I wrote this in notepad whilst I was trying to figure out how to get my site back up
You know that saying about waiting for a bus then they all turn up at once? This is my blog. In fact, changing webhosts and having a brain spack trying to get my blog back up has been a boost for Things Happening, because they’ve all waited until I’ve no means to tell THE INTARNET.
In an hour, I meet my new counsellor. In June last year, I had an assessment with the psychology department and the deal was that I would go on the waiting list for CBT. I was told that it would be hard work, and that it would last no longer than 8 weeks or so. That day, I realised that I would need to be in a Good Place mentally to do this, and spent the rest of the year trying incredibly hard to not get depressed again. I know that sounds a bit weird – it goes like this. Any time I started having negative thoughts, I made myself do something else. I played a happy song and sing along to it. I knit some bright pink socks. Anything that will put my mind elsewhere, and away from the negative and intrusive thoughts. I seemed to spend the whole time on the verge of a mental precipice, afraid that one false step would see me tumbling over the edge into the abyss. As it turned out, someone else pushed me.
It’s fair to say that for the last couple of months, I haven’t been in that Good Place. Strangely, it seems to have kicked me hard since I handed over my appeal statement to my solicitor. Somewhere inside my head, I’ve heaved a sigh of relief, and relaxed. A bit too much, because I lost control of the depression. The symptoms are the usual suspects, coupled with a lot of anger over the situation – and I am absolutely knackered. My physical health has suffered, and I think this year so far, I’ve had about two or three weeks of wellness where I’m not suffering from a D&V bug, or a neck spasm or a bad cold or a back spasm. Those well times have been spent feeling exhausted, feeling the need to recover completely – but it never happens, because some other health thing always happens.
I am worried that the psych bloke will think I’m feigning to get out of the work, or that I’m not suitable for the therapy or something. I’m worried that my brain won’t work properly, or that I’ll bugger my back again just as I’m getting somewhere. Most of all, I’m worried that I’ll fail.
I’d done about 75% when I got a message from Wonderful Legal Secretary with a gentle “ahem”. Something I’d promised her would only take the weekend to do, had taken two weeks so far.
I think the problem I’ve had is that I *know* that this is IT. Once that statement is submitted, there’s no turning back, there’s no “hang on, I forgot to mention x which is CRUCIAL to my appeal”. Part of me was afraid to write “the end, lots of love from dominocat” because I couldn’t quite face that finality.
When WLS nudged me, I realised that duh! I have to finish it and let her and Lovely Solicitor read it, so they can make sure it’s right. So, yesterday I emailed her my four page thesis on “My Health, and Why I Think That Doctor Was an Incompetent Fart”. I breathed a sigh of relief, and with a strange feeling akin to having a *massive* bowel movement, I went about my day.
Mr D had taken a day off work to take me to the doctor. She asked how my mood was, and I made a face, and said that this benefits appeal was getting to me a bit. I said that if it wasn’t for WLS and LS giving me so much positive encouragement, I don’t think I could have coped with it. What she said to me is something I want to pass on to anyone who is faced with a disability benefits appeal and is feeling a bit shit about it:
She told me that if I hadn’t appealed, I would have probably had to go and sign on. I mentioned that Mr D would also have to take time off work to take me to the job centre. She said that in being interviewed for Job Seeker’s Allowance, the interviewer would take one look at my abilities and what I can and can’t do, and wonder what the hell I was doing there. Of course, I would explain that I’d had IB turned down, and that I couldn’t face the trauma of appeal. Dr H said that the job centre would advise me to appeal, as there was no way I could feasibly be a ‘job seeker’. I’d have gone through an extra interview and extra stress for nothing.
When I first got the decision, it looked so damned obvious – these people at the Benefits Agency were either blind or stupid or something. I was livid, and could clearly see in my head in the space of a split second, everything that was wrong with that medical. That initial anger takes a lot out of you. When you go through the appeal itself, you realise what a pain in the arse it’s going to be. For someone with borderline OCD who needs to feel in control, it’s my worst nightmare. I send off a slip of paper to say I want to appeal, and I haveto wait until someone has scrutinised my medical report, until I get a massive wad of paper through the post that looks like a book manuscript, etc ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
I guess what I’m trying to say (because it’s starting to sound like I’m putting people off) is don’t give up. If you can’t get a solicitor, pester the CAB. It sounds like (according to Dr H) that the Benefits Agency is failing a *massive* amount of claimants, based on the idea that the fraudsters are less likely to appeal. No, the people with mental health problems are less likely to appeal – and this action by the government to try and meet John Hutton’s targets of getting 1m people off IB is misguided and cruel, and makes me more angry than I think I have ever been in my life.
I guess the key is to channel that anger into something positive…
When I got home, I had an email waiting for me from Wonderful Legal Secretary telling me that my statement was brilliant, and not to worry about a thing. I wasn’t going to put this, because I know she reads here, but I read that and cried a little bit. Whatever happens now, I think the hard part is over.
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.
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…
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…
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.
When the BBC originally opened “Have Your Say” to comments from the public about Incapacity Benefit reforms, it was a general “what do you think, then?” Over the following days, the priority of the question gave way to things like “Should we have ID cards?” and “What do you think of the latest Bin Laden tapes?”. Mr Hutton’s latest revalation that GP’s should be offered cash to encourage IB claimants back to work has brought the issue to the fore again, this time with the heading “Should welfare work rules be tougher?” I can’t help thinking that the BBC is trying to lead people – it’s funny how the topic slid quickly down the list when it became clear that many commenters were absolutely incensed about Mr Hutton’s proposals.
My favourite comment, however, comes from a GP:
“As a GP, I reckon I should be a patient advocate, not a police service for a heavily flawed benefits sytem.”
I keep sending comments in, but so far only one has been published. The BBC allow 500 characters for your comment, which isn’t much to voice your dissent, especially when you want to respond to so many of the commenters who appear less than clued up about the whole thing. I may do it here…