My last post was full of a bunch of rambling about just how hard healing from trauma is and how it’s a prolonged, time-consuming process. The whole point of my writing that post was in order to write this one, because some of the things happening in my life recently have left me panicking about just how much time I’m allowed to heal for.
More than anything, right now, I just want to be left in peace, I just want to be given the time and the safety and the security to be able to heal, to be able to process my trauma and get myself to that ‘better’ place. As I said about 1000 times over in my last post, it takes time to do that, time that I desperately need.
And time that I am facing threats to now.
For the past five years, I have been claiming and living on disability benefits as a result of my mental and physical health conditions that are a direct result of the trauma I experienced and that are made so much worse when actively engaging with and dealing with said trauma.
One of the disability benefits I am claiming, Disability Living Allowance, expires at the end of this May and as a result, I have to put in a claim for the new disability benefits, Personal Independence Payment (which encourages anything but Personal Independence). This might not seem like a big deal, but with the Tories and the DWP, it actually really is. The chances of being able to successfully claim PIP for mental health conditions is incredibly low and if you are somehow successful, you have to go through hell to get there.
I have a face to face assessment on Wednesday, actually at the exact moment that I’ve set this post to go up. This is where a vaguely qualified medical professional gets to decide if you’re a lying scrounger or legitimately disabled – with a catch, nobody is legitimately disabled and it is actually their job to get as many people off of benefits as possible. These assessments are cruel, malicious, calculated. Every single aspect is designed to catch you out, trip you up, trap you, prove you’re a liar. Even just going to the assessment means that you’re clearly capable of coping with change and that you are able to go outside and travel – another catch, if you don’t go you lose your benefits anyway and qualifying for a home assessment is again nearly impossible; my agoraphobia definitely doesn’t count as a legitimate excuse for not being able to go outside despite it literally being in the name.
I know, I know, you think I’m paranoid and being dramatic and just crazy (not crazy enough for benefits, though) except that I’m just not. It’s been well documented, despite the Tories best efforts to hide it, just how fucked up this system is. People in comas being declared fit for work. People with serious and well-evidenced medical conditions being called liars. Hell, just look at the fact that something like 60% of decisions are overturned at Tribunal. I’ve been advised, a few times, by well meaning and caring people, to just tick their boxes and be honest, but that isn’t enough. It’s impossible to tick boxes when the assessors outright lie, misinterpret information and who’s aim it is to not tick the boxes under any circumstances. This isn’t a system where you can actually win, no matter how well you know how to play the game, it’s just not possible to win.
I’m shit scared. I really truly fucking am.
You see, the thing is, this system works under two assumptions. You’re either the most fucked up and broken you’ve ever been, legitimately disabled and completely unable to work (by their standards even if not realistic standards) or you’re 100% well and completely capable of working 40+ hours a week. There’s no mid-point. The thing is, my therapy is starting to work, I’m slowly starting to get better, even if the good days are still incredibly outnumbered by the bad days. But there is improvement. I’ve been able to trust enough to start a relationship. I’ve been able to drag myself outside more often, even alone. I’ve been able to more consistently attend therapy, though I have still missed a lot of sessions. I’ve been able to work seriously hard on my eating disorder, eat more often and allow myself to gain weight without completely losing my shit. I’ve not been self-harming as frequently. I’ve not been considering just topping myself as frequently. I’m getting better at being able to communicate and make eye contact and I’m actually starting to value myself more than I ever have.
But all of that’s a big fucking no-no to the DWP. You see, you’re not allowed to get better. You’re allowed to be ill, you’re allowed to be well, but you’re not actually allowed to move from one point to the other. Because if you do, you’re instantly not disabled any more. Because if you do, then you’re clearly well enough to go back to work right now. It doesn’t matter that you’re only marginally better from the absolute worst point in your life, the fact is you’re better and therefore undeserving.
The thing is, right now, I’m not capable of working. I still spend most days stuck in flashbacks, completely unable to ground myself. I still spend most days completely dissociated and completely unable to explain what I was doing for the last few hours. I still self-harm, though not as frequently. I’m still unable to find the motivation to cook, clean, bathe, do much of anything. I’m still a fucking mess, basically. There’s been improvement, sure, but that improvement hasn’t led to permanent changes, it’s lead to a tiny increase in my abilities on select days. And I know what you’re going to say, it’s not like I haven’t heard it 1000 times before. ‘Surely doing something and being distracted will help.’ No, fuck off, it doesn’t. I’ve tried the whole distraction thing, I’ve tried burying myself so much in work that I can’t think of anything else. But trauma eats you from the inside out, you try doing that and you’ll end up topping yourself within a year.
I’m not ready, I know I’m not ready. And for the first time in my life I’m listening to myself and my needs. I’m aware of myself, I’m aware of where I’m at and I know I’m not ready to work a 40 hour week. I’m not even ready to get myself out of the house on a daily basis. I doubt I’m even ready to do, I dunno, 3 hours of volunteering a week.
The thing is, and this is a thing that the DWP have a complete fucking inability to even understand, I’d be able to reach the point where I can work a 40 hour week if they just fucking leave me alone.
Being on benefits is like having an axe constantly looming over your fucking neck. It’s not just when you reach deadlines they’ll harass you (and trust me, it definitely feels like harassment), at any point they can decide to reassess you, to put you through the hell of that again and again and again and again. For the last five years, I’ve been terrified that they’ll turn on me at any moment. I’m scared of the post. Scared of seeing one of those fucking envelopes. Every single time the postie comes I’m terrified that today is the day that the DWP have decided to ruin my life, to cut off all my income and leave me with nothing.
The slightest indiscretion, perceived or otherwise, can be used against you. The entire system is so malicious. I’m not allowed to get better, only be better. So all the work I’ve been doing to try and heal from my trauma actually counts against me. If they were to leave me alone, I’d actually meet their fucking goals of not needing benefits, but they won’t leave me alone.
Each time I get one of those letters, I end up crashing, once again. Worse than anything else really makes me crash any more. The constant threat to your income, your security, your freedom is just way too much to take – especially when you’ve never had security or freedom before. Since I got my letter for the face to face assessment, I haven’t been able to sleep, to eat, to do anything. I’ve been sleeping, or attempting to sleep more specifically, for more than twelve hours; spending most of that time lying awake, panicking, being filled with suicidal thoughts, feeling vulnerable and exposed which inevitably leads to my brain oh so kindly reminding me of all the other times I’ve felt vulnerable and exposed (read: flashbacks). I’ve been so depressed that I’ve become an even more useless piece of shit than I usually am; I can’t remember the last time I cleaned anything, including myself, I can’t remember the last time that I was able to cook or take care of myself or enjoy something or well, anything. I’m a mess. And it’s the DWP who pushed me back by 10000000 steps. Great tactic for an organisation that ultimately wants people off of benefits.
I was doing so well, I was getting better, I was looking towards the future. I was working so hard in therapy, working so hard to move forwards with my life. Considering going back to uni, if not this year then at least next year. Really working towards not being stuck here, not being on benefits for the rest of my life, not constantly drowning in trauma. And they took it all away. They’ve pushed me back so far that I can barely see myself getting through the next few hours, never mind having an actual future.
The face-to-face assessment itself is terrifying me too, and not just because of the potential consequences it’ll have on my life and stability. Last time I had one of these assessments, I was put through hell. From what I’ve heard from others who’ve been through this process, I had a rogue assessor, but hell, have you seen what my fucking luck looks like? The chances of me having another rogue assessor are so fucking high that I just outright refuse to let my guard down and believe last time was an anomaly and the same won’t possibly happen again.
The guy I saw (and this was after specifically requesting both a home visit because of agoraphobia and a female assessor) was utterly disgusting. He spent the entire time repeatedly pushing me to say what caused my PTSD, I initially tried pointing to the letter that was on his desk which I knew already said so much more than I was comfortable with, but he continued to push and push and push until I just desperately looked at my friend and old support worker to help me. She tried to say what was in the letter and he cut her off, insisted I had to speak despite the fact that I was clearly traumatised, distressed, having a panic attack and couldn’t stop crying. He said that if I didn’t speak to him then the assessment was over there and then because I wasn’t co-operating, I knew if that happened I’d lose everything so I forced myself to do it despite the sheer level of distress I was in. This then, of course, lost me points because that obviously meant that I was able to ‘communicate clearly’. He made me say over and over and over what it was that caused my PTSD, kept making me go into more and more detail, each rape, all the details for each and every single rape. It was like the sick freak was getting off on it, getting off on hearing the details, getting off on making me say it over and over despite how distressed I was – probably because of how distressed I was because men are fucking creeps. He barely asked me how my disabilities affect my daily life, didn’t ask any of the standard questions, didn’t do the assessment as he was supposed to and I ended up not initially qualifying for benefits because of it.
I was such a mess for so long afterwards; I was so dissociated, I basically don’t even remember the weeks following. I just know that he pushed me so far that I ended up in one of the lowest points in my life and was very seriously considering suicide as a result.
I don’t know what this assessment is gonna be like. I might be lucky, for like the first time in my fucking life, and get a kind, understanding assessor but even that won’t help me if the ultimate aim is to declare me fit for work and not disabled. I know that even without a rogue assessor these things are not designed to be sensitive and gentle; so many people are torn apart by this process day after day and today it’s my turn, again.
It’s not even like I’m just expecting or wanting to be handed this stuff, I just want to be left in peace. If they could just accept my life is my life, especially because they’ve put me through this hell so many times before, especially because each time they’ve ultimately decided that I cannot cope or look after myself or work or function on a day to day basis, then I’d be fine.
Each time they put me through a re-assessment, each time I get one of those letters, each time they threaten my income and my security and my freedom I end up so much worse. I end up taking so many steps backwards. I end up moving further and further and further away from the point where I won’t need to do this any more. I just want some peace, some time; healing takes time and that’s really all I ask. I just want them to leave me alone for long enough to actually get ‘better’, to actually finally reach the point where I can be the one that turns around and tell them to ‘fuck off’.