Lets Talk Benefits!

The benefit system is confusing to say the least. Sadly you get large quantities of genuine cases still slipping through the net, people who are clearly not fit to work but somehow still fail their medicals. In today’s post I’m going to look at the reasons for this and the flip side, where people get what they don’t deserve, simply because they know how to work the system. I’m also going to share what it’s like having to live with a long term health illness, having to rely on benefits and how you are perceived by others, whilst you’re doing this. How much of this is a fair judgement and how much is completely unreasonable.

The Dreaded Medical

lets talk benefits

There can be numerous reasons why genuinely ill people can fail their medicals. Obviously nerves on the day can have a huge influence, You’re already in a highly sensitive state and having to rely on one person deciding your fate like this, is extremely daunting to say the least. I know lots of people who have life altering disabilities and most of them are very positive in nature, as they try there best to get on with things, despite their circumstances. They refuse to moan about their limitations or any discomfort they may be feeling. My dad was one of these people.

The whole process starts with a lengthy form to fill in, with hundreds of tedious questions, most of which are completely irrelevant to you and your condition! It’s hardly surprising to us that my dad didn’t lay it on thick enough with the answers he gave, and his claim was declined. We encouraged him to appeal the decision, as did his doctor. In 2010 my dad passed away. A few days after his death he received a letter saying that his appeal had failed and in their expert opinion he was fit for work. I won’t go into detail about his condition or how the family reacted to this letter, but needless to say he had been nowhere near fit to work and we were angry and bemused by the decision.

My dad is one of many cases just like this, not to mention those who have committed suicide, shortly after their benefits have been stopped or they have had a sanction issued. It’s a hard thing to prove either way, so I don’t have any accurate statistics on this. However I have read some alarming stories on line from families of deceased, who are convinced that a benefit decision has lead to their loved ones taking their life. A friend of mine works at a local food bank and she tells me that the number of people coming in, who have been sanctioned by the job centre, is getting out of hand. She describes these people as being in a desperate state, feeling completely degraded and often in floods of tears by the time they arrive.

FUN AT THE JOB CENTRE

I’m sat for what seems like hours, I glance down at my watch and I’m alarmed to see it’s not even been ten minutes yet! Welcome to the job centre, the place where time truly does stand still.
Now imagine the person you’d least like to meet down a dark alley. Built like a brick outhouse, heavily tattooed, crazy looking eyes and looks like he could crush you with his little finger!

 

He’s sat directly across from me, giving me what I can only describe as a death stare. I’m desperately trying to avoid glancing in his direction.

 

You get used to seeing all the usual crowds, to my left is the single mums club, all congregated together with their army of prams. Normally they’re discussing having more babies and getting their benefits increased. A baby is an excellent prop to have with you in the job centre, as you can get away with so much more. Lets just say you’ve been a bit slack and not managed to apply for your allocated number of jobs, what are the chances of someone getting mad with you whilst your cradling an infant. If that infant happens to start crying, that’s a big bonus cause you’ll likely get seen and sent away much quicker!


Looking to my right I see the hoodie brigade, some sat, and some stood up, mainly consisting of young lads wearing ridiculously baggy pants that hang down showing half their boxer shorts or worse, sometimes their arse crack! Their faces are part covered, in an attempt to look as menacing as they can. Their conversations consist of bragging about crimes committed and time spent in prison or young offenders institutions. Two of them are comparing their ankle tags and discussing when their curfews are up. As well as this, they’re all ogling the girls at the other side of the room. It feels like a scene from a high school disco!
Also grouped together in the corner is the so called none English speakers. These people are very interesting, whilst in the waiting area their English is perfect and they appear to have a larger vocabulary than I do, but as soon as they’re sat with one of the advisers, something magically happens to them and all of a sudden they can’t speak two words of it. Another successful tactic implored at the job centre.

Much of the people attending are playing a game of warfare. Those who know the system inside out and know exactly what they can and can’t get away with. They choose to manipulate and deceive their way through the whole process, in an attempt to avoid work for as long as they possibly can. I know this because I’ve heard them discussing tactics in the waiting area!
Then you’ve got the security guards who I’ll politely describe as a total joke. There are several signs up throughout the building, saying no food and drink and no use of mobile phones. It’s no exaggeration to say, every other person has a chocolate bar or sandwich in one hand, and their mobile in the other. In the middle of all this you have the security, who are blatantly ignoring it all and going round hugging and high-fiving people that they know.

On the other side of the desks you have the job advisers, who funnily enough never seem to give any advice! I’m reluctant to badmouth them too much because they do have a lot of spiky characters to deal with on a daily basis. They have a tough job to do, in having to filter them all out. So I cant really blame them for coming across miserable and unenthusiastic. What I can’t forgive is them tarring everyone with the same brush, which is exactly what most of them do.
They see a young person and make an immediate assumption that you’re trying to cheat the system and you’re not putting any effort what so ever into your job searches. This annoys me because as well as all the types of people I’ve described to you, there are also many genuine ones who are trying there best to get a job. They don’t deserve to be talked down too, like they’re the scum of the earth!

What I used to hate most of all was the inconsistency of it all. One week I had to face a complete interrogation and however much evidence I produced, it was never enough to satisfy them. They always managed to find fault with something. The next time, I went even more prepared. I took a bag full of evidence showing all of my job applications and confirmations going back several months. I see a younger adviser who doesn’t ask me a single job related question. All he asks is “is it still raining out” and then sends me on my way.

It’s these complete polar opposites that used to make going to the job centre such an unsettling experience. The fact that you could be greeted like a long lost friend one week, and then like their worst enemy two weeks later was truly mystifying and quite frankly laughable.
Also laughable was the amount of jobs you were expected to apply for. A minimum of ten jobs per fortnight, if you didn’t manage this you’d risk having your benefit stopped.
You may be reading this thinking, that’s fair enough, people should be expected to apply for plenty of jobs, and they should be punished if they don’t. The problem was it was rare you’d be able to find ten suitable jobs. So everyone ended up applying for things they had no qualifications for and had no chance of ever getting. They did this just to avoid the wrath of the advisers.
It’s a big relief that I don’t have to attend the job centre anymore. I honestly don’t know how I’d cope with the pressure, whilst in my current mental state, so I am grateful for that small mercy.

MY STORY

When I went for my medical, as well as being a nervous wreck, I was angry and disturbed by what I heard in the waiting area. It was just like being back in the job centre. People were bragging about how easy it was to play the system and plotting ways in which they could further deceive the mental health nurse. I know there are benefit cheats out there, I’m not completely naive! But I tend to see the good in people and was still shocked by what I saw. It’s people like that, that make it so difficult for those of us who are truly deserving of the support. It’s already hard enough having to go into detail about your illness, having to prove yourself to a complete stranger, it brings everything to the surface and makes you feel extremely vulnerable. I’m dreading having to go through another medical and know that i’ll be summoned again shortly. What makes it worse is that I don’t know the exact date and I’m constantly living on edge whilst I wait for the dreaded brown envelope to arrive!

lets talk benefits

When You’re on benefits it feels like you’re under constant scrutiny, like everything you do has a hidden agenda and you have to justify your every move. When your illness genuinely prevents you from working, the only opinion that truly counts is that of the medical professionals who have diagnosed you in the first place. However, I can’t help being influenced by other peoples opinions, I hate the idea of not being believed. With mental health it’s so much worse as your symptoms are often only obvious to fellow sufferers. It’s very hard to explain an illness you can’t see.

It’s so easy to tar people on benefits with the same brush and make inaccurate assumptions.  I’m ashamed to say I’ve done it myself. In the past, long before I had a mental health illness, I would regularly sit in the pub with the lads moaning about all those people on benefits, spending our tax payers money whilst living a life of leisure. Television documentaries such as benefits Britain and life on the dole, Don’t help. Let me categorically say, we’re not all like those people!

 

 

 

social anxiety

My social anxiety presents itself all the time, some days when it’s at it’s worst it becomes extremely restrictive to my everyday life.

social anxiety
from a young age I always felt to be on the outside of the group

My major roadblock- social anxiety

 I’ve stopped pegging the washing out on a weekend, for fear of encountering the neighbours. This is ridiculous as we have good neighbours, they’re all perfectly pleasant and really shouldn’t cause me any trepidation what so ever. However the prospect of having a two-minute chat with them (probably about the weather) just to pass the time of day is so horrifying, that I simply can’t risk it.

Sadly my avoidance tactics don’t stop there, as my social anxiety starts to get the better of me. Getting the wheelie bin from the side of the house, once a week on bin collection day has quite frankly become a military operation. I tend to do it the night before when it’s dark and I’m less likely to be seen. I have to look out of the front, back and side windows before I even contemplate stepping outside. I open the back door ever so slightly and listen for a minute or two, then I tentatively stick my head out and check both ways. Only when I’m completely satisfied that no ones around, will I make my move. If this was an Olympic event I would win gold every time, I literally have it done in a flash, like my life depends on it and then I’m back in the safety of my house, taking a few deep breaths and thanking God I don’t have to do it for another week.

I began to lose my hair at a young age, in fact by my early twenties it had receded badly and there wasn’t much left. Since then I have always cut it myself and like to keep it shaved very short.

That was until six months a go when my clippers broke. As you’ve probably gathered by now, I don’t do social interaction too well. Hairdressers are notorious for being the chattiest of all people and sometimes sitting in that chair for ten minutes can feel like hours and be torturous to say the least, as they delve into your life history! Therefore I saw this as an ideal opportunity to challenge myself by taking myself out of my comfort zone. This is roughly how it went:

social anxiety

Barbers number 1– Cheerful enough but far too talkative. Constant questions tripping off his tongue, including asking what I did for a living which makes me feel uncomfortable at the best of times.

 

Barbers number 2– This one was disturbing. She was fascinated by the heat coming from my head, so much so she got the other hairdressers to come across and have a feel! This left me feeling a little self-conscious to say the least and I couldn’t wait to escape.

 

Barbers number 3– This one couldn’t understand why I didn’t cut my own hair. I told him that it was only temporary until I got some new clippers. As soon as I said that I realised I wouldn’t be able to return. Not that I would have anyway, he was far too chatty for my liking.

social anxiety

 

Barbers number 4– This one was interesting, nowhere near as friendly as the others. All the customers and staff seemed to know each other and this created a bit of a funny atmosphere. When I walked in everyone appeared to stop what they were doing and stare at me like I didn’t belong in their company. Like a scene from an old western as a newcomer enters the saloon. Hardly the most welcoming of places!

Barbers number 5– I finally found the perfect place for me, where the staff only understood a little English and couldn’t speak more than two words of it. When it was your turn they’d point to the chair and say, “sit”. When finished they’d say “five pounds” and that’s the only bit of chitchat I had to endure. Absolutely ideal! And this is the one I’ve chosen to return too.

Socially Inept?

I accept that people probably view me as a bit of a party pooper and some are probably sick of inviting me to places- only for me to come up with yet more excuses! I can even put up with being branded antisocial. But when did I get to the stage were I had this constant feeling of inadequacy? As my self-doubt reaches it’s peak, I start to view myself as a huge burden and believe that people deserve a medal for putting up with me. I need to remind myself that this is not true. How I deal with these difficult emotions is crucial. I choose to look at the funny side of my social anxiety, as I’ve tried to do in this post. Learning to laugh at yourself is such an important coping tool. You put less emphasis on your frailties, there not that important, there just something you can laugh about. Suddenly you find you have less anxiety moving forwards.

 

 

Irrational Thoughts- How to overcome

Every Day Challenges (Irrational thoughts)

My depression and anxiety lead to me having many irrational thoughts. I’m going to share with you a passage from my journal I composed a few weeks a go. At the time we had workmen in the house fitting a new bathroom, my worst nightmare! Things like this badly effect me. My home is usually my safe zone, but having strangers in it for any length of time leads to me quite literally being petrified. I had to strategically plan my toilet trips to the down stairs loo in a desperate attempt to avoid running into anyone. I was left feeling like an intruder in my own home!

Irrational Thoughts

I went away with my mum for a few days but when we returned the work was nowhere near complete. Worse still on the Monday it was mums volunteer morning at the hospice and I was going to be left alone. I decided the lesser of two evils was to go with her. I didn’t like the prospect of sitting in a room full of folks having to make conversation, but it was better than the alternative of getting under the work men’s feet. Here’s word for word what I wrote at the time.

At least the suns shining, it’s not such a bad day to die, if this is to be my time. That’s what was going through my mind 10 minutes a go, walking down the road from the Kirkwood hospice, with potential threats to my life at either side of me. I wasn’t scared but at the same time felt distinctly uneasy! I just prayed that if this was my time, it would be over quickly and relatively painlessly, maybe a swift knife to the chest or something along those lines!

I’m now sat in a café in Moldgreen, I feel uncomfortable and extremely self-conscious, but at least it’s safe in here. Safer than out there anyway! As usual I have picked a spot in the darkest dingiest corner, as far away from prying eyes as possible. This will be ok for the next three hours. It turned out I couldn’t stay in the hospice with all those people and I couldn’t stay at home either! so here I am in the middle of plan C. It’s not ideal, I haven’t been out on my own for this long for some time and I’m feeling very vulnerable. Writing this is passing time and if I can some how keep hidden for another hour, I will attempt to walk back. The world is a scary place and I’m not equipped to cope. I wish I was normal, I wish I wasn’t such a freak!

Another problem’s just occurred to me. I need the toilet and I’m going to have to walk past a table of students to get there. Oh my God, what am I going to do now! Maybe I’ll be able to hold on until they’ve gone, I’ll have too, there’s no way I’m walking past them! How ridiculous, I think I’d rather wet myself than walk past people who are probably to engrossed in their conversations to even notice me!

Somehow I’ve managed to get back to the hospice unscathed, and bravely come in to join the group. I’ve even found a corner seat again. Maybe if I keep my head down writing folks might leave me alone. Apparently there’s 40 people in the room, to me it feels more like 400!

Monster Or Not?
   

Outside of my house I feel extremely small, as I let my irrational thoughts take over!

 

 

For 12 months trying to sell my house was an extremely stressful time for me. But once I’d sold it, people thought that I’d miraculously become a different person over night! Well I have news for them, I’m still depressed, I feel just as anxious as ever, just as lost and afraid. It almost feels like one of my main excuses for being such an emotional wreck has gone but I’m no closer to being able to cope. I was very confused about what to do next. I needed a purpose, some structure, a set routine, something to work towards, and then I started to write this blog.

Is it possible that the elderly couple at the bus stop are just simply waiting for the bus? Why then do I view them as such a great threat, why do I genuinely believe them to be carrying weapons! So much so that I have to cross over the road to get past.
Is it possible that the work van parked on the corner of my street, is just parked up whilst the work man has his lunch break? Why then do I think He’s waiting for me to walk past so he can bundle me in to the back and kidnap me! so much so that I have to find a much longer alternative route.
I see a garage door slightly open, light on in the garage. Is it possible they’re doing some work and want a bit of fresh air, maybe they’ve simply forgotten to close the door. But that’s not what goes through my head, instead I convince myself that someone’s in there spying on passers by and they’re going to jump out and attack me! Again I can’t risk walking past and so I find an alternative route.

Later when I’m sat at home I see these scenarios as what they are, totally irrational thoughts on my behalf. I feel foolish and embarrassed that I’ve reacted in this way, but it’s hard to stop, as at the time the threat seems very real and very frightening!

But imagine for one minute that monster approaching you isn’t a monster after all. Imagine that they’re actually scared of you! You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, someone may not be as intimidating as you first think. Think about how you’re coming across to them. A friendly smile or a ‘hello’ and suddenly their face changes, as relief hits home. It turns out lots of people have confidence issues, especially when they’re walking on their own. Not everyone’s out to get you. Their shifty looking exterior could easily be misconstrued, maybe they’re feeling vulnerable and don’t want to give any eye contact. On the other hand they might be standing tall and looking you straight in the eyes, portraying an ultra confident person, when deep down who knows what’s going on. They could be petrified!

 

 

 

 

Perspective, Appreciate your life

I’m fascinated by the wonders of nature. Like the waves crashing against the rocks, spellbinding and magnificent in all their beauty and raw power.

Perspective

Nature reminds me that we’re all just a tiny part of something much greater. Much greater in fact than we can ever fully comprehend. This really helps me to put my issues into perspective.

I don’t mean to sound morbid, but the one thing we can all guarantee is that some day we’re not going to be here anymore. I’m not afraid of this prospect but due to recent events and having come close to the edge, I’ve become more appreciative of life and I take less for granted. I now understand that life is less about success and more about personal experiences. After all when we do die, we can’t take anything with us.

When you’re battling your mental health it’s hard to see the positive side to anything. Even though your friends might see big improvements, it’s hard for you to notice any progress what so ever. Its easier to believe that everyone’s superior to you. But try to remember, other people have their issues too. Others also struggle with the everyday pressures of life. Nobody’s perfect!

Perspective Allow yourself to become lost in the vastness of nature. You are very significant but for once just enjoy being small and pressure free.

Look on the positive side

Last week I took a trip in to the town centre for the first time in about 18 months, the last time resulted in a panic attack. I did this with the intention of challenging myself. I was accompanied by my mother. Although I was uncomfortable to say the least, all was going surprisingly well. We’d parked in a multi-storey car park which was very busy, and I’d managed to get out of the car! Once at the piazza among the shops I was surrounded by people, some walking towards me, some coming at me from behind. A terrifying prospect for me, but one that I was coping with, although admittedly I did considerably tighten my grip on my mums arm! The next challenge was to go into a shop and buy something (some deodorant I think but that’s not important). This was to prove more problematic. I was doing Ok until the queuing stage but sadly this was all too much for me with far too many people in such a small space. I ended up hurrying out of the shop without purchasing anything.

Perspective

At the time it was all about looking after myself, as I went into survival mode. But then came the feelings of foolishness and failure. I was so disappointed with myself. I’d soon gone from feeling elated, ‘look at me, look how well I’m doing’ to feeling overwhelmed and out of my depth. Later that day once I’d had time to calm down and reflect, I actually felt extremely proud of what I’d achieved. Its all about perspective. Yes I’d had to leave the shop, but I’d managed to get into town in the first place, which was a major feat in its self. I’d also managed my anxiety well and avoided having a panic attack. All positive steps in the right direction.

I recently played in my local league championships at table tennis. I got to the semi final stage before losing to the player who went on to win the event. Frustratingly, as good a player as he is, I had beaten him both times we’d played in the league and I really fancied my chances. There were people watching, not many but enough to make me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. On the day I didn’t perform and let nerves get the better of me. But wait a minute!, twelve months prier to this I’d had to pull out of playing in the league all together and I wasn’t even well enough to come and watch the tournament, let alone play in it. Just being able to stay in this kind of environment and actually feel ok for most of the day, was and is a huge testament to how far I’ve come. Again it’s just about putting things in perspective. I actually managed to get all the way to the semi final stage which is a huge thing to be proud of!

For other people suffering with their mental health its really important that you try to put situations into perspective. Try to focus on what you’re doing well as apposed to what you’re not. You might struggle to see it at the moment but there’ll be more positives than you think.

 

 

No Shame

Please don’t be ashamed of your mental health. I’m not suggesting you stand up and shout it from the roof tops, but at the same time don’t be ashamed of it.

I’ve already shared with you my high school experience of desperately trying to fit into a group but never quite achieving it. Well now for the first time in my life I actually belong to a club and it’s a big one! Its called the I have a mental health illness club, At least one in four of us are in it but for some reason it doesn’t feel like that bigger club. Every things hush-hush, people don’t want to admit there part of it. Sure there’s lots of great support groups out there but the majority of people are still hiding. I appreciate that this is completely their choice and there might be other reasons for this, such as them struggling to accept the’re ill in the first place(I know it took me a while!). But if the reason is down to shame, why be ashamed of being in the biggest club in the world?

messing around in the river

Yesterday I enjoyed a countryside walk with a friend. we came across these two above enjoying a cool drink.

we encountered much more animals than people. My kind of walk!

Compared to other conditions

A friend of mine has type two diabetes and is insulin dependant. she has to inject herself every morning and her insulin needs to be stored in a fridge. This is a very important issue when traveling long distance or going on holidays. Due to her condition she has to be extremely careful with her diet and has certain limitations. She needs to do regular gentle exercise but over exertion can be harmful. She manages her condition very well, part of this involves refusing to do activities that may be detrimental to her health. She has no problem explaining that her Diabetes is the reason for this.

My mother is registered disabled due to chronic back problems, caused by an accident at work several years a go. Just like my friend, she manages her condition well and is still able to live a fulfilled life. If someone asks her to do something which is beyond her capabilities and will be a risk to her health, she has no problem refusing, giving her disability as the reason why. I think I speak for the majority of people who suffer with there mental health, when I say Its not easy for us to do the same. I find myself coming up with the most elaborate excuses imaginable, to get myself out of situations I can’t manage due to my health. Admittedly part of this is to avoid having to explain, but its mainly because I’ve felt ashamed. My mum doesn’t have to explain, she can just say “I can’t because of my bad back” so why can’t I be similarly frank about my health. After all as I said earlier, I’m in the biggest club in the world! So millions of people will understand, and for those people who don’t, how can we ever expect them too if we’re not upfront and honest about the way we’re feeling.

I wasn’t able to attend my grandmas funeral due to my anxiety issues. My immediate family know the reason for this but other friends and family were simply told I wasn’t well on the day. In truth I would never have coped in that environment, a building with only one exit, makes me feel totally trapped, not to mention all those people in such a confined space. I weighed up all the pros and cons and eventually came to the conclusion that me freaking out and having a major meltdown right in the middle of the crematorium, was not going to be very helpful to anyone! Instead I had a close friend take me to my grandmas favourite park and I was able to say goodbye to her in my own special way. We did this whilst the service was taking place.

I’m getting better at giving my mental health as a genuine reason why I can’t do certain things but I accept I still have a way to go. Its not easy but when you start sharing you realise there’s so many people just like you, suddenly you feel less alienated and you might even make them feel better too! Remember showing vulnerability is not a weakness, other people will gain strength from your courage in coming forward.