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I became badly psychologically ill a few years ago at 17, diagnosed with major depression and general anxiety disorder which developed further into physical conditions and eventually made life impossible to function most days.
At school, I was an A grade student, double A grade in computing, A* in English Language, A’s in English Literature and Media Studies and no failed GCSE exams, all C’s and above. I started college and was doing brilliantly, but sadly around this time my mental health started to deteriorate and I unfortunately ended up in an abusive relationship and was unable to return to college after the Christmas break of that year. The relationship caused further damage, but luckily I got out after a mere six months and returned home and made a second attempt at a newer college, this time one closer to home, as opposed to an hour away.
I managed to finish that year, just, with an A grade in English Language, two C’s and a D. However, this was when my mental health sadly took a nosedive, and I started suffering uncontrollably, entirely confused by what I was experiencing at 17, exam stresses, the pressure of my future and being given ultimatums on employment and grades.
Just after my 19th birthday, March 2014, I made the choice to leave my family home due to my health becoming so much pressure on my family; it was causing huge rifts and I was unable to work yet being asked to work and not being understood when I tried to explain what I was going through. So to stop being a burden, financially and emotionally, I left home after a falling out and moved in with my partner. The move actually gave me a new sense of freedom. I was living with my partner’s family, and it was urged that I start going to the job centre. Because of my anxiety and the even bigger fear of being a burden, I forced myself to do so, despite the concept being frightening to me.
The experience at the job centre was damaging to say the least. I received mildly racist comments regarding my surname, something I had been bullied over for years at my secondary school, and was treated differently because at first they believed me to be an immigrant, despite the ‘advisor’ having a form in front of her depicting my birth hospital being in Tooting Bec, London.
Despite this treatment, I went away, even more determined not to have to subject myself to that treatment every two weeks, I applied furiously to well over 150 job openings in my area. I got one response out of those entire 150; it was at a nearby holiday resort. I successfully got the job after the interview, but ended up having a mental breakdown on my second day due to dealing with an aggravated parent over health and safety standards. I was let go immediately, being on a “highly-credited” zero-hour contract.
After I managed to secure a tenancy due my partner’s family aiding us, I rang up the DWP and council to set up a claim to help with my income with my doctor’s advice of stating I was not currently fit for work and being set up with a course that would help me get back to work, such as therapy, regular appointments and medication.
I rang up in July 2014, and didn’t get anywhere until october 2014, however when they made the first payment into my account I received a letter on the same day stating my income had been stopped due to ‘missing medical evidence’, I quickly went through my paperwork in a frantic panic to find out if they were correct or whether I had in fact sent in my medical certificate on the date they’d said I hadn’t, to my surprise I found a confirmation letter confirming they had indeed received medical evidence, stating I had sent and they had received my medical evidence covering the dates they had highlighted.
I went to the council and citizens advice bureau. All they could do was hand me a mandatory reconsideration form and send me away, being a severe anxiety sufferer this was also an extremely difficult experience and forcing myself through that over a stupid mistake was just horrible for me. I went to the Citizens advice bureau after the council visit but they didn’t even help with that, which shocked me as I’d heard so much better about them from other people, including family members, but a common thing I’m hearing is that they’ve lost funding and now the help is a lot more limited. In my area we are limited to 3 food bank stamps every six months. We got given our share of stamps at the citizens advice bureau. These food bank boxes perhaps cover a few weeks each if you use them sparingly, if that. But half a year? No.
So for three months (from october 14′ to january 15′) we received an eviction notice filed under a ‘Section 21’ for maintenance work, and had no income over the entire winter period. My father, who is near pensioning age and disabled (on incapacity), very kindly shared his allowance. I wish I could have gone and lived with him but he sadly lived in an apartment complex designed for the elderly, in a very tiny bed sit with barely room for one (though he likes it just fine).
With my eating problems getting worse and the stress making everything I was dealing with ten times worse, I just absolutely lost grip on my health and there were many times I considered taking myself to the hospital, but I was also too scared to leave my room.
Many days I just wanted to lay down in my bed and let whatever happened, happen, I just didn’t want to wake up to that hell all over again the next day. That’s all I knew.
I fell victim to my mental health and fell into a huge cycle. January was the month our eviction came into play, we had no money to pay for a deposit, or six months up front, and the council were being very unhelpful in finding us a new place to stay or offering us emergency loans due to our claim status. Which was incredibly difficult to deal with because I knew the truth, but ESA/welfare appeal systems and mandatory reconsiderations have never taken less than three months for us or other people I have spoken to, no matter how many times I contacted them and asked for things to be moved along because of my desperate situation.
So it was in the forefront of my mind that I would be facing homelessness, in January. They consistently told us dates that decisions would “happen” but these dates consistently would come and go and each time we would become more and more afraid. I became very sick in early january and started suffering with chronic nausea. It overtook my life. The ordeal of not having money for food or staying warm, and the stress of the looming homelessness was tearing at me mentally and physically.
We very, very luckily secured somewhere else to live last-minute, thanks to the help of a friend who very luckily knew a landlord in the area willing to give us a chance; it was going to be that or at least a period of time on the streets with two cats and all of our belongings.
I’d started losing ridiculous amounts of weight from the high levels of stress, lack of food and regular illness as a result. This in turn brought many more discomforts.
In January, we finally received a payment they’d said they’d promised after winning the appeal, turns out the DWP admitted to losing my medical evidence and deemed my partner and I entitled to the benefit. Because of their easily avoidable mistake my life changed forever, and not for the better. Insanely, two weeks after that payment from winning the appeal, we received another letter stating that they’d once again lost my medical evidence, or as they liked to say “YOU didn’t send us this medical evidence.” I’m an OCD and severe anxiety sufferer, I don’t do missing out on things, I keep up with things obsessively, so I consistently would get my medical certificates every time the last ran out, and sent it off, especially after the first experience of them mislaying my evidence, I was extra careful.
Needless to say, after a visit to my doctor to confirm they had already issued me the certificate covering the time period that the DWP stated I had not provided them with, and checking that I once again had the confirmation letter from this year, I knew once again that they had pulled the SAME trick.
At my worst, I would go weeks without leaving my room, a slight drop in temperature would send me into a full-blown anxiety attack, I was severely underweight and experiencing symptoms as a result, eating and moving was incredibly difficult for me, and I’d grown incredibly frail. I wasn’t sleeping properly, and I was scared to wake up every morning because getting through the day was exhausting, living was a chore, it wasn’t enjoyable, it was just bleak.
I found myself having suicidal thoughts, “I can’t do this everyday for the rest of my life”, “your only way out is this.” And so on. Every time I pictured food in my mind I would get a rush of nausea, and wherever nausea was, my panic and anxiety would quickly follow, and that was just thinking about food, let alone managing to actually eat some of it. My anxiety was so high I was terrified of leaving my front door, or having any visitors. I became completely shut in, unable to talk on the phone without severe difficulty and panic, let alone appointments. I would brave it to the doctors every two months but had to go through extreme distress to do so, including full on panic attacks in the waiting room.
I always had my medical evidence and my partner’s medical evidence issued and sent to the DWP after the experience, even if that meant compromising and speaking on the phone to my GP, I put myself through the anxiety to do so because the concept of my money being stopped because of my actions for once was something I would never forgive myself for.
I was asked to attend a ‘work focused interview’ and went through absolute hell to explain to them why that wouldn’t be an option at that time considering the distance to the interview, my circumstances in regards to not being anywhere near to recovery let alone ‘focusing’ on work and my health deterioration and state at the time. Eventually they backed down after several nerve-racking phone calls and finally agreed to compromise with a phone assessment, which of course didn’t result in anything annoyingly, apart from increased stress and anxiety out of the lack of compassion and rudeness I experienced in the process.
My panic attacks would be a mix of unbearable nausea, and with a phobia of vomiting originating from organ failure as a child, this alone was terrifying, uncontrollable tremors that gripped my muscles and refused to stop, fluctuations in temperature, increased heart rate, trouble breathing and so on. It was absolutely horrifying.
It’s now May. I only managed to win the appeal that began in January THREE days ago. I’ve spent the majority of this year and the last struggling massively, I had to be taken in by my family for a short time, a week, because my health had gotten so critical and they found out. Luckily with their support and more structure, I’m beginning to slowly get the ball rolling on progress and recovery, and I aim to be starting work later this year, which is not something I ever thought would be possible a few months ago when I was sitting, trapped in a living hell, literally starving for weeks on end, terrified to reach out to anyone about anything because I don’t want to be a burden, a product of my mental health.
I started new medication last week thanks to my family’s guidance and it’s helped me massively, I’m in good spirits, which is a nice break, but what scares me? The young, or old, people out here that literally have no one. The kids that are kicked out after being in care at 16, with no way to support themselves, and two years until they can legally have a tenancy or claim enough money to independently support themselves without family. The people who can’t turn to a support network when they’re severely struggling because they don’t have one, the people who are literally so isolated and terrified because of their health problems, and money worries, and stress. What on earth do these people do?
It’s entirely possible that many of these people have perished, ended up in hospital, self-admitted to residential care homes because they had no choice. It’s really scary, I’ve come so close, and the only reason I have a way out now is because I’ve gotten over the fear of being a burden and have faced up to the fact that I needed help and needed to push that fear out the way for the importance of my own life. There are so many people I know that don’t have family networks, or friends, or partners, that can help them when the government lets them down.
This past year has taught me real hardship, real fear. I’ve gone to the edge and I’ve come back. I was under the age of 20, despite my age, no one should have had to go through that. No one should have to fear for their lives, on top of being drowned in mental health problems with the only help available being poorly funded mental health services that do more damage than good to many sufferers, including myself. It’s taught me to count my blessings, be appreciative for my life, for money, the ability to manage money, how to be grateful for the good things I experience and more importantly to give back and help those who are going through the hard times I’ve experienced, and to raise awareness for these people.
Tens of thousand of people documented by the Black Triangle Campaign have died as a result of welfare reforms in the space of a year alone, and they’re about to release more statistics. It’s absolutely terrifying, vulnerable, sick, poor and disabled people should not be demonised for things they cannot help such as their birth social class, health problems and disabilities ect, and more importantly, they should not be pushed to suicide, starvation or death because of the DWP and the ‘views’ of our current government. It’s actually barbaric that these people are judged endlessly, subjected to torturous conditions and unfairness by a government and organisation that should be treating these people with compassion and understanding.
The media has brainwashed our population to believe that benefit fraud is in the 20-30% percentile, thanks to Mr. Cameron. The actual percentage is closer to 0.7% which is why my heart absolutely falls and shatters when I hear this. “I voted tory because of all the benefit scroungers, I watched benefit street last week.” Genuinely heard that one, the Tories got at least one vote because of a TV show, bad propaganda. These people should be putting their votes elsewhere. I voted for the first time this last election, I voted greens because of their policies to help aid the vulnerable and disabled, as well as the lower-income citizens and families.
It pains me to think of the families, the children, that are subjected to the same horrors I endured at 19. The waking up, immediately in great discomfort from my physical health conditions, accompanied by the intense feeling of dread and fear. It needs to change because it’s terrifying and I can’t believe it’s allowed to happen.
Unless we stand up for the vulnerable in this country, this will continue happening. With the DWP releasing data showing well over 10,000 deaths due to welfare cuts and money being stopped, and now with more data being released by the department [soon]. This needs to be acknowledged for the horror it truly is and it needs to be addressed, not worsened.
Bella (author has requested that their surname remain anonymous).
Do you have a benefits story to share? email@example.com