Thursday, 24 March 2011

Make Your Stand #TBofBTT

by @miss_steff

Over a hundred people have replied to The Broken Of Britain's #ProjV twitter hash tag project. Mums caring for disabled children, children caring for disabled mums. People who have jobs, those who are unable to work. The physically handicapped and the mentally unwell – the set who are both. The bold and the vocal and those who struggle to be heard. If we are so different then why did we all come together at this time? We, or those who we care for, receive disability living allowance (DLA) We, or our carers, have trudged through that hellish forty page plus form and emerged with a small sum of money. Not enough to fund anywhere near a lavish lifestyle, despite what the government might have you believe, but just enough to squeak by.

I didn't always claim DLA. I left high school aged eighteen with good qualifications and started a degree in radiotherapy at a local university. The first member of my family to ever enter higher education. Part of this degree involved regular placements in a cancer hospital – I loved it. I enjoyed operating the machines, talking to patients and attending seminars. I had reached third year when everything started to go wrong. It started out innocuously enough – I wanted to avoid people. I still did my placements but avoided my peers during lunchtime, opting to eat alone in the locker room. It got worse. I began to take days off sick to avoid being around others. Eventually I stopped going in all together.

It was around this time that I was persuaded by my partner to seek help. I saw my GP and was prescribed a course of antidepressants. Expecting them to be a miracle cure, I started back at university but found I was too drowsy on them to safely operate the specialised x-ray machinery. I was forced into saying goodbye again.

For the next few months I rarely left the house during daylight. During the hours where my partner was at work I lay in bed, mostly sleeping, sometimes clicking around online. It didn't occur to me to apply for benefits at this time. We lived off my partner's wages and my ever dwindling student overdraft. Unable to sleep I often went for night walks around the area where we lived.

My doctor switched me to a medicine that made me less drowsy. By this time it was too late to go back to university as the term had ended but I managed to get myself a summer job. It was a struggle as my mind was screaming at me to get away from everyone but I did the work as best I could. I was glad to see the job end. I started back at university as a repeating student, which was fine for around three months before I was back at square one. Avoidance. I could no longer cope with stress. I began to see the faces of people I loved pasted onto dying patients. I had to leave. Things began to move out the corner of my eye. I began to feel mistrustful.

Despite this I contacted all the agencies in Glasgow for temp work. Eventually training to be a housing benefits officer for the local council. Never in a million years thinking that I was soon to rely on them for the roof over my head. It was whilst assessing a claim for a family from a street near my own that I finally lost the plot. I had been hearing voices on and off for a while by this point. This was not unusual – they were advice givers. They told me that my dreams predicted the future. I felt special that they had chosen me.

It was because of the radio that everything went wrong. I thought my co-workers were deliberately using it to tune into the station that broadcast my thoughts for all to hear twenty four seven. I found this terrifying and began to retreat into myself in the office. I got into an argument with one of my co-workers which made my mistrustfulness, which had now become full blown paranoia, worse. The voices became nasty, they told me that everyone was conspiring to get me sacked. It got even worse – they wanted to kill me.

I stopped going into work.

Unbeknownst to me I was now in the midst of a full psychotic breakdown. I hit rock bottom when, after I had been screaming the house down, the police came to the door. By all accounts they were highly professional and encouraged me to get help. I can't remember. It was then that a medical student friend arranged for me to get help. I was placed into hospital and started on a powerful drugs. It was also at this time that something wonderful happened. I was placed under the care of an early intervention service. They filled out application forms for DLA, housing benefit and ESA for me. I was awarded DLA care at the highest rate and mobility at the lower rate as I needed supervision outdoors. I emerged from hospital blinking into the light of being newly disabled.

I need my DLA. It pays for the shortfall in my housing benefit that allows me to live in a decent area of the city close to good transport links. Stopping me from needing to travel a long distance when I am not feeling good. It pays for a home internet connection – a powerful link to the outside world when all I want to do is stay indoors. It subsidies my partner who lost his job for taking time off to visit me in hospital and look after me following discharge. Also gym and swimming, important in fighting the weight gain caused by my anti-psychotic medication – reducing my likelihood of diabetes and improving my mood. Which will, in turn, make me cost less to the NHS.

It became absolutely essential last summer when I suffered an acute relapse and, after another hospital stay, was released into my mother's care. My mum, a team leader in the local council, needed to take an extended period of time off work to look after me as I required constant care. At this time she was paid a basic wage – resulting in decreased earnings. During my hospital stay she had incurred massive petrol bills whilst making the 22 mile round trip to see me twice a day during visiting hours. Now that I was back at home there were also extra food bills. My DLA helped pay for all of this – ensuring there was no risk to her mortgage.

Now that I am back on my feet DLA is providing me with not just a safety net but a spring board. I am planning to use it to finance a return to university where I aim to graduate as a social worker with a special interest in mental health, putting my personal experience and the skills I gained as a trainee radiotherapist to good use. DLA gives me hope for the future. If it is cut it I will have to rely on the generosity of my working class family to see me through university – something that they will struggle to do. I have been told that because of my health issues that I may only be able to work part time – so I see myself having to rely on DLA to top up my earnings in future. Taking it away might mean that I wont be able to work at all.

Why should you, those of able body and mind, care? To put it bluntly, it could be you next- or someone you love. When I was growing up I saw university, career and success. I did not see illness, pain and meagre benefits. I've had to watch my peers generate the taxes upon which I now rely. This fills me with the deepest sense of shame. We did not ask to become disabled – we would give anything to be like you. Please think of yourself as being not yet disabled – be grateful for your health and join in the fight to protect the most vulnerable in society. The government wants to turn you against us. Don't let your conscience be overruled by their lies. We truly are “all in this together” Now make your stand.

1 comment:

matthew Occupational Therapist said...

Very moving and very true for thousands, if not millions of people. I couldn't agree more and carers in general never seem to get the recognition and support they deserve and need....great post.....