Not Being Me

My past few blogs have been hard to write concentrating as they have done on my struggles with the DWP and my mental health, however I think these are issues that need to be talked about more and widely – too many of us who are disabled are becoming increasingly more invisible and less able to cope. Those of us who can must tell our stories and get them shared as widely as possible – the government and their supporters are prepared to swipe away whole swathes of people they see as inferior. We mustn’t let them win. In my previous post “I Won Against the DWP. There’s No Victory”, (trigger warning – suicide is discussed), I was able to that say with some small relief that I had finally “won” my 21 month battle with the DWP and had been placed back into the ESA Support Group. Despite the Tribunal result I felt far from victorious and suffered what the medical profession call a mental health crisis but most of us would better understand as a nervous breakdown or collapse. I really would like to be writing about the issues I had intended this blog to be for – anti-austerity, community, equality and campaigning – but instead the blog has become a journal on the theme of me, my mental health and my struggle with the faceless bureaucracy of the DWP. For this I apologise. But these are issues that affect countless numbers of people without a voice and so I feel, however difficult it is for me, I should share my story via the small platform of this blog and Twitter to highlight the effects that this government’s vindictive and unnecessary policies of benefit “reform” are having on so many disabled and sick people.

Following my ESA Tribunal at the end of November last year the pernicious build-up of stress over 21 months that began in February 2016 with form-filling, waiting, assessment, waiting, Job Centre interviews, waiting, training centre interviews, waiting, stopping of claim, waiting, lodging of appeal, waiting, Tribunal one, waiting, then finally Tribunal two in November released a crippling depression as I finally had no more need to be strong and stoical – I had, after all, finally won. Well no, not really. I had finally persuaded the DWP I was entitled to receive the small amount of benefit they deem it possible to live on. I had, mostly, hidden from even my closest friends the effect that the whole process was having, apart from a shorter and less severe depression following cancelling of my claim in October 2016, and the build-up of anxiety in the final six weeks leading up to the Tribunal in November 2017. What followed from the end of November has been a very difficult time where a sudden and severe depression took hold and made my life, already controlled and restricted by pain, even more restricted and narrow. Mental health referrals are increasingly difficult, and as I presented no real danger to others it seemed in December that regular appointments with my GP and a course of antidepressants, (an increase in the dose of medication I already take as a muscle relaxant), might well be the best course of action. It took some weeks for the medication to kick in, and even then it was only a slight effect, during which a small core of trusted friends took the brunt of my panic and anxiety and the Samaritans became a lifeline. Going out was a problem, leaving the confines of my council estate took huge effort and travelling on public transport created waves of panic and nausea. My default setting was weeping and apologising, I barely functioned. I had also started to realise that over the previous six months I had paid little heed to my finances, my home was in dire need of a decent clean and, to cap it all, just before Christmas my computer packed in and my now main form of communicating with the wider world was narrowed further. I sank further into depression. When I say I paid little heed to my finances it was nothing profligate by normal standards, I had simply stopped timing the heating and hot water, if I needed new shoes or liked a shirt I just bought them, I didn’t buy the cheapest food and I allowed my pay-as-you-go phone and internet access use to creep up. It was a matter of less than ten pounds per week that built up into an overdraft I couldn’t pay back, even when I cut expenditure which included stopping internet access. Being disabled and on benefits is far from normal standards, there has been no increase on ESA since 2010 which effectively means a cut of almost 20%. I became even more needy and frightened, for the first time in my adult life I couldn’t cope at all. I treated some friends abysmally yet those same friends were amongst the first to step in and help.

And then, immediately after the New Year, the PIP process started with the arrival the 40 page application form and continues with a face-to-face interview this week. The whole process from receiving the form to interview has been just one month, breathtakingly fast by DWP standards, giving me no time to rest and recover from the ESA debacle. I have become even more anxious and withdrawn since receiving the appointment letter less than ten days ago, so much so that my GP has now prescribed me diazepam and may make an emergency mental health referral when he sees me later in the week. This past week I have withdrawn from social media, stopped reading or listening to the news and managed to travel on public transport on two occasions when absolutely necessary and only after taking diazepam. Even meeting a friend of over 30 years for lunch within easy walking distance required medication, as has writing this. All this is down to the reorganisation of the disability benefits system and the requirement of all disabled people to have to re-apply for benefits that are replacing those we had already been thoroughly assessed for and in many cases, like mine, had been granted for life because our disability would not improve – indeed many conditions worsen with age.

This is a system where the government has made mistrust the key driver, where disabled people are the scapegoats for austerity and those who know the people best – their carers, nurses, GPs and consultants, fully qualified and trusted professionals – are ignored, and outsourced agencies such as Capita and G4 provide “health professionals” who are entrusted with deciding the disability and its effects on people they have never met before.

I am usually a solitary and shy person who cannot readily discuss personal matters or admit my fears, even with my closest friends, and my current behaviour isn’t me. These issues, though, are more important than my pride so I have to say how government policies towards disabled people truly affect the vast majority of us – my experiences are not unusual – and how the processes designed to improve benefits for disabled people are, in fact, worsening their financial stability and endangering their mental health and physical well-being.

I am incredibly fortunate to have the support of truly remarkable friends, something in recent times I have all too often lost sight of and in some cases treated incredibly badly, a supportive GP, a top-notch and brilliant welfare rights advisor and some incredible strangers. Despite that I have been propelled into this foul fog of depression and anxiety where I am totally lost. But as Matt Haig says in his great book “Reasons to Stay Alive”:

“Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.”

If you are depressed and need someone to talk to contact the Samaritans – they really do help, as I know well. I have been grateful for their help.

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I Won Against the DWP. There’s No Victory.

On 29th November 2017 at 2pm I faced my second appeal against the Department for Work and Pensions, the decision of the previous appeal held on 3rd October last year having been set aside. At that appeal, fighting the decision to remove me from ESA and place me on Job Seekers Allowance, I won but rather than be put back in the Support Group I was put into the Work Related Activity Group. This meant I could be required to attend job training, carry out “work related activities” and seek work, but mostly I would “probably” receive “update” calls and be given advice and support to enable me to “think about work options in the future.” It also meant receiving a lower rate of benefit and, as a knock-on because at the stroke of a pen I was apparently no longer quite as disabled, that meant I also lost some housing and council tax benefit. Strangely my body didn’t get the message it wasn’t allowed to be in as much pain and restrict my ability to work. On the advice of a brilliant support worker from the Child Poverty Action Group it was requested that decision be set aside, it was. And so, last Wednesday, I faced the Tribunal in a small room of a smart central London office block, (although the DWP Tribunals part is entered in a separate entrance on a side street, out of sight of smart office workers), and I won. I was placed back in the Support Group. But it wasn’t really a victory, it was Pyrrhic. And here’s why:

Had I not won the tribunal I could have lost ESA and been left without benefit. I knew that. I would have been left having to start a whole new claim and been left without money in the same way I was for almost three months last year. I would have lost my rights to housing and council tax benefit too. I knew the risk. I also knew that I could not have coped and was not prepared to be put through the emotional turmoil and isolation I felt last year, nor could I have continued to be subjected to the foul cruelty of fighting the benefit system. Even with incredible support and wonderful friends it is an isolating and dehumanising system.

Had I lost this tribunal I know I wouldn’t be here now and you wouldn’t be reading this blog, I had planned that I would commit suicide. Yesterday at 6pm you would have read a pre-prepared timed post simply saying I had been murdered by the DWP, the latest in a long time of people pushed to the limit and unable to take their brand of harassing and bullying treatment of disabled people who – let’s face it – would hardly be living the life of luxury on  between around £109 or £114 per week after being subjected to the Byzantine and accusatory claiming process all at the behest of a  hectoring, vicously petty “austerity” fixated criminal government. My decision to kill myself wasn’t a spur of the moment decision but a planned and decided one. I couldn’t have carried on having to go through the whole process again. I knew I couldn’t. So, since receiving the letter in late October I had gradually kept people away, I had done as much as could to the annoy and distance the folk I care for and love the most and I had, in a cold and methodical way, put all my personal matters in order over the past few weeks. I visited libraries, played the kindly slightly odd wannabe murder mystery author and discovered ways to use my various medications to overdose as easily as possible and, on the morning of the tribunal, got the medication ready for when I came home.  Over last weekend I organised “bequests” of favourite books and personal items into little groups each with a hand-written note of apology and love. I took letters for national newspapers, government DWP ministers and May herself to explain what I had done and why, which would have been posted on my way home to commit suicide. I am not proud of this, I know that suicide is a dreadful way to lose someone but I felt I wouldn’t have had any choice. Far too many also feel that and act upon the impulse. For me, thankfully, the cause of that feeling has gone. CPAG won the case for me and I’m still here. I genuinely no longer feel the same way but I know I need to get help, and that has begun with an appointment to see my GP. I’m not as strong as I imagined myself to be, I’m certainly not as strong as I was before June last year when this whole process started.

I almost became one of the countless people killed by the system, it is more luck and privilege than a foolproof system that has stopped that. That is wrong. Countless of us – folk like you and me – are being cowed, bullied and killed by a system that is meant to support. People in the UK in the 21st century are starving, depressed, cold, homeless, dying and committing suicide directly as a result of our government’s vicious vendetta against the sick and disabled – all in the name of austerity. More of us have to speak out about it, more of us have to do what we are able to fight it and support those who can’t. Yes, I’m lucky that I have rightfully had my ESA restored, but my very closest and most treasured friendships are strained, my mental health is in tatters and my confidence in the system is zero. It’s a Pyrrhic victory. I don’t feel very lucky. But once I have regained my strength I will fight.

If you feel suicidal, depressed or are living with anxiety please speak to someone. Contact the Samaritans

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Losing My Grip – Anxiety, Loneliness and Despair

In my blog post on 5th November I said I was staring at the brink of a full-blown breakdown, I hoped writing that post would be a catharsis but as my new DWP ESA tribunal draws closer I’ve become increasingly more anxious and unable to cope with the ordinary, everyday things in life. Panic attacks and paranoia are daily occurrences, I can only focus on the tribunal and, despite everything my superb welfare rights advisor and my closest friends tell me, I cannot allow myself to believe that there is any possibility of winning the case. And if I do win the case, what then? I have to face PIP reassessment and I have to face universal credit. One thing this past year, and especially this past month, has taught me is that I am far weaker and far less able to cope than I believed myself to be, and whatever the result of the tribunal the DWP have already broken me and I have lost. I am losing my grip; anxiety, loneliness and despair have taken over. I have pushed away those friends I love and think the most of with increasingly hysterical and cloying behaviour, and I have lost all vestiges of self-confidence and pride. I have no faith that the systems that are meant to support us when we are at our most vulnerable are truly there to do that, they are only there to support those of us who can shout the loudest or have the support of those who can on our behalf. I have no strength beyond going through the motions of showing up to this tribunal as required and playing along with yet another act of the state’s degrading of disabled people. I ask, genuinely and without self-pity, really what is the point of me, a disabled, single middle-aged man? This government and the DWP don’t seem to know and neither do I any more.

Over the years I have adjusted to increasing pain and the restrictions that has upon me, when I had to give up work I learned to live on the low income disability benefits provide. I grew used to how not being in work and having a good income changed how I was able to interact with people and the restrictions it put on my social life, I altered my shopping and eating habits, and over the past seven years have grown used to increasingly juggling the bills for essentials such as food, heating and clothing against the fripperies of going out to a cafe to at least interact with other people. This past year has opened my eyes to just how much my life has changed, how I and other disabled people really are an underclass that have been left behind. What has shocked me most is how I had coasted along and accepted it. The fight of simply trying to exist in constant pain on a day-to-day basis alone and on benefit isn’t easy but I did it, I even tried to be a useful member of society. Looking back I don’t know how I coped but I did, however I doubt after this latest run-in that I can carry on doing it nor do I see the point.  This is the stark reality of this government’s treatment of disabled people, I am not alone in being bullied, bruised and ultimately beaten by the DWP – whatever the tribunal result – but at least I have a small platform to write about it and raise awareness.

Whatever the actual result of the tribunal I will need to recover from the damage to my mental health with psychiatric support, and I have to try and regain some strength.  Most of all I will have to try and apologise to the friends I’ve hurt, I hope I can at least do that.

Despite everything I am grateful to have had help from the Samaritans this weekend, as bleak as I feel things are I at least no longer feel totally lost. If you are depressed, trying to cope with anxiety and need someone to talk to please contact The Samaritans

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Another Bloody Blog Post About Depression

This post has taken nearly two weeks to write and a good few days for me to finally decide to post, partly because of my never quite believing my writing is any good and partly because it seems that all of my infrequent posts over the past year or so have all touched on depression. I also worry about how my friends and family will be affected by this – I don’t want to upset or worry them any more than they already are. It isn’t something I intended this blog to be about, I intended it to be about community politics and other such things I care about, and I intended to keep myself in the background. But then the Department for Work and Pensions decided to attack disabled people and I had to share what that meant from my own bitter personal experience. Write what you know said Twain, (or was it Hemingway?), so sod it – here is yet another scream from the heart.

On October 3rd 2016 I received a phone call from a nameless individual at the DWP informing me my benefits were stopping immediately and I had to apply for JSA, which caused me to write the blog post Living a Half Life and then almost six months later a quick follow up A Toe in the Water. Following my appeal hearing in February this year I was moved from the higher rated ‘Support Group’ that I’d been in prior to October 3rd and I was placed in the lower rated ‘Work Related Activity Group’. On advice from my support worker at CPAG this was challenged, and since April I have been waiting to hear if the decision would be revised. On October 25th, 55 weeks after my initial appeal hearing, I received a letter stating that the appeal decision was set aside and I would have to face another appeal – this time in front of a district judge – at the end of November.

My friends and followers of my Twitter and blog posts will know that my mental health has been poor, although most of the time I have been able to kid most that I am coping and have been getting better. In truth I have never been more fragile. Last year a close friend of some thirty years believed I was close to suicide as a result of the DWP’s actions, and whilst I’d like to think I wouldn’t be able to commit suicide there is no question that I have had some really dark times. I am not a person who easily or readily makes friends and I’m certainly not an easy person to be a good friend of, consequently the number of friends I feel able to confide in is small and whether by accident or design all of them are either far away and/or have other commitments and incredibly busy lives. This past year I have been more difficult than usual, and coinciding with the problems I’m facing with the DWP has been a significant worsening of my pain, latterly possibly the result of an awkward fall in the late summer, which has resulted in my pain medication being changed to morphine, and there are a couple of other issues that have been adding to my already increased stress levels which include having a new GP who I am unable to get on with and do not feel supported by. And then came the letter from the Tribunal Service with the new appeal date. Once again I fear my future. And I still have to go through the process of being reassessed for PIP.

Needless to say my already fragile mental health is suffering significantly, and those who are getting the worst of my anxiety and fear are the friends who are closest to me. I can barely cope with dealing with something as simple as getting on a bus and going to the shops, and as someone who finds socialising difficult because of my disability and low income I am finding my anxiety levels so high that venturing out alone is an ordeal. I shouldn’t be staring at the brink of a full-blown breakdown, I should be able to cope and I should be able to sort myself out. Were the government and the DWP being run to support disabled people, and our needs and requirements truly of concern to them, me and hundreds of thousands of others would be able to live reasonably. I shouldn’t be at the point where I do not socialise for fear of not being able to afford to pay my utility bills or buy shoes or clothing. I shouldn’t be demanding the time and attention of friends through snot and tears, and ever more paranoid and hysterical texts. I shouldn’t be but I am. And I am ashamed but I shouldn’t be, the government and the DWP should be. I don’t know how I will cope, all I know is that thanks to a handful of incredibly supportive people I am lucky. Countless numbers of disabled people are going through the same without support and without a voice. They shouldn’t be. Our government and the DWP are failing people and killing people. They won’t kill me but I doubt I’ll ever get over what is happening to me.

 

Introspective Ramblings of an Introvert

My last few blog posts have touched lightly on the fact that I’ve been depressed as a result of my difficult dealings with the DWP, and like the majority of people who live with depression it’s something I’ve generally been unwilling to admit or speak about with all but a very few close friends. The blog that follows wasn’t intended as a public post, it was my attempt at trying to come to terms with my current emotional state and to give myself some peace. Only time will tell if this piece of writing is a catharsis for me but having read through it I felt it was a piece of writing I wanted to share, (after tidying it up a bit from the disjointed stream of consciousness it was originally). The stigma and fear of depression and the general unwillingness to be honest and open about the experiences that one in four of us will go through in some form are part of the problem, part of why I got into this state. Recognising what I have felt and thought might make someone else going through similar feel less isolated. It might also help people see that depression isn’t a simple case of feeling fed-up and the person concerned just needs to cheer up and get out more. Since writing the following I’ve taken the steps to get professional help, and whilst this isn’t the best piece of writing it’s my ham-fisted attempt to give a little help to dispel the stigma that surrounds mental health. I hope it does.

I can’t remember ever feeling lower or more isolated than I did at the end of last year, I’m still struggling to find some balance and to break the feelings of doubt and insecurity that loom large most days. My mood swings, my lack of interest in what’s going on around me and my poor diet are bad enough, but my snapping at my closest friends and subsequent feelings of guilt for any or all of these things only to then repeat the behaviour are not me. I’ve long thought of myself as pretty strong and self reliant so it’s come as a shock to find that I’m so alone and feel so needy. The years of pushing people away and convincing people I can cope have finally found their limit and it’s a shock to realise how low things have become, the incremental creep of not having money and losing contact with people because I can’t physically and/or financially keep up has been shown up for the gulf it really is and has shaken me to the core. And then everything else “bad” that’s happened over the years comes into my head. I can’t recognise myself as the same person who got through the shock of becoming disabled, I don’t know where that determination came from and why I don’t have the same strength and determination now. The ignorance of youth I imagine. How come I got through not knowing if I was going to walk again, all of the rehabilitation and rebuilt my life yet can’t get past this? Going through the whole DWP situation at the same time as the attack’s 30th anniversary made coping much worse, churning up all of the memories was bound to happen and once again my idolisation of A and the stupidity of breaking up pop into my head too. There’s every possibility we’d not have lasted the course and I should learn to let go but boom!, there he is. Except he’s not and never can be again, I was lucky to have the time we did as lots of people never know that. Not all of my choices were good ones and I can’t help thinking I made some ridiculous decisions but I got on and did well. I know there are so many positives but right now they mean nothing. Other people are going through worse and have to care for others, I just have me. There’s the rub. It’s just me. Family, such as it is, is too far a distance away and we’re not that close. Close friends are few and I know I can be a total nightmare, I need to cherish them a lot more and stop behaving like an idiot otherwise they’ll go too. That’s the churning in my head. I have to stop, breathe and get past this. But then the fact that PIP assessment has yet to happen, that scares me. I wish I didn’t know what the system was like. Through my teens and really right up until comparatively recently I had to fight for me and others like me to be accepted within the law, those battles are almost won but society is still catching up. Society is hurtling backwards as far as all equality is concerned, that petrifies me. That’s the thing, all of the things that I thought were there to support and help people are being torn away by the government. I don’t know how to break out of this mindset. I’m worried about how I come across to other people, I’m awkward at the best of times I know and now I’m even worse. Coming on top of trying to get people to accept me as I am, a disabled, gay and awkward individual is hard enough. Keeping up with friends isn’t easy either and making new ones isn’t something I can even begin consider, especially at my age and in my current mental state and definitely with my financial situation. I don’t know how I got here. I don’t know how to say to people I need help without making them feel obligated and I’m petrified I’ll lose the friends I have, especially those who don’t know me too well because of my reticence and permanently needy ways. I am a mess.

So there it is, the thoughts and feelings I put down to try and get myself through this tough time. It opened my eyes to a few things and has at least made me realise I needed to get help. I hope in time I’ll get back some of the confidence I had, and I am at least involved with my community and am keeping myself busy. If you or anyone you know is struggling with their mental health, whether it’s depression, anxiety or worse then don;t give up on them and help them to seek support. Speak to your GP, and there are links below.

Mind  Samaritans

Being Other

I’ve lately been frequently reminded that I am ‘Other’, something that someone with my usual background levels of insecurity and introspection has found pushing its way to the fore, which, with my current depressed state, makes me even more awkward and sensitive than usual.

Those who’ve read my previous blogs or read my Twitter feed know the battles I’ve faced with the DWP as a direct result of having the temerity to be disabled, something that came about in fact because I had no shame about being gay in the 1980s when society still had very different views and laws than it does today.  Friday marked the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act where homosexuality was partially decriminalised, a true landmark for gay men and a marker on the long road to equality – a rough road that we’re still treading and one that those of us who strive for equality will be travelling on for some time to come. Don’t misunderstand me, I think that commemorating the event is important and something that needs to be widely shouted about, but the belief that once the 1967 act became law we danced along the Yellow Brick Road to disco beats in ruby slippers all the way until today really is a rainbow-tinted view and one I personally find difficult. I find it difficult because as a gay man in his mid fifties who is committed to equality in its fullest sense I know that, despite changes in the law, we are still in many, many ways socially far from being an equal society.

Equality is something that we as a nation are very good at making laws for and celebrating – which of course we should – but we’re not very good at actually doing it. Just because something is on the statute books and widely praised doesn’t make it happen, for that we need to listen to, learn from and talk with those for whom legislation is supposedly enacted rather than be spoken at by those who decide the laws – usually phalanxes of privileged folks with little or no real knowledge of what it is to be Other but well-meaning in their desire to be seen doing something good. And there’s the rub. Statutes are on the books yet inequality is still something that we see enacted every day in all aspects of our lives – sometimes insidious, frequently unspoken but increasingly noticeable. Extreme cases scream out in the headlines, usually violence directed against a person or group because they are women, BAME or not British, disabled, LGBT or elderly. We can try to explain it away, salve the pain with talk of diversity, integration, multiculturalism and everything inbetween, and the lily-livered and naysayers can try to excuse it by shouting about political correctness,  yet the introduction of the Equalities Act 2010, (replacing Equal Pay Act 1970, Sex Discrimination Act 1975, Race Relations Act 1976, Disability Discrimination Act 1995, Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 and the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006), has done little if anything to create an equal society. Laws alone simply aren’t enough, education from the very earliest years right through until higher education, employment and beyond has to grasp the nettle. Government has to not only talk about zero-tolerance of hate and the need for equality but has to be seen to be enacting the very word of the law and ensuring that all services, employers and organisations are committed to and working for equality.

I’ve seen and experienced inequality at work within the groups I ‘belong to’ as Other, being a gay man and disabled is frequently seen as mutually incompatible at worst or an exotic niche interest at best, racism and exoticism is common too for BAME LGBT+ people, and many lesbians are rightly vocal about the misogyny and exclusion they experience. Some have tried to explain it away to me as the hierarchy of oppression, the youthful body beautiful hedonism of the gay male community or the reflection of misogyny within wider society. I say hogwash. Anyone who has experienced prejudice or bigotry has to ensure they don’t perpetuate hate, indeed we all do. We have to talk and listen openly, learn, and treat each other with a bit more respect.

So there we are, I don’t have many answers but I am aware, I listen, learn, campaign and fight for full equality as Other and ally, and will carry on doing so for as long as I have to. Personally I believe that unless and until there is full equality for women and that 51% of the population are no longer seen as Other striving for wider equality will be a long, tough road. The Equal Pay Act and Sex Discrimination Act were two of the earliest pieces of equality legislation, women are the strong base on which society is built, to whom we entrust childcare and much of education, and yet somehow there is still a gender pay gap and women do not hold even a quarter of our Westminster seats, let alone parity with men across wider society. That has to be addressed and then other equality can genuinely become reality.

Phew, I have gone on. Yet I still feel Other, I will still be seen as Other and as a result I will feel apologetic, insecure and on occasions clinically depressed. And I know that I’m not the only one. I am thankful, truly thankful, to have a good group of friends to buoy me up and make me believe we will, one day, succeed. Society may never be perfect but it can be much better than it is. And it will be.

 

A Toe in the Water

I haven’t blogged for eight months, indeed not regularly for around a year, an effect of being smacked down by the twisted ideology of an austerity-fixated government and left reeling by a welfare system that is being systematically dismantled. My last blog post ‘Living a Half Life‘ was written in the grip of a severe depression, (a close friend of thirty years seriously thought, at one point, that I was close to suicide), which was the direct result of all I had experienced and at a time when I was still depending on friends for financial and emotional support. It took until a few days before Christmas for me to receive any money, (ironically this was three years worth of back payments as the CPAG advisor discovered I had been paid at the wrong, lower, rate upon transfer from Incapacity Benefit to Employment Support Allowance), and it wasn’t until the early New Year that I started to receive the regular payments of lower rate JSA, pending my appeal. The appeal was finally heard on 22nd February which was, to be honest, pretty dreadful and I left not knowing the Tribunal decision. Both the CPAG advisor and I thought the appeal had been lost, but finally on the following Friday I received a letter stating that the Tribunal had found in my favour. However, rather than being placed back in the higher rated ‘Support Group’ that I’d been in prior to October 3rd, I was placed in the ‘Work Related Activity Group’. On advice this is being challenged and I’m waiting to hear if the decision will be revised, but thankfully I’m back in receipt of regular ESA payments and the requirement to look for work and attend training as required under JSA has ceased.

The requirement to be assessed for Personal Independence Payment still hangs over me, something that I dread given my experience with the Work Capability Assessment. PIP replaces DLA, something I been in receipt since becoming disabled in 30 years ago and had been granted for life. I can only wait and hope that the DWP shows good sense and decency. Forcing people to undergo cruel and unnecessary Work Capability and Personal Independence Payment assessments when they could quite easily and far more cheaply be transferred to the new payments saves no money and thoroughly demeans disabled and sick people. It puts our physical and mental well-being at risk and all the more so when money is stopped and people are forced to appeal, only to then win at that appeal at huge extra cost to the public purse.

Blogging and writing wasn’t the only thing that I found myself unable to do when things were at their worst. I had enthusiastically and happily organised a community Fun Palace on 1st October as part of the Fun Palaces weekend and whilst it had been a great success I failed miserably to undertake any of the follow up required, yet as with all they do the brilliant Fun Palaces team were incredibly kind and understanding. My plans for more community planters stopped, as did trying to organise a ‘Little Free Library’, my social life – such as it was – ceased, and I took almost no interest in anything else that matters a great deal to me.

The majority of the certainties of my life suddenly seemed to come crashing down around my ears on 3rd October last year, and whilst things are brighter than when I last wrote in November I’m still coping with depression. Gradually since February I’ve been slowly getting involved in my community and taking up the plans and activities that had been stopped. For the first time in three years I’ve had a proper holiday, spending a much needed and very welcome couple of weeks with friends and family which did me a power of good.  Although I’m nowhere near as bad as eight months ago my confidence still hasn’t fully recovered, (I’m not too confident at the best of times), I still have moments of panic and fear, and I still suffer bouts of paranoia. But I’m getting stronger, strong enough now to be able to put a toe in the water and blog again. The fact that I’ve got through the worst that the DWP threw at me and I am recovering mentally is due in no small way to a group of incredibly loyal, understanding and generous friends – old and new – who continue to give me the support and space I need. There are strangers, too, who through social media have become friends and encouraged me when I was at my lowest. I appreciate each act of kindness equally and hope to behave in an equally generous way to others.