oh, how we laughed

I was early for my appointment on Thursday, a combination of determination to tell J how I felt and the usual being over prepared for something. As I sat in the waiting room I looked at the posters on the wall. Among the usual posters for the domestic violence group and the fibromyalgia group were a series of new posters proclaiming “there’s no healthwithout mental health – how’s yours?” (just peachy, which is why I’m in the psychology department…) I love these ‘stating the obvious’ type of poster. One said, “there are many things you can do to improve your mental health, try: meeting new people.” Other suggestions were “relaxing and making time for yourself” and “developing new hobbies and interests”. While I appreciate why they make these things and put them up, I can’t help thinking that they’re just making blanket and rather vague statements suggesting things that the patient is probably *way* beyond.
J is a very approachable guy, which is why I have been so torn about this. I get the feeling that we are on the same wavelength, and that I can talk to him and be honest and open. That, as any therapist will tell you, is incredibly important. I talked to him about how I felt, even that I’d had difficulty writing down all the anxious stuff – and he sat and listened, then said that it was all understandable and made sense (thank god he doesn’t think I’m a flake) and that I could “see how it goes” before deciding. It wouldn’t be failure, it would be being honest with myself.
We also talked about the tape – which was sitting on the table mocking me. As soon as I saw it, I’d said something like “oh shitting buggery” before advising J that I was liable to swear a lot. J told me that I was in control, that I could withdraw my consent at any time, or he would stop the tape whenever I asked him. At this stage, I was more worried about how I would feel if I didn’t give it a go than anything else, so I consented and he pressed the button.
We talked about stuff, about my panic and how I react to stressful situations. As usual, there’s a lot that I promptly forgot once I’d left the room. Towards the end of my appointment, when J had switched the tape off and we were talking about me coming back again he said something like “…and there’ll be no more of that”.
“No more of what?” I asked, puzzled. “The tape” J said. “You’ve got the hard part over with.”
Somehow, in the midst of my anxiety last time, I’d decided that he would be taping more than one meeting. He only needed to do one…

Ridiculous Thoughts?

Yesterday, I started writing a post about how J, my new counsellor, had asked me to write down all the negative shit that goes through my head when I’m anxious. I thought I’d blog it because it gives another little insight into how my head works right now. As I wrote, I started feeling incredibly crappy, which isn’t surprising when things like “I’m useless” “I’m stupid” “why can’t I manage this shit?” “I’m going to die” come out.
I have a funny feeling that J is going to go through each one and counter it with logic. The thing is, I do this all the time already. “I’m not stupid, I just have depression and things seem more difficult right now. Give yourself a break, already”. “I’m not useless, I do all kinds of things that I take for granted, I should give myself a bit more credit”. See? How easy is that? It doesn’t help, though. The useless and stupid thoughts are ingrained, I’ve always had poor self confidence. How can I erase thirty odd years of that?
As I sat there thinking, I wondered whether this is really the right time to be doing this. How can I concentrate on what is probably going to be a difficult road to recovery when I have this benefits thing looming over me? Despite everyone’s assurances that I have a damned good case, I still have that nagging doubt that I’ll fail the appeal, and the consequences of that are just too hard to even think about. If I continue with my counselling and I fail, it’ll be harder to do it next time around. I can’t help thinking it would be better to say, “put me back on the waiting list, I’m not ready for this”. There’s another reason for my negativity and doubt. J is a psychology student. Although he’s a fully qualified counsellor, he’s seeing clients as a psych student, therefore needs clinical supervision. This means that he has to tape some of our meetings.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. At the time, I said that although I didn’t like the idea, I understood that it was necessary for him as part of his ‘training’. The only people who will hear my witterings on tape will be him and his supervisor, but when I feel so ridiculously self conscious anyway the thought of being taped makes me want to puke. Unfortunately, if I’m not comfortable with it and can’t deal with it, I go back on the waiting list to see someone else. I was ‘pulled out’ of the waiting list to see J, because it was felt that I was an ideal candidate for him (fools). I guess I need to know that I’d go back to where I was on the list, and not right back at the end.
For this whole therapy thing to succeed, I need to feel comfortable, and I’m not. I hate this – it feels like I’m making excuses, and given that I’ve gone on and on all this time about how I want to get better, I also feel like a bit of a fraud. I see J again tomorrow morning, and shall talk to him about it.

Gosh, they’re quick!

But at least the CAB has stood up and said something about the Incapacity Benefit Reforms proposals.
“People with mental health problems are particularly likely to be wrongly assessed”
What, really??? /sarcasm
In my opinion, we already are. The current PCA assessment works for people who know how to work the system. People with genuine mental health conditions like mine are more likely to be honest, and in my opinion, are more likely to have benefits denied than someone who is committing fraud and knows exactly what the Benefits Agency is looking for. The PCA awards points for malingering, and takes them away if you try to improve your condition.
I also note with interest the comment about assessing doctors being “rude and insensitive” – how about doctors who know nothing about the mental health problem they’re supposed to be assessing?
I had already considered writing to mental health charity MIND, and my MP about this, now I have back up.
The full press report can be found here.

confounding

I am the sort of person who thinks obsessively. I say that I tend to “over think” or that I’m an “analytical thinker”, because stuff goes round in my head until I’m dizzy. There are lots of people out there who can be puzzled at something that’s happened, and then say “oh well” and shrug, because they accept that not everything makes sense. I am not one of those people. The maybes, the whys, the wherefores all spin round in my head like a pink sock in a white wash.
Of course, over the last few weeks, I’ve done little else but obsess over the details of my IB appeal. From a simple “damn, what was that doctor on?” to a broader “the whole system’s fucked” and everywhere in between. In my head, it’s been extremely complex, and if my thought processes could be printed out on a flow chart – well, let’s just say there isn’t a piece of paper big enough.
So, you’d think that writing my statement of appeal would be easy. I’ve got the facts sorted out, I know I’m right, I’m articulate and intelligent. So, yesterday I sat down with a note pad and the appeal summary bobbins, and started reading. I knew I’d get angry with it, and thought that I’d channel that anger into a well constructed statement that someone with clout was actually going to read.
Then I noticed something. If you remember, the doctor at the medical in December ticked the yes and no boxes, and had to write the reasons for his answers. The first question on the list was the one about whether I could answer the telephone and take a message. He’d said yes, and I couldn’t read his writing well enough to decipher his reasons. Yesterday, as I went through the pages once again, I realised what it said.
“answers when phone ring, responsible memory”
In other words the doctor has BLATANTLY LIED on that form. If I could have channelled that anger into a well constructed statement, it would have been fantastic…

That’s better

It takes a five minute conversation with the Lovely Solicitor™ to put my mind at rest.
Up til then, I was convinced that if I had to drag myself to a tribunal, kicking, screaming and stoned on valium before promptly puking on their desk, I would do it. LS™ says this isn’t necessary. My options for a hearing have been either an oral hearing (the kicking and screaming bit) or a paper hearing, where I basically submit a statement of why I think the decision is wrong. I had this idea of writing a statement anyway, in case I spacked out at the hearing and couldn’t get my point across, and I’ve been busying myself making notes etc. LS™ suggested that an oral hearing might give the appeals panel the grounds to say, “well you made it here, what’s the problem?” (or something like that). So, the way forward is a paper hearing.
The bumph I received yesterday asks if I have any further evidence to support my claim. This has always bothered me, because at the moment, apart from Dr H, I’m not seeing anyone. LS™ and Wonderful Legal Secretary™ have suggested that a statement from Mr D will be good – and it makes so much sense – after all, he knows me best and lives with this shit too. I’ve been given instructions about how it should be written, and what they’ll be looking for.
That’s this weekend sorted, then…

she knits and she shits

there I was, writing a post about how I’ve been dying from the most horrible diarrhoea and vomiting bug EVER, when *thunk* the postman drops an A4 manilla envelope through the letter box. It looks like someone thinks I’m a publisher, because it’s as big as a book manuscript.
It may as well be a novel – it’s the “Life and Times of Dominocat’s IB Claim”. The Benefits agency have sent me photocopies of every bit of paper pertaining to my claim now, and stuff from when I had a PCA in 2004. Hopefully, the Benefits Agency have sent a copy to my solicitor (that still sounds so cool!) otherwise I’ll have to spend a lot of money copying it and sending it on. It makes interesting reading – and answers a few questions that I had. One of these was “which of my health care professionals filled in the form last time?” I thought it was M, I distinctly remember having conversations with her about it. As it turns out, it was Dr H, who filled it in this time too.
It seems they have put my appeal through what they call “reconsideration” where someone looks at the forms again and decides whether they added the points up correctly. I’d already said there was no point in doing this, because I was appealing against the entire medical, and the fact that the doctor didn’t even ask me many of the questions on the form – well, you know the story.
The whole thing looks incredibly scary. The size of the document, the legalese, the fact it is scrutinizing me, when all I want to do is hide… I can’t help thinking that they make it deliberately scary to put people off. I honestly think that if it wasn’t for the fact that I have a solicitor and his wonderful legal secretary giving me encouragement and resassurance, I’d have just puked and given up.

Mental note to self…

Do not start thinking “hmm, I should write something in my blog but nothing’s happening”, because this is known as Tempting Fate.
Fate happened at around half past three this afternoon, when that big silver car decided to overtake at a place where there was clearly no room, and without checking for oncoming traffic. ie oncoming traffic being us. He swerved back into his lane, but it was too late. I’d seen him.
To be fair, the panic attack wasn’t big, and didn’t last long – but I still felt stupid and knackered and fed up. Why can’t I just yell “stupid bastard!” like everyone else, then get on with life? I hate stupid primeval conditioned responses.

Misconceptions about Agoraphobia

There are a couple of things that bother me about what people think agoraphobia is all about, so I thought I’d address them.

  • agoraphobics can’t go out at all
  • not so. Agoraphobia is defined as a “fear of open spaces”, but it can also be an excessive type of social anxiety disorder. My fears when I’m out include people, interaction with people, unpredictability of people… Well, people mostly. My biggest fear though is that I will have a panic attack while I am alone, and what will happen. If there is no Safe Person to put their arms around me and tell me I’m okay, and stop me from running away – what happens?

  • agoraphobics are depressed, and that’s why they don’t go out
  • This is (I think) why I failed to qualify for IB (oh yes, that again). I strongly believe that the doctor thought I was claiming to be unable to work because I had depression, therefore didn’t go out. This is COMPLETELY INCORRECT. I have agoraphobia because of the way panic attacks affect me. Sometimes, I get depressed because of this. Depression is not a pre-requisite for agoraphobia.

The WHO Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders sums it up quite well.

*yawn*

Well, this should be fun…

“[Incapacity Benefit] reforms would include an element of compulsion”

I think the thing I have to hold on to is that these plans aren’t due to go ‘live’ until about 2008. By then, I’ll either have had enough counselling to get me better enough to work, or a new government will be in power. Like Scarlett O’Hara said, “I can’t think about that now, I’ll think about that tomorrow” Still, it doesn’t help. Half way down the page is a link to “Have Your Say” – where the Beeb invites comments from the public. Some of them make interesting (if spine tingling) reading.

Regarding my appeal, I don’t want to say a huge amount, other than “friends who are legal secretaries are just utterly wonderful”. I now have the appeal forms filled in and sent, with the help of her boss. I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am to them both.

One thing that I realised when I was rattling on to anyone who would listen, was that the doctor at the medical didn’t ask me one single question about panic attacks. Given that panic attacks are the main reason I don’t work (my fear of going outside alone has a lot to do with a fear of having a panic attack on my own), I think this is utterly disgusting. There’s a lot wrong with that medical, not just the system and how it works, but the actual doctor and his examination.

Thinking

I’ve been thinking a bit more about this whole IB decision, and have come to two conclusions.

Firstly, the points system. It looks like I fill a form in, my GP fills a form in, and a doctor examines me, then someone else comes along and awards me points based on those three things. (A blind person, obviously)

Secondly, I’m pretty certain that last time this assessment thing happened, it was M, not my GP who filled in the “health care professional” side of the form. With all due respect to my GP, a psychology counsellor who has spoken to me in depth for an hour every fortnight is going to be more able to accurately describe my day to day living. My GP sees me for 10-15 minutes once a month, and none of our consultation is counselling. Having said that, I was there in her office when she filled in the forms, and I don’t recall having any cause to say “hang on a minute, what about…”

I went through the points scoresheet, and answered the questions as honestly as possible. I scored 22. I required 10 to qualify for IB, and they had given me 7.

I swallowed a lot of rage yesterday afternoon and phoned the Benefits Agency. I just couldn’t understand how they had got it so wrong. The woman I spoke to was okay, at least she wasn’t one of these stereotypical benefits ogres (but then, I wasn’t screaming “where’s me fookin’ giro??” down the phone and threatening to leave my baby on their step, while calming my nerves with 20 regal kingsize). I learned a few interesting things. She told me that “it’s a fine line sometimes between getting IB and not” Yes, there’s a fine line between 7 points and 22 points. She told me that as I didn’t qualify for Income Support, it might be worth claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance. Riiigght – so, signing on as unemployed and “fit and available for work” is a good idea… Finally, she suggested that I contact the Disablilty Employment Advisor.

When my employers first terminated my contract about 4 years ago, I was sent to the Disability Employment Advisor. The poor woman struggled to suggest things that would be helpful, and in the end, said “I think your best idea is to see how the counselling goes then come back to me”. Although my situation has fluctuated since then -I’ve felt better and I’ve felt a damn sight worse – I really don’t know what they could tell me. Call me defeatist if you like, but what on earth is the point of going and getting stressed about new places and people for no reason?

The Benefits Agency cut any benefits that they decide you’re not entitled to immediately – without warning. This means that I got the letter yesterday, and I stopped getting benefit yesterday. I hope to god we weren’t relying on that payment for any direct debit or anything…

If anyone is googling for advice on a similar situation, a friend has advised me to contact DIAL UK. I haven’t yet, but will do, and report back…