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Well, it is the end of February. One sixth of the year has disappeared and it has happened pretty fast. I do know where it has gone, I have been working on my Disability Living Allowance form for most of this time, when I have been up to it.

This form has taken over my life, along with appointments with all the medical professionals involved in my care to ask them to write supportive evidence for me in support of my application and also to talk to them about what is needed (as usually knowing about my medical conditions does not mean a doctor knows about how it affects me personally, which is what the benefits people need to know).

Last time I got help from a charity as it was the first time I had applied and had little idea what was required. This did help a lot in terms of energy for filling in the form, though not the outcome. This time I have largely filled it out myself, which with my physical and mental stamina has meant it has taken me a very long time. My partner has helped me type some parts and has physically written up the form, as well as checking what I have written and suggesting things I have forgotten, and that help has been really helpful but she is so busy that I could not ask for more and frankly, I am the one who knows the most about it and how it needs to be done. She could have gained that knowledge but it just seemed above and beyond to ask her to do that on top of everything else she has on her plate.

I know that my facebook friends and others are probably sick of hearing me talk about it as I have vented a little during the process and all will be relieved to hear that it will be sent off this week! Hurray! I cannot wait to see the back of it though I know that next time I hear anything it will be a request for a medical, which last time I found VERY traumatic and lead to the denial of my claim and I had to go to appeal. The whole process took a year. It was successful in the end, but I am really not looking forward to that all over again. It really takes over your life and energies and it was a hard year for me. I have filled this form in so thoroughly and carefully in the hope that it will go through and I can avoid that year of hell this time. I am crossing everything but I know that just about everyone with ME goes to appeal. Even my CFS specialist said so, so I should not get my hopes up. I know that so many people are going through benefits processes and appeals at the moment, the whole UK system is in a mess and people are being treated so unfairly. It is really inhumane.

Anyway, two months of my available energies have been used up already and I really want to use what I have now for better and more creative things. I have several new arty books from Xmas that I want to look at for inspiration as well as projects I have been planning for months (actually years) that I want to get on with. I also have a lot of fiction/non-art books that I want to read – I love having a pile of books waiting but at the moment it seems a little too high and I keep dipping into new ones before finishing the ones I am on! I need to focus on the ones in hand and ignore the temptations of the bookshelf or I will not fully enjoy each one as I go as I will have half an eye on the next one – no way to be!

One of the best things to happen so far this year was a couple of weeks ago I went to see The Imagined Village. I have seen them before and knew it would be good, but it exceeded my expectations (except it seemed to be over far too quickly) and it was a night to remember! I always love to see Eliza Carthy live, and they are all such talented and enthusiastic performers that it is a real joy to see people doing what they evidently love. There are more concerts planned by them and other related artists to raise money for Norma Waterson (Carthy) and family who is Eliza Carthy’s Mum and who is very ill in hospital. Details here.

Other news, my sister is coming to visit me this week! I have not seen her for nearly two years and I am looking forward to some fun! Also my garden is coming back to life after all that snow in December and I am feeling a little hint of spring in the air… I hope to be able to get outside a bit more soon.

Also interesting to note that though I don’t feel dramatically better, I feel that my condition is more stable in terms of energy at the moment. I do not seem to have much variation even after I have been to an appointment (or been to a concert!). I do still get post-exertional malaise, but it is not as severe as in the past (relative to my overall function levels) and I am finding I am getting more pain instead, if anything. This change is actually welcome. (I think one of the worst things whatever level of function is the unpredictable and ever-changing nature of this illness and not knowing what is ok to do and what the day will bring). I do rest more before and after an event and I am careful in what I choose to do and cannot go out often, but I feel it is not such a big risk to go out occasionally. I don’t mind taking more painkillers occasionally for a good reason. I think my wheelchair is helping me not have such a dramatic reaction to being out, and also perhaps my Alpha Stim and Acupuncture are helping me. I am sleeping better in general and I think this has a lot to do with it. My nerve pains are also more under control with the Gabapentin dose I am on and this of course helps a lot. Anyway, it is nice to have some calm and I hope it continues like this a while, especially if it means I can do some nice things at home and pop out a bit more. I could do with some fun, and I am sure I am not the only one!

When will all this money stuff end?

My employer has very kindly informed me that i could apply for early retirement through ill health. This does not mean they know i am eligible, only that my pension may be frozen soon as i have been off work for 2 and a half years so the opportunity to apply may then cease; so they are telling me it is an option… i think i can apply and then see if i want to take it when i know the outcome of the application.

I know nothing about this and now i have three weeks (now 2 and a half) to find out all about it and decide if i should apply. As it will involve medicals etc i do not want to bother if there is no point. Also as i only worked part time for a few years it is not a big pension that i have and it may not be worth it in terms of the effects it has on other benefits i get, such as incapacity benefit. But with the changes to incapacity benefit, is that even safe for the future and should i try for anything i get chance to have?

It seems i can apply and then be awarded either full or partial incapacity (or nothing, obviously). Partial is probably not worth much as it is a reduced amount, and if i get it. my HPI insurance payment will stop (as it is an earnings protection payment and i would be retired! HPI is worth a lot more than the partial incapacity payment). To get full i need to be seen as unable to do my current role or any other in the long term… how can this be proven with a condition like ME? I have been ill for 10 years and am unlikely to be ever fully well again, but you have to be unable to do more than 10% of previous work. As i was part time, i am not sure if they would count that level? (that would be 2 hours per week). I think i could argue now that i am unable to consistently do that and have been for a couple of years, but to say that i could not in future is tricky. I have started medication for POTS symptoms and have seen some improvement, and am unsure if more improvement will come, or not. If awarded they keep tabs on you and if you improve/work then the benefit stops, which is fair enough. Again the amount for full incapacity is not much on an annual basis, but the lump sum is quite healthy!

Another thing to consider is how safe my HPI payment is long term, can i count on that?

Does anyone have any experience of applying for ill health retirement with CFS/ME? If so any info/pointers would be welcome!

The other thing is that i have my student loans (three years worth) sitting there unpaid, as i have never earnt enough to start to repay them. I think i remember somewhere that if you retire due to ill-health you don’t have to repay! That would be nice… otherwise it is written off when i reach the age of 45 if still unable to repay, so another 13 years to wait on that score…

comments and any help welcome on this one!

Yesterday i had a good appointment with my specialist and he is writing me a report which will hopefully be thorough and supportive of my DLA claim and make it worth going to the appeal tribunal… he asked to see the DWP medical report in order to criticise it and correct any incorrect assumptions, so that is looking promising.

Then, this morning the tribunal papers came through in the post, so i have another little form to send back in the next few days, if i want to continue.

I am getting quite concerned now that it is getting closer and more real, that i have not got representation. I have been reading other people’s experiences, talking to people who know about these things, and the consensus seems to be that without representation it is a nightmare and they can rip your argument/statements to shreds in seconds… i was told by Welfare Right Service when they said they could not take my case on, that the tribunal panel will go easier on me because i am representing myself, but i am not convinced. Either i meet the criteria or i don’t, but the thought of having to be coherent and consistent for 45 mins to one hour about details of my condition, what i am capable of, what i can’t do etc, particularly with a fluctuating condition as mine, fills me with horror. Particularly after the experience of the DWP medical i had, where i just felt so ill from the effort and stress of going that i could hardly walk/speak or think clearly and it was so traumatic that i spent the next 8 days largly in bed recovering… the tribunal is certainly a more stressful thing and i think i need help.

I have emailed the benefits adviser who helped me with the form to ask if there is any chance Welfare Rights will change their minds, now that i have more evidence from the specialist, and where else to find a representative if not. Of course i will have to find these for myself, but no harm in asking. I think i can ask the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, and i think you can even take a solicitor, although i would have to pay for that i imagine…

So, still lots to sort out for DLA, and no sign of it being over any time soon! It would be nice to have it done before Christmas, as it has been hanging over me for so long.

Well, bad news is that the benefits service who could have helped me have refused to take my case on for appeal… so if i want to carry on to appeal i have to go it alone… I am not sure what they would have done for me, but they would have come with me and helped me prepare for it, and possibly “represented” me in some way. Anyway going alone (with my partner) is a bit daunting. The reason they are not taking me on is that I do not have good medical support/evidence, and as my case stands it does not look very strong, as without medical backup they (DWP) have every reason not to believe me it seems. The service have limited resources so can’t take on someone in this situation. I have an appointment with my specialist in october so i am hoping that he will be very supportive so that i have a basis on which to continue to appeal (and to challenge what has already been said about me), but i am having real second thoughts about continuing. It is stressing me out! I know that if i don’t i will always be thinking, “what if i had carried on…” but i am left doubting how strong a case i have and my chances of success after this latest development, and it is a lot to put myself through for nothing. I suppose i will just carry on until i have seen the specialist and give up if he is not overly enthusiastic/supportive/articulate but i am so sick of all this now. I could rant on and on about it but i really can’t be bothered to waste my breath today!

Well, i was supposed to have CBT on Monday. I was not well enough to go, so cancelled for the second time in a row. This time, however, i spoke to the psychologist who does it and he asked if i wanted to make another appointment. I said that i felt that the chances of me being well enough at any given time are quite slim and that even when i did feel able, such as the last time i went, i suffered a bad flareup of symptoms and felt very unwell for about a week afterwards, and that i did not think this was a reasonable thing to have to go through. I said that i thought it was better that i don’t hold up his waiting list and waste appointments as i did not feel this was the right time to try to attend CBT… not that i think there will be a better time 😉

 

He was very understanding. He said he had had contact from my insurance company (who had “suggested” i had CBT in the first place) who wanted a written report from him. I had already told him that i was uncomfortable with them and the information they have gathered about me, some of which i felt was not particularly relevant or accurate, so he told them he would have to show me anything he wrote before he sent it. Very nice of him. So after i said i did not think i would be coming back he offered to write a letter to the Insurance company on my behalf and said he will email it to me to check beforehand. I have not had it yet and i hope he does do that. He even asked me what i wanted it to say! I said that if he could back me up that i do not seem well enough to attend and also if he felt comfortable to say that he does not feel i am in dire need of CBT right now, i would be very grateful… he has only seen me for two hours in total and that was just asking me a lot of questions and setting the scene i felt, rather than actually doing CBT… so we will see what his letter says…

Also i did contact the DLS (Disability Law Service) and explained my situation to them, that i felt bullied into CBT and worried what they would “suggest” i undergo next, or that they would stop my payments… i don’t think i should say exactly what they said but they sent me a good email of suggestions of what to do if they do continue to make claiming difficult 🙂 Thanks DLS! I feel more empowered! Thanks also Rachel for sending me the link in response to a previous post on CBT.

I probably should have told him more specifics of how badly attending had affected me last time as it was like i had used up all my cognitive function in one go answering all his questions and spent the following couple of days lying in bed and my brain was in meltdown – random thoughts flew in and out – i couldn’t remember certain things and kept thinking i had forgotten things (i probably had!) and it was all a bit traumatic. Although maybe if i told him that he would think i needed more CBT… sigh! So for now i am released from it, or at least in the process of, i am just waiting for the phone to ring though… the insurance company have not rung me for ages and it has been so nice to be left alone as they were ringing me very often for a while there before the CBT started… i suppose i will have to start screening my calls again… sigh. I always ring them back but sometimes i just am not in the right frame of mind to deal with their stupid questions…

 

Well, I did promise to write about CBT, a contentious topic for us people with ME (pwme)…

 This post has been really hard to write, partly because I am so drained of all energy from going to CBT on Monday (It is now Thursday and I have been writing this gradually since) and partly because it is hard to write coherently about something that I am finding is linked to a lot of stress, anger, frustration, powerlessness etc. I am hoping that writing this, although draining in itself, will be more therapeutic than CBT has been so far… ha ha.

It (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is hailed by some as the one treatment that research has shown to be effective (but did these people who got better really have ME? Would they have improved anyway?), it is recommended in the NICE guidelines for treatment of CFS/ME but there is also a lot of evidence that it is unhelpful, no better than a placebo, or may improve people’s mental wellbeing/coping abilities but they are still as physically ill as before… see www.theoneclickgroup.co.uk and search for CBT and you will see some recent research and debate…

It also seems to be seen as a primary treatment option for this condition, which angers pwme as much as it would anger anyone with a serious physical illness… It apparently costs the NHS about £100 per CBT session so many people think that maybe focussing all that cash on physical investigations/research may be more worthwhile. I am sure it is very effective for mental health issues and for helping some people deal with their illness, but a cure it is not.

So, I had my second session and it was ok. Not much else to say to describe it really… nothing much of any excitement happened! I don’t think we have got started properly yet as we just seem to be collecting facts…

In the first session we discussed (or rather I was bombarded with questions – normal counselling, it seems, this is not!) about the time I originally got ill up until the present (a period of over 9 years), and this time we discussed all times before I got ill. I did get a bit upset talking about the time immediately before I got ill, as things were going particularly well for me then, but apart from that the session was all run of the mill. As most pwme will attest, we have to narrate our lives and histories over and over again to every new health professional we come into contact with and it just seems like going over the same old ground… While my CBT guy seems “enlightened” and does not seem to think CBT will be a miracle cure (but may help me to cope with my life better) he does seem to also be trying to figure out the mystery of it as well, he can’t resist it. They never can…

Guess what Mr Psychologist? No one who came before you made any startling discoveries about what caused my illness, but have a good rummage about anyway, be my guest…

He asked me questions about my personality… I can’t remember the question but basically was I the sort to run myself into the ground by overachieving, not relaxing, being wound up etc… Well, sorry to say that although I was young and passionate about life, threw myself into whatever I did with enthusiasm, I don’t think to any extreme that would have made me this ill… I get the feeling that it would be very convenient if I was a classic Type A personality then we would have something to work on. Even if I was, living with ME for all these years has changed me and my personality forever.

He asked me about my home life growing up, and unfortunately, it seems, my childhood does not seem to be any more unhappy/traumatic than most people’s (was your mother at home when you were growing up? er, yes, and my dad worked from home too!). Yes, I have had my share of difficult times but who hasn’t? When I try to say that the time just prior to getting ill was actually one of the best I had had for years, I am viewed with scepticism… (am I delusional now? or is it just disappointment that they can’t find anything/anyone (me) to blame…)

At the end of the session he asked me to write a diary for a week and to put in what I do each day, and also mark each activity with scores of 1-10: my mood, how much “joy” I am getting out of doing it (as opposed to before I got ill, I think), how much energy I have when doing it and afterwards, any major symptoms, how much of a sense of achievement I have from doing it, etc etc. He then said that we can look at it and he will be “another head” to be used to look at these problems and see if we can improve anything.  All well and good in theory, but even he does not seem very enthusiastic. But maybe the diary will at least give him an idea of the severity of my condition which he does not seem to have grasped yet… maybe I will give him a copy of the one I did a few weeks ago for my DLA application, or one I did when I was attending the hospital group as well, just for good measure.

I may seem very negative about this whole thing, and unwilling to help myself. I do have problems coping with my illness and am getting increasingly frequent bouts of depression and sometimes anxiety too. But these are linked to times when I have an increase in symptoms and illness severity and I am just unsure if I am willing to give so much energy to this as an attempt to improve these things or whether I would rather see a friend, go out somewhere, get a massage, read a good book, etc instead… If I am going to overdo it, I would rather blow my energy on something with a feel good factor about it! It seems to take so much energy to get someone to understand my illness and how it affects me as a starting point for them to be able to engage with me, with no promises of it being anything more than a pointless exercise. I am trying to be open minded and “trust the process” but it is causing me a lot of stress already.

Unfortunately over the years I have had such bad experiences with psychologist-types (from NHS, insurance company etc) that I really am coming into this with “baggage”… I need therapy to get over my traumas from previous “therapy”… oh dear! After the first CBT session I got quite worked up about things he had said and judgements I could see him making about me (not very ill, looks fine, possibly in a “benefits trap” – yes he used that phrase) and had a bit of an anxiety attack… I don’t really care about what he thinks about me but what his report will say could matter, see HPI below…

Another reason to feel negative is how completely draining it is. Monday after the session I had a lie down but it was nearly tea time and I did not want to sleep so late on as it would affect my sleep pattern that night. I felt so awful that evening, brain completely mal-functioning and a struggle to watch TV even on quietly. The next day I was spent most of the afternoon in bed as I said in my little post, and I still feel terrible now. There are so many things I would rather have used that energy for than for telling someone about my childhood… again.

 And so why am I even going?  Well I have to go as it has been recommended by my HPI provider (HPI is an insurance payment – my employer has an insurance policy which means they give a proportion of your wages if you are on long term sick). So if I don’t go, it may seem as if I am not trying to help myself and they may then stop giving me my benefits… it was made quite clear to me that I need to comply with their treatments, as they want to “help me” and enable me to get back to work. While it was made clear that I should comply, they have not told me what my rights are to refuse treatment etc and what processes exist for any debate on this.

They are all nicey nicey on the surface though and ring me up all-the-time to check on how I am feeling about work, which feels like harassment sometimes. (I try to say it doesn’t matter how I feel about work as I am not in a position to even consider going! They seem to think that if I thought positively enough I would give it a go, and then everything would be ok… and cannot conceive that I physically cannot get there or at least, not without serious, distressing symptoms which would make me unable to function).

Although it is not a fortune I am getting, as I was only able to work part-time, I am very pleased to be getting this extra cash and don’t want it to stop, but how much can I put up with to keep getting it? If I say I don’t want to continue with CBT, what is next? Another doctors/psych visit (please no, I can’t cope with that), GET? (they already asked me if I have heard of it…), or just stop paying me? At what point do I say I can’t cope with the stress of the insurance company, and hand my notice in at work which will stop the payments? Why should I have to do this when I am still too ill to work and therefore entitled to the money? What about all the people in the same boat who desperately need the cash and do not have the choice? Is this what life without the NHS would be like? I feel coerced into having CBT. No, it has not been a trauma as yet, but it seems like such a waste of my energy. It is also caught up in all the baggage that I have due to the insurance company and the two doctors that they have sent to visit me, who originally recommended i go to CBT, whose visits I found very traumatic… I may talk about that another day! 

Well, this has turned into a RANT! I better leave it there. I had better save some energy for my diary duties… hmm maybe I will start it tomorrow… or the next day… or the day after…

 

ME/CFS Awareness

ME/CFS Awareness

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