utterly depress me, a reality that makes them even more impossible to understand that they were in the first place. ¬†For the past few months I seem to have gone right to the line of no income, despite the fact that Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) should, together, provide me with a decent-ish income. ¬†I mean, their existence doesn’t allow me to live any sort of luxurious life, as some right-wing commentators appear to erroneously opine. ¬†But, until fairly recently, they allowed me to survive financially; my basic needs, cautious payments of debts and even the occasional treat were all within my budget.

However, mental illness that includes a large and chronic dollop of depression makes keeping track of these matters, something of which other people seem to be vaguely capable, very difficult. ¬†Especially during the winter, when depression, anhedonia and listlessness seem to reign supreme. ¬†This is a typically pretentious and verbose way of me saying that I haven’t been keeping track of my finances at all of late.

Sometime in November, I started to struggle with money even more than normal. ¬†I blamed it on the then-upcoming capitalist festival that is Christmas, and on occasional on pretty expensive expenditures such as flights, and didn’t really think much more about it. ¬†By December, I was kind of perplexed by just how little money there consistently was in my account, but I still didn’t have the wit/couldn’t face any form of investigation into same, and continued trying to evade my debtors – something at which I became extremely adept as a student.

However, today I received a text message from my bank informing me that I had received a payment and since this is a Wednesday, I assumed that this was my monthly DLA payment (which it indeed turned out to be). ¬†Its arrival caused me to casually wonder if this fortnight’s ESA had arrived – and for the first time since I moved to e-banking and statements, I decided to check.

After the usual faffing about of forgetting my username, password and PIN that grant me access to my account, I was finally presented with the dubious details of same.  I clicked the link to statements, and a dull, code-like document duly stared back at me, mocking me with its desultory language of numbers.  I ignored this frustrating but expected element of the matter and read it, looking for ESA payments from the Social Security Agency (SSA) of doom.

There were none to be seen.

I went further back – back to last month’s statement. ¬†Maybe they paid me double before Christmas, similar to the way that employers pay December’s salary at that point rather than at the traditional end-of-month juncture.

But there were still no references to it to be seen, aside from a pathetic cold weather payment of ¬£25 (because that’s really going to pay for all the fucking oil incurred during those seemingly interminable hideous weeks of snow and ice).

By this time I was in a state of panic. ¬†Oh my fucking God. ¬†They didn’t re-approve the application and they didn’t tell me. ¬†Fucking hell. ¬†Oh God almighty. ¬†I’m going to have to go to one of those evil, suicide-inducing social security tribunals of fucking evil. ¬†Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. ¬†They think I am some dolescum waster. They don’t believe me, they think I’m a liar! ¬†I’m not, this is real! ¬†Fucking real! ¬†Jesus! ¬†Why do they think this? Who have they spoken to? ¬†Oh my God. ¬†I’m going to have to kill myself, I can’t afford to even pay off a fraction of my debts without ESA, never mind actually bloody well liveetc etc etc.

Filled with trepidation, I went back to October’s statement. ¬†And there it was: ESA, paid at the normal support group rate. ¬†But – the last payment was on the 12th of October. ¬†For the calendar-understanding-challenged amongst us, that is over three months ago!

I could hardly breathe. ¬†October was at about the time they had inexplicably asked me to apply for a renewed application of the benefit, so it seemed definite that they had received the 7,000,000 light-year long form and decided it was full of lies, or that my ability to even half-complete it demonstrated occupational competency. ¬†I say that their request for a re-application was ‘inexplicable’ because, after I had threatened to appeal their earlier decision to allocate me to the work group, they had backed down only in June 2010 and agreed that I was, in fact, meant to be in the so-called support group (here is an explanation of the support versus the work group, if you care). ¬†What could they think had realistically changed in a mere four months?

12th October.  I was sure that they should at least have informed me of their decision to cancel or otherwise withhold the payment.  To that end I quickly navigated to their website to look for an email address to which I could direct a complaint and a request for clarification.

Not that I found one, but as I looked anyway, my panicked mind at least allowed me to consider one rational point: these are the most fuckwitted people in the Northern Irish public sector, which believe me is fuckwitted enough in the first place. ¬†If I were to email them, they wouldn’t respond until about August 2038 – if they even responded at all, that is, employing the old excuse of, “oh, I never got that email…”

I knew then that I would have to phone them.  This is about as bad as it gets.  My serious and extremely debilitating phone phobia has not reduced in any way since I first discussed it here Рif anything, I hate and fear it all the more.  The thing is evil.

Evil Phone

But what choice did I have? ¬†For some horrible reason, I’d just discovered I’d lost three months’ worth of my income! ¬†The ridiculous situation had to be resolved, and had to be resolved quickly.

So I reluctantly picked up the phone, my anxiety building, my revulsion at the device in my left hand palpable. Even Boy Cat looked at me as if the few marbles that I’d somehow hitherto retained were now lost. ¬†I ignored his cynical glare and dialled the number.

It rang.  And then:

Hello, welcome to the Employment and Support Claim Line. ¬†Please note that this number only accepts calls from new claimaints, and cannot deal with enquiries regarding existing claims. ¬†Please also note that we are unable to transfer calls relating to existing claims to the relevant department [yes, that is a supremely difficult task, after all. ¬†You don’t just press ‘Transfer’ and enter an extension or anything, do you? ¬†No, you must first outline the mathematics of the theory of relativity on the telephone’s key pad, then type out War and Peace on same as if you were writing an exceptionally long text message. ¬†Demanding stuff, indeed]. ¬†If you are calling regarding a pre-existing claim, please call 6-21-3-11 25-15-21. ¬†For all new claimaints, please hold the line and have your National Insurance number ready…

I audibly cursed the day that Innocenzo Manzetti or Antonio Meucci¬†or Alexander Graham Bell or whoever actually invented the damn thing took his or her first breath. ¬†Though the fact that the actual inventor of it is so heavily contested presumably proves that some other hateful being would have invented the piece of shit sooner or later anyway. ¬†Not, to be fair, that it’s their fault that the Social Security Agency are wankers, but who cares? ¬†They still suck donkey balls.

I dialled the second number in a dysphoric mix of near-paralysing anxiety and rage.

Hello, and welcome to the Employment and Support Allowance Customer Service line. This line is only for existing claimaints and we are unable to deal with queries relating to new claims.  Neither are we able to direct new claimaints to the relevant department.  If you are a new claimaint, please call 19-21-3-11 13-25 4-9-3-11.  For pre-existing claimaints, please hold the line and have your National Insurance number ready.

I did, and I had.

Thank you for holding! ¬†We are sorry, but all our lines are busy at the minute. ¬†Please phone back later. ¬†We are open from 9am to 5pm on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and from 10am to 5pm on Thursday. [I’m sure you do really useful stuff during that extra hour on Thursdays]. ¬†Thank you for calling. ¬†Goodbye!

Cunts.  Such complete and utter cunts.  I called again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  And AGAIN!

On my seventh call, having got through the above message, I was presented with this:

Thank you for holding.  All our Customer Service Representatives [!!!] are busy with other callers at the moment, and your call is in a queue.  Please hold, and someone will be with you as soon as possible.

The false cheer in the robot-woman’s voice made me want to stomp round to their offices, establish her identity, and then rearrange either her face or her motherboard, depending on the type of voice she represented. ¬†I waited.

Twice more she rolled out this patronising bollocks, her mutterings interspersed with enraging repetitions of Vivaldi.  But hark!  Hark!  Finally I heard actual ringing.  Who knew it was even possible?!

Of course, this suggested that I would soon have to speak, and thus my infernal wrath subsided back into extreme panic once again.  Given that I claim benefits for being mental rather than being fucking raging, this was on reflection probably a good thing.

A miserable, fed-up sounding git apparently called Jonathan eventually answered.  He asked me my National Insurance number and about 28,000 security questions before finally establishing that I was, shockingly, actually me.

“How can I help you today, Ms Serial-Insomniac?” he ¬†asked insincerely and distractedly.

Through tears, stammers and a general inability to articulate myself in any meaningful way, I explained to our righteous and good friend Jonathan that I had been very unwell over the last few months, and to that end had only today realised that his organisation had failed to pay me any money since 12th October.

“I’m supposed to be in the support group, but you asked me to re-claim only a few months later anyway, I don’t know why. ¬†I sent the form and everything, but never heard anything from yourselves, so I assumed everything was in order. ¬†Could you please explain what has happened?”

The above paragraph is redacted to remove all the ‘ums’, ‘ahs’, sobs, stammers and nose-blows that characterised it.

I heard Jonathan clattering something into the keyboard he presumably had in front of him. ¬†Then he said, “just hold on a minute.”

Silence overtook the line.  It made a refreshing change from robot-woman and Vivaldi, at least.

Jonathan was gone for approximately three minutes, during which time my epic foray into hyperventilation and neurosis continued completely unabated.  Eventually, his now surprisingly apologetic voice returned to the line.

“Are you still receiving DLA, Ms S-I?” he asked.

I responded in the affirmative.

“OK,” he said, “something’s gone wrong here. ¬†It seems that there’s been a glitch between our systems and the DLA systems, resulting in the suspension of payments to your account. ¬†I’ll send this information over to the Maintenance Department and get it sorted for you.”

“Does that mean that I haven’t lost the benefit, then?” I queried.

“Oh no,” he replied, fairly categorically. ¬†“It’s just been a glitch in the system. ¬†I’ll pass it over to Maintenance, and you should get the money within a week.”

I thanked him for his help, and was – praise be to Christ – able to end the hateful call. ¬†I assume that at this point I was meant to feel reassured, and I suppose part of me did, but there were two issues with which I then had to contend. ¬†Firstly, if the SSA can make such a monumental fuck up for three fucking months, then can easily fuck up the sending of the payment that they now apparently realise is owed to me. ¬†Secondly, the whole stress of finding out I hadn’t been paid for so long, believing that I had lost the benefit altogether, and making the God-forsaken phone call(s), had rendered me a tearful, exhausted, anxiety-ridden, depressed mess. ¬†Even more so than usual, that is.

Seconds later A, who was home early from a meeting, walked through the front door and I collapsed into his arms, explaining through more stammers and breathlessness what had just happened.

To my surprise, A congratulated me. ¬†He felt that the fact I was able to make the phone call¬†at all was a fact worthy of positive regard. ¬†Furthermore, when I relayed brief details of the afternoon’s catalogue of idiocy on Twitter, someone else said the same. ¬†Now that I have calmed down somewhat, I can see their point: I actually do feel quite pleased with myself. ¬†It was a massive ask of me, and I did it. ¬†Not, however, that the experience has in any way given me renewed confidence in using the bloody phone, of course. ¬†It has simply reinforced my utter abhorrence of the despicable piece of shit.

I think I’m owed about ¬£1,300, which is certainly something to be welcomed. ¬†If it arrives as good Jonathan suggested it would, it will help assuage the demands of those bastards hunting my arse for the money they’re owed, and should even give me enough to live on for a bit, especially if normal ESA payment resumes fortnightly as it should.

It’s a big ‘if’, though. ¬†I don’t understand why the ESA and DLA payments should even be linked in the first place; they are entirely separate benefits. ¬†Still, let’s hope that it was something as simple as stated, and let’s just see if they can manage to acquit themselves with any competence now that the complaint has been flagged up with their oh-so-wonderful personnel…

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One Month Before Heartbreak: Who Cares?

Who cares?

Not the government.

The One Month Before Heartbreak campaign was set up to highlight the travesty that will result from the Coalition’s so-called benefit reform. ¬†I will admit to not knowing all the specifics, mainly because it is too depressing and anxiety-inducing to examine such bleak material. ¬†But one thing I do know is that if and, more likely, when thousands of genuine benefits claimaints are robbed of the few pounds that facilitate their (usually quite basic) existence, there will be poverty, there will be homelessness, there will be unbearable misery – and there will be death.

My friend Ali Quant, who writes the brilliant Purple Noise blog, recently published an eloquent yet tragic and utterly heart-breaking post on what the consequences of losing her only source of income are likely to be. Well, not consequences, for there is only one course of action that Ali feels appropriate: suicide.  Her decision is not rash or over-the-top: it simply reflects the fact that she would, understandably, rather not live at all than live the life of homeless degradation and despair that she formerly led.

Forgive a statement that sounds like a teenager whinging, but it’s just so unfair. ¬†Ali has oftentimes lived a horrible life, and exists with the side-effects of that every day. ¬†She is ill as a result of trauma – not some layabout that sat down one day and calculated how much she could scrounge from the UK taxpayer.

Why Bother?

I happen to know that Ali has a very high IQ and even had I not been privy to that information, it is clear from her writing, from the way she carries herself in (online) conversation and even from her apparently innate abilities to outshine anyone at Scrabble that she is a very smart woman.  I also happen to know that she has worked in the past.

This is something I often point out in relation to my own circumstances. ¬†I have an IQ that is frustratingly just short of Mensa-level (and therefore less than Ali’s! ;)); I spent 19 years in full-time education¬†(the Northern Ireland requirement for same being only 12 years); I worked my fucking arse off in various jobs since the age of 16. ¬†Why, why, would I have done any of that if I had wanted to languish on benefits all my life? ¬†Why would I have incurred thousands and thousands of pounds of student debt, only to willingly lie about all day and fail to intellectually stimulate myself as I would, at least to some degree, in a job? ¬†I am not by nature a lazy person. ¬†As I discussed with Paul this week (blog to follow), when other female children were fantasising about weddings and babies, I was fantasising about my dream job. ¬†I still am, but I can’t have it right now. ¬†Because I, like Ali, am ill. ¬†Not malingering, but ill. ¬†Debilitated. ¬†Incapacitated. ¬†Unable.

Consequences

The consequences for me if I lose my benefits are not as horrific as those of Ali, but they will still be profound. Given my level of debt and the fact that I already cannot afford to repay it, I would probably have to declare myself bankrupt. ¬†I will still have a roof over my head, thank God, but A or Mum would become solely financially responsible for me. ¬†Have you any idea how utterly pathetic and downtrodden that would cause a person to feel? ¬†Add to that a hefty dose of pre-existing mental illness and the consequences are horribly far-reaching. A complete psychotic break? ¬†A suicide (attempt)? ¬†A complete fall from ‘normal’ depression, itself swathed in a despair unknown to an average human being, into the black depths of indescribable, paralysing suffering? Self-harm, that becomes increasingly more severe and dangerous?

And that’s just how it may affect me. ¬†What about the others? ¬†My mother is a pensioner now, meaning that her income is shockingly low, and although A earns a reasonable salary, it’s not easily enough to cover both of us. ¬†And anyway, why should he have to be financially responsible for me? ¬†He earns his salary; I don’t do any part of his job for him. ¬†Why should I get any of it? ¬†My point is simply that it also isn’t fair on either of them for me to lose my income. ¬†And I suppose one might say, “but why is it therefore fair on the state to be financially responsible for you?” ¬†The answer is that, partly, that I’ve already paid the state quite a bit. Furthermore, it is a long-held principle of this country that we care for our most vulnerable and ill. ¬†Or, at least, it was.

Flaws

The DLA consultation papers, and related information, can be found here. ¬†I don’t want to read it, but I know from A looking at it that a lot of it is simply bullshit. ¬†One thing I heard him muttering about was that they say there is a “perception” that DLA is simply an out-of-work benefit (which is not true, as anyone who meets the criteria can receive the allowance, including those in full-time employment). ¬†So what? ¬†A “perception” is not a reality. ¬†If this is their problem, why don’t go out and address the fucking “perception”, rather than raping genuinely disabled people of what is rightfully theirs?

Secondly, consider the hideous assessment process. ¬†I know I’ve ranted about this before on similar posts, but aside from the fact that they are¬†shockingly triggering, overwhelming and vile experiences, they are as ill thought out as fuck. ¬†Anyone with a vaguely medical background can assess anyone with any form of ill health or disability. ¬†To note our arena specifically, have you ever heard of a psychiatrist actually running the assessment meeting of a person with some form of mental illness? ¬†No? ¬†Neither have I. ¬†Neither have I heard of orthopaediatricans or rhuematologists assessing someone claiming for arthritis, nor a gastroenterologist evaluating a person with Chron’s disease or a peptic ulcer.

Thirdly, as I argued in this post (with the properly-sourced figures to back it up), the whole Daily Mail-esque trump card (ie. that the majority of sickness/disability claimants are¬†fraudulent)¬†that the government seem to be playing is simply not true. ¬†DLA in particular has the lowest rate of fraud of any state benefit in the UK, probably because of the ridiculous amount of hoops you have to jump through just to even be considered for it. ¬†Benefit crime is certainly a crime, and I welcome prosecution of those people who claim money to which they aren’t entitled, and who give the rest of us a bad name in the process. ¬†But the statistics speak for themselves: benefit fraud is not as widespread as many seem to think it is, and much, much more money is ‘stolen’ from the UK’s economy each year from tax evasion and white collar crime, investigations into which I don’t recall having heard anything about from the Coalition. ¬†I’m not making a lefty (Yanks read: liberal) point here; these are simply the facts.

Prison

Last night A and I were lamenting the sad reality that Ali Quant’s recent blog post highlights. ¬†As the discussion progressed, A had a somewhat¬†irreverent¬†brainwave: why don’t those of us that are probably going to lose our benefits simply commit a crime? ¬†Not a silly crime like shoplifting – you’d get off with a warning for that, especially if you’re a first time ‘offender’. ¬†No, we’re talking murder, GBH, rape – that sort of thing. Something to get you put into the slammer.

Of course, because we are not cunts (well, except me – but I still wouldn’t do any of the above), we are not going to do any of those horrible things. ¬†So, I postulated, we should simply confess to an unsolved serious crime that we didn’t commit. ¬†The cops and the CPS/DPP are unlikely to have the wit to realise that the confession is false, and would be glad to get a few more positive results under their belt. ¬†Win all round.

Why do you want to go to prison, Pan? ¬†Well, obviously, I don’t. ¬†But think about it; prisoners have a guaranteed roof over their heads for the duration of their sentence, they get regularly fed, most have TVs in their ‘cells’, they get leisure time with pool tables and video games, they work to earn ‘luxuries’ such as cigarettes, they can gain qualifications, and now they’re getting the vote. ¬†All this¬†is funded by the taxpayer.

It is a sad state of affairs, in my view, when those detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure are afforded the same basic rights that the government are preparing to strip from the infirm and the disabled.

Responding

Even if I did find it in myself to read the DLA reform consultation document, I can’t respond to it online as it applies to Great Britain only (the Northern Ireland equivalent is¬†here, and in this case I will be responding via email). ¬†However, if you are on the mainland and you feel up to reading the document,¬†please do take the time to make your views known. ¬†Will they listen? ¬†Almost certainly not, but they still need to know that there is a substantial body out there that regards these “reforms” as destructive and life-threatening. ¬†I don’t honestly believe they currently know it fully; after all, we don’t (as yet…see below) have a mobilising force taking this issue to the fore in the way that the protesting students did. ¬†So tell them. ¬†It will be a waste of your time, probably, but tell them anyway. ¬†Put it on record.

Who cares?

As established, not the government.  Probably not the reactionary media and the majority of those that follow it either.

But these people are not all people.

In light of Ali’s tragic post (above), the wonderful Phil Groom had an idea. ¬†An idea borne out of the fact that he cares about people with disabilities and illness, an idea borne out of the fact he is so full of generosity and love.

The 200 People Campaign

Phil proposed* that he ‘recruit’ 200 individuals that would be willing to give, monthly, ¬£5 each, resulting in payment of about ¬£12,000 pa. ¬†Initially the proposition was to give this all to Ali upon the probable loss of her benefits, but proving that there’s more than one good person in the world, a lively discussion broke out during which it was agreed monies raised should actually go to a central fund. ¬†If someone had their benefits cut they could, for example,¬†rely on the fund to get them through the appeals process, though that said, the specific qualifications for it have not yet been worked out. ¬†One thing this will not be is a second income to those that retain their benefits; it will exist only to help those that the DWP/SSA have erroneously decreed to be unworthy of financial help**.

Although this is a big ask of people, it is do-able – it’s quite within reach if we get the word out. ¬†We can do this. We can do for society’s most vulnerable what this supposedly caring government will not do. ¬†And you can too.

Please see Phil’s post on the issue – linked above, and below in the links section too – or, if you are a Facebook user, why not request membership* of the group set up for the campaign? ¬†Why not write your own blog post or Facebook/Twitter message to raise awareness? ¬†Why not publicly pledge your intention to give ¬£5 to help those that will have their lives devastated by these cuts? ¬†Or, if you cannot afford that, why not at least join us in solidarity?

As Karita so perfectly put it, if David Cameron wants a ‘Big Society’, let’s give him one.

Links

Blog Posts on the 200 People and One Month Before Heartbreak Campaigns
Other Blogs and Sites Against Benefit Cuts
In the News
DLA Reform Consultation Documentation
My Previous Posts on Benefit Cuts

Please contact me or leave a comment below with any more links that you think are relevant to this post and I will add them as soon as possible.

* Please note that you may encounter a request for a password to Phil’s post. ¬†There are a number of reasons for this that are discussed in the post itself and in its comments. ¬†Please contact Phil for access. ¬†The Facebook group is presently a ‘closed’ one for the same reasons.

** It is also been agreed that the proposed fund will, for the meantime, be restricted to those with mental health difficulties.  This is because mental illness is so un-obvious and stigmatised, and also because, regrettable as it is, we are simply unlikely to have the resources to help everyone that this government is screwing with.

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The Comprehensive Spending Review Will Screw People With Mental Illness

I’m far too depressed about this to write extensively on it, but by now you’ll probably be aware that our friend Gideon has slashed funds for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). ¬†Fair? ¬†Well, you make up your own mind, but let’s face it; those of us that are genuine claimants are just as screwed as the few ‘scroungers’ that exist within the system.

ESA Work Group

Georgie has decreed that those in the ‘Work Related Group’ of ESA will only be allowed to remain there for a year, then will be transferred to Job Seekers’ Allowance (JSA). ¬†Um…sorry? ¬†I thought the work-group was for people who had ‘limited capacity‘ for employment. ¬†Augh well. ¬†Everyone will be better within a year, won’t they George? ¬†It really is as easy as that. ¬†Thanks for letting me know.

This is truly dreadful in just about every conceivable way. ¬†JSA does not carry with it ‘return to work’ schemes and the support of an ‘advisor’ in as work-group ESA does, thus reducing and definitely not incentivising those that will be affected. ¬†Also, JSA paid at a lower rate than ESA. ¬†You could argue that it’s only a difference of about ¬£20, but when you live on the fucking line, ¬£20 is a lot of money.¬†¬†Way to boost people’s morale and encourage them back to the workforce, regardless of whether or not they’re still ill. ¬†Nice one, G.

Here’s a stunningly insightful, absolutely non-patronising and comprehensive look at how the work group of ESA works, in case you were not previously familiar with it:

Wondrously Amazing Explanation of ESA!

Wayhay!!! Thanks, Social Security Agency, This is STUNNING!

ESA Support Group

Big G ‘n’ Friends claim that the ‘most severely’ ill/disabled individuals will still be ‘looked after’. ¬†Oh really?

Just how is that measured, G? ¬†I can’t find a source through Google, but estimates being bandied about on Twitter suggest that only six per cent of ESA claimants are allocated to the ‘support’ group of the benefit, the one where people are ‘safe’ from being moved to JSA.

Why don’t we just reduce it to one per cent, George? ¬†Or even point one? ¬†If all that matters is protecting the ‘most severely’ ill/disabled, then why not just set your arbitrary figures at an even more arbitrary level? ¬†Why not screw everyone? ¬†Why not decide that the lowest number possible represents the ‘most severely’ disabled? ¬†In fact, I have a great idea. ¬†How about, instead of using percentages, we just ‘protect’ the one single ‘most severely’ disabled person in the whole country?!¬†¬†That would really help clear the¬†deficit!

Why Mentalists are Fucked

It’s not just mentalists, of course. ¬†Anyone with a hidden disability is potentially bollocksed by this, regardless of reams of medical evidence agreed by 700,000 health professionals clearly demonstrating their chronic/severe/seriously debilitating illness(es). ¬†This is because of the government’s infinitely wise choice to ignore what is clearly biased evidence from your GP, consultant and any other medic-y types you may see, and have you assessed instead by their independent medical assessors.

These people of course work for the Social Security Agency (SSA) and ATOS because they voluntarily turned down positions in the NHS and private medicine, absolutely not because they were faced with little choice when it came to their careers.  Hmm.  yes.  *clears throat*  Furthermore, naturally their specialist rotations were of such longevity and depth that they know at least as much if not more than individual consultants in specific branches of clinical medicine. Um-hmm-hmm-hmm.  Yup. *clears throat again*

In short (and sarcasm aside) Рthese twats have little to no specialist knowledge of psychiatry/psychology, and are therefore not in any position at all to make a judgement on whether someone is truly mentally ill or not.  Ditto gynaecology, rheumatology, opthamology, etc etc etc, ad infinitum.

Random Notes and Observations

I am interested to note no evidence in the CSR of extra percentage points added to things like inheritance tax for those left with colossal inheritances.  I wonder why that was?

It should be noted (as if matters weren’t complicated enough) that ESA can be claimed on a contributory or an income-based basis:

  • [you can claim] contributory ESA if you have paid enough national insurance contributions. However, if you become unfit for work before you are 20 (25 in some cases), you do not need to meet the national insurance contribution conditions.
  • income-related ESA [is claimable] if your income and savings are low enough…To get income-related ESA, your income will be compared with an amount the Government thinks is enough for you to live on.¬† If you income is less than this, you will get the maximum amount of income-related ESA. If your income is more than this amount, you may get some income-related ESA.¬† You cannot get any income-related ESA if your savings are more than ¬£16,000.¬†If you get child maintenance payments, usually these will not be included in your income. ¬†(Source)

So, to be fair, this reform won’t officially affect everyone who claims ESA in the work-group. ¬†But do we trust the government to keep the income-related component safe from stealth cuts? ¬†I’m not so sure.

Links

Many people have responded and will respond far better to today’s announcements than I have or can.

I will add to this as and when I come across more.  I suspect that that shall not be far in the future.

My views on the already-proposed changes (from the June 2010 budget) to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) can be found here.

Number Crunching

I do not object to benefit reform per se, and I would like to see ‘scroungers’ weeded out of the system as much as anyone else.

The problem is that the idea of ‘scroungers’ is a hand being grossly overplayed by the government and the country’s reactionary media. ¬†No one denies that there’s some such people; however, most of us dispute that they are as high in number as The Fail or The Sexpress have indoctrinated their respective readerships into believing. ¬†In actuality, the rate of benefit fraud comes in at something like one per cent of all claimants, for God’s sake. ¬†Oh, wait. ¬†A source, you say? ¬†OK. ¬†It’s…um…The Daily Mail!

For the purposes of comparison, This is Money notes that the Citizens Advice Bureau estimates that whilst the aforementioned 1% of fraudsters may be incurring about £5 billion pounds of expense, about £16 billion of benefit entitlements are unclaimed.

The same site also points out that The National Fraud Authority (NFA) claims that tax evasion costs the Treasury about ¬£17 billion. ¬†One thing to note here is that one single case of tax evasion or white collar fraud can run into millions, thus possibly meaning that relative to benefit fraud, there are fewer individuals committing this type of financial crime. ¬†Nevertheless, the figure is still three times higher than that of benefit crime, and thus is surely relevant to the bigger picture in governmental macro-budgeting. ¬†Perhaps some funding to help the NFA catch white collar criminals wouldn’t go amiss. ¬†Perhaps, given these figures, much more money could be returned to the¬†Exchequer in this way than by cutting benefits to those that need them?

Meh

What do I know though. ¬†I’m just a dirty benefit fraudster who¬†thoroughly¬†deserves to be cast into a potentially deadly financial desert for her crimes, all because you can’t always see her faux illness crippling her body.

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