Friday, 14 January 2011

A heartfelt contribution to: One Month Before Heartbreak: A Broken of Britain Blogswarm

Today I feel quite anxious, almost afraid.

I have lots of reasons to feel this way. My son, my daughter and her partner might all lose their jobs in the current recession. My two granddaughters aged 10 and 8 are daily fed images of the female form airbrushed, enhanced by plastic surgery, and Botoxed, while being told that if they do not grow up to look "this way" they will not be accepted by their peers, or by society at large. I watch the son of a close friend struggling to pay off a 10-year-old student loan while the son of my niece has just begun university and is about to accrue an even bigger debt.

But I live with these thoughts every day without the physical symptoms of anxiety so what is it about today that is causing the headache and the gastric churning.

Well: it's this: Just this. These words appearing on my monitor while I talk to myself. But here again, I write for a part of almost every day. Poetry, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, I've even started to write a book about my love of music, so why, today, is this very familiar and natural act causing a physical backlash?

I'll try to explain.

I am writing these words today because many of us, concerned at the way the coalition government is bullying, victimising, stereotyping, abandoning and, stigmatising those of us who live with disability, have decided to publish blogs almost simultaneously to draw attention to these injustices being perpetrated in your name. As someone who feels it is important not to write things that cannot be corroborated I have been doing some research just in case (although I was fairly certain of my original opinion) I had misunderstood what I have been hearing and reading.

The results of this research are quite upsetting. I discover that none of the three major political parties are prepared to support us in combating ill-conceived legislation that will affect every member of the disabled community. I have discovered that major charities, who have taken our money and yours claiming it would be used for our benefit, have been colluding with the government and have assisted them in stereotyping and stigmatising the disabled of this country by labelling them as benefit scrounging thieves. No dissent from any major public figure on our behalf. Ex-politicians like John Prescott and David Milliband, seem to re-tweet on Twitter almost any request to do so, regardless of the dubious origins of some of the tweets, yet they do not acknowledge requests from the disabled community to support it. We have, to all intent and purpose, been politically disenfranchised.

Now that all makes me angry, not afraid, bloody angry: so what is this anxiety about?

I'll try and explain. As I began to write this I realised that without the support of the media in this country; without the support of the politicians (both past and present) of this country; without the support of the charities who have taken your money and mine under the false pretence that it would be used for our benefit; and without the support of the public who have been fed lies and misinformation by all of those named above: I, and all of my colleagues, could be "at risk" simply for writing these words.

That sounds ridiculous doesn't it? As if I'm describing the extreme violation of human rights once prevalent in Communist Russia and now prevalent in other countries. But it is here, and it's will work like this.

The plans to brand disabled persons as workshy include an assessment of our capabilities. That sounds reasonable doesn't it, but this assessment will be carried out by a private company and will take no account whatsoever of the reasons why medical professionals consider us to be unfit for work, or, of any change in our circumstances since that assessment was first made. The assessment will be based on a number of "descriptors". That is, aspects of illness, impairment, or disability that have been reduced to a single line of description. These “descriptors” are deemed to be the same for every person who receives additional benefit to enable them to live more enriched lives regardless of their disability.

"Okay" you say, but what's that got to do with your ability to write this?

Well, I could understand it if, at first glance, anybody, even you, might say that if I am able to write these words then I must be perfectly able to sit in an office and use a word processor. Understandable, yes. Except, in my case, while you are reading this, you cannot see the headset I wear to enable dictation directly into my computer. I need to do this today because my arms feel extremely heavy and painful so typing, today, would not be possible. Headset aside, you have not been able to see the number of times I have needed to alter my position while doing this. At the moment I am leaning backwards so that my whole body is at an angle to the floor. When I began I was leaning forwards. I've not needed to during this exercise, but at some point of everyday I will need to lay on the floor for a while. On occasions I need to adopt the only position which offers me relief from the most extreme pain, that means laying on the floor with my bum against the sofa and my feet on the seat of the sofa in a Z shape. I'm not sure how many offices could accommodate my needs in this respect.

Another descriptor refers to the ability to concentrate. "Well surely you have just demonstrated that you are able to do that". I hear you think, and am not surprised, because I often say that to myself.

The truth is though that for a number of reasons, although I can do this today, it might not be possible tomorrow and it might not have been possible yesterday. It also might not have been possible earlier today and might not be possible later today. In my case this is for a number of reasons. Maybe the pain in my back and legs on any given day or night is so severe that I need to take painkillers in quantities that affect my cognitive functioning and render me both unable and unsafe to drive.

Maybe, physically I feel quite well. That, in my case, means the pain I experience can be "relieved" by finding my most comfortable sitting or laying position for a while. But then again, it might be a good day for my spinal condition but a bad one for my depression. Oh, did I mention that. I've been "a depressive" since I was about 11 years old. The extremes of my depression, come upon me roughly every seven years or so. In between times, until my spine collapsed, I was able to remain employed and was very skilful at masking my depression from others who remained unaware of it until such time that it once again overwhelmed me and began to influence my judgement and my actions. Because of my depression, I might have gone to bed last night with my ideas for this piece already formulated in my head, but, I might have woken up this morning a different person in a different body in a different place, and it might have been several days or even weeks before I was able to sit here and complete this.

I would love to be able to go to work again but specialists in both disc disease and depression tell me this would be unwise. In the case of the former this is because certain movements could lead to me losing my mobility completely, in the case of the latter it is because subjecting myself to intense pain for whole days will aggravate my attempts to overcome the depression. So, I am frustrated and angry that after several years of chastising myself for this, and several years of input from others convincing me that that work is not a feasible proposition, suddenly, just as I have come to terms with the reality of the remainder of my life, people who do not and who will not know me are about to make judgements about me with regard to this.

So there you have it. I hope that by reading this you have gained some insight to my world which, as disability goes, is not such a bad one. I hope it will help your understanding of the unpredictability of disability and of the ridiculousness of a proposition that the same "descriptors" can be applied across the board to all persons who live with disability. If I have succeeded you will now understand why the simple act of putting a few words onto a piece of paper, or a computer screen, can be fraught with anxiety and even danger for those who live within the disability culture at this time.

I also hope I have added to your understanding of disability and the folk who live with it as an aspect of everyday life. I hope I have been able to undo some of the damage being caused by a callous, cynical, vindictive, publicity campaign being waged by the government and some charities, to convince YOU that people of disability are not deserving of your support and consideration.

brokenbrian: January 2011.


Oya's Daughter said...

You're very brave for putting this out there into the ether and I commend you for it. Let's hope the message is heard.

Carl said...

Great post Brian, mine can be found here -


Gary Miller said...

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

Many years ago I attended a fitness for work assessment. I was suffering from several mental health problems associated with PTSD.

It took the assessor 20 minutes to assess me as fit for work. She never once looked up from her keyboard or screen. Just asked the questions then tapped away at her keyboard.

Evidence from my own GP, psychiatrist and CPN were totally ignored.

I appealed with the help of a welfare rights officer. The appeal panel took just four minutes to overturn the decision.

What a monumental waste of time, energy and public money. Not to mention the extra stress and depression it caused me.

If you're in a similar situation, appeal, appeal and appeal again.

Keep fighting!

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