How my PIP assessment went

N.B. Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a benefit in the UK that helps disabled people cover the extra living costs they incur as a result of their impairments, such as needing to pay for a care team or buy pre-cooked food.


My PIP assessment was actually a positive experience. Yes, you read that right. It was a positive experience for me, and I am stunned.

While I wasn’t anxious or stressed in the days leading up to the appointment, I didn’t have an ‘everything will be fine’ attitude about it either. I was definitely not expecting to feel relaxed, or like the assessor had an understanding of my cerebral palsy, and yet, that is exactly how I felt throughout.

My assessor was lovely, apologised that some of the questions were a bit personal and kept telling me that my answers were good or understandable; like when I told him that although my impairment mainly impacts on my lower body, I still get pain in my neck and shoulders because of poor posture. I felt like he understood the nature of my pain and that made me feel more relieved that I thought it would. Looking back now I was definitely worried that my pain levels might be brought into question, and they weren’t.

He referred to things written on my form and medical evidence a lot, which made me feel like he’d read my case carefully. I mentioned depression and anxiety in passing on my form, because the medication I take for that means that I can’t take ibuprofen as pain relief any more, and he told me that he wanted to explore that a little more so he didn’t miss anything.

I felt listened to and believed. I thanked the man at the end for making me feel comfortable. I have friends who have found their own assessments very distressing, and I’ve heard many similar stories on social media too. I am aware that this makes me lucky in a way that it shouldn’t have to because everyone’s experience should be like this.

As daft as I know this sounds, I’ve spent today in a bit of a daze. I can’t quite believe that it’s all over, and how much better I feel for it. I feel so grateful to have had such a positive assessment. I feel sad and guilty that so many don’t feel the same way about their own.

Of course, the PIP application process isn’t over for me just yet. The assessor now has to write a report that will be sent to a case manager who will decide the outcome of my claim.

The important thing for now is that I feel like the assessment went as well as it could’ve done.

I just have to hope the outcome is in my favour.

Mental health update for #MentalHealthAwarnessWeek2019

It’s been a while since I’ve given you an update on how my mental health is, and this week is Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, so now seems like a fitting time to bring you all up to speed.

A bit of background about my mental health

Long time readers of this blog might remember that I’ve struggled with anxiety which manifests itself as what I call ‘OCD-type tendencies’ since I was about eight or nine years old. It started out as me constantly worrying about germs and constantly washing my hands. Over the years it’s taken a few different forms, like uncontrollable worrying, worrying I would eat too much and be sick, an even more intense fear of germs that had me washing my hands before, during and after a trip to the loo and changing my clothes after every visit to the bathroom.

When I was at my worst around five years ago, I was unable to sit still and would often pace my house crying and mumbling to myself to try and quiet the din in my brain. I struggled to get a job after graduating university, which made me depressed at the same time. Some days I struggled to get out of bed. I felt worthless and everything felt pointless. The world seemed grey for a long time. I went to the doctor, started antidepressants and started therapy again.

How my mental health is as of May 2019

As of May 2019 I’ve been on antidepressants for roughly five years, during which time I’ve altered dosages and changed tablets until I found what seems to be the right fit for me. Medication was not a magical cure for me, and it certainly hasn’t taken away my anxiety completely, but it definitely has made a difference in my case. In truth, I can’t really remember a time when I haven’t had anxiety, and I’ve accepted that it is something I’ll have to manage throughout my life. I’m sure there’ll be bumps along the way, but I feel like a have a deep enough understanding of my triggers and the things that help me manage the blips, to nip things in the bud before they reach the levels I’ve been at in the past.

Up until a couple of months ago my anxiety levels were feeling pretty, well, level. I’ve not felt quite so ‘comfortable’ of late, but that’s something (in my case) to be expected, given that I’ve recently started another new job and am in the process of applying for PIP. I’m aware of how I’m feeling and I’m monitoring it. The people close to me know I’m feeling ‘unsettled’, and I’m using some of the coping strategies I’ve learned through various stints of CBT.

I’ve been in full-time employment since January 2018, and I don’t think I’ve seen a therapist since the September before that. I always used to say as soon as I got a job I’d pay to see a therapist privately on a constant basis. Of course, the support I’ve had on the NHS has been amazing, but as anxiety especially is something I’ve struggled with since childhood, I feel like being able to have support from the same person as and when I need it for as long as I need it, would be massively helpful to me.

And yet, since I’ve started work I don’t actually feel like this is something I need to do. Not yet anyway.

It’s taken a long time, and a lot of hard work, but I think I’m mentally in a good place, and have been for a while.

 

1am

It’s 1am and here I am, unable to sleep for what must be the third time this week.

I have no idea what’s keeping me awake tonight. One night, it was feelings of ‘What am I doing with my life?’ another time it was because I wanted to write. Last night pain decided to climb into bed with me and make getting comfortable impossible, but today…
It’s been one of those weird days today, where I haven’t felt unwell exactly, but I’ve not been myself either. I could tell things would be like that as soon as I woke up because I felt anxious to my tummy. All churn-y and whatnot.
I’d already planned to work from home, which was probably a blessing. I sort of feel like I’ve been in a daze all day; not down the grey pit of depression, but not fully engaged with life either.
I suppose I’m probably just over tired. I think I should try sleep now. I hope i can. I’m sure things will feel better in the morning…

Weekends and mental health

When I was unemployed I looked forward to, and dreaded weekends.

I looked forward to them because all of my family and friends were employed, so weekends meant I could spend time with them. Plus, for two days a week it felt like it didn’t matter that my body clock was a mess because lots of other people would be staying up late and sleeping in. I felt like everyone else. For most of it.

The hardest day of the week for me it the five and a half years I was jobless wasn’t, as you might think, a Monday morning. By the end of it I’d reached the point where I mostly slept Monday morning (well, most mornings actually) away so that I wouldn’t be as lonely.

Sundays, especially the afternoons and evenings, sucked way more.

Everyone would spend it complaining that they didn’t want to go to work the next day and I couldn’t wait until I could say that sort of thing too, even if I didn’t mean it. I hated knowing that another Monday was about to go by without a shiny new job for me to go to.

Now, after two months of working, I look forward to weekends because I feel like I’ve earned them. Sundays don’t suck any more, and I haven’t quite reached the point where I have that ‘Oh poop, it’s Monday tomorrow’ feeling. I’m sure that will come in time though.

4 years on antidepressants

The other day while I was in the shower it hit me: February marked four years since I started taking antidepressants, and as well as wondering where the time had gone, I realised I wasn’t sure how I feel about this. I’m still not.

Before I go any further with this post, I want to make it clear that right from the first couple of weeks of taking my meds I knew I’d done the right thing. It’s actually the best thing I’ve ever done. I have no regrets.

But I still remember how I felt in my doctors appointment that day. I’d been offered meds before in the past and refused them, but this time I knew I’d do anything they suggested. At the time, my anxiety was more of an issue than depression, and, as dramatic as I know this sounds, I was genuinely scared by how bad things had become.

I couldn’t relax, couldn’t sit still, and my germ anxiety was so bad I changed my clothes every time went into the bathroom, even it is was just to scrub my face. I washed my hands before, during and after using the toilet.   I laugh about this last part now when I bring it up to show people how far I’ve come, but honestly, I don’t find it funny in the slightest. I find it terrifying.

Then the doctor told me that he’d like me to be on them ‘until I’m feeling a bit brighter, plus another six months’.

I felt like the bottom had just fallen out of my world. I wanted to take it back. I wanted to take it all back, even the CBT I’d agreed to try instead of counselling like I’d had several times before (I’ve actually had CBT since then too). I’d agreed to give over at least half a year of my life to taking these meds. That was way too long! I’d made a huge mistake! I couldn’t take it back because the prescription was already in my hand.

I got home and paced my room as I listened to Twenty One Pilots in my earphones as loudly as the volume would let. This, as trivial as it sounds,  is actually quite significant and proves how angry I was with myself. When someone bought me my very first tape walkman as a kid, I hardly used it because I was so afraid it would make me go deaf, and on the rare occasions I did use it, I would spend at least 10 minutes after I’d taken the headphones off repeating everything my parents said back to them so they (and I )  could check I hadn’t gone deaf. I had to do this for quite a while to prove that my ears were’t playing tricks on me for the first few sentences…

I’m over this particular worry now, but it’s always in the back of my mind whenever I use my earphones.

Anyway…

Fast-forward to 2018 and I’m taking antidepressants way, way, way more for depression than anxiety and I feel strangely okay about it. I’ve had so many ‘dips’ in this time that I know I’m not ready come off them yet. They’ve not been a magical cure, I’ve had to switch tablets once and raise my doseage more than once, but most of the time they keep me level enough that I can drag myself out of bed, even on my ‘bad’ days, and can actually distinguish one thought from another rather than being sucked into a rabbit hole of thoughts and worries.

I feel like I’ve hit rock bottom at least three times in the last four years, but I’ve found my way back every time. When all is said and done, that’s what’s important.