The Medical

They always seem to do these things in the middle of the day. Yet again, Mr D had to go to his boss and explain why he needed to take an entire day off (this would come out of his banked hours, so he basically lost a day’s pay to take me to this medical). Still, it would give us time to get there, and most of an afternoon to do what we wanted.
The letter (which they’ve kindly kept) said something about bringing identification. Off the top of my head, it said “passport or birth certificate, or three other forms of identification such as driving licence etc”. Okay, my passport is in my maiden name, as is my birth certificate. I don’t drive, and “etc” could be anything. I looked at various letters – bank statements (do I really want them to take a photocopy of my bank statement?) electricity bill (addressed to Mr & Mrs, with no initials let alone first names) and in the end took my passport and my wedding certificate, and prayed that it would be enough.
Why do they always say “arrive ten minutes early” when they always seem to run late? I sat there for what felt like HOURS. At the desk, I babbled about my passport and signed a form, which could have been anything. I asked what the name of the doctor was, and was told that “it depended who picked my file up first”. I found a seat in the corner, and we waited. Every time the door opened and another name was called, my heart hit the roof of my mouth. I’d decided to let the anxiety do it’s thing – it wouldn’t look very good if I told the doctor I rarely go out, and I was sitting there as calm as a cucumber. Suddenly, I had a very good reason to feel anxious. For a brief moment, through the glass panel in the door, I swore I saw That Doctor from 2005. The one who failed me.
I cannot describe the range of emotions I felt in that split second. I’d already gone through the “what ifs” last time, and had concluded that there was a chance he no longer worked for them. Now, suddenly, there was a very real possiblity that my medical would be doomed before it started. Did I have the right to refuse to be examined by a particular doctor? What if they asked why? How on earth could I say “I don’t trust him, he didn’t even ask me about the condition that I was claiming for, he twisted my answers and on one occasion, he outright lied on the forms.”
I was now in a kind of lottery. About five doctors had called people through, and although he wasn’t one of them, in my head that shortened the odds that I would get him. Later, Mr D told me that he was convinced I was going to have a panic attack. Maybe with hindsight it was good timing, because soon I was called through by a tall older man. Not That Doctor.
Doctor Tall was actually rather nice. He explained what would be happening and seemed really sympathetic to my situation. The answers to his questions flowed easily, I gave him the information he needed, and a couple of times he preceeded with “this is probably a daft question but…” in relation to whether I’d had any worries about attending the medical and whether I went on holiday.
At the end, he told me what happened next (the assessment is looked at by the “decision makers” and I’d get a letter in due course) and he told me I’d done well, saying “I appreciate it must be hard for you”. I would have been floored if my legs weren’t like jelly to start with. He also told me that although it wasn’t up to him, he didn’t forsee me having any problems continuing with IB, and not to worry too much. Four years ago, I wanted to write a complaint letter about the doctor doing the medical. This time round, I feel like writing a thank you letter.
When we got back to the car the tension and anxiety spilled out, and I had a good cry. This time, the medical really got to me. I don’t know if this was because the doctor was nice or because I’d reminded myself of how bad I used to be. I do think the whole experience showed that the anxiety problem isn’t completely gone, and I’m still a bit shocked at how much of a wreck I was.

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Today

Today, I am agoraphobic. Today, I don’t go anywhere without my long suffering husband. I cling to his hand constantly, terrified of losing contact with him even for a moment. At home, I don’t answer the phone, I keep the curtains closed – and I certainly don’t answer the door. In fact, someone knocking at the door will often trigger a panic attack. The door is always locked.
On the rare occasion that I go out, my husband must be with me. I don’t trust anyone else. I must know in advance where we’re going, and in what order. Any deviation from that could trigger panic. I can’t stay out too long. I feel exposed and vulnerable, like I’m standing naked in the high street after drinking ten espressos. People are staring at me. I know they are. They think things about me – bad things – and I just want to escape. I just want to feel safe.
Today, I have lost contact with most of my friends. I no longer do the things I used to beause panic and agoraphobia have taken over my life. I can’t go out socially – god no. Just the thought makes my heart race. I can’t remember the last time I went to the cinema, and I used to love that. Now, the idea of being in a dark room with all those noises, images, and god – the people. I can’t deal with people.
Today, my daily life consists of trying to disappear, trying to hide. I don’t do much at home. I don’t have any hobbies any more because I can’t concentrate for long and I get angry and frustrated with myself. I often get depressed, but can’t take medication because it makes me sick. Home is my safe place, I know where things are, and that doors and windows are locked. I just hope the phone doesn’t ring.
Today, I have a medical for the Benefits Agency, and I’m bricking it. That bit, at least, is still true.

o hai

It started out with me being mentally knackered from doing all the gallavanting around for my CBT. It evolved into a bit of worry whether I was getting SAD again, and eventually mutated into Worrying About Other Things. It meant that I didn’t update the blog for over four months. Oops…
Several things have prompted me to write again, one of which is the fact that I got a letter from the Benefits Agency yesterday asking me to “telephone to make an appointment for a medical”. They took their time. Two things amuse me about the letter. First, it tells me that I must “contact them within two days of receipt of this letter”. It wasn’t sent registered post or anything, so how on earth could they know when I received it? I had visions of it spontaneously combusting like the Top Secret messages on Mission Impossible. Second, the whole “telephone to make an appointment” thing. When I filled in form IB50, I clearly stated I have problems using the telephone. I suppose they expect me to ask someone else, but it’s just a teensy niggle that something I’ve said about my health problems has been ignored. Oh, and they STILL have me down as a “Miss”. I’ve never been a Miss in all the time I’ve claimed IB…
These are little things though, and I know I’m being picky, but this letter has put me on my guard because of last time. I feel more anxious at the thought of attending this medical than I do walking into the village and looking round the shops. Of course, the anxiety was bound to happen, but I tried to convince myself that I could put on an act, and show them what I was like on a bad day. The ironic thing is, that it would be better if my anxiety was high during the medical, and it makes me hate the whole thing even more.
Getting there is still going to mean Mr D taking time off work, and therein lies yet another obstacle. I mentioned ages ago about “worries with money”, well, things came to a head a couple of months ago, and Mr D had to get another job. It was only a temporary contract, so obviously he was looking around at the same time. He was offered a permanent position recently – and starts on Monday. Now, I’m certain that if push comes to shove, his employers will let him have the time off, but it still doesn’t look good.
I telephoned the number on the letter yesterday afternoon. I picked up the phone without thinking about it, and just dialled. The chap I spoke to was very pleasant, and obviously in a call centre. I told him I’d had the letter, and he asked me when would be a good time for me to attend.
“Well” I said, “that’s the problem.”
I explained about Mr D’s new job, and how getting time off might be an issue, and that I couldn’t attend without him. The man offered me a cancellation today, which was impossible – Mr D couldn’t even give his employers a day’s notice, and it would be unpaid leave. I turned it down, along with another one for the beginning of next week. The man explained that he was only able to offer two appointment choices, and while my head was spinning trying to work out what to do, he said, “tell you what, I can put you down for December 14th in the circumstances”. So, December 14th it is. Mr D will have to take half a day’s holiday, but at least he’s able to let his employers know well in advance.
Of course, my other big worry about this is who will be the examining medical practitioner. I asked the chap on the phone, and he said that all I could do was ring the place where the medicals are held nearer the time. What if it’s that same doctor? Do I have the right to refuse to be examined without it affecting my benefits? I’ve been working on something to say just in case – along the lines of “I do not want to be examined by a doctor who has obviously no experience with mental health issues, and no idea what medical problem he is assessing”. I don’t know. If it comes to that, I’ll probably gabble on incoherently and get upset. It may not come to that, though, and I have to keep my thoughts rational – at least, until nearer the time – I can be as anxious as I like on the day…
PS comments are off – I was being spammed to death, so email me if you have any burning thoughts.

Coming Around Again

Before I went to Woolfest, I received form IB50 from the Benefits Agency. The usual claptrap about wanting “more information” about my medical condition – the same form that I received 18 months ago which led to the Great IB Debacle. O Joy.
It didn’t have to be returned until the 12th of July, so I decided (sensibly) to leave it until I returned. Frankly, I had more important things to think about – like my recovery and getting to Woolfest. The form has since been filled in and was posted in time, but it raises some interesting questions.
18 months ago, despite being virtually housebound by agoraphobia and panic disorder, my IB claim was turned down. The doctor who performed my Personal Capability Assessment (PCA) massaged my answers to fit his criteria, and in the end it looked as though there was nothing wrong with me. This time, I am a million times better than I was, yet still not well enough to get to the Job Centre to sign on by myself. I need more time to continue with my CBT, to build up my levels of independence to a point where I can rejoin the real world properly.
You see my quandary. Not well enough to sign on, but technically not unwell enough to claim IB. I am in limbo, and my choices are limited. If I tell the truth – that I can get out and about to limited places like the local shop, I’ll fail and be denied IB. Alternatively, I could make out that I’m no better, and even though I’ve made progress with CBT, I could say I still don’t go anywhere on my own. In other words, I could lie.
I’ve decided to write a blog entry about it to highlight just how screwed the system is. Instead of focusing on my recovery and being positive, I’m put in a situation where I’m worrying about whether my benefit will be stopped, and focusing on the negative to make sure that doesn’t happen. In other words, going against everything that the CBT has taught me. Anyone who has filled in these disability benefits forms knows how soul destroying it can be. Telling the Benefits Agency all the negative stuff. It compounds it, drives home how much you can’t do. Everyone who knows me knows that I’m trying my damnedest to get past the agoraphobia. They know how much I hate it, how much I’m fighting it. How much I’m trying my damndest to stay positive. However, I still have problems. Going most places leaves me mentally exhausted. I have to push myself every step of the way. I still can’t answer the telephone if I don’t know the number, and I still don’t answer the door. I do try to keep a positive mindset, and part of the CBT focused on how negative I can be, and helped me address that. Now I’m being made to fly in the face of my therapy to get a bit of money to live on.
I have kept my paperwork from the IB Debacle, and my one comfort is that I know exactly what they’ll be looking for. However, it still makes me uncomfortable, in spite of me saying 18 months ago “I don’t care if I have to lie, I don’t want to ever go through an appeal ever again”

I WON!!!

Hot off the press is an email from Wonderful Legal Secretary to say that they received a letter from the Appeals Service this morning to say I’d won my appeal.
I think I screamed, I certainly started crying a little bit. I phoned Mr D and realised that my entire mouth and jaw had turned into jelly. I mumbled something about “benefits thing email from WLS we won” and broke down crying again.
Now, about 4 hours later, it’s still sinking in. Although I was trying to be positive because the thought of failing the appeal was just too scary, there was always this tiny bit of me that felt wary about my optimism. Now I can let my guard down, and it feels weird.
The Benefits Agency can counter-appeal, but my legal team™ think it’s highly unlikely.
For the gazillionth time, I can’t thank Lovely Solicitor and Wonderful Legal Secretary enough. For the encouragement, help, advice, support and guidance they have readily supplied. For wording my ssubmission in such a way that it shouted “what a dozy prick that doctor was” whilst being eloquent, emphatic and professional.
Thank you, guys. xx

bad dominocat

I’m a sod for updating this blog, I admit it. Sometimes, there’s not a huge amount to say, and I worry about writing rubbish for the sake of it. However, not writing (and my current mental state) means that People Worry, and for that I apologise, and thank you for your emails and love and everything. I have decided that I shall post more often, and if there’s nothing interesting to say, I’ll just post a nice photo that I’ve taken. Oh, and I’ve been fiddling with the site again and have broken the ‘about’ link.
On Monday, I realised that it was six calendar months since my IB was stopped, so I took a huge deep breath, and telephoned the Appeals Service to see if they could give me an idea of how long it would take. I don’t know why I was shaking so badly or why my mouth was so dry because the lady I spoke to sounded lovely. I rattled off IB-paper-hearing-six-months-no-money and she said she could take my national insurance number and check for me. While she tapped at the keyboard, she said that the IB appeals were taking about eleven weeks from submission (ie the day they got the form that says I want to appeal) and then she went a bit quiet. “oh…” she said when she realised how long mine had been in (17 weeks give or take). She told me that I would be at “the top of the pile” by now, that they’d been very busy lately, and if I hadn’t heard anything in two weeks, to give them a ring back.
I got the feeling that she was expecting a tirade of “where’s me fookin’ giro???” and it occurred to me afterwards that they must take a lot of crap from people. Although they’re a government department, they are independent from the DWP, and I guess they can’t help it if a crazy number of people need to appeal against benefits decisions.
Because she seemed nice, I relaxed a bit and managed to ask her what I should do if I felt the need to complain about the way in which my PCA was carried out. I used phrases like “blatanty lied” and “made grossly inaccurate assumptions” and she said “really??” in exactly the right tone of voice, which made me feel a bit better. She told me that each Benefits office has a “customer service manager”, and I should ring and find out their name, and write to them. I was just going to write to my MP, but it seems this is the correct course of action. I shall, of course, keep you informed.

Cripes…

Hello, I’m still alive I promise, my head’s just not where it should be right now. Again.
Here I am, at 6am on a Sunday morning, unable to sleep, and I read the news on the BBC. It seems that yet again the IB and DLA Personal Capability Assessment is coming under fire:
“Almost 80,000 sick and disabled people a year are being wrongly denied benefits…”
Disability Minister Anne McGuire has said, “What I think ought to be recognised is that we are responding positively where those criticisms are made.” which is nice, because I feel even more empowered to be able to complain to the Paliamentary Ombudsman.
I especially like the bit that says:
“Atos Origin doctors send their reports to civil servants who make a final decision about a person’s entitlement.”
Which is interesting, because if the points are awarded based on a certain section of questions on the report, it makes it incredibly easy for the examining medical practitioner to lean either in favour or (more likely) against a claimant getting benefit.
I still chew over in my mind why the doctor made such blatant errors in my case. The article highlights that “the relationship between a private contractor – Atos Origin – and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has often been to blame” which makes you wonder. I had imagined a top secret memo to EMP’s about Mr Hutton’s plan to get 1m people off IB, and subliminally feeding them right wing propaganda, but then my imagination sometimes works overtime…