Benefits – life with them, life without them.

I started a life on and off benefits aged 17 after I was made homeless by my family. At first I lived in a subsidised hostel, but when I moved into my own (council) flat a month after my eighteenth birthday, I was left shocked by the existence of life on benefits. I was on about £40 a week income support as I regularly struggled and had to apply for crisis loans then had to pay them back out of the extra few quid on top of that that I would otherwise have received. 

During my time on benefits, I remained determined that this would not be my future and it wasn’t. I finished college with the help of Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA), I don’t know how teens in crisis survive without it. I also had some financial assistance from the college including a travel warrant. I lived quite a distance from the college and couldn’t have got there without it. 

My life was a struggle. I lived on toast apart from my free lunches from the college. I was in constant fear of running out of toiletries etc and even now I have the habit of buying more than I actually need because I’m scared of having to live on the breadline. 

That part of my life changed when I started university for the first time in 2004. For the next few years I studied and worked hard until eventually, around 2006, after dropping out of uni for a second time, I saw a psychiatrist (in fact a few psychiatrists) and was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. Eventually due to my mood instability and a lack of understanding and support from my employer, I had to give up work and was again in the position of living on benefits. It wasn’t much of a life, more an existence. I rarely left my flat, lost nearly all of my friends, became withdrawn and angry. 

It took a lot of support from the Community Mental Health team, tenancy support and my then boyfriend before in 2010 I was able to work for a matter of months before the Bipolar once again became too much to deal with. When I was high I took on too much work without being able to concentrate on any of it, then when depressed I became extremely overwhelmed and struggled to even get out of bed in the morning. 

I signed back onto benefits and my health deteriorated further. In 2011 I tried to take my own life a number of times then almost overnight an ongoing problem with my knees worsened meaning that I could only get around on crutches. Eventually the pain spread to my back and after seeing a rheumatologist and having lots of tests I was finally diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a severe form of arthritis that causes pain, fatigue and if effective treatment isn’t received soon enough, can cause the bones in the spine to fuse. It can also affect joints such as the knees. 

It took nearly a year of seeing a rheumatologist before I was given a drug called Enbrel. Since being on this drug for a few weeks I have already noticed improvements in my levels of pain and it has left me beginning to hope about what this drug could mean for my future physically. My main issues now are my mental illness and my levels of fatigue (impacted by my physical and mental health). 

Mentally, I’m a mess. My mood yo-yo’s on an hourly basis and I struggle with mania, paranoia and anxiety or depression and lethargy, mixed states, suicidal thoughts, the lot. I receive treatment from the CMHT including a social worker and PA. I’m also waiting for group therapy and tenancy support to start.

I receive disability benefits including ESA and DLA, so life isn’t as much of a struggle for me as it was when I first signed on to benefits but it is still traumatic. That constant fear that someone will declare you fit for work when you’re ill or that the cuts that are being put in place next year will impact me, leave me feeling like nothing is secure, nothing can be relied upon. 

I’d love the security of a job but I know that I couldn’t cope with the inflexibility, the stress and pressure. I’d love to be a journalist but some days I can’t even speak to my friends, let alone strangers and I struggle to leave the house unaccompanied. I’m still on crutches too so with that and my record of mental illness causing an end to my employment, it is unlikely that anyone would want to employ me anyway. 

I would love to write on a regular basis , which is why I set this blog up, but some days I can’t concentrate at all, or if I have great concentration due to a manic episode, I could be writing complete nonsense anyway. 

As a result of my ill health I’ve lost friends, family avoid me and I have no social life. I’d love to be a normal twenty-something. At my age I should be in a position of responsibility, have a career, perhaps be thinking about starting a family. Instead if I am ever able to work again I will be extremely lucky to get a job on the bottom rung of the ladder, no matter what my age. 

I’m not what some would call a ‘chav’. I have part of a university education behind me. I’m not lazy and I’m not greedy. I’m hardworking, determined and I love a challenge. The problem is that despite the best of my intentions, my enthusiasm doesn’t turn into anything reliable, concrete. Instead I am crushed under the pressure and fall apart. 

I started this blog in the hope that one day I can be a freelance journalist but more importantly than that, that I can raise awareness of people like me who are affected by disabilities, physical and mental, who are unable to work and who have to rely on benefits that are threatened by the government cuts. I want people to realise that we are not an ‘underclass’ to be threatened by, but ‘normal’ people like them who just happen to have fallen on hard times. If it was you in my position, wouldn’t you expect some government support? How would you feel if people looked down on you as a result? How would claiming benefits make you feel as a person or how does it make you feel? 

I am happy to continue this discussion on this blog as well as on Twitter @spursbythebeach. If you have something you want to say more privately then please feel free to email me on brokenglassshimmers@hotmail.co.uk and I will try to get back to you as soon as possible. 

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About brokenglassshimmers

I’m 30 and have BPD and arthritis. This website will detail how I deal with my health issues, reading and writing. I am in the process of writing books and I will keep you posted about how that is going. I also want to run an online book club and writer’s circle. Please feel free to comment on the site and to let me know if there are any improvements or changes you would like to see. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.

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