That was my reaction this morning when I saw a fat brown A5 envelope lying on the doormat. I knew from the shape and thickness of the envelope that it contained the standard questionnaire that gets sent out to evil, malingering scum like me when the DWP feel that it’s time to harass us a bit more. And the thing is, filling in this form is probably the single most intimidating thing I’ve ever had to do, certainly worse than any of the apparently more stressful tasks I faced when I was at work.
It’s not really the form that’s the problem, but rather the knowledge of what will come after the form. The inevitable medical appointment with a DWP “doctor” (inverted commas because these “doctors” don’t waste their time with anything namby-pamby like trying to help you). The long, long wait for the decision based on the consultation. The possible (probable?) negative decision followed by months of fuck-all money and the pseudo-legal process of the appeal.
It’s been 9 months since I last went through this whole rigmarole, although, to be fair, that time the “doctor” decided not to overrule my psychiatrist and agreed that actually, against all the odds, I really was ill. Who’d have thought it? Certainly not anyone who reads the papers.
They seem to have re-designed the form since I last saw it. It’s physically smaller. They’ve had an unexpected attack of common sense, and now, rather than having to wade through the whole form answering “no” to a whole galaxy of physical problems, those of us with only MH problems can tick one “no” on page 5 and then jump straight to page 16. They’ve had an expected persistence of stupidity in that there’s no specific question asking what your diagnosis is, information that would seem fairly relevant to any medical assessment.
Another change is that the boxes are smaller, which means there’s less room to write down the way your MH problems affect day-to-day life. I suspect that’s deliberate – with less opportunity to say why they’re incapable of working, more people will appear capable, which will make it easier for the DWP “decision makers” to make the decisions the media and all the political parties want them to. I’m going to do what the man at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau told me to do, and give them all the information I think they need, even if that does mean attaching sheets of paper to the back of the form.
As always when this form turns up, I’m having an attack of self-doubt. Am I really ill? So ill I can’t work? Isn’t it really the case that I’ve got comfortable living a subsidised life, and if I just showed a little bit of willpower I could be working away at some not-too-demanding job with no ill effects whatsoever? I’ll have all the same feelings again when I go to the DWP medical, where it’ll really matter, because if I end up taking an unrealistically optimistic attitude to my situation there I’ll be dumped off benefit at break-neck speed.
Of course, really I know that I am genuinely ill. How could I not know it? I have to live with the way it limits my life every day. It would be literally impossible for me to get up and go to the same place at the same time every day. It takes endless self-negotiation to get myself to my therapy appointments every week – “Now, come on Aethelread, let’s just start the journey; go as far as the station at least. And well, now, since you’re hear, you might as well get on the train, you can always get off at the first stop. Well, look, you’ve made it to the first stop, why not just hang on to the next one?” and on and on and on…
And therapy appointments are easy, and they’re voluntary. At any time I want to I can just get up and walk away, knowing that Yvonne will understand why I’m leaving. It’s that “flexibility” that makes it possible for me to get there at all. And that’s on a good day. There’ve been times I’ve had to cancel appointments just because there was no way I could leave the flat at all. Working would be literally impossible.
But, the thing is, I have to remind myself of this. I have to do the exact opposite of what I’d normally do. Instead of looking round my life and finding what’s improving, focussing on the things I can put a positive spin on, I have to look round and identify what is going badly, what’s refusing to get better, what’s getting worse. This is really damaging to me.
At it’s most fundamental level, depression is about the loss of hope. So I do everything I can to keep hope alive. Even when I feel my rational mind is like a small life raft in the middle of an enormous dark ocean of mood I force myself to sit here thinking, “Well, just finish typing up this post, Aethelread, and then you can have a nice cup of tea and a Club biscuit. And with a nice treat like that to look forward to, well, you’re bound to feel better, aren’t you?” If I didn’t do that, if I didn’t keep up this constant, deliberate optimism-by-policy I’d fall faster and further into depression than I’ve ever fallen before.
I’m actually quite ill at the moment. On some level I know I am. The experiences of the last couple of weeks have brought it home to me, but I don’t think they’ve caused it. I’m on an edge here, I can feel it. That sounds like a stupid thing to say – on the edge of what? And I can’t say. But it’s like the mental equivalent of standing on the edge of a cliff and trying to walk along it. A kind of mental form of vertigo, that same feeling of attraction, the pull into the void. So the optimism-by-policy is vital, it’s the only thing I’ve got that can counteract that “vertigo”. You can see it in this blog. I commented saying that I was feeling better (at the time, briefly, I was); I put up a whole vaguely cheerful post, a chance to talk about something interesting, something abstract, something to distract myself from what I actually feel.
I’m going to try and drag this back to the point I was trying to make about the counter-productive nature of what the DWP do to me, and people like me. The whole process of re-establishing my right to be given money for being ill is incredibly stressful. That stress on its own is a bad thing, but it comes along with a need to focus on feeling the extent of my illness, of concentrating on and reminding myself of my incapacity. This combination is pretty much bound to be a setback for anyone with MH problems.
But here’s why it’s so particularly counter-productive. At the moment, taxpayers are coughing up quite a lot of money to make me better, enough to pay for up to 20 hours of individual, one-to-one therapy, and potentially up to three years of weekly group therapy after that. This is a lot of time, and I’m very lucky to have been given so much.
But all of the benefit I’m getting from this is undermined by forcing me to resubmit to the DWP entitlement process. This means the taxpayer is essentially wasting the money they pay for my therapy, because for the next few weeks as a minimum all I’ll be able to think and talk about is the DWP stuff. The attempt to bully me off welfare is ultimately going to be unsuccessful, too, because I’m too ill to be able to hold down a job. How can I say so with such certainty? Because I’ve been judged ill enough to warrant so much support from my local MH services.
I certainly understand that people can’t be left on welfare indefinitely with no investigations into their ability to work. I wouldn’t want them to be – some of those people will be in the position where working could be beneficial to their health, and those people need to be identified and given the help they need. But I’m not in that situation at the moment, and a single phone call to the people who are actually treating me would make that obvious. The situation as it stands at the moment is just so stupid. It costs me in terms of my MH. It costs society in general in terms of cold, hard cash. And all of it is just so unnecessary.
I’ll keep you posted on how the IB process goes, btw.