My Employment and Support allowance is due for renewal and as always, the letter filled me with dread. Anyone who has been involved in trying to claim benefits probably knows how hard it is. And if you have mental health problems, this can be exasperated by 100%!
I have said before, that although I'm not the sharpest tack in the box, I don't think I am illiterate or stupid. So why do the endless forms and hoops I have to jump through to claim benefits, that I don't want to be claiming, seem designed to trick, confuse, and destroy me?
That might seem an overreaction if you have never had to face the situation, I assure it isn't!
The whole form focuses on what you can't do to fit in with their criteria. I understand there has to be criteria, but having had to go through the appeal process previously, I was going in to meltdown at the thought of it. I started to receive a letter every couple of days over a period of about six weeks, everyone more confusing that the last. I didn't understand them or what I was meant to be doing! Each letter increasing my anxiety and stress levels 100 times! I had to get help from my Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) to understand what I needed to do, when and how, as each one contradicted the previous one. In the end I was a crying, shaking mess every time one dropped through my letterbox, I stopped opening them, as I just couldn't cope with it anymore!
The hoops I feel I'm forced to jump through, increases my stress and anxiety levels, as well as my paranoia that it’s all going to be wrong. I worry I'll have to go to another tribunal; which although I eventually won my appeals, for both Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) felt like a form of torture. Having to wait nearly a year to go in front of a panel and explain exactly how pathetic and unwell I feel. I was physically shaking, sick, and it was a major effort to attend. Had I not had support with me, I probably would have run away from it!
But when living with depression, everything is!
One of the main criteria DWP uses seems to be your G.P.'s opinion. Now I know many people who have mental health problems do see their G.P. as it is the only option available, but I don't. I rarely see my G.P. for any of my problems, as I have been lucky enough to see a consultant psychiatrist for several years, usually on a monthly basis. I also have my Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) that I see weekly. As I said, I know I'm lucky. However, DWP don't see it that way. They only write to your G.P., nobody else. Actually in their defence, they did write to my CPN's student (two prior to the one she was currently working with) last year! Nobody seems to know why or how they even got the students name.
At the time I was going in to meltdown over this, Charlotte Walker posting over at Purplepersuasion, wrote a blog post, It’s official – the WCA is unfair, in which she included a checklist of suggestions that may help.
One thing really stood out for me:
Assume no knowledge.
A physiotherapist conducted my last medical, which led to the appeal.
The post came a great time for me, as many points helped me. I used the weeks since creating a dossier of information that might help. Which included a lengthy personal statement detailing exactly what my diagnosis was, what it meant to me in my daily life, and information on what each diagnosis meant and the medications needed to control it. I’m not sure if it will help, but I felt better knowing that I was providing them with everything they could possibly need.
Now we wait….