Category: Working and volunteering

Resurrection eggs

I have been making some little gifts for the elderly at the Christian day centre where I volunteer. This isn’t my own idea – I came across a similar project on YouTube for “resurrection eggs”. I bought a set of plastic eggshells from a craft store and filled the insides with not only some chocolates but also a Scripture passage I wrote out, a different one for each person. There are a few different versions of this project and often pictures are put in numbered eggs which are opened to tell the Easter story to children. For the day centre I chose to include passages that share God’s mercy and that we are tenderly loved by Him. Please God it will bring some encouragement to our visitors next week (we still celebrate the joy of Easter beyond Easter Sunday!).

Copying out the passages today gave me a little bit of help as I have been extremely low and feeling I’m sinking, not able to carry on. I need to keep reaching out.

You can find the YouTube video by Taming the Frizz, that inspired me HERE .

Ginny xxx

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Easter crafts – letting the light shine through

We made stained glass window pictures this week at the day centre where I volunteer with elderly people. In a small group we made three pictures – loaves and fish, the Cross and the sun rising above a tomb with the stone rolled away. Here’s the Cross (please excuse the scribbling where I’ve removed anything that could have identified the location; I’m probably being over-cautious but still…):

I made the templates and then we laid them on laminator pages, filled the designs in with tissue papers then added the top sheet and laminated them. This gave them a shiny finish. Once cut out we attached them to window panes to let the light shine through. My inspiration came from a YouTube video of Christian seasonal craft ideas.

It was trickier to do than I’d expected and tested my patience! The tissue paper did not stay in place easily especially when people with limited movement were handling it. Too easily it could be knocked, or the static between the tissue and the laminator sheets pulled pieces out of place. Surprisingly perhaps, all the clients enjoyed it and persevered. It helped that this week everyone seemed curious and wanted to be involved. With clients who often feel depressed or otherwise unwell, this isn’t always the case. This week the clients’ enjoyment encouraged me to keep going even when I thought everything was going to go pear shaped.

Thanks to one of the other staff members we were able to read a bit about how stained glass was and is made and where the colours come from.

We were very happy to do an activity strongly rooted in the hope of Easter. Of course compassion and generosity and love underly everything we do with the clients and we almost always learn, discover and receive blessings as well. However we wanted to do something explicitly exploring God’s gift to us at Easter. In our pictures, each side of the central Cross, the bread and fish represent Jesus’ presence amongst us, His feeding us, His Body given for us 2000 years ago and still on all the altars of the world; the empty tomb and rising sun represent God’s Son Jesus rising from the dead, as He is with us on earth so He is lifting us up to Heaven to be with Him where He is gone. The Cross itself we decorated in bright colours not dark. The Cross is deepest suffering but also and inseparably, our only hope, because there Jesus restored the ruptured relationship between God and man, so that we can now joyfully call Him Heavenly Father. There God’s light shines through to heal our broken hearts.

This Lent time seems to be passing faster and faster for me and I’ve felt I’m grasping at desperate moments to pray between crises, responsibilities, pain and dissociation. It was important to me to have this little time trying to reflect on the Easter promise with those Jesus loves so much, the frail and lonely. Thank you, Lord.

I’m praying for moments of peace throughout your every day.

Ginny xxx

Q – “Have you got your hearing aids in?” A – “Pardon?”

I thought I was losing my hearing. Over the past 2 years or so, I’ve found myself asking people to repeat themselves more and more often. I noticed it particularly when I was working in the department store. What customers said came over as a jumble of sound to me, often as though far away, or sometimes I’d miss it entirely. At the day centre where I volunteer, a couple of the elderly clients remarked that my hearing was terrible an I needed a test. Discussing this with a friend, she commented that she’d long thought that my hearing was worse on the right side.

So I booked a check up and hearing test.

I had my ears checked and syringed. Nothing remarkable was found. No mountainous heap of gunk blocking my ears 🤪.

I had the hearing test.

Everything came back normal.

What is happening?

I’m left thinking that my hearing “disturbances” are to do with attention, dissociation absences, or the effects of overwhelming anxiety. Certainly, high anxiety affects my attention span and my memory. I can talk to someone but not take it in, or not remember what someone has said. Dissociation definitely affects my memory and I lose big chunks of time, not knowing what I’ve done whilst I’ve been gone. If I’m very emotional, I may be unable to remember events before and after the time of heightened emotion.

Is my weird hearing loss / confusion also because of anxiety, distress or dissociated absences? So not only is my memory affected, but also the information does not come into my brain normally in the first place?

Does anyone else have this problem?

Whatever it is, it’s scary. It disconnects me from the people around me, as if I’m floating in a vacuum or surrounded in bubble wrap. Sound doesn’t pass through the bubble wrap wall at all, or if it does, it’s chaotic noise that’s very unsettling deep into my mind and body. It makes me scared and I just want to get away.

Maybe it gives me some insight into what it’s like for people who live with deafness.

Ginny xxx

Where do the words go?

Where do the words go?

I’ve been trying to catch up on my commitments after a really difficult few weeks of being unstable or cut off and dissociated, following the contact from my abuser and the issues that came up during my meeting with the police.
This catching up has involved writing several emails, and putting together feedback on a document I’ve been asked to help put together. (I’m helping compile some material that may go towards a course supporting others with mental health conditions to manage money and debts.)

I have wanted to do this. I care about these topics and the other people I’m writing for. Yet it is a fight to get myself together to do it. My concentration is terrible. My brain seems to be exhausted quickly. It takes me so long to get down a few sentences that I then get frustrated about that itself, which doesn’t help. Thoughts, connected thoughts, then ever more rapidly spiraling thoughts, whip round my head out of control. But this doesn’t help me write. I can’t translate the thoughts into written or spoken words. I don’t know how that can be, since the thoughts must be in words! Where do the words go? Why does the spiralling take over til suddenly every idea is lost, any communication impossible, and an aching, frozen foggy feeling envelopes me?
The only thing loud and clear then are the voices telling me what a load of rubbish my ideas and words are, how I’ll hurt or be disrespectful to someone (or whatever the specific fear is that day), how nobody would want to read this, how it’s worthless….
An email that I’d think should be simple, which I think other people would expect had taken me a few minutes, can take me a couple of hours, including my obsessive checking once I have managed to get any sentences written down. When I was in office work, I was noticeably slow or would lose track of the passage of time. Sometimes, the same experiences stop me writing here, though they are not usually as bad. I’m inefficient and left exhausted. I turn to comfort behavior lile uncontrollable constantly eating sweet “bad” foods because of an unsettling aching hunger that probably isn’t really for food but I can’t satisfy otherwise.

***
I wrote the above a couple of weeks ago but ironically, didn’t finish the post. Today I have an article to write for an online mental health magazine. I’m writing about my experiences of debt and difficulties controlling my spending with BPD. I’m struggling. I wonder if I’ll find this a bit easier than the feedback I was trying to write, as I might not be so anxious about reflecting on what someone else has written, about what they might feel, about what we’ve discussed and whether I’ve paid attention and remembered correctly.

Ginny xxx

How prevalent is the assumption that disabled people don’t work or don’t have responsibilities?

As a disabled person, I’m pretty used to being seen as a problem, especially in the workplace, and sometimes all the more even when “reasonable adjustments” are supposedly being implemented. For example, in my last secretarial post, discussions about supposedly agreed alterations to my working hours would begin with explicit statements about how I “had to realise how terribly difficult it is”. I was pressurised not to attend medical appointments or follow medical advice. If I was in any way assertive about my needs (not disability related ones) once “reasonable adjustments” had supposedly been put in place, I was reminded of the “great leniency” being shown towards me and how my boss was allowing things most firms never would. It got to the point that I explored this with a manager. Was there something wrong about my performance that they considered they were being lenient about – if there was I would much rather they openly told me what it was, so that I could try to correct it. Oh no, said the manager, and she went on to tell me pretty much in so many words that it was the fact that I’d been allowed to return to work after a period of sickness absence and that [what had been agreed amounted to reasonable adjustments] had been put in place! Once I dared to be assertive that whilst it was agreed that I was working reduced hours, there needed to be a plan for how urgent tasks that arose in my absence would be dealt with (it was not okay for me or for anyone else for them all to be left for my return on top of my usual full workload), I was told by my manager that everyone knew I could not cope with the job. From then on, bullying and harassment continued, along with continually calling on the fact that everyone knew I couldn’t cope with the role. This was despite the fact that, until the point that I had asserted my needs, all my reviews and appraisal had been excellent and I had taken on many responsibilities beyond my job description.

I left soon after, feeling I had no other choice as my mental health was deteriorating so rapidly. I made a formal complaint, but the lies in the company’s response and the regulatory body’s disinterest meant I gave up. 2 years since this started, the impacts on me are still considerable, especially intense self doubt about whether I can take on the responsibilities of a skilled job and the intense emotions I feel when I try to take on more responsibilities now. I’m a good way off returning to paid work but I know these memories will be something I battle with when I do.

Looking back, I feel that although the company I was working for made “reasonable adjustments”, they did so out of a sense of obligation. They made them on paper but were not really willing to discuss the practicalities. I did not hide my disabilities from my employer at any point but when I had a period of particularly bad health they became more visible. I feel that the firm continued to employ me out of obligation but from this point I was seen as a problem, an inconvenience, “terribly difficult”, someone who cannot cope. As soon as I asserted my needs (both relating to my disability and not), this was unacceptable to them. I was no longer wanted. Looking back I feel as though I was acceptable so long as I never spoke out, so long as I never dared assert myself because I was so grateful for everyone allowing me to stay despite all the problems I caused. Whatever happened they needed me to fit their impression of me as someone who can’t cope. If I didn’t assert my needs, eventually the ever mounting pressure would have got too much and I would not have been able to cope. When I did assert my needs, they took this as grounds to announce that everyone knew I couldn’t cope. Whatever I did, it came back to this. If I stuck to my contracted hours and a task went undone, I would be told off for not completing it. If I worked late to complete a task (sometimes specifically with a manager’s agreement or even at their request) I was told this showed I couldn’t cope with my job because no other secretaries worked late (untrue incidentally).

So, I wonder, how much of this was done malevolently and how much came from my employers’ assumption that disabled people can’t cope with responsibility or can’t do the job? Yes, in the later stages I believe their lies were malicious or at least covering their own backs so that should I take my complaint further I would have no case. However I am coming to think that their underlying beliefs about me as a disabled person played a large part. (It could have been that I was actually rubbish at my job from the outset but then why was this never reflected in my performance reviews?)

It seems a very backward assumption that disabled people can’t work. Then, the other day I encountered the assumptions of a total stranger who had met me for a few seconds at most, that I’m irresponsible and don’t work.

I was about to get off the bus when the driver sailed on past the stop despite 3 of us ringing the bell in plenty of time. By the time we got to the next stop this had trebled the length of my walk home and this over-exertion has now worsened my symptoms such that for the next 3 or 4 of days I’d be almost unable to walk at all and wouldn’t be able to leave the house even to get to my medical appointments. Someone who has no way to appreciate what life with a disability entails might not realise the extent of impact of having to walk a bit further. The driver was very rude and dismissive when I asked why he didn’t stop and so I thought it worth pointing out the impact it had on me. He would not apologise and lied saying that the bell hadn’t been rung and what was it to do with him. This being the last in a considerable number of recent bad experiences with the bus company that have left me dreading bus travel (recently I was shouted at and ordered off the bus because I asked the driver where the bus was stopping during a temporary diversion and wasn’t willing to accept his answer of “I don’t know I’m not a taxi driver”!), I decided to complain and asked for the company’s telephone number. The driver flatly refused to give any details. At this point another passenger came up, pushing into me, telling me “Just get off the bus, you [expletives deleted] idiot! It’s alright for you, all the rest of us have responsibilities and work to get to! Take the bus number you idiot, he’s told you [more expletives deleted].” On top of which the bus driver nodded and smiled, said she was absolutely right, actually thanking her. Pretty much encouraging her.

I was furious with the passenger as well as the driver and it took me some time to work out why I felt so strongly. Part of it was the driver’s refusal to apologise, refusal to admit he’d missed the stop and pretending the fault was mine and generally very poor customer service, which really gets to me as I’ve worked in customer service for years and feel strongly about how I’d treat other people. I also ascertained he missed the stop deliberately to save time, though that is something of an assumption. But I figured out that what really upset me was the implication in the passenger’s tirade and the driver’s support of her.

“It’s alright for you” whilst the “rest of” the passengers have “responsibilities and work to get to.” She made the assumption that I did not have work or responsibilities, that I was different from everyone else on the bus – why, because she could see I’m disabled? “Take the bus number you idiot, he’s told you”. She assumed the bus driver had given me the information I needed and I was too stupid to understand (he hadn’t). Again because I’m disabled? And I should “just get off the bus” – why did she find that it was wrong for me to stand up for myself? Are disabled people too much of an inconvenience to the “rest of us” when we do? Should I keep quiet because everyone else has responsibilities and jobs that count more than mine? The driver supported her being verbally abusive. Perhaps he was just hoping she’d intimidate me into giving up so there would be no possible repercussions for him if I made a complaint, but in the context it felt like him agreeing I was stupid, an inconvenience and so unworthy I don’t even merit decent customer service.

Am I being paranoid? Was it not actually to do with my disability? Was the other passenger setting me apart from her and the rest of the passengers for another reason? I don’t know. Instinctively I feel it was very much to do with my disability and perhaps the fact I wasn’t behaving in the typically meek, apologetic, unobtrusive way it seems acceptable for disabled people to behave.

Hmmmm. To be continued at some point, I think….

Ginny xxx

 

Needing too much again

I need someone. And there isn’t anyone. It hurts.

I know that’s ungrateful. It really hurts right now and I’m very low. There’s never any answer to this longing need as we have no call to expect it to be answered when we’re adults. And I do have people. I have my GP, my support worker, the project worker who’s helping me continue my volunteer work, and my weekly art therapy. I have my friend L and her family. These are much more than many people have. I’m so fortunate to have art therapy and to get support towards volunteering and to be able to ask my support worker for practical help managing Benefits and finances. All these are extra blessings that help me go on. I’m thankful.

Why does it feel so dark right now? Why am I shattered and crying and really near giving in? Why am I still longing for someone to be here and hold me? I really wish for a friend here, someone who would be with me in some of the worst times when I’m scared and can only cry. The little side of me, the child, is hurting and my escape world too close, pulling me in stronger whenever I’m alone. Either that or I feel utter pain and loss. For all the support I have, I have no friends here near me. Let alone talking to anyone or sharing what it really feels like, the two people I know in the city where I live have ignored me or said they have far too much going on to meet at all. Based on so many lost relationships so far, I assume they find me too much of a burden to have any contact.

I cannot trust anymore as I used to try to. I’ve learnt what happens to friendships when I’m honest or admit I need help.

The police are still searching for my mother. I can’t begin to describe what I’m feeling knowing she’s missing and what it means, the indefinite loss, no answers to what happened to me…

All the time I was seen in the personality disorders service, I fought the feeling that they didn’t believe me, thought I was a fake, didn’t believe what had happened to me, didn’t believe what I was feeling when I was overdosing and suicidal, thought I was just making threats. They never kept me safe. I gradually built a tiny bit of trust in my group therapy. I found some things out this week that pretty much proved they didn’t believe me. And that took with it any trust I’d built and and hope that any of them, the service or most of the other group members, thought I’m anything other than a fraud and evil and nasty and manipulative. And anything I had gained in therapy starts to unravel and the voices in my head are right.

I’m trying to be there for my friend R and keep giving and listening and being responsive and compassionate. But I’m on the edge of a precipice with him and so close to falling. I can’t keep holding him when nobody holds me. Nobody helps me.

God holds me. God – “and I will say to You, my rock, my stronghold, my God in whom I trust.” God knows me better than I know myself. God knows my inmost being. I used to fear this. I used to fear Him because He knew how bad I really am and all the evil that will get out that I can’t control. But I just can’t see anything anymore. I can’t have any certainty myself and I can’t put my trust in anyone else. All my feelings seem twisted and wrong and corrupted by the abuse. I trust God. He sees. He sees whatever I do.

I don’t know. I’m confused. I have an uncontrolled childish need for comfort and not to be alone.

I have to fill in forms for going to see the lady who is helping me with goal setting and voluntary work tomorrow. But I can’t get my head round them and feel too low to do anything but sleep.

Ginny xxx

Talking with medical students (updated)

Particularly relevantly given my previous post, at the end of this week I’m going to be speaking with a group of medical students about stigma in mental health. The local university runs several of these small group sessions through the academic year. Attending one is compulsory for all final year students. The scheme was set up by someone from the Recovery College (which I must write the promised post about!) in conjunction with the university psychiatry department. Each session is led by two people with lived experience of mental health conditions and encountering stigma in healthcare environments. I volunteered to take part through a patient involvement network.

Most of the session will be question and answer and discussion, but first I have to speak for a few minutes about my personal experiences. I can think of many examples both good and bad of care I’ve received, stereotypes that affect me and those that care for me (especially specific to BPD), times my care and relationship with services has suffered because of discriminatory practices and rules, how often I’ve felt rejected and not believed when I’ve most needed help and the long lasting effects of this; also, I want to share times that have been good, such as the empathy I met with when I had my minor op last year which helped me cope with my panic and emotional instability at the time, and the encouragement I’ve found at the Recovery College in being valued for who I am and even for what I’ve been through.

This being my first time, it’s hard to know what the students will be interested in. What will they most want to hear about? What is most important for them to hear? What will they want to ask? I’ve had a little guidance from someone who has spoken at one of these sessions before and any more suggestions would be helpful. If you can think of anything particularly important to discuss, if you have your own lived experience for instance with your own mental health or as a friend, family or carer, or if you have a student or medic’s perspective, I’d be really grateful to hear any thoughts.

Thank you so much.

Ginny xxx

24.o2.2017: By way of update, the meeting with medical students was cancelled as the psychiatrist who was due to facilitate the session was called away unexpectedly. I’m due to  speak at another session in the Spring and afterwards will post about how it went.

Tinsel, trees and memories

[Written on Tuesday 20th December]

Thanks be to God I made it in to the day centre yesterday, despite having been ill and “out of it” over the weekend. It was a ridiculous struggle to go, on the way I thought I was going to faint as I was so dizzy and all the way I was praying and fighting what the voices were telling me (and my body aching to stay in bed!). I feel so sick with myself that I was reluctant in doing a simple thing, just keeping my commitment to the day centre for half a day. Then again I did want to do it, really, in my heart. It’s the voices and pain, mental pain having more hold than the physical, that stop me. I pray my resulting weakened and ungenerous desire will be forgiven and eventually transformed if I do all I can to keep on the path and make my actions loving, whatever is going on in my head.

The Lord heard my prayers and guided me. Doesn’t He tell us He keeps us beneath the shelter of His Spirit’s wings! When I felt I could do nothing He gave me the peace I needed and carried me to the right place. It turned into a beautiful morning.

I had been a bit worried because the activities leader was on holiday, so we were to be short staffed and about 15 elderly people come to the centre on a Monday. When I arrived, I found out a new volunteer had started the week before and of course this was a huge help. I was facilitating a craft activity session. Four ladies joined me and we started making mini Christmas trees from empty plastic bottles, tinsel, felt and card. Whilst it was a difficult start, the idea of having an ornament to take home seemed to appeal, as did the brightly coloured tinsel. I was amazed how everyone got right into it and quickly adapted their designs so each little tree was unique. One lady in particular seemed very discouraged and for several minutes kept telling me how rubbish she was at anything like this and that she should throw her tree away. She has a disability affecting use of one of her hands and I think this makes her feel very sad and frustrated. However, during the activity somehow, she grew a little happier and interested in choosing the colours of felt and glitter for a star to top her tree. By the time she finished, she was talking about taking her tree home and she started everyone talking about where they would display their trees. “I’m going to put mine in the front window so all the children can see it when they go past,” one lady said. I was overjoyed that together we’d created some happiness and a sense of achievement.

The other activity I had planned was making a paper star / snowflake. This didn’t go down quite as well on a practical level, partly as we were a bit short of time. It also seemed to be more confusing and less enjoyable than I’d anticipated. This is a valuable experience for me to learn what’s enjoyable and what’s not. I thought the snowflake would be easier than the trees but that was not so. Possibly it was harder to see what we were working towards and for people with some dementia maybe following a set sequence of steps which had to be done in a specific way, was more frustrating than an activity like the trees which didn’t have such a right or wrong. However, though we didn’t make snowflakes, the topic of paper decorations brought back memories for the ladies of Christmases in wartime or when their children were young, when making ornaments from newspaper and scrap paper was popular because there weren’t the materials or money to purchase decorations.

My soul is emptied of a little of the chaos in times like these mornings at the day centre, as I’m focused as completely as I can on creativity and trying to bring encouragement to another person, love them and show them care.

Ginny xxx

Getting ready for the day centre – trying to keep reaching out

I’ve had a really bad dissociative episode this weekend. After therapy group on Friday my mind just shut down and didn’t even seem to slide into my safe escape world. I was frozen and gone and my body wasn’t working either. I think I slept quite a lot and several times was locked into hallucinations, conscious but unable to move. This afternoon I started to be “here” again though I’m longing to escape into sleep. Every movement hurts so much. Returning from these episodes is scary. I’m fighting through fog to speak to anyone and I’ve lost so much time. Where have the last 2 days gone?

I forced myself to go out this afternoon and bought supplies I need for volunteering at the day centre tomorrow (I go every other week to do craft activities with a small group of elderly people). As I was leaving, I bumped into a neighbour who wasn’t well so I picked up a couple of things she needed too. This evening I’ve been preparing for tomorrow. I am dreading it and don’t know how I’ll be able to leave the house, I feel so bad. I feel guilty for dreading it because they need me at the centre and all the elderly people there are struggling with far worse than I am. By God’s grace the harder I have to force myself to go, the more love I will put into it, and in my weakness He is strong and He will lead me.

Tomorrow at the day centre we are going to make mini Christmas trees from empty squash bottles, tinsel and decorated card, and make stars for the top from felt and pretty buttons. If there’s time we’ll make paper stars (or snowflakes). Here’s one I practiced making with scrap paper just now. They’ll look much prettier tomorrow made from glittery paper.

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I thought it would be nice for people to have ornaments to take home. I particularly like the star because you can start with scraps and still make something pretty. It’s a bit like what I’m trusting in God to do with my life – bring something beautiful from the mess of my heart.

Ginny xxx

Constant anticipation of the next error – and consequential disaster: Part #1

I try hard to look for good things to appreciate. I’m trying to counteract my anxiety and overwhelming emotions by looking for the positive, hopeful things that can come from a situation. (It’s something of a DBT technique which I’ll elaborate on in another post.) I’m told I’m not yet very good at finding positive things about myself. I think gradually I’m getting better at seeing positive things in the outside world.

However in some areas it’s hard not to not only feel overwhelmed by both emotions and external negative events and also to expect them.

Benefits is a case in point right now and it has been for years, every single time I’ve needed to claim a Benefit when I haven’t been able to work / haven’t been able to work full time, because of my health.

Today, I received a letter from the Tax Credit Office about an error made in my tax credits earlier this year, when I was working at the department store. I was aware of that mistake. They had incorrectly recorded the income figures I had given them and given me only partial information about eligibility. Consequently they paid me tax credits I wasn’t entitled to. The letter I received today was rather confusing but essentially confirmed that. So far, that wasn’t too bad – I will have to pay back the overpaid money when they ask for it but I already knew that.

Next, I opened two letters from the Housing Benefit Department. The first contained two award notices both almost the same but with completely confusing dates, entitlement and income figures. What’s that about, I wondered. One of them was marked “change in personal circumstances”. What change in circumstances? I haven’t had a change recently. I opened the second letter from Housing Benefits, with a certain sense of foreboding!

Yup, disaster again. The letter told me that the Housing Benefit Department had been informed by the tax office that I am in receipt of working tax credit, therefore I am working and my housing benefit has been suspended until I give them details of my new job and current income.

Oh my days. I assume they have received a copy of the letter I got from Tax Credits. If they took time to actually read the letter, they would have seen it was saying that I am not entitled to tax credits. If they had looked at the dates in the letter (not to mention previous documentation I’ve supplied them and previous discussions I’ve had with them about my receipt of tax credits) they would have seen that it referred to a period earlier this year, not to now. They also know that I am not working – I have given them proof that I am currently in receipt of Employment Support Allowance because I am not working because of my health.

So, my housing benefit has been stopped. I will have to contact my landlord on Monday to explain why the benefits payments have stopped. I will have to contact Housing Benefits and try to prove to them that I am not working. This will probably involve chasing around the tax office and the other oxus involved in my employment support allowance. I have to make a written statement and gather together copy documents from my employment support allowance claim and tax credits. Quite probably I will have to take this in to the housing office, queue for a long time to see someone, which physically I cannot cope with at the moment as I can walk so little. My anxiety has skyrocketed because of the financial problems this suspension in my housing benefit will cause. Worse, from my past experience, once one benefit gets stopped, all the other benefits get stopped too. I am anticipating that I’ll be contacted by the employment support allowance office next week saying they’ve received information I’m working so my benefit has been stopped. Then I’ll have nothing coming in.

This may sound like an exaggeration but it has happened to me and to friends of mine before. And it could all so, so easily have been avoided. How easily the housing benefit office could have seen that the correspondence referred to months ago. How easily they could have checked with the tax office to see if I was working. How easily they could have made a quick phonecall to me or my support worker, if something wasn’t clear or they needed a particular piece of evidence. Wouldn’t this have cost them less, as well as me? The situation would have been resolved in minutes. Instead they have sent out a letter, required a statement, someone has to take copies of this, take copies of documentation, probably see me for an appointment, restart everything, set up payments to my landlord again (God willing!). Even without counting the cost and distress and anxiety caused to me, it is a hive waste of resources and confusion for nothing.

Since I first had to claim Benefits in something like January 2015, I reckon I have been paid the correct amount I was entitled to for a maximum of one month at a time, before the next error or mess-up has occurred and at least one of my Benefits has been cut, stopped or refused incorrectly – and completely avoidably. Last year when I rented as a lodger in a private landlord’s family home, this array of errors left me so very close to being on the street; if it were not for an extremely generous friend who paid my rent one month, I would have been out with nowhere to go. It is hugely fortunate that I now live in a housing association flat where I will not be thrown out immediately if there is a problem with my housing benefit. It is hugely fortunate I have the expertise of my support worker who will help me get this resolved as fast as possible and stop me going to pieces in the meantime. Most people don’t have those two blessings.

I don’t want to complain and whinge and expect money for nothing. I don’t think I deserve other people’s constant support. I could very well have nothing. I need to try to become independent and able to support myself. Support doesn’t come for nothing and I should expect to take responsibility, not have everything handed to me.

I think one thing that makes it so hard is when you have been through every process as well as you can, given all the information asked of you, taken all the steps you can, and despite this everything still crumbles. My experiences over the years tell me as soon as there’s any stability, it gets taken away again through error or miscommunication, despite all your best efforts. And the error seems to have an effect like tumbling dominoes on all the other areas of your life there is any stability. Losing stability has immediate big consequences when you have very little to live on. It also drains all your energy, time and emotional resources, which go into trying to correct the error before disaster point (losing your home, no money for food, etc) rather than leaving you any strength to recover, contribute something to your community in your day to day life, benefit from opportunities that might make your situation better (and even maybe less dependent on social and state support, not that needing it is a bad thing). When you are constantly using all your resources fighting the next mistake and next disaster, trying to ensure that you have the basics you need to get by, in a state of anticipation of the next disaster so you can try to minimise or allow for its impact; when you feel as if you’re being knocked back, kept vulnerable, denied any security, despite your hardest work to set things right; then there is no way you can do more than just get by, in a constant state of strain.

So, I’m wondering what I can change. It seems I cannot change the fact that mistakes constantly occur, despite me trying my hardest to do the best I can for my part and to take steps to pre-empt the problems. I don’t want to feel so spent, trapped, angry, vulnerable and at risk as I do at the moment as a result of the repeated cycle of mistakes.

So, what can I change?

[Part 2 to follow, not that I have any answers yet! Thoughts are most greatly welcome, as ever.]

Ginny xxx