This text talks about social benefits, but with a focus on people who have mental health issues due to being abused as children: a group hardly considered at all, and being failed by the Work Capability Assessment.
If you’ve seen the film Wedding Belles and the character Kelly, then you’ll understand why I’m a ‘master of secrets.’ The secrets that lurk deep inside my psyche are my memories – often fragmented thoughts. As my life plays for all to see, an old, long-abandoned film projector, the cerebral celluloid jumps and cuts. We’re good actors too; needy and manipulative – after all we have learnt to survive our trauma, to be what they want us to be – at least for myself, I have managed, for the time being to out-live my past.
Many people I have known over the decades, I have been in the ‘system’ since before I was born are dead. They don’t even make their late 40’s let alone 50’s. I have met a photo-album’s worth of people. Faces, names, and bodies- another ‘mental health’ memory of people so physically and mentally worn-out. Tired with being alive – and in pain. The categories (and I have few options, let alone choices in life) are, death, usually self-destruction by alcohol or drugs or both, and the obvious suicide. Or I can ‘chose life’. You note that I put death before life – I’m having my usual Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), and depression day. Which is not as bad as my psychotic moments or boozed fuelled introspective relapses. For most like me, life at best is series of on-going unfortunate events. A life- time of mental health professionals or health care professionals (HCP), hospital admissions – to be pumped out, sewn up, dried out, counselled, diagnosed, prescribed or now assessed.
So how did I come to be like this? I’ll make this simple: I was ‘placed’ for adoption before birth. Spent my first two year in a children’s home, before adoption. My adopted parents, on paper at least, were responsible people – on paper that is. So; – you can see, I’ve been in the system – some ones case, charge, responsibility, or problem since before I was even born. I know the routines’ inside and out, likely better than many HCP, that is for sure. When people ask me stupid questions about drinking and ‘suicide,’ the correct term for someone like me is ‘para-suicidal’. Alcoholism is measured by the relationship not the level of consumption of alcohol! As if questions alone magically open the door to my past – it also tells me more about that person, than they will ever understand about me.
You’ll notice, reading this, that many single words and singular phrases are used to explain highly complex human behaviours. Here’s a word that is so short in its phenomenology, I often question its meaning. ‘Abuse’. It is such an unremarkable and short word, that society bands the word [abuse] about as a one term fits all phrase! However – the definition of this term is far more multi-sided, visive, and endless – once attached to the psychology and anatomy of an ordinary human being. In addition, it is a favoured, throwaway, term for professionals – especially when applied in the medical model.
I have spent equally as many decades trying to escape the medical model. I does not work for me. Its pretext is that I am ill. Yet, I am not ill. I am hurt and damaged. Such was the impact of the abuse; it left me emotionally damaged. When I do escape, the confines of the medical model, that so defines my socio-medical – and now my political identity. I am quickly, hunted down by officialdom and returned to my psychiatric confines.
It gets tiring having these labels. Constantly defined by how others view me. Inside there is David. I’m an adult: nearly 50 years old and nearly at the stage many ‘abuse victims’ (did you see those two words) contemplate their life. Should I go on – after all I’ve made it this far. Yet psychologically I am still that child, and likely will always be – and easily accessed, if one knows the emotional and psychological strings to pull. Did you not know – that they seek us out, like a predatory flame to the body of a moth?
I think, I am not sure – it was sometime around 2000. My doctor referred me to a Counselling Psychologist. I struggle to remember definitive events, which is strange. Maybe there are so many gaps and conflicts’ in my memory. Things I don’t want to remember – and things I cannot forget. I also remember going to my local library to look at a book on childhood abuse. I’d often seen the book, but dared not read it. One day I sneaked the book up to the back of the room, so no one-could see me reading it. I turned the pages. Even though some of the stories didn’t fit mine, the behaviours if you will resonated through my spinning mind. That’s another aspect of ‘abuse’, that those who are abused, conscious of the events, and how can we ever forget, sometimes do not comprehend – that what took place was ‘abuse’. I also had to wait until my adoptive parents were dead, before I could even think about ‘reclaiming my body’, as I now term it. They had, and I cannot over emphasis this – a level of control that I could not stop – which has progressed from my experiences into what has become my life. Can I ever separate myself from my past?
I fare pretty badly, worse actually, when it comes to Department of Works & Pensions (DWP). I was on the old Incapacity Benefit (IB), which allowed me to study part-time, and do voluntary work – which I enjoyed. I think you had more freedom under IB, (an important theme in my life). I’ve always said – it’s only when you don’t have freedom, that you truly understand what freedom is. That is my desire: to be free of the restraints my experiences have placed on me – its a recurring theme that motivates me.
I was thinking recently – on the Samantha Morton interview she gave regarding her own childhood abuse. The interviewer asked her. ‘On what level was the abuse?’ It seems society has levels – to help you understand my pain. The look Samantha Morton returned said everything I already know. There are no levels, no extremes and no limits to human behaviour and its effect. What did the interviewer naively expect with his ‘levels?’ How can a person even answer this question? I could recount a many stories of my own, and hundreds of others’ I have heard. How do we as a society define and measure abuse, the actions and the emotions?
I try to live as independently, and as free as I can, without medical (and state) intervention. I don’t want any more counselling, any more pills, which mess me up even more, any more questions, as it really is no one’s business but mine. It is my unique pain, because it happened to me – and not to anyone else! Stop trying to define me, to unravel my past, to assess me, treat me, or try to cure me. Neither am I a survivor. I haven’t been bobbing around in a rubber dingy, weeks adrift at sea. I have survived nothing but to live my [own] life.
One of the biggest dangers I face today – surprisingly, is not from over-dose or another form of self-destruction, the favoured way of one who is in so much self-pain they can – but not live. The threat is from the government. Under the Work Capability Questionnaire (WCA), (Personal Independent Payment (PIP) is not any better) I have to account for myself. I have to tell complete strangers’ also known as Health Care Professionals (HCP) why I can’t work – que all the ridiculous questions; not only about my illnesses (I’m not ill), but about why I don’t undertake Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), or go and see my GP. I actually don’t want to!
I always play the victim (yes, you have sussed me, a survivor no, but victim yes). Why a victim – you ask? Because I have to get money to live on from the state. It’s not enough that I went through these things – I can hardly use the word in relation to myself, but that I now have to justify my life, my body, my emotions, my history, to people who have little comprehension of what these experiences are truly like.
First, I get the questionnaire, which is uselessly generic. Then the face-to-face interview. I had never ever told the DWP until last year about the/my abuse. I’ve never told anyone for that matter, other than my counselling psychologist (in 2007). Yes – so long ago according to the DWP, that I’m cured by now! I was gob smacked when Cathy at the job centre said (I’d lost my Employment Support Allowance (ESA), then had my Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) account closed – as I could not meet the criteria due to my mental illness) ‘that was then this is now!’
The above sentence is likely the worst thing you could say to someone in my circumstance – and to imply that time alone necessitates healing. I don’t want healed – just left alone to live my life.
I think during the DWP’s ritual meetings, I struggled to speak, to have a voice, to be able to protect myself. I actually started to regress back into the feelings of childhood helplessness. The past is never far away. It was six months of utter hell, and not just because I didn’t have any money!
The Tribunal (whom I feel, are too busy looking for evidence to actually listen and see the real story) was an emotional trial. Another ‘assessment’, by an equally bureaucratic and ‘non- specialised’ panel. I’m told, it’s the same for folk applying for criminal damages – basically having to re-live the ordeal to satisfy the criteria. There must be a more humane, sympathetic, a less obtrusive, and traumatic way? I’m told: You have the power David; you are in control of your life – when obviously I don’t and are not!
Recently I read an article about a woman who had been ‘abused’ by an infamous celebrity (a high profile case, which was featured in a tabloid newspaper). Not only had she been abused and let down by the police (most abuse cases are never reported), but also completely failed by the welfare system, who stopped her payment. And yesterday; a lady left doubly incontinent after a violent sexual assault, stripped of her Disability Living Allowance (DLA), a ‘political’ crime if ask you me!
I know there are others out there, people like myself, in fact there are too many of us, and our voices silenced by so many factors. Possibly it is the shame of a society at whole that does not admit that it ‘abuses’ – and a system of social security, so-called welfare that has no standards, nor understanding – even care – towards people who have been abused.