I catch myself with my fingers hovering over the keyboard once more. Why? Because I have chosen to write not only about PIP again but with a particular emphasis on its adverse impacts on my mental health. To put this into some context, blogging isn’t an easy thing to do. Particularly when writing about things of a personal nature, and especially when those things are sensitive. I love writing. Sometimes though, when it is just you and a blank page looking at you, cursor flashing away, it can feel daunting.
A health warning
A bit of a health warning here. This blog might not be an easy read. If you’d rather not go beyond here, I totally understand and have been there myself. Be compassionate with yourself and don’t read on. If you feel able to, then feel free to carry on.
Some context: My own lived experience with mental health
Though I have written on my mental health before, it still is a tricky one. That I am gingerly putting pen to paper now is a tribute to my courageous wife. I told her that I was thinking about writing on this topic and was worried about it, because of the stigma that, unfortunately, still surrounds mental health. She smiled at me and said ‘but Chris, it is for that reason why you should write it!’ So here we are!
In terms of my mental health, I have lived with depression and anxiety for several years. I have had a couple of very difficult periods with it, and have been on antidepressants for over a five-year period. During my first period of difficulty, whilst I was writing my PhD, one of the perverse benefits of being in a particularly dark place is that I had lots of help, for which I thank my lucky stars. I don’t think I’d be so fortunate now. I had two years with a brilliant therapist, who was able to give me the tools to unpick a lot of things, re-examine some core beliefs, offer a good bit of challenge along the way. I had chosen to make life difficult for myself, as, probably due to my own lack of self compassion and regard, I refused to take anti depressants. Those health information leaflets have a lot to answer for.
My personal take (and no, I’m not a clinician, so feel free to disagree) is that once you have had depression and anxiety, it stays with you. It’s the ability to manage the symptoms which matters. It is things like PIP that pose a challenge to the coping strategies I have developed, particularly as a result of what the process requires.
PIP as a passport to dark places
Let me be completely clear on this. I’ve done many difficult things and successfully negotiated them. PIP is right up there. It has probably been harder to complete than my Masters from Cambridge, and could yet rival my PhD depending on how things go. I have no doubt from my experience thus far (and its the early days!) that the way the process is designed is deliberately so in order to put people off from applying. It is deliberately inaccessible, and one of the most technically complex processes I have experienced to date.
Due to its unflinchingly personal and clinical approach, the PIP process is also a great passport to dark places. I understand that it is important to have an overview of how my impairment(s) impact on my life. It is the way the process goes about them that isn’t right. I have previously described PIP as an exam on everything I can’t do. The consequence of sitting that exam is that you are left with a reminder of exactly how disabled you are and how difficult life is. You question yourself. You arrive at the realisation that a so called ‘good day’ is one which is marginally less difficult, and a ‘bad day’ is when you can’t get out of bed, except to struggle to the toilet.
When embarking on, and enduring the process, it feels like being Humpty Dumpty. You have a great fall, and nobody else can put you back together. That is left to you. To date, I haven’t experienced any measure that is there to make the process a little less uncomfortable to complete, a little bit more human. It remains to be seen whether any such measures exist.
Then there is the waiting. My form has been gone a week, after being sat in my car boot for two. Only the rapidly approaching deadline forced me to take action, and that consisted of me asking someone else to post it for me. Every day now I dread what the post brings, which I am sure will be a call to an assessment process that I expect will be every bit as bad as the form. That waiting, though an inevitable part of the process, only adds to the difficulty.
I should add at this point that I am lucky to have a great support system and am nearing the completion of a two-year counselling course that has been immensely helpful in allowing me to both contend with and contextualize the process. In fairness, I do over think things (its one of the things that my anxiety specialises in!) but I wonder how anyone without access to that support gets on with the process.
I have said it before, and i’ll say it again…surely there has to be a better way to conduct a process than this one?