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Disabling Attitudes

The reaction I get when someone realises I am disabled is usually one of three

The patronising sympathy attitude

Recently in a café a man came up to me and said I was doing really well. He asked if I had spina bifida, which was rather a personal thing to ask, none of his business and wrong. I explained I had a hip replacement. He then went on to tell me he used to work in a special school with people like me and I was doing really well. I know he meant well, but I found it annoying. Firstly ‘people like me’ just labels me as special needs and does not give me any credit as an individual person. Secondly how does he know I am doing really well? I was in a café with my mum, nothing remarkable in that. What is a disabled person supposed to do? Either I carry on with life like everyone else or roll over and die. I guess I could sit at home all day, everyday and get very depressed and lonely, lamenting woe is me I am disabled or I could go out and have some kind of a life. Also being disabled physically does not make me stupid. The man in the café may have thought I was doing well to be so functioning. Well I chose my own drink, ordered it and paid for it, and do this kind of thing on a regular basis. In fact I live alone and do not have a carer.

The fact he used to work in a special school with that kind of attitude annoyed, but did not surprise me. I spent three years in a special needs school as a teenager and this was something that annoyed me on an almost daily basis, the patronising attitude of some of the staff. I think I may have acted up a little bit less perhaps if the staff had expected more of me. Thankfully my parents were never patronising and never let me use my disability as an excuse to not make an effort or learn things. I can do a lot more for myself now thanks to my parents making me learn than I may have been able to do otherwise had it been left up to school.

The super human Paralympics attitude

I watched the Paralympics opening ceremony earlier this month. I like the Paralympics; they are fun and help promote disabled issues around the world. On phrase I dislike that was also used a lot in the 2012 Paralympics, that disabled athletes are ‘superhuman’. I admit that they achieve some incredible things, but why are they superhuman? Disabled people are only joining in sport like everyone else. Sport for some people seems to be something natural, an instinct, why is it so amazing that a disabled person would also have this? Yes it is often harder for a disabled person to be able to join a sport, but it can be tricky for anyone to join sports, especially at an Olympic level. Sometimes the Paralympics can make it harder for the disabled with people thinking that if the Paralympians can achieve so much why can’t all disabled people. For example someone once said to me that if the disabled athletes can do that, why I can not even get a job. When it comes to work my physical issues are the least of my problems, like all disabled people I have more going on in my life than just my disability. Every four years it is like we are all suddenly expected to be superhuman. Well I will win a Paralympic medal the day all my non-disabled friends win an Olympic medal. Rob Crosan in the Telegraph puts it well, ‘The Chances of most disabled people becoming a world class athlete is roughly the same as it is for able-bodied people (i.e. nil).’

The scrounger on benefits attitude

I would love to have a paying job and not be on benefits, but that does not seem to be an option for me right now. There is only a brief three month period of my life I can remember being totally off any benefits as an a adult when I had part time temp job. I was on job seekers allowance for a number of years before changing to employment support allowance for health reasons. At first on job seekers everyone seemed supportive, but the longer I remained on it the more the support seemed to decline. People who understood my situation less well started to say not very nice things. Apparently I was lazy, not trying hard enough or too fussy about the type of work I would do. If only they knew how hard I was trying to get work, attending interview after interview and getting rejected over and over. I ended up having to remove a couple of people who I thought were friends from social media for saying very negative things about people on benefits.

The media do not help with the scrounger attitude some people have. There are so many newspaper articles about benefits cheats that it must seem to some that the vast majority cheat the system. For example if you type the words disabled or disability into an internet news search, you nearly always get at least one article on someone who has been caught cheating benefits. Yes, a few people do lie and claim benefits falsely, but the vast majority do not. ‘Official data shows that there is nearly twice as much error as fraud in the benefits system’ (www.disabilityrightsuk.org). Less than one percent of people are benefits are said to be fraudulently claiming. The media often muddle up fraud statistics with system errors making the fraud look much worse than it actually is. The government have also made things worse by constantly banging on about cutting disability benefits and catching benefit cheats. However if I was to come off ESA I would have no income coming in at all apart from housing benefit which gets paid straight to my housing association anyway.

I am not a scrounger; I volunteer a lot in my local community. I am not super human, I am rubbish at sport, but I also do not want your sympathy. I am simply me, a human being, but as Penny Pepper writes in the Guardian, ‘It truly seems that the only acceptable disabled person is a Paralympian – and then only for a few weeks’. All disabled people just want to be accepted as themselves and not just during the Paralympics, but all of the time.

References:

Rob Crosan, Telegraph, 15.09.2016
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/we-disabled-people-arent-super-in-any-way-i-couldnt-care-less-ab/

15.05.2014
http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2014/may/benefits-fraud-less-one-cent

Penny Pepper, the Guardian, 06.09.2016
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/06/paralympians-superhumans-disabled-people

For the want of a diagnosis

I have been trying to define my mental illness for years.  I decided that I have a combination of mental health and learning disorders that overlap and interfere with each other.  However apart from OCD I do not actually have anything else officially diagnosed in my medical notes as far as I am aware.  I have been told by medical professionals and therapists I clearly have other issues going on, but they have always failed to define exactly what it is I have.  I do not fit the boxes society likes to categorise people into, which is a problem when it comes to certain things.  I seem to have high functioning or borderline conditions that taken separately do not seem that bad, but together make me frankly a mess at times.

One of the hardest things to do when you do not have an officially diagnosed illness or overlapping ones is to fill out a government form.  Recently applying for Employment Support Allowance benefit was very tricky.  I failed a medical assessment as I did not have any medical evidence apart from OCD and I come across as coping quite well when I talk about things.  The initial form and medical seemed to take each issue separately and failed to take into account how my conditions interact with each other.  Luckily at my appeal tribunal they did seem to look at my issues as a combination of things and how they affect me as a whole person.  Also they allowed my key worker at the time to speak up for me and say how it really is, which the initial form had far less room to do.

School was made harder by not having my mental health and learning disorders diagnosed.  If things had been diagnosed they could have gone on my statement of need, which hopefully would have been read by my teachers and then they could have helped me more in the right ways or at least have given me more understanding.  Instead I had a deputy headmaster who told me I was attention seeking and that my crying was crocodile tears.  I think the fact that I am verbally articulate and read and write well contributed to schools not picking up on my issues and suggesting I should be tested for anything.

Getting a job has proved very difficult for me.  Two seasonal part time jobs are the total extent of my paid work history, despite getting many interviews and most of them seeming to go well.  I can not explain my mental health and learning disabilities to potential employers, as I am not exactly sure what to tell them.  It can be hard to explain high functioning; overlapping conditions, even harder when you can’t even put a name to what it is you have exactly.  So my guess is that in interviews I may sometimes come across as a bit odd or different, something employers can’t quite put their finger on seems to be putting them off me.

I have had a few attempts at therapy over the years, but again without knowing exactly what I have it can be hard to get the right help.  I have mainly had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for my OCD.  Well this has helped a little, it never seems to get past the initial stages before my therapy sessions run out or I hit some other obstacle that makes it difficult.  For a start therapy only seems to deal with one issue at a time, which makes it hard for me.  I try to carry on my therapy at home only to find it triggers other issues I have such as my emotional behavioural problems, so I end up taking out my stress on those around me in anger or crying and getting depressed.  I would like to find some therapy that helps me deal with my issues as a whole taking into account how they interact with each other.  However it seems very hard to get any kind of therapy without named conditions and the types of therapy available on the NHS seem very limited.

Since I started writing this blog progress seems to be happening on trying to diagnose me.  I have an appointment at the autism clinic fairly soon.  The appointment took well over a year to come since being put on the waiting list, which is so long I had almost forgotten I was on the list.  I have wanted to know for certain if I am autistic for many years.  I am pretty sure I have high functioning autism, but an official diagnosis on my medical notes would really help.  It took me changing doctors surgeries and having a mini break down for my mental health issues to be taken seriously for the first time in a long while.  I actually had a mental health assessment with a mental health nurse for the first time as an adult, my last one being when I was about eleven.  She seemed to really understand my issues and made sure that something was done to help me.  I asked if I could have an assessment for autism and she actually said that would be a good idea.  No one in twenty-nine years before that had referred me to the autism clinic despite seeing therapists on and off since I was a teenager and clearly having problems.

I hope to get a definitive diagnosis soon so I can start to make sense of who I am, but also just to make my life that little bit easier when it comes to filling in forms and sorting things out.

 

I Love the Internet

I love the internet, personally I think this invention saved my life or at least saved my sanity to some extent. Some people might say I spend too long online staring at a screen, but it is where I feel most comfortable and can be the real me. It is thanks to the internet I gained more confidence in myself, having met others who also think and feel like I do. There are some websites I find particularly useful and use daily to help me cope with the stress of day to day life. There are also websites that I find helpful when needing advice on certain issues or doing research on a topic. These are some of the best websites I have found to help me with my issues and I hope maybe able to help some of you.

WWW.MIND.ORG.UK   images

Mind are a UK based mental health charity. They do a lot of good work offline too, but sadly not that near where I live, however the website has been helpful over the years for me. It is packed for of information and advice. I like the guides to types of mental health problems. You can look up mental health issues alphabetically for specific named illnesses or you can look up more general guides to various things. They give a thorough guide to each mental illness, in a very reader friendly way. They offer advice to both those with mental health issues and to those trying to support someone who is ill. The website has an interesting news section on the latest mental health issues. The site tells you about Minds latest campaigns on mental health issues and how you can support them. There is a guide to mental health in the work place with things for both employers and employees.

WWW.elefriends.org.uk  elefriends

Mind also have an online support group. A bit like a message board forum, Elefriends is a place I go when I feel I have no one else I can talk to and share my problems with. Like a Facebook status update, but without my family and friends on Facebook reading it. We can say whatever is worrying us, stressing us out or making our mental health worse. Everyone on the site has some experience of having mental health problems and can respond to your message. People can click ‘like’ if it is a positive message, ‘thinking of you’ if it sounds stressful and upsetting or ‘I hear you’ if you have also been in a similar situation and understand how they feel. People can also write a small message in return if they wish offering support or advice. Peer support for me is very helpful as these people have actually been in similar situations as me sometimes and can offer real life advice and not just some text book answer. Knowing that other people agree that my situation is upsetting makes me feel more justified in being upset. The site lets you make a small profile explaining more about yourself and your illness and you are given the option to add a photo should you wish. You can also private message other members. The site is run by Ele the Elephant who pops in now and then to keep an eye on things and monitor posts which is reassuring. Every couple of days or so Ele also leaves a message with advice or links to other things that may help.

WWW.7cupsoftea.com    elefriends

7 Cups of Tea is another online support group for those with mental health problems, but instead of being a message board, you can talk directly to other people either one on one or in chat rooms. The site has a number of chat rooms for various issues such as anxiety, depression, disability, LGBT and relationship support. I find the chat rooms very helpful as I can talk to others who understand some of what I am going though and I get an immediate response. I tend not to use the one on one chat as they have this set up as listeners who are people supposed to be neutral who listen to your problems and respond in a helpful way, but anyone seems to be able to become a listener and I am not sure I like the idea of talking to someone about my personal problems alone when they are not qualified in counselling or something. I like the idea of a group chat as you get more than one opinion on things and a range of support. The site also offers a few simple mindfulness exercises you can listen to when stressed and some self-help guides on various topics. It also has this slightly gimmicky growth path thing, where you build up your path each day the more you seek support from the site. I think the idea is that you build a support path a little each day in the time it would take to sit down and have a cup of tea.

WWW.benefitsandwork.co.uk   elefriends

Benefits and Work are an independent source for advice when claiming benefits. It aims to help disabled and sick people claim the benefits they are entitled to. The site has thorough guides to claiming employment and support allowance, personal independence payment and disability living allowance, plus a bit of information on a few other benefits as well. Not only do the guides tell you how to claim the benefits, but about medicals, how to appeal should you be turned down and any other information you may find useful as a claimant. The site also has the latest news on anything benefit related that may affect claimants. A lot of the information is free, although to access even more detailed guides you can sign up as a paying member.

WWW.nhs.uk/conditions

A handy guide to many common conditions and symptoms. You can look up an illness or disability in alphabetical order. It gives you a good introduction to what the condition is, symptoms, possible causes and treatments. You can also look things up via the symptoms checker which uses a human body to look up various body parts and typical problems that can occur to that part of the body. I often find it useful to confirm what I already suspected I may have or to check if I need to see a doctor about it.

Sometimes I find it best to just pick the various aspects of a website that are right for you, some pages on a site may be very helpful, whilst others may not fit your situation. I also think that using more than one site can be helpful to gain a range of ideas and opinions on something.

If you can think of other websites that you find helpful please feel free to share them here in the comments.

Moving On

It has been a while since my last blog, but I have a good excuse. I have been busy moving. I have finally moved out of my parent’s house and unlike university this time it is hopefully for good. This is something I have wanted for ages, but I did not think it would be possible for me in the near future. All it took was for me to have a kind of mental breakdown and to feel utterly miserable for months.
I now live in supported housing for those with mental health issues.
Supported housing helps people to have somewhere to live independently, but with support when they need it. There are various types of supported housing depending on need. There is supported housing for those with learning and developmental issues, those with more physical issues and of course for people with mental health problems.
I live in what can be classed as a low support house with staff in weekday nine to five and no staff at all evenings, weekends and bank holidays. Those who need more support may live in a house with staff in evening and weekends, and for those with the highest need there are houses with staff who even sleep in the house just in case they are needed.
The support staff here can help us with things such as benefit and money issues, getting to appointments by helping us work out the public transport to somewhere or even giving us a lift if necessary, helping us organise volunteer work or other things to do, making sure we are getting the help we need with our mental health issues and generally keeping an eye on us to make sure we are safe and managing ok. In some types of supported housing I imagine there is more support with everyday things like cooking and shopping.
One of the main reasons I did not leave home sooner was the cost. Private rent is very expensive, hence so many adult children still living at home with their parents well into their twenties and even thirties. I had looked into social housing (what is now council housing), but it looked almost impossible for me to get any. I then learned there was another way into social housing in the form of supported housing and with my current mental health problems it sounded like it might be a good idea for me rather than jumping straight into living totally alone. Here the costs per person for rent and bills are kept down due to sharing the house between six of us. Most of my rent and bills are covered by housing benefit, with me paying a little bit extra each week on top of that. My main expenses are on food and transport on the bus or train.
So how do you get to live in supported housing? For me it was a case of being honest with myself about having mental health problems that had reached the point I was no longer really coping and going to my GP for help. I was not holding out the greatest hope as I had been to doctors previously about my mental health and they had just upped my medication which I did not seem to help. However last year I changed surgery and this one was proving a lot better for me, so I thought I would see if they could help. My doctor booked me in for a mental health review with a specialist, and actually seemed to take my problems seriously. The mental health specialist came out with a number of suggestions including passing on my details to the local mental health housing guy. It was agreed that living with my parents was not helping me. Part of it was issues with my parents, but also being both jobless and living at home was making me feel stuck, like I had hit a wall and was not able to move forward any more with my life. I needed a fresh start and this place was suggested to me. After visiting the house I had a couple of days to think about it, but I knew almost straight away that I wanted to move in. To live here you must have a statement of need, which for me came from the NHS mental health specialist. Another way into supported housing is through a social worker, but I am not exactly sure how that works. There is also an element of luck in that a space in a house has to actually be available, which sometimes can mean a bit of a wait, but luckily for me this house had a vacant room.
The other great thing about this particular type of supported housing is that after about two years they help you move on into independent housing. The simple fact of having lived in supported housing for more than a few months means you get more chance of social housing in your own flat. The support workers here help you with finding and securing a place to live on your own, with working out things like how to pay and budget for bills, furnishing the place and with the move itself.
This house has space for six residents, all of whom have some kind of mental health problem. It helps to live with other people who understand what having mental health issues can be like. We all understand that mental health issues such as depression can come and go and some days will be better than others. The residents offer peer support to each other, listening and talking together and trying to help when problems arise. Most supported housing seems to be mixed sex and mixed ages, which I find makes life more interesting. You learn more about different ways of living life and how to cope if you have a more varied mix of people.
Before I was offered this place, I did not even know there was such a thing as supported housing for those with mental health problems. I had heard of supported housing for those with learning and developmental issues before, but had never considered supported housing as something that would be suitable for my needs. I thought it was all about helping those who could barely even cook a meal or do their own laundry. Having low support needs I thought I was one of those borderline cases, too special needs to get a job and leave home, but not special needs enough to get any support or help from anyone apart from my parents. So when this place was mentioned I was quite surprised and unsure what to make of it. I did not want to end up feeling institutionalised or like I was back to being labelled as special needs again. I still want to get a job one day and feel like I am contributing to society rather than just existing and sitting around doing nothing all day. I was told it was low support with no staff at all evenings and weekends which is what appealed to me most. They trusted us to be left alone and be independent, but did not totally abandon us.
Before I moved I did of course worry slightly. Would I get on with the other residents, would I get on with the support staff, would I cope living without my mum and having to do more for myself? However I figured I would not know unless I tried and I knew I would regret it if I did not do it. Having now lived here for my first month I am very glad I made the move and feel very lucky to have a place here. It was the right thing for me to do as it has helped me to feel more of an adult, making my own day to-day choices about things and doing far more for myself. I also feel like I have taken the next step with my life and am finally moving forward.

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Keep Volunteering Voluntary

This is a piece I wrote for a campaign group called ‘Keep Volunteering Voluntary’.  They believe that forcing people on job seekers allowance to do forced ‘volunteer’ work or face benefit sanctions is wrong.  They, like me, truly believe that volunteering is a good thing, but only if you choose to do it.  What if you are sent to work for a charity that supports a cause you do not even believe in?  What if the work you are forced to do effects your health or mental well-being as it is unsuitable for you?  I wrote to the charity with my experiences of the forced work scheme as I was so shocked at what happened to me.  They then asked me to write a short blog about my experiences which they published on their website.  This is that blog:

On its website, key provider of welfare to work programmes, Pinnacle People claims it “can be relied upon to do the right thing”. Does that include leaving someone with the worry of sanctions over Christmas? Here’s an account of workfare in charity shops:

“Work Placements, as part of Mandatory Work Activity, were sold to me as a great opportunity to learn useful skills, gain valuable experience, enhance my CV and help my local community. Instead of seeing these schemes as something you’re expected to do in return for JSA, I began one with a positive and hopeful outlook. Well, it wasn’t long before I realised I’d been completely misled.

My first placement in a local charity shop, which was meant to go on for 6 weeks, lasted all of two days. The problem was they had far too many willing volunteers in the shop and frankly did not need forced ‘volunteers’ from the jobcentre. The shop was already using one other person on work experience and struggling to find enough for everyone to do. A private company called Pinnacle People, who deal with work placements on behalf of the jobcentre in my area, found it for me. On my first day, a work placement case worker from that company turned up. The charity shop manager made no mention of already having more than enough people and made it sound as if she could really use my help. But then she let me leave an hour early, saying as it was my first day that will do for now, when it was clear she had run out of tasks for me. On the second day she had me distributing leaflets in the area. When I got back she sent me out again with another big pile. By the time these ran out, I must have delivered one to almost every local home. I got the impression the manager was trying to keep me both busy and out-of-the-way. But there are only so many charity shop leaflets you can keep on posting through people’s letterboxes and, by the third day, she finally had to admit I was not actually needed. The manager sent me home and rang the jobcentre to cancel my placement. Instead of feeling pleased about no longer having to waste my time going there, my immediate reaction was fear that I would be sanctioned. The manager had to reassure me that she would make it clear to the jobcentre that the placement was ending through no fault of my own.

I was not sanctioned but told I’d have to go on another placement. Pinnacle People were, however, really struggling to find one. They said charity shops were either full with people from these schemes or had pulled out of them altogether. Then, with only two and half weeks till Christmas, they managed to find a shop that would take me. This one involved a much longer journey but turned out to be just as pointless as the first. Four of us had been sent there by the jobcentre to start on the same day. Even though it looked more like a jumble sale than a shop, there was no way it required another 4 people working there 5 days a week. I felt really messed around and decided to complain to my placement case worker. When she said it would help me find a job, I pointed I already had experience of working in retail, both in charity shops as a willing volunteer and in two other shops as a paid employee. So how exactly was this making a difference to my job prospects? When I kept on complaining about the placement, the case worker informed me that Pinnacle People were longer prepared to oversee my mandatory work activity. She said I was the first and only person they’d ever needed to effectively ‘ban’ from using their service. Then, just as I was trying not to laugh while feeling quite impressed with myself, she told me she’d have to inform the job centre about my attitude problem and all the things I’d complained about, which could affect my benefit.

JSA is my only source of income and my next appointment at the jobcentre was not until January. I spent all of Christmas and New Year not knowing my fate, wondering if I would soon be flat broke. But it turned out my benefit was not affected at all. As far as my advisor was concerned, there were simply no placements available for me. It seems she never heard the entire story so it looks like the case worker was just making empty threats and asserting her authority. I don’t yet know if I’ll be sent on another placement but think it’s probably unlikely. Where I live there are now few shops willing to be involved in these schemes, and we’re hardly short of charity shops in my town. I think this is a sign that campaigns like Keep Voluntary Volunteering could be working… “

The original blog post on Keep Volunteering Voluntary

Not Everyone On Benefits Is Trying to Cheat the System

‘Are you fed up with your hard-earned wages being given as ‘benefits’ to individuals in society who don’t deserve them?’
‘Zero tolerance against the work shy, freeloaders and benefit cheats drinking cheap ale, lapping up the sun rays well we slog it out in the offices and factories…..’ ‘Keeping Jeremy Kyle on the tele’.
The inaccuracy I read online about people on benefits can sometimes be amusing, but also sometimes makes me quite angry. I am on Job Seekers Allowance and have been for the best part of three years, but I do not drink ale, have not had a holiday abroad for over four years and have never appeared on the Jeremy Kyle show. These particular quotes come from groups on Facebook against people on benefits, but I have read similar comments on internet forums, on comments to newspaper articles and even heard people say things like this in person. I think in the last few years since the recession the comments about people on benefits have got nastier and more frequent. I think this has been fuelled by both politicians and the media.
The government needed something to cut in the budget, they tried cutting public spending on things like the NHS and education, but this was unpopular with almost all voters from every walk of life. What they needed was something they could cut spending on that did not affect their main core of voters, so they turned their attention to benefits and in particular those for the disabled and jobless. Statistically this makes little sense as the biggest benefit expense is in fact pensions, but no way were they going to touch pensions when older people are one of the main groups of people to vote. The disabled and the jobless are a lot less likely to vote, so the government have less issues with cutting their money. Now the government just had to get the rest of the general public to agree that cutting these benefits was a good thing. So they turned to their friends in the media, and boy did the right-wing press do them proud.
Tabloid newspapers love a benefit cheat story. They love to point out all the people who are able to get money whilst still working or living abroad. If you type benefit cheats into the news section of an internet search engine you would think that an awful lot of people are defrauding the system. However according to Citizens Advice Scotland benefit fraud represents only 2% of the estimated total annual fraud in the UK. In fact the amount of money paid to fraudsters is less than the amount overpaid or underpaid in error by the government. All this negative reporting of benefits seems to working.
To be on benefits long-term is seen as shameful to some people. These people have never had to be on benefits or at least not for more than a few weeks. I am on long-term job seekers, the way some people talk you would think I was a career criminal. I am trying very hard to get a job and do everything the job centre ask of me, even the stuff that makes no sense whatsoever. This is the only income I get and not that large an amount of money either. Without this money I would struggle to have any kind of life. I don’t want a fancy life, just enough of one so I do not go stark raving mad with boredom and loneliness. If more of the public were aware of what being on job seekers is like long-term, they might be less negative towards us. This coming week for example is not even a sign on week and I still have to go to the job centre twice for meetings.
I also used to be on Disability Living Allowance, which seems to get very negative reporting. A lot of people claim they know a neighbour is cheating the system, but I bet nine times out of ten that neighbour is fully entitled to that money. Not every disabled person is fully wheelchair bound and some have conditions that fluctuate giving them good and bad days. People see you on a good day and assume you are faking being disabled or ill. Getting money when being disabled was always fairly tricky, now Personal Independence Payments, replacing DLA are making it even harder. If someone gets PIPs you can rest assured they have probably been thoroughly checked out. No system any government can come up with will be totally fool-proof, someone will always find a way to cheat it for benefits, but the alternative of paying no benefits at all would be way more costly long-term.
Now I think one way to stop benefits being seen as so negative is for more people on them to vote. If the jobless and disabled voted more at elections the government might be less keen to cut their benefits and make them seem so negative. I call on all the disabled and jobless out there who can vote, to do so at the next election and show people that we are not all lazy benefit cheats and that we can and will stand up for ourselves.

Job Seekers Allowance and Mental Health

As you might already know from previous posts, I have been suffering with mental health issues most of my life.  Whilst I was at university I managed to get a lot of my mental health issues under control to a certain extent, yes they were clearly still there, but they were not as bad as they had been.  However since graduation and moving back home I have spent the vast majority of that time being unemployed and on job seekers allowance benefit.  Gradually I have found my mental problems getting worse again.  Partly this is due to living back at home with my parents after having got used to my independence at university, but the main factor is the ongoing unemployment.  Months and months of ongoing rejection from employers is going to get most people at least somewhat down.  Knowing that I am trying my hardest at every application form or cover letter I send and am being the best that I can be at interviews, but never get the job starts to make you doubt your self-worth as a person.  Right now however the thing most effecting my mental well-being is job seekers allowance.

I have anxiety issues, which are flaring up.  It is the not knowing from one day to the next what I will be doing.  This time next week I could have a job (although at this rate I doubt it), but also I keep getting sent to various places by the job centre.  Sometimes I get sent on courses, and recently I was sent on mandatory work activity.  This makes it hard to make any plans in advance.  For example do I agree to help look after my nephew next week so my sister-in-law can do work or not.

Mandatory work activity is when you have to go and do a community work placement to earn your job seekers, although they dress it up as work experience for your CV.  In reality this usually amounts to working in a charity shop for four weeks.  If you have no work experience on your CV at all, I can see this as being quite helpful, but I already have experience, including volunteer work in a charity shop.  Then there is the issue that you can’t just go and work in any charity shop, it has to be one that is signed up to the work placement scheme that you are placed with by the company who do this on behalf of the job centre.  Not that many charities are signed up to the scheme and quite a few charity shops have dropped out due to bad publicity for taking part in it or realising what they were taking on was basically forced volunteers.  Some places found that the client gets no say as to which charity they work for, so they could end up working for a cause they do not even believe in or care about.  My placement ended up going wrong when after two days the manager of the shop had to admit she already had too many willing volunteers and not enough work for us all.  They tried to place me elsewhere, but that proved tricky due to the lack of shops left in the scheme, so I had to wait each day not knowing when or if they would place me again.  Then the next placement went wrong when they had too many of us starting at once and I decided to open my big mouth about how I was feeling towards the scheme.  I have always had issues with speaking my mind too freely, whether this is due to my high functioning autism or not I do not know.  I felt like I had done well to only say what I did and knew I could have said much worse, but the woman in charge did not see it that way and I was told the company would no longer be placing me on any work activity, so in effect I was banned from mandatory work activity.  I was told the job centre would be informed of what happened and I could be sanctioned.  I then had to wait the whole weekend till I signed on to find out if they would cut off my only source of income for up to thirteen weeks or not.  Not only did I feel very anxious, but I felt totally depressed about it.  Like once again society had rejected me and now I could just have messed up my entire life.  I have anger issues which were surfacing again and I started to take out my frustration and anxiety on my parents who I live with.  I was yelling at them for silly minor things that did not matter and I was blaming then for things they had no control over.  I spent a whole day crying, sleeping and doing very little, mostly in my bedroom feeling utterly dejected.  I hated not knowing if I was going to get paid my next fortnight job seekers or not, I hated knowing I could get the blame from my advisor.  I had tried to do my first work placement and turned up to the second one.  I had done every other thing the job centre had sent me on or asked me to do and would be quite annoyed after all that to have my money stopped.  I worried that I might even regress further and end up having one of my full on temper blow-outs like I used to have, at the job centre advisor who informed me about a sanction.  They did not end up sanctioning me yet at least, but I am still not sure if they will later when my file is updated.

I have spent so much time in the last two years worrying about what the job centre will say when I have not applied for many jobs that fortnight or when I have had an interview and yet again failed to get the job.  I know that I tried to find work to apply for, but there simply was not any work I could do, however job centre staff still make me feel like it was my fault.  I then go away and feel like maybe it is my fault.  I hate being depressed on and off like this as I do not know when it will resurface next and I feel like giving up trying.  Job seekers allowance has made me feel like I have lost control somewhat over my own life and now I feel like it is stealing my control over my own emotions at times.  I do not want to feel angry or depressed every two weeks after sign on or an appointment with my advisor.  I do not want to be anxious about it.  I would just like to feel in total control of myself again.