(Un)Welcome to Atos 

Standard

Written for the benefit of those who have to be assessed by Atos and for my MH as I need to vent! 
I’m on ESA due to my ME/CFS. People have been telling me for ages that I should apply for PIP as it’s money that I’m entitled to, to help me. Hearing all the horror stories about Atos and how people who are almost dead (wish I was exaggerating) being turned down, I saw no point in even trying. Then I met some people who had been successful and the extra money had helped them and their families enormously. It has also opened a door to other support. 
Initially, I phoned up DWP on behalf of my son who has ASD. I ended up also applying for myself which felt a little strange, as if I was trying it on! The forms arrived and I was overwhelmed by the amount that needed to be filled in. Luckily, I was helped to fill in my son’s form by a CAB carer support scheme who regaled me with tales of Atos being inconsiderate and ridiculous (telling people who can’t cook to use a microwave – aside from the cost of ready meals, it’s not remotely practical for a family). None of this filled me with much hope. 
The biggest tip I was given was to fill out the form as if it were your worst day i.e. the days when I can barely move, in pain, emotional…. After requesting an extension on the forms, I managed to get all the supporting paperwork together to send off the forms. 
Maybe I was delusional but I had all the hope that neither of us would need an assessment and that the money would be freely given. I think, having heard all the horror stories, I should have realised that this was NEVER going to happen. 
After a surprisingly short wait, two letters arrived. They wanted to me to be at Gloucester for 9am!! A minor meltdown ensued before getting my act together and phoning them. I garbled a whole heap of words at the man on the other end of the phone and he concluded that it was odd as they was a centre in my home town. Phew! 
That encounter was positive and I really began to feel differently about it all. Anyway, judgement day arrived with a returning sense dread. A woman with a friendly voice had phoned the day before to make sure we were going to be there. I was taken aback by the niceness. Despite this, I woke up feeling sick and shaky. 
The building wasn’t hard to find and was only a short walk from the bus stop. We were met with locked doors, a security guard came to let us in. Then another locked door….then a receptionist behind bullet resistant glass….sat in a huge empty room with just a leery looking security guard and a place to hang coats for company. 
Immediately, I felt like I was seen to be a dangerous person, a low life to be feared. We sat down on some very uncomfortable chairs and waited. I clocked the cameras and the alarms on the ceiling. My son overheard the receptionist saying that she expected people to be more grateful that they were offering to pay for expenses. All was not well. 
My son started to get agitated as we waited. 5 mins late, 10…15…20….23 All I wanted to do was to lie down and sleep but the chairs made that impossible. A woman came to the door and called my name, panic. I checked that my son was going to be ok and left the room. 
The woman met me with a smile and I thought she was nice. She told me that she had been a district nurse before working with Atos and that she was well informed about health problems. Then the questions, which were exactly the same as the form I’d already filled in. 
Her whole demeanour changed, it was like talking to a robot. My brain went dead and I struggled to tell her how my life was impacted. I had to talk about what illnesses I had, the meds I was on, how my day to day life was affected. None of the questions seemed to give me the chance to explain how I struggle. 
She gave me three words to remember, then I had to answer some simple maths questions and show her that I can move my arms. It was almost like I was having an outer body experience, I didn’t feel in touch with what was going on at all. Aside from forgetting all of the symptoms, I found myself mumbling and looking anywhere but her face. 
She asked me to repeat the three words, I could only remember two. One word being ’tissues’ which was easy to remember as there was a box in front of me which I had to make use of. I did my best not to cry as I thought it would be seen as manipulation. I couldn’t stop all the tears when she asked about my PTSD and how I cope with crowds. 
And then it was over. I said thanks and that it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be (IKR?!) and waited for my son. He seemed to think his went ok, he’d had the same maths to do and had to spell ‘world’ backwards. How any of this is useful with conditions like ME, ASD and mental health problems, I’ll never know! We both commented on how they asked lots about our asthma even though it wasn’t relevant to why we were there. 
After letting ourselves out (forgot to mention, on the way to the assessment we had to pass through another locked door. May as well have been a prison) I went to the toilets and collapsed in tears. It literally felt like everything I had held in just exploded out of me. If my son hadn’t have been there, I’m not sure how long I would have cried for. I was overwhelmed with the sense that I had screwed up in defending myself again, like I did in court. Having to justify to this woman why I should have £20 a week for an illness that you cannot see. It was all too much. 
Now all I can do is wait and see what they say. I’ve already looked into the appeal process as I’m convinced that it went as bad as it could have. 
We shall see. 
Love, hugs and blanket dens 

Exxx 

On the Edge of Poverty 

Standard

Today was one of this days when I knew where my place in society is and that place is somewhere near the bottom. You know, the scummy bit where the sediment is. 
I have some jewellery that I have no attachment to, in fact, I want to be rid of it ASAP. I’ve held on to it, waiting for a reason to sell it. 
When my son was younger, my abusive ex used a trip to Legoland as you would use a carrot on a string to get a donkey to move. My son hadn’t been diagnosed with ASD at this point so his behaviour was seen by my ex as belligerence. If my son jumped through millions of unattainable hoops, he would get to go to his beloved Legoland. On one occasion, he said he could go only to change his mind and bought him some Lego instead.
It’s been a karma thing for me to sort this out. Someone lent me the money to pay for a trip to legoland – even though my son said it’s too late now, I know he’ll enjoy it. I said I could pay for it by selling my jewellery. The kick in the teeth came when the local jeweller wasn’t interested in any of it and the pawnbroker offered me £111. My diamond ring retails at £950 brand new!! She also told me that my diamond certificate was wrong and the diamond was smaller and therefore less valuable. 
I declined her offer and she gave me a leaflet and a mint about taking out a loan. Once I had left the shop, it was like my whole life slid out of view. I felt sub human. All this emotion bubbled up and I cried and cried. 
It wasn’t about legoland anymore, it was about my whole life and my children’s lives. They suffer as I am not well enough to work and they have shitty dads who I would rather didn’t exist. 
I’ve noticed that food shopping is costing more and my money isn’t going as far as it used to. My benefits have been frozen so I won’t have a cushion against any rise in inflation. At some point, I will lose several hundred a month in the benefit cap. Everything is crumbling around me and I’m not sure how long I can keep going.
I don’t know how I’m going to pay for my children’s uniforms and shoes in Sept, let alone when/if they go to Uni. How will my lack of ability to earn affect their futures? There will be no bank of mum to bail them out or treat them to a nice day out. 
I feel utterly heartbroken. My children’s future could be written off due to their feckless mother. 
This year is going to be a huge challenge. I need to find ways to cut my spending. I don’t smoke, drink alcohol, have a social life …. Time to look at my food budget and not use the bus anymore. 
Spring may well be in full flow but our winter is coming.
Exxx 

My Feminist Manifesto 

Standard

This blog post may alienate people, I may lose followers, I may get blocked by a few. It’s fair to say that I’m struggling with feminism right now, I know that I am one, I just don’t know where I fit in. 
When you don’t live in London, or have disposable income, you’re not a minor celebrity, you don’t have a column, you’re too tired/busy/ill/restricted by having young children and no one to look after them ….. You being to wonder what good you do at all. The most I do these days is to tweet. I’m pretty run down with my MEcfs, depression and constant UTIs. It takes the shine off any activist badge I may have had (metaphorical badge obvs). To add insult to injury, the one charity I did support have drifted off and no longer seem to need me 😦 All in all, I feel pretty useless to the cause. 
Going back to my point about not knowing where my place in feminism is, here’s what I do believe in ….
Women are wonderful and I believe in the power of sisterhood. It can be uplifting and healing. 
Male violence; two words that are not any where near enough to describe the devastation that males cause to women. The statistics are out there to prove it. One woman or child dying or being abused at the hands of a man is too many. I don’t have a solution, no one does. I believe that men need to do more to call out friends, society needs to do more to cultivate boys and women need to occupy far more positions of power and influence than they do right now. That’s not something that can be done in my generation. 
In the meantime, women need safe places to flee abusers. They need support and guidance and this requires money and lots of it. 
Women should always be believed. Yes, some women do lie but often they are individuals who need mental health support. Society needs educating on victim blaming. It’s far too easy to dismiss issues like rape by focusing on things like what she was wearing or how drunk she was. The whole CJS needs an overhaul. 
You cannot change the sex you were born with. That doesn’t mean that you can’t change your gender. I appreciate that there are people in the world that suffer huge distress over their gender identity. It’s not for me to tell people who they are. Once again, society has a huge part to play. The whole ‘pink for girls’ and ‘blue for boys’ is creating an environment where children are seen as different just for liking something that has been arbitrarily assigned to a different gender. 
The trans issue that is ripping feminism apart right now is a place I don’t even dare to tread but I must. I believe that everyone has a right to be safe and to be respected. Everyone. 

I have been called a terf for not recognising penis as female. Terf is not a word I will ever use to describe a woman. 

Maybe I am on the wrong side of history but that’s a place that doesn’t appeal to me. 

I believe in safe spaces for women. Sometimes this will create conflict. I don’t believe that trans women or men are seeking to gain access to sex segregated spaces to harm women. This was a common fear when gay men were fighting for equality. I do think that men will abuse this and they have done. 

Trans people are affected by male violence esp trans men and this needs to be addressed. 
I worry about the erasure of women in society. Natal women are not womb owners or bleeders! Our biology has created unique joys and problems! These should never be neglected. 
Women should not be slut shamed, have to look and act like a doll, force themselves into shape wear etc Leave women alone! Respect our boundaries! 
I’m pro Nordic model and want to see an end to demand. Women and girls are not holes to be fucked! 
I’m pro abortion and I’m not afraid to say that. Her uterus is none of your business! 
I’m not anti men, I’m exasperated and pissed off with a lot of them though! As a Bi woman, I will never be ashamed to say that I find some men sexually attractive. That doesn’t make me less of feminist. It would be wrong of me to lie about that. 
I’ve ranted on for a bit now. I wrote this for my own sanity and you are free to disagree with me. Please don’t expect me to get into a debate with you though. These are simply my opinions and I don’t matter to the world of feminism anyway so you needn’t worry. 
E xxx 

The loneliness of a single mother 

Standard

I tweeted a while ago that I have been trying to write a blog post about the loneliness that comes from being a single parent. It was rather touching that so many women tweeted back with a ‘me too’. 
This isn’t going to be a social analysis of why single mothers feel so isolated as I don’t have the intellect or the energy so apologises for the lack of facts! This is simply my account of how it feels. 
To cut a long story short, I’m a single parent for the second time. I have three children and in the last 9 years we have moved house 5 times – 4 times were in 4 of those years. This has meant upheaval of all kinds, from the changing of schools to the loss of friendships. When I left my ex husband in 2012, I found that after a few months, a lot of my friends just disappeared off the radar. Since then, I’ve struggled to meet any new people. 
I no longer have to do the school run as all three have a school bus and I now live in an area that is far from the people I mixed with. In short, I feel like a bit lost and rather sorry for myself. People that I thought would stand by me, buggered off when my life took such a different path to theirs. I was no longer a married mother with a mortgage etc like them. Maybe it scared them, maybe they thought I might bring them bad luck or maybe I changed and they no longer liked me. I’m not sure that I need to know why though! 
The impact on my self esteem has been huge. Where is my place in society now? It hurts when people tell me to ‘get a life’ or make stupid comments on Twitter like ‘I bet they have no friends’ as it’s true. I’m a total loser! I feel trapped in a life that I didn’t sign up for and no, I’m not moaning about being a mum. I’m moaning that I’ve lost myself and my life along the path that I have been forced to take. The path has turned into a massive rut that’s pretty impossible to get out of.
My ME/CFS, lack of money, inability to drive a car, shyness and so many other little things prevent me from climbing out of this hole that I’ve found myself in. I’m also terrified that people don’t like me or won’t like me. Maybe the reason why I have hardly any friends is that I’m not very likeable. I know people who really do lighten up a room when they walk in and their energy really is infectious, the same cannot be said for me! My social anxiety and lack of people skills can make me seem cold and negative *sigh* 
The odd thing is, I never thought that my life would be like this. I’ve been delusional enough to believe that I was put on this earth to be so much more than hum drum beige. Yes, being a single mother and looking after three kids is a very valid thing to do – I’m talking about having something in my life that is separate from my identity as a mother. I wasn’t born a mother after all. And yes, I do have a boyfriend but that doesn’t change my social isolation from needing (and I do mean needing) women in my life. 
When I’ve attended support groups, they have this wonderful ability to bring back the spring in your step. Surrounding yourself with like minded or even life minded women is a truly uplifting experience. For whatever reason, I’ve not been able to keep those friendships going once those groups finish. I’m convinced that lack of transport has a huge affect on my ability to socialise – so if you don’t have a driving licence and have the money to get one, get one! I wish I had when I was younger and had the cash to do so. 
As the rain pours down outside, I know I face another week of sitting in the house on my own. I go to my art class once a week but I don’t see it a social time, it’s my art time. There are other groups that I could do to but I can’t afford the bus fare or the risk to my energy levels. 
As a single mother, no one is there to cook, clean, wash and so forth apart from me. I have to balance my limited social life with my limited energy levels. There’s no way I can just not cook dinner or not make sure everyone has clean clothes. I hear women say that they wouldn’t know what to do without their partner, I can tell you what you will do – bloody everything and then have no one to gripe about it to last thing at night! 
I was hoping that writing this all down would help me feel better, I think that I feel worse! I’m so sick of being invisible and worthless to the world. My teenage self was so wrong to think that I was somehow special and destined to do something extraordinary. At the same time, I don’t wish to just roll over and accept my lot in life. I guess I need to patient and let my life evolve a little more. 
Love, tea and crochet

Exxx 

New Years Resolutions 

Standard

I know, I know New Years resolutions are as uncool as tinsel and the word uncool but l happen to like tinsel and using the 1st of Jan as an excuse to rethink my life. 
1. Rethink my body image. I’m now 9st and I’m still putting on weight. Having been plagued with an eating disorder since I was 9, this is new territory for me and I hate it. Every day I look in the mirror, I don’t recognise my body anymore. I worry that people who know me will see me and think ‘wow, she’s put on weight!’. I do need to rethink my diet but I also need to accept my new body shape. It’s not the end of the world, just the end of my ultra slimness. 

2. Get off my fucking phone. This should be easier than it sounds as my phone is old and the battery dies on me at 30%! I want to concentrate on my crochet and art.

3. I need to get my teeth into my Women Together project. I don’t think we’ll really feel the full impact of the cuts until the end of 2016 which is a scary thought as things are bad enough already. My goal for the year is to offer more practical help rather than tweets and FB posts. I have a lot of stuff to go on the website – which I’ve yet to find on a Google search! Also, some way of setting up a fund for helping women would be really great. 

4. Buffer zones for abortion clinics – I’ve been working on this for over a year now and I’ve not made a lot of progress. There are now two petitions out there in the ether – check out my blog posts for more info. Hoping that 2016 is a productive and protective year for it. 

5. Seeing my life as worthwhile and meaningful. I need to stop wishing away the days and try to enjoy the year with my children. It’s so easy to get bogged down in it all and to think that life will be better/easier when another milestone is reached. I’m very lucky to have three fab children who may be challenging but certainly not dull! 

6. Get out in the garden more. I moved into this house last spring and I’m looking forward to turning my garden into a little oasis of green for as little money as possible. It’s not a very big garden however, there’s plenty of space for some nice plants. 

7. Find a way to manage my ME/ CFS better hahahahaha!!! I can try. Either that or I need to win the lottery so that I can afford a cleaner and taxis…. Pacing your activity is nigh on impossible when you’re on your own with three kids. My family and boyfriend help when they can but I need to know I can do it all by myself. Perhaps it’s my pride, I just want to feel like I’m making a fair contribution to the life I have and the lives that I created. 

8. And finally …. Not really a resolution….this is the second year anniversary of my suicide attempt – New Year’s Day 2014. It doesn’t feel as poignant as last year, there’s a sense that I’ve moved on a lot since then. I’m glad that I am still here, still alive and experiencing life from the Sun’s heat on my face to the cuddles at bedtime with my children. I could have been two years dead and life would have been so very different for my children, different in a bad and dark way. Whilst I’ll never be the life and soul of the party, I hope with every atom of my body that I will never feel that desperate again. 

So there you have it. That’s my list for 2016, I’m sure I’ll think of more to add. In the general scheme of the relentless march of time, a new year doesn’t really mean a lot but I see it as a chance to try again and put my failures behind me. Maybe give it a go and be uncool too! 
Love and hugs and all the best for 2016. May it be full of tea and crochet if that floats your boat.

Exxx 

PS one more …. Get my poems published in my own book …. 

And so it is Christmas … (CW) 

Standard

Christmas is an odd time of year. I was very lucky to have

l
  

lovely family Christmases when I was growing up. The excitement of the wait, the decorations, the tree, the ever increasing open doors on the advent calendar… Even when my mum had to work a couple of times, she still managed to make Christmas for us later in the day.
Fast forward quite a few years and then there was Christmas as a young, single parent. That was when the shine started to go out of the tinsel. I loved the couple of days I stayed with family but then it was back home to a house that was difficult to keep warm and that darkness you can only get from feeling like everyone is all jolly.
Don’t even go there with New Year’s Day! Many, many years of going to bed early only to be woken by WWIII in the form of fireworks. Then there was 2014…. 
Anyway, Christmas had become an odd mixture of joy and sadness. I think that is the way of things as you get older, more loved ones not being there anymore – some move away and some have died. Then I met my ex husband and everything seemed to sparkle again. 
After only two months of dating, he proposed on Christmas Day in front of my family. I was so happy, I was also so relieved to leave the stigma of single parenthood behind. With my sparkly diamond on my ring finger, I felt like I could take on the world.
This lovely cloud floated around for a while. I’m not sure when the rot set in but when we were married in the Spring, I wasn’t as happy as I should have been. Christmassy became a time of worry and stress. 
There was the worry over money for presents, the extreme worry over how much he would drink (and that was a lot), the stress of trying to keep up a happy front. This became increasingly hard as family fell out with him and didn’t want him there. I was emotionally torn apart. I now dreaded the start of Autumn when Christmas loomed large wherever I went.
Arguments over how much alcohol he had bought and how most of it had gone before Christmas Day still linger on in my mind. Needless to say, he had to buy more. The time he threw away youngest’s Christmas dinner that I had just put in the blender – she was 8 months old. I told him off and he reduced me to tears. I served our Boxing Day Christmas meal with teary eyes to a silent and miserable table. 
I’m doing my best to enjoy Christmas this year. There are triggers and memories with each tradition that I have to face but I am determined that my children will have a happy Christmas. 
It breaks my heart when I think of all the women out there right now who are dreading Christmas. To those women who might not be alive to see the new year in or who spend Christmas keeping the tears from flowing like a never ending river….I am with you and I believe you. I’m holding your hand and feeling your pain, your fear. He will use Christmas as an excuse to be extra vile and abusive. 
There are helplines out there, people out there who care and want you to be safe. I won’t think any less of you if you can’t make that break this Christmas or any Christmas. Please know that there can be joy and light again though. I hope you will find a way to leave one day and what ever day of the year that happens to be – may it feel like the best Christmas you’ve ever had. 
Much love 

Exxx 

 

Time hopping through life (CW)

Standard

Everyone now and then a time hop (other products may exist!) pops up on my FB feed to remind me of something that I knew nothing about in the first place. A child’s birth or an anniversary or just a great day meal this person happened to have. Yes, I’m being a misery but bear with me! 
Every time I see one I think to myself ‘thank goodness I don’t have that!’. There a lots of things in my life that I enjoy remembering and those memories will always be held in my heart. There’s also lots of things I’d rather not remember. This is how it might go ….
April 2007 wedding day – worst day of my like so far! Weeping quietly to myself in the hotel room. What have I done?! 
April 2009 Gave birth to my third child today, a beautiful girl. Husband celebrated by head butting and punching the wall then demanded I discharge myself. Home now, feel free to pop over when my husband allows you too. 
Dec 2011 today we had our house repossessed! What a lovely Christmas present for the children.
Sept 2012 rushing around like a tornado trying to pack all of our belongings into three cars to escape my abusive husband. At least the sun is shining. 
Jan 2014 today I tried to kill myself so I apologise for the lack of comms. 
October 2014 well, that was an eventful few days. Ex found not guilty of raping and sexually abusing me. Off to have dinner with family. 
I’m quite proud of myself for being able to inject some humour into these memories. As my nan used to say ‘you have to laugh otherwise you’d cry’. I think it’s called gallows humour….and is a much needed survival mechanism for those of us who have experienced trauma.
Until I’ve found away to process my traumas, I’ll always be bound by my past. Your past shapes who you are and what you become (having said that, a traumatic past is not an excuse to go and cause others trauma). I’m now in a place where I have discovered feminism and sisterhood, I doubt I ever would have if I hadn’t been through what I did. The negative experiences in my life created a deep empathy with other women that I would never have gained through a life of comfort and joy.  
When I do get moments of contentment and happiness, they rush through my body like champagne. However fleeting they are, they are mine and no one can take them away from me. 
Yours in sisterhood 

Exxx