(CONTENT WARNING: suicidality mentioned, eating disorders, mental health, unreliable therapists, sleepless rambling)
One day I want to write a post about the housing saga and have it be a POSITIVE one. I really do. Today is not that day.
It’s been 6 weeks since the hospital’s crisis team discharged me back to my regular department. During that handover meeting, my key worker (who I was meeting for the first time) promised me she’d set up a meeting for me and the team’s social worker with the aims of helping me navigate the council’s housing system without such a catastrophic effect on my mental health. The kind that saw a return of bulimic behaviours I haven’t had in 10 years. The kind that had me shaking and sleepless and suicidal in my GP’s office on a Saturday morning three days beforehand, with no idea where else to go to try and get help, desperate to stop myself from doing anything reckless. (Actively trying to prevent the loudest 20% of your mind from taking over the anxious insecure majority is a strange feeling.)
I went home feeling like the cork was just about jammed back into the bottle, aware that it would be very dangerous to let the pressure build back up again.
So, since then I’ve waited. For six weeks. In the meantime having no luck with my other housing options (see previous post). Mental health up and down, nothing as bad as it was when the crisis team had to get involved, because of the aforementioned cork keeping my distress gently bubbling away on the inside. Literally holding out for the help I was promised.
Today I left a voicemail with my key worker, chasing this up. Two hours later the social worker called. “K has just told me about your situation….”
I had to ask her if she meant “…for the very first time”. Yep – Just. Told. Her.
If I hadn’t called, how long could I have been waiting for this meeting? I have a horrid feeling the answer would have been indefinitely.
If I wasn’t so tired I’d be absolutely furious. I AM absolutely furious, but the tiredness means it’s coming out as defeatist sighs and the frantic need to write this all down before I fall asleep at the laptop.
I’m pretty sad too, though. I don’t find it easy to trust people, psych professionals even less than most, and I’ve already lost a huge amount of trust in my new key worker. I know that mental health services are getting cuts all over the place, everyone’s so busy and overworked, and she probably genuinely forgot. The problem is there’s a human impact on the other side of the safety glass. My life can’t be put on hold right now – I’ve wasted 6 weeks waiting, and my provisional deadline to move is now a month away.
The social worker said she would text me some potential meeting dates. I’m not letting myself hold out much hope of that without another prompting phone call. I’m also very glad that anxiety over being forgotten about is overriding anxiety about making phone calls right now.
Just over two weeks ago I posted a tweet asking for help finding accessible rental accommodation in London. It was retweeted over 240 times, and garnered no replies.
This isn’t a damning verdict of community spirit – it’s a damning indictment of the lack of actually accessible properties on the rental market, and subsequently why, 6 weeks after beginning my housing search due to impending eviction, I have made exactly zero progress.
In terms of looking for private market property, I have used every website I can find. First off, I tried the site which has ostensibly taken over for the Accessible Housing Register, which currently lists a grand total of ZERO accessible properties available to rent inn the UK. So, onto the non-specialist sites. Disappointingly, NONE of them have any filters for accessibility – even dssmove.co.uk, which lists only properties which accept housing benefit – which means I have to search for listings mentioning “wheelchair” and see what comes up (usually not much). (Searching for “accessible” will bring up red herrings as it is often used in context of local transport.) Another method is to look for buildings with lifts, or ground floor flats only, but again there is no guarantee that this means they are wheelchair accessible. I have sent a multitude of messages to property agents about places on the market – checking either DSS allowance for those which are accessible, or wheelchair access for those which do accept DSS, or both – and the few replies I have had so far have been negative. I have, however, been signed up to numerous unsolicited mailing lists.
On the non-private rental side of things, progress has stalled. The meeting with my key worker at the Personality Disorder service, in which she promised to put me in touch with the department’s social worker to help me navigate the council, was over a month ago and since then I’ve heard nothing either by phone or post. I went to the middle-of-nowhere hell that is Enfield Council’s housing department and gave them my doctor’s note, so hopefully they won’t discard my application in the meantime. My other option is a specialist Housing Association. The only one I’ve contacted and heard back from is Habinteg- I was accepted onto their waiting list last year, when my housing situation was simply “undesirable” and not “6 weeks away from eviction deadline”. It took me a while to build up the nerve to contact them, by phone, and I was told to email them instead. That took me over a week, the anxiety of response made worse by the disinterested person on the other end of the phone. Then I got this back:
Thank you for your email.
As stated in our Lettings Policy, we are unable to state accurately when we shall be able to help you, but I do assure you that your application will be given full consideration when suitable vacancies occur in the future.
Any information provided to support your application will help us to determine your priority of need in terms of housing, as we allocate properties on the basis of priority of need, applicants do not move up the list, and we are not able to guarantee to be able to offer properties to all applicants that have been added to our listings.
No contact name given, not even a mention of my name. I am pretty sure I was given a template response. I’m not even sure anyone read my original email stating I was facing an eviction deadline. After another few days of fretting, I’ve sent a copy of the eviction notice but I don’t expect more than another pithy email possibly telling me that it was insufficient evidence. I’m trying not to get utterly depressed at the probable loss of what was, at the start of this anxious period of my anxious life, my best hope at being suitably housed.
Update 21/02 – I have received an email from Habinteg informing me that my emails and evidence have now been forwarded to a Housing Officer. Whether or not this is so they can tell me the same thing, I’m not sure.
As the days count down to the provisional deadline of March 31st, my mental health is piping up again. Last night I had the first seizure I’ve suffered this year, and the first in at least a few months. I’ve begun dreading the evenings and nights again, in case of the Sudden Desperate Sads which lead easily to desperation, dissociation, or worse. I’m waking up anxious, staying anxious, until it turns to depression as the day wears on. I know this is when I should be calling the PD service key worker, but the lack of contact I’ve had from them since the Crisis Week means I’m incredibly anxious about doing so.
“I don’t think I can have you stay in my flat any longer. I want you gone within three months.” And with that announcement, delivered three days after Christmas, my father broke into a smile.
“There. Now I have that off my chest we can get on with enjoying the holiday.”
And remarkably, he has. Ever since dropping that bombshell on me over breakfast on the 28th, he has been eerily pleasant as if the idea had been pressing on his mind and now he had said it out loud it was no longer there. It’s crushing me, instead.
I wish I could say I was new to being thrown out by my parents. The fact is I ended up at my dad’s when my mum threw me out in early 2014. Before that we have to go back to 2003, age 17, when I wasn’t thrown out but more “had to leave” my dad’s flat for legal reasons – two years after my mum sent me to live with him when dealing with a suicidal teenager became too much of a hassle for her. After a period of homelessness and hospitalisation, I got my own flat in 2004, and stayed a tenant of a supported housing agency until I gave it up (and all the disability benefits too) to go to university. Although I knew my mental health was precarious, I had no idea at that point that I also had a genetic disorder affecting my connective tissue, and that within 8 years I would be a wheelchair user, unable to work, and back living at my dad’s because I couldn’t get an income.
I have no idea how long he’s wanted to throw me out for. Periodically he’s complained that I’m not making an effort to find accommodation, to which I point out that I’m still waiting to hear back from the council – that private accessible accommodation that accepts housing benefit is hard to find is a gross understatement. Truthfully, my plan was to wait until I heard back from my last PIP assessment – firstly so I knew if I would be able to afford the move, and secondly (and more importantly) so I would not have to deal with two major stressors at once. Dealing with one thing at a time is how I manage my mental health. If I try to take on too much at once, it can go very badly. But he’s forced my hand here. I have to find somewhere to live before the end of March, even if I have to take my PIP claim to appeal again.
He’s always been very territorial about his flat. Despite my living there as a teen, it was always HIS. He resented that it was to his flat that my boxes would come back to when moving to uni, moving abroad, moving back in. He resents more when I get too comfortable. And heaven forbid I let my mother in….. part of me feels that my offhand comment on Boxing Day about mum “popping round” in the new year may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. He’s expressed discomfort with my familiarity with the flat before. The few non-fixed adaptations and equipment prescribed by the council’s occupational therapist have mostly been consigned to the conservatory. He doesn’t want a cleaner in HIS flat (despite never being there to clean it himself). The powerchair in the hall is tolerated, although the wheelchair ramp, which I negotiated long and hard for, is considered a symbol of my “settling in”. Ironic, since it’s the thing which enables me to LEAVE the flat most of the time. Essentially, I’ve always known my residence would be temporary. I’ve been reminded constantly.
So, having had two days to take it in, I’m feeling relatively calm. Enforced calmness was necessary to avoid a stress induced breakdown 4 hours from home where all my information is, in a house where the internet is unreliable at best and any supportive family had left the day before. I had my necessary cry, and my small rage, and then I put on my grown up face and asked him to please give me a letter for the council stating intention of eviction by the end of next week. With luck, common sense will overrule spite and he won’t say I have made myself “voluntarily homeless” as he’s been threatening to. I’m not sure it would stand anyway, since I’m not a tenant and there was no contract for me to break the terms of.
In the coming weeks/months I will be blogging about my search to find a new home, and probably also drawing parallels with my experiences at 17 which so far I haven’t had the guts to because of associated PTSD. This is going to bring those memories bubbling to the surface though, so writing them out will be one way to take control.
So. Let’s find an accessible place in London that also accepts housing benefit. Game face: on.
Sunday night, late September
Well, it was a blissful four months without any DWP contact at all. A glorious summer devoid of this specific anxiety, along with the harsh, tinny compressed tones of the Four Seasons that inevitably accompany it (due to Vivaldi-specific PTSD, I will never listen to that piece for pleasure again). It was also a summer of drastically worsening illness, in terms of fatigue and autonomic dysfunction, but also, paradoxically, much improved mobility as my powerchair arrived in June.
Now summer is over. The brown envelope arrived the day after our return from our late holiday in Vienna. The timing couldn’t have been more symbolic.
Your PIP runs out on December 17th. Please reapply.
I knew I would be facing reassessment this year, even though I only received my first payment in January. I knew I’d only get a year. But I didn’t realise that I would have to fully reapply, not renew. This has sent me into something of a mental spiral, remembering all the stress, anxiety, extra dissociative episodes which occurred while trying to complete the original form – and realising that I will probably have to do this all over again – perhaps only to be told that I don’t qualify after all and that I will have to go through another appeals process.
It’s past 5 in the morning. I’m too anxious to sleep even though tomorrow is only the phonecall to clear up the renewal/reapplication confusion. My brain kittens figure it never hurts to panic early.
Monday evening, mid-October
The forms have arrived. It took me over a week to summon the courage to call the number and wait on hold through 40 minutes of pain and intrusive noise last month. I asked about reapplication vs renewal, and got told that whatever was on the letter I was sent, that’s what to do. So starting again it is. The deadline is November 7th, so I doubt I will be assessed in what remains of 2016 (last time I waited 7 months from sending the application to the initial assessment).
This means that I will lose almost £62 a week from December when my PIP runs out, until it is (potentially) reinstated, as the Severe Disability Premium added onto my ESA is reliant on my getting PIP. It’s almost like they expect me to fail.
We’re doing the forms tomorrow evening, using the ones from 2014 as reference. I know that a worsened condition (both physical and mental) gives me no guarantee that I’ll get the points to reflect this. Cynically, I think it would be a miracle if I even matched last year’s results (Enhanced rate care; nothing for mobility). I had to go to a tribunal to get that. I’m not sure I can deal with another year of my life essentially put on hold so I can ensure I have the support I need. It’s a bloody grotesque system.
I have had the same few items languishing on my to-do list for 2 months. I just scored one of them off by emailing in a complaint to the CMHT exec. In a way, I think it might have been easier had it been a phone call. Anyway, I finally did it.
In March I called the home crisis team number I’d been given for emergencies. It didn’t go well….
To whom it may concern,
Late on Saturday March 12th, I had a dissociative episode, and worrying that it would get worse and I would hurt myself, I called the circled number. Due to my anxiety,and especially compounded when dissociating, I am not great on the phone. The person who answered it (I can’t remember if they gave a name, but they were female) kept mishearing me or misunderstanding me, which made my dissociation worse (at one point she seemed to think I had children, and asked if they were safe). After a frustrating attempt to describe dissociative symptoms while dissociating, during which I was accused of not cooperating because I said I wasn’t feeling anything, I asked to see someone from the crisis team. It was then I learnt, for the first time, that in order to actually see one of the team, a “service user” must be pre-referred for community support, so all I could have was the phone call, which was making me feel worse. (In the end I hung up because I was scared it would push me past being able to recover that night.)
My complaint is that at no time before I needed to use the Home Treatment Team was I told that I needed to be pre-referred before I would qualify for home visits. Since a “service user” is unlikely to call a crisis number unless they are actually in acute crisis, this seems like a very risky policy. In my case, it made my acute mental health crisis worse to find that out after being further agitated by invasive questioning and allegations during the phone call.
I had two weeks of breathing easily, knowing I had all I was entitled to.
Two weeks of planning for the future, and not fretting for it instead.
Two weeks of optimism. Two weeks of happiness.
That’s all I got.
It took me 16 months after applying to get my ESA and PIP approved, the latter through a gruelling appeals process. It took another 5 months to convince the DWP that I was eligible for Severe Disability Premium so I could afford to pay for my own care. That fight took more energy than I thought I could ever muster; it could have mentally broken anyone, even if, like me, they didn’t already have serious mental health problems.
Then on Monday I got a letter. The brown envelope.
My rate of ESA is changing in December. Dropping drastically.
A phone call cleared it up:
I am being reassessed for PIP before December 17th, which Severe Disability Premium relies upon me receiving. So they will be taking it away pre-emptively, because they’re so confident they won’t need to reinstate it when I fail to cling onto the desperately needed PIP points. (It’s not even worth noting that my illness is incurable and progressive, is it?)
And just like that, my brief respite is over. My week has been punctuated with crying fits, temper, feelings of hopelessness. I am so scared that the remaining seven months of this year will go much the same as those sixteen limbo months, full of dread, apprehension, self-loathing and despair. I would have dearly loved a longer period of time without this hanging over me.
One week ago I was starting to prepare for the accessible-home-hunt, as things in my family home (which I was only ever supposed to be in very temporarily) are deteriorating. Now I can’t do it- not if there’s a chance I’ll lose PIP, and the Severe Disablement Premium with it. If that happens I’d have to move out again and back to here and that would take more energy and self-esteem than I could ever afford to give.
“It’s not enough that they’re cruel, they’re also incompetent with it and that makes it so much worse.”
My ex said that about the DWP sometime last year. I can’t remember over what, which is a worrying sign of how often they cause their victims stress and upset.
I’m still in pre-appeal limbo as far as PIP is concerned (occasionally sending them new and relevant letters from docs/specialists). But now my WCA has come up, and I’m having to try and deal with both benefits being “tested” at once.
My Work Capability Assessment was scheduled for the afternoon of the 11th of November. This didn’t happen. As soon as I got the letter with the date of my assessment, I called to request transport as it would be just too sensible for the assessment centre to be near an accessible station. I was told I needed a doctor’s letter for this. Fine. It took about a week and a half to secure an appointment, get the letter written up, and have it faxed over to the DWP, and then I called to see if it had been received. It had, but then I was told for the first time “We need three weeks to process it”. BUT I ONLY RECEIVED THE LETTER THREE WEEKS BEFORE THE APPOINTMENT DATE! They said they’d try to prioritise it, but the day before my assessment I was told that “it still hasn’t been checked by a medical professional”. That’s right, it requires a “medical professional” to read a letter stating that I can’t walk safely right now and can’t use stations without level access therefore can I please have a taxi to the assessment. My appointment was cancelled with authority, and I spent the day of the 11th a mess, full of anxiety and adrenaline built up for nothing, with no outlet, panicking that my new WCA and PIP appeal would be on the same day and both would therefore be cancelled. (DWP stress does interesting things to anxiety disorders.)
The DWP employee on the phone had been uncharacteristically reassuring, promising to phone me back personally when he heard any news of my rescheduled appointment. Any reassurance quickly dissipated from my mood when I got a form two swift and efficient days after my assessment should have been (how come they’re always quick with the bad things and not the things we need?). The form had questions (here paraphrased but not exaggerated): 1. Why didn’t you attend the assessment we had prearranged either by letter or by phone with you? 2. Why did you not let us know you could not attend your assessment as soon as you found out that you could not go?
The accusatory tone of the questions sent me into a spin. I felt like even though I could write “My assessment was cancelled by someone in your office on 10/11 because appropriate transport could not be arranged in time”, the wording still made it sound like it was my fault, and as one of thousands of claimants flailing around in the huge system designed to fuck them over, why would they believe me? Anxiety through the roof.
That afternoon I got a phone call from Frank, the kind DWP employee. As promised, he had called to check up on me and update me on the situation. I told him about the form, and he told me it was an automated letter, in this case an error and not to send it back. Okay then, I had a minor meltdown over nothing. Also would I like a normal taxi, or a wheelchair accessible one?
Another few days passed and Frank called again to tell me that I would have to be seen at Marylebone, not Neasden. But doesn’t Neasden have a lift? “Yes, but it’s policy that wheelchair users have to be seen on the ground floor.” Ah, so I’m guessing there’s a lift at Neasden, but no safety plan should wheelchair users need to be evacuated.
And now I have another WCA date. December 14th. I’m calling on the 7th to make sure there’s transport in place, and I’m calling Frank directly if not.
(Postscript: They forgot to send the taxi, any taxi. When a last minute taxi did arrive, it wasn’t a wheelchair accessible one either. Depressingly predictable.)