Suicide and depression have been in the news a lot this week. First footballer Stan Collymore talked openly about his depression. This was followed a day later by news of the suicide of Wales football manager Gary Speed. Then that delightful chap Jeremy Clarkson "joked" on The One Show that trains shouldn't stop for jumpers.
Warning of possible triggers in discussion below the jump:
Suicide is a subject that, sadly, comes up on WtB a lot. We've talked about several cases of people who've killed themselves after losing their benefits; from Paul Reekie who was the first case we heard about, up to the most recent case we know of: the Mullins'. A few weeks ago Patrick Butler collated a list of all the benefit-related suicides known thus far.
We've had posts discussing the risks and we've seen other posts around the internet in which people talk about the impact of welfare reform on them. We get so many comments from people talking about their plans to kill themselves if/when they lose their benefits that we've had to put contact details for the Samaritans on the sidebar of our page.
I don't often talk about my mental health because people just don't want to hear it. I know first hand all about how people just avoid you when you talk about how much you're hurting.
I've had depression on and off my whole life. More specifically I have reactive depression: When the going gets tough; my ability to feel anything other than darkness and emptiness gets going. Sure I've thought about suicide, I thought about it a lot in my mid-teens when my life was a fucking mess. But it was never more than an abstract thought because I was always so convinced that life would get better. Though death crossed my mind a lot I was quite certain that life had to get better than it was and I wanted to still be around to enjoy the good things I believed would come.
Before I got prescribed a small amount of morphine for the really bad pain days I would every few months have a day where I was in so much pain that thoughts of suicide would rush my brain. I couldn't help but think that if I killed myself the pain would stop. But I knew that it was just that day and in a couple of days time things would be fine again. And now I do have access to painkillers that actually work which is why I've only had pain-induced thoughts of death a couple of times in the last 2.5 years. Like I said, there's the thought of it getting better to keep me going.
In my many bouts of depression since my mid-teens the same thought has always stayed with me: That it would get better eventually. It had to. But since May, thanks to the Welfare Reform Bill, I've not been seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. For 6 months I've been feeling something I've never felt chasing my heels before: A deadline after which things will never get better.
I'd obviously been campaigning against welfare reform for a year when May's news came out. I've always had a compulsion to try and make the world a better place; I couldn't sit back and let the government shit all over disabled people. But I believed in my head that I would be OK in the end. Typically it's people with invisible conditions that get hit hardest by things like benefit assessments and my impairment is very visible; all I have to do is roll up my sleeves and trouser legs to show off my deformed limbs. I was prepared to have to fight to save my benefits; I was expecting that I might have to appeal ESA decisions before things got right but I believed eventually it would turn out OK. Yes, it would be a stressful path but I expected I'd reach the end of the path eventually. I was mainly campaigning to protect other people because I was so convinced I was safe.
On May the 18th - I remember the date because it was the day after my birthday so I was already having a really fucking lousy week - I read the draft proposals for PIP; the replacement for DLA. Those proposals contain something I never saw coming: From the end of 2013 I will no longer be eligible for the benefit. At all. Like I said, I was perhaps expecting a fight during the reassessment process but the idea that the goal posts would be moved quite so far had never occurred to me. I was mentally plunged into a big black hole and I've been here ever since.
Quite simply without my DLA I will not have a car so I will not be able to go shopping. Without the benefit I will not be able to afford online deliveries as an alternative to shopping myself. I will not be able to bring my medication home from the pharmacy. With not being able to get food or medication I can't see how I can possibly last long.
Because of my physical health problems my quality of life is already low. Since I had to quit work due to illness I've been unable to afford a proper social life: I don't go see comedy or live bands any more. Benefit claimants are not rolling in cash like the Daily Mail would have you believe. When you constantly have to cancel social engagements because you're so frequently ill your friends drift away from you very quickly. My only social interaction these days is online: Facebook and Twitter are more valuable to me than most non-disabled people can comprehend; it's the only chance I get to engage with others. With even less money I will have to sacrifice my broadband connection and with it my entire social life will be lost. I will be completely isolated from everyone.
My whole life I've been a film/TV geek. As a child I spent a lot of time in bed with broken bones. I would watch videos and I basically became a human Carry On film encyclopaedia. Shit book though it was I identified so much with that aspect of Willow's character in Jodi Picoult's Handle with Care, the retaining and constantly spewing out knowledge because while other kids are out being active you just read and watch. In recent years TV has become my only solace from how awful life is. My measure of a good TV show is if it can make you forget for an hour how shit your life is. I immerse myself in the fantasy worlds of the LVPD crime lab, the NYPD 12th Precinct, the Caltech physics department and the Tardis. If I go a few days without that bit of escapism I become noticeably more unhappy because I'm constantly forced to think about all the shitness in the real world. It's one of the few things that makes life bearable and I can't see what could keep me sane without being able to afford cable TV, broadband allowing me to access iPlayer, the occasional box set or even the electricity to turn my telly on. I don't have grand dreams any more, I just want a bit of escapism from the pain and sadness. The government don't even want me to have something so simple. Just the thought of having to give up my telly addict ways has made me cry harder than any of the preceding paragraphs thus far. Switching on the telly is something that most people take totally for granted; they flop in front of The X Factor or watch QI on the occasional Friday night when they happen to be home without giving it a second thought.
Like I said, my quality of life is already low. There's this cultural assumption that being ill or impaired is innately miserable. It's not. If I had enough money for a minimum standard of living my life could be OK. I could afford to go see comedy or bands. I could afford the occasional holiday. I calculated back in February that in 2010 I was living on £67 a week less than the Joseph Rowntree Foundation recommend for a minimum standard of living.
The other day I was having a conversation with a Tory who accused me of using "strong language" when I pointed out that welfare reform is forcing disabled people to commit suicide. He felt there's no forcing going on. I had to explain that one needs money to live in this world, if you deny people money they have no way of carrying on. I'm not saying it's a bad thing we need money - I'm not actually anti-capitalist (though I do think the current system needs majorly tweaking) - but it's a fact. If we can't exist without money and we have no money we either have a choice of a prolonged decline or checking out quickly.
The Welfare Reform Bill is only one Lords reading short of Royal Assent. Then that's it, all hope is lost and I have that deadline of 2013 when my life will actually become unliveable. I don't want to die; I may not have grand dreams any more but there are simple things I still want to do in life: I want to learn to sing, I want to go to Comic Con. Things I can't afford to do even now. Like I said earlier, I've got a feeling of this ominous deadline when I lose my DLA in 2013. All those times in the past when I was low and I knew it would get better seem like a distant memory. It's almost impossible for me to even visualise 2014; I look into the future and instead of seeing hope I just see darkness.
The current feeling of sadness is compounded by the fact that it doesn't need to be this way. People could have fought against the Welfare Reform Bill but they chose not to. I've always been acutely aware of how much society hates me because I'm disabled; the disablist-motivated abuse when I was in primary school made sure I had it drummed into me for life that I am a second-class citizen. I had thought things were getting better in recent years with things like the Disability Discrimination Act, but clearly I was a gullible fool.
This year has seen a cornucopia of anti-cuts activity, but most of it has been geared towards saving libraries and trees. I don't see it as a zero sum game, I've campaigned about issues other than the WRB. But apparently the mainstream left does see it that way: The anti-cuts movement chose to fight to save libraries rather than lives. There's nothing quite like that knowledge to really make you feel despised.
Earlier this year I had a brief exchange with someone about discrimination who replied "I think people do care, though it may not always feel like it." In other words, I'm paranoid and imagining it that no-one's fighting for me. There are some very effective campaign organisations out there like 38 Degrees and UK Uncut, but we haven't been able to convince them to get on board. I had a (surprisingly late, I guess I really am a closet optimist) realisation this week of the utter futility of trying to fight the bill when we can't even convince campaign groups to campaign.
I presume this post won't get read much; monitoring the hits that come to WtB I've observed that posts going up on a Saturday night get little, if any, traffic. In the unlikely event that it does I'm sure I'm going to get rightwingers accusing me of behaving like a petulant child; I've seen it before. I've seen other people talk about how we need money to live so without it we can't go on, and the response is an accusation of emotional blackmail: People accuse the author saying "give me what I want or I'll kill myself." People who don't seem to grasp the concept of how in our society one needs money for food. It's not emotional blackmail; it's the basic stuff kids learn in primary school about how one needs £1 to buy a loaf of bread.
For those of you that know me in real life; please don't worry. In a minute I'm going to sit and watch Supernatural and transport myself into an escapist world of vampires and demons. I may be feeling low but I'm not feeling immediately suicidal. Just because I can't see past the end of 2013 doesn't mean I'm planning on checking out any time soon. I do still want to realise as many of those little bucket list dreams as possible. I'm not planning on harming myself in any way, shape or form right now. I can promise with almost absolute certainty that I'll be OK until my DLA goes away.
I'm not in need of the Samaritans or anything like that, though this current low has got me pondering one question: We advertise for people to call The Samaritans for a listening ear, we encourage people to call welfare advice lines to make sure they're getting all they're entitled to. But where do we point people when they simply do not have the cash to go on and they're not entitled to any more money because that entitlement has been removed? It's a serious question we need to find an answer to quite quickly if our society doesn't want to see that list of suicides increase exponentially.
People with depression often talk about a black dog. Ordinarily I find the idea of a night that just won't end to be a more appropriate metaphor for depression but at this particular moment I think the dog is more apt. It's like I have inside my head a little black toy dog - the kind of pet Paris Hilton would carry in her handbag - haunting my thoughts. The real threat isn't that teeny black dog, it's too small to be properly harmful, it's just a bit yappy and annoying. However with the Welfare Reform Bill the government have unleashed a huge black wolf that's threatening to destroy me in 2 years time when DLA ends. It's so big it's completely obscuring the light at the end of the tunnel. The government still have the power to kill the wolf, but with people not demanding they do so it's unlikely the govt will.
Edit 3am Monday: Thank you so much for all the kindness everyone has shown to me today. I think I've spent as much of today crying out of sentimentality as I did yesterday out of sadness.
But I beg of you, please don't just read, be horrified and pass on. Please do something. Please pile on the pressure to campaigners like UK Uncut and 38 Degrees. Please, please, please just do something. The country "did" when it came to the forestry sell-off and got it stopped. Like I said earlier; it's so crushing to know that activists could've put a stop to this but they just couldn't be bothered to do anything because we're not as trendy as trees.
It occurs to me as someone with a bit of a background in the voluntary sector that if an organisation receives a restricted donation earmarked for a specific cause they have to either spend it as the donor requests, or return the money. With bodies like 38 Degrees funding their campaigns through asking for member donations, I don't see why one can't send them a restricted donation earmarked to only be spent on fighting the welfare reform bill. Not as underhand and manipulative as it might sound; charities get restricted funding every day, and returning unspent restricted donations is not uncommon either.
If you are, or you know people who are, in the UK Uncut inner circle then please beg them to do something. Occupations ditto. OccupyLSX were asked to support Hardest Hit rally in London in October. They didn't. Please, please try to change this.
The other practical thing you can do is sign Pat's Petition to try and get the bill paused for "reflection" in order to buy us a bit more time to campaign. This post has had more than 1,000 hits on Sunday but the petition has only gotten a couple more signatures. It needs 100,000 to get a debate in the commons. At this rate not only will the bill be passed by the time it's got 100,000 names, but DLA will be on its last legs too.
A final thing you can do is write to your MP. If they're a Tory (probably the case for Lib Dems as well) you'll just get back a letter full of lies about how they're protecting the "most vulnerable". Removing DLA mobility from manual wheelchair users and handily leaving out any kind of criteria for people who need supervision for safety is not protecting vulnerable people. But it might work if you've got an oppositional MP just because it gives them something to oppose (though Ed Miliband has expressed his support for cutting DLA).
Really, proper final thing you can do: Write to a Lord. Pick a Lord, pick any Lord. Pick several. Write to them, beg them to see what they're doing. The Lords is where the bill is right now and there's only one reading left. There's a list of Lords and their contacts here: http://wheresthebenefit.blogspot.com/2011/09/template-letter-to-lords-re-welfare.html
Once again, thanks for you kindness. I'm feeling a lot less worthless than yesterday.