Benefits: My Experience

There is so much talk about benefits, and the benefit system lately, I thought I’d write a post about my experience, and being part of that system

For a long time I didn’t feel truly deserving of benefit, when people like my granny and granda were so ill they sadly past away, and the suffering they went through beforehand, but sometimes mental illness, is as crippling as any physical illness, and so I’m still learning to make peace with that fact

I’m a child of the care system, and by that fact, I was essentially raised by the government, moving from foster home, to foster home from the age of four wasn’t a great start for me in life, eventually ending up in a childrens home at age eleven because no one wanted my younger brother an I

Foster parents are fickle people, they want babies and young children, by the age of say ten, you’re not as desirable anymore, I guess families want to pretend that you are theirs and want to fool themselves into being convinced of that fact

I’m not saying this in a ‘woe is me’ way, because I’ll be the first to admit, that it helped me grow up really fast, in a world most people don’t see, I got a lot given to me, and done for me, things my mum, I know never could have

I knew for a long time, that something about myself just wasn’t right, mentally, I stopped going to school, I was depressed, but didn’t even really know that word or what it meant, I only knew feelings, I’d lock myself away for long periods of time, I become rebellious, I’d act out, run away, get drunk, cut myself and be destructive, put myself in danger, an encouraged others to do the same, I was a bad influence, but that’s all I really knew for a long time

I guess the staff at the home became worried about me, an I started seeing therapists then from the age of fourteen, and have continued to do so up until this day, the care system damaged me, that unsettled life and the things that happened to me along the way, I believe triggered the onset and development of my mental illness

Jump to today for a second, where this blog details and explains my journey

When I knew the time was coming for me to move home again, I had this rose tinted view, that I’d get a job working with my mum, I’d live at home a while before getting a place of my own, I was even budgeting my imagined wages

But that’s the thing about being young and naïve, life isn’t as simple as imagination

I moved home at seventeen, with only a weeks notice, after thirteen years, and only seeing my mum one day a week for a few hours my whole life, it wasn’t some fairytale ending I’d dreamed of, it was now the real world, and I remember being so afraid

I didn’t leave my room for a long time, the person I was before was gone, suddenly I had the responsibility of a life, my life, and I couldn’t handle it, even silly things like getting washed, and feeding myself felt different somehow, like a constant reminder I was a real person, at first they thought I was dealing with post traumatic stress, until I was later properly assessed

I first signed on for benefits, with the help of my aunt at seventeen, I didn’t even know such a thing existed then, I had all my evidence from before, about my life, and mental illness, though even that was a mystery to me

I remember the man behind the desk hinted at mental illness as a way of getting benefit, as though he was encouraging me to make things up to get money, but I was already in that boat so it was easy sailing to begin with

For a while, I remember i had to get sick lines, its like a green light from the doctor that in a way says ‘yeah, they’re still sick’ that goes on until you are sent for a medical to prove to the benefit people that you’re really deserving, which is fair

At first you get a form to fill in about your illness, and if they can’t gather enough evidence for the decision maker, you are called in for a medical appointment, my first medical came, an I remember feeling really scared, I’d never done anything like that before, I’d never had to prove anything to anyone, at least in that way

I attended, pretty clueless, I was weighed an given an eye test, and then lead into a small room with a doctor, who I remember barely looked at me, he asked a lot of questions like, what are your hobbies, what do you do all day, things like, if you wanted a newspaper, how would you get into town etc then you wait

I failed the medical, you have to score fifteen points from the questions asked, something like that, anyway I didn’t, I thought that was it, until I learned you could appeal, so I did, at the appeal, I ended up in a big room, on a chair in the middle, four older people looking at me from behind a long desk, like a jury, but in fact were the decision makers they call a tribunal

A man from the benefits system sat beside me, his job was more or less to prove I wasn’t deserving of any money, then there was a women behind me who took minutes of the meeting, I was so scared I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t breathe properly, I didn’t know what I was walking into beforehand, I just broke down and started to cry, I answered a few questions, which till today I can’t remember, they also had all my medical history, which for some reason they don’t request to use in medical appointments, so by the end they told me that I would be awarded benefit, and that was the end of it

Between me failing and getting a date for that appeal, it took over a year, in which time, they cut your money by twenty five percent, I could only afford to pay my mum ten pound toward rent, an so I lived on eighteen pound a week

Money was and is the least of my problems, for me then and now, its never been about the money, its the safety that it gives, it means you can live your life securely, while trying to get well enough to someday hopefully join the real world again, in that year, I had nothing, but I didn’t care, eventually I only had one pair of jeans left, which ripped between the legs, I did a self sow job on them, an made do

A few years past, and the letter and the form came again, i’ve always dreaded that brown envelope coming in the mail, because it fills me with so much fear and panic, it consumes my life until either way, its over with

Again, i was called in for a medical, I didn’t attend, so they sent another, again I didn’t attend, I just couldn’t go through it all again, at that time, I would rather of had nothing than put myself through that process

I got a third appointment, most people don’t get third chances, again I didn’t attend, so my money was stopped, eventually I had to realise that this is life, and its part of what you have to do to prove to them that you’re not some fraudster, you have to suck it up and do it

By that point I wasn’t allowed another chance, so again I appealed the decision, this time they wanted me to see their lawyer, which is very serious, I had to prove with good reason, why I didn’t attend, and why I deserved benefit

I contacted citizens advice, and got a case worker, because I knew this was something I couldn’t fight by myself, the day came, and the women from citizens advice did all the talking, I just more or less had to sit there, I think I finally won, because there was a huge amount of evidence in my favour, that and with proof of all the appointments I’d missed in my personal life, helped me win my case

Again time past, and income support, was then changing over to ESA, which is a lot harder to qualify for, or so I read, I allowed other peoples bad experiences to fill my head, my advice is to stay away from google when you are scared of something!

I don’t deal well with changes in my life, it affects me mentally, which then triggers other parts of my mental illness to resurface, like becoming more emotionally unstable

That day I’d dreaded came, when I received the ESA form, and in the end had to attend a medical, I actually explained this medical appointment in ‘The Looming Shadow Of ESA’ so you can find out all about that in that post, in the end I passed, though the journey was a whole story in itself

Since then I haven’t let myself think too much about it, though I know that brown envelope will be coming again very soon, and when it does I’ll just have to deal with it

Through the last six years, I’ve also received DLA, or disability living allowance, I never thought of myself as disabled, it was my psychiatrist who suggested I apply for it, when I read the form it said ‘tell us about your disability OR illness’, I asked my doctors advice, she told me she didn’t think they classed mental illness as a disability, until I explained what I had read, and so I went ahead with it

DLA has been an easier road, I’ve never had to attend a medical, DLA request information from your doctor by sending them a sort of questionnaire, so there isn’t as big of a need for a medical appointment, anytime I’ve failed, or hit a bump, due to my doctor not fully understanding my illness, a letter from my mental health team has been enough to write any wrong

I wouldn’t advise anyone to claim benefit unless you’re sure you can mentally handle what comes with it, its not as easy as just filling in a form and getting money

Mental illness is a lot unseen, so its always going to be a harder journey, your word means nothing to them, the forms they ask you to fill out bare little weight on your claim, whether you’re deserving or not is up to them, but its evidence that wins out in the end

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