(Un)Welcome to Atos 

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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 

Triggered by my vacuum cleaner – a rant about abuse of words 

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We live in an era where the terms ‘triggered’ and ‘trigger’ are no longer used to describe the experience of someone with PTSD but that of any one who can’t handle words or situations that make them feel uncomfortable. I thought I’d set the record straight on this as I’m sick of this word being used out of context. I’m also pretty pissed off that the *special snowflake* community has turned a way of me being able to express my trauma, into a laughing stock. 
I have never been formally diagnosed with PTSD, I’ve had therapy and been on courses for PTSD but never had the box ticked. It seems it’s an exercise in hoop jumping before they’ll do this. I’m in no doubt that I have PTSD and neither have the people who have been involved in my care. ‘Triggers’ was a word that I quickly came acquainted with and it was useful to know. 
When I get upset or scared or angry (or any negative emotion) I can look back and see if there was something that triggered it, triggered me. When I say words like ‘upset’, it really doesn’t hit the spot of how awful I can actually feel. Now that this word is in the mainstream, it’s very easy to just throw it about and use it to describe every time you feel a bit sad or put out by something. A similar example is the abuse of the word depression eg ‘My new shoes are ruined, I’m so depressed now.’ PTSD and depression are both serious mental health problems. Diluting the words that sufferers need to describe how they feel only contributes to the ongoing stigma of mental illness (yes, the stigma is still there and it’s huge). 
I thought I’d introduce you to some of my triggers so that you can understand (assuming that you’ve never experienced PTSD so please forgive me if you do know ….) what that word really means:
1. As mentioned in the title – I often mistake my vacuum cleaner for a person. That moment when you think there’s someone in the house, the fear builds and your jaw clenches… All from a split second of my brain interpreting the vacuum cleaner to be an intruder. It sends me back to a place and time that I do not wish to go to. At this moment in time, I haven’t learnt to control my triggers. 

2. Certain music and certain smells. I won’t go into specifics. Our senses are more powerful and influential than we, or at least I, probably give them credit for. I have being taught techniques that use the senses to stop flashbacks so they can actually be a good thing 🙂

3. I know that there are buildings and places that I’m not sure I could ever step foot in again. If I can avoid triggers then I do. The only time that I would consider facing a trigger is if it was affecting my quality of life. Sometimes avoidance is actually a good thing!

4. This is just a list of other triggers, some more potent than others …. Certain names, one born every minute – TV, door locks, open exterior doors, open windows, beds, night time, the noise of the extractor fan, being startled by someone, alcohol, drunk people, the smell of alcohol on someone’s breath, people who look a bit like my abuser, certain dates in the calendar …. 
The list could go on and on. This is the reality of living with PTSD, I’m fighting with triggers all of the time and it’s fucking exhausting! Being triggered isn’t about something or someone upsetting you, it’s about life changing situations that can reduce you to a curled up ball of mess on the floor. 
So yes, I’m bloody angry that this word is now mocked and laughed at because certain groups of people have adopted it. I see this word being abused (and I don’t used the word abused lightly either!) all of the time across social media and real life conversations. 
To those who misuse the word triggered and it’s many forms:
Fucking stop it! Grow up and accept that life can be shitty and upsetting at times but that doesn’t mean you are traumatised by it!! Get over yourselves, you cannot be protected from all the things that make you feel uncomfortable. There are many things in my life that upset me and I would rather not face but that doesn’t make them triggering. Your life will be so much richer and satisfying if you stop hiding from it. 
Ok, I may be being a little harsh. Do me one favour – please stop appropriating language that mentally ill people, like me, need to use to be understood and taken seriously. 
In the meantime;

love, tea and hugs 

Exxx 

The loneliness of a single mother 

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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 

160000 say #BackOff to anti abortion protestors 

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In a world where only the celebrity focused petitions seem to gain huge support …. I’m so happy that my petition has reached over 160k supporters! I’ve been campaigning for well over a year now and visiting No.10 seems like a very long time ago.

There are times when I feel like giving in but knowing that there are so many of you who want the same thing keeps me going. 

You don’t have to agree with abortion to know that these protestors are in the wrong. Women should and need to be able to enter these clinics without fear or shame. They are doing nothing wrong and their reasons for visiting these clinics is NONE OF OUR BUISNESS! It’s really quite easy. 

If the protestors want to shout and wave banners then they can do it anywhere, several 100m away from the doors of clinics. It is time we did more to protect women. I know that abortion is not a cuddly topic like avenging a dead lion or having a late celebrity named after a new periodic element BUT women’s safety is so much more important and that is far more valuable to society. Then we can get on with our  

 lives and tackle everything else. 
Much love and solidarity 

Exxx 

https://www.change.org/p/theresa-may-mp-please-create-a-legal-exclusionary-zone-outside-of-abortion-clinics/u/15009390

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/114853

Non dairy pavlova 

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Watching the amazing Nigella Lawson on her BBC 2 Simply Nigella show, I finally found a recipe that I could make but no…!!!!! She finished if off with cream. 

Whilst I’m a vegetarian, not a vegan, I can’t eat dairy as it gives me the most awful migraines 😦 I then started my journey to look for a non dairy whipped cream and found  a recipe for one on The Guardian website. 
Here are the links:

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/may/09/dairy-free-food-whipping-whipped-cream
http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/lemon_pavlova_50340

I was lazy and didn’t do the ice bath or the melting of the fat first. I also didn’t add the lemon to the meringue and I think I will if I make it again as it was mega sweet!! 

This was the first time I’ve made a meringue since school so it was rather cracked …. Didn’t fall apart when cut so that’s a positive! The kids all loved it and there were no complaints about the soya cream. Finding a decent recipe for whipped cream work revolutionise my food! There are so many desserts out there that I haven’t been able to make (yet to find a decent chocolate alternative 😦 ). 

I hope to find more dairy free and vegan recipes next year to try and share with you all 
Love, hugs, tea and crochet 

Exxx 

  
   

Blackberries 

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‘Tis the time to go a hunting for blackberries…. 
Yesterday, I went blackberry picking with my children and my cat. That’s right, my cat! She decided to join us on the whole journey, dutifully following us like a lost puppy. Anyway, I digress, this was the second time we’ve been blackberry picking. It’s become an Autumn ritual for me and I have been eyeing up the brambles all year. 
Here is my guide to blackberry picking (not that you need one, I just like writing about it!):
With my health and safety hard hat on, I would just like to say that make sure you know what you are picking and make sure you are safe (no picking blackberries whilst hanging one handed off a railway bridge for instance …..). Oh and best to leave the blackberries that are on road sides as they will be covered in pollution. 
My only other rule is to always leave enough for Mother Nature. This is pretty easy when it comes to blackberries as they are so abundant! Also, the best ones always seem to be out of reach. A walking stick can help you to access the ones that are tantalising close. 
Blackberries are pretty easy to identify. The black clusters of juiciness drip down off thorny stems and dark green leaves with a serrated edge – and more thorns lay along their veins. I’ve provided many photographs just in case you don’t know what you are looking for! 
Talking of thorns …. You can’t go blackberry picking without the following hazards:
Thorns – they will scratch you and stick in your skin! I’m currently sporting a rather nasty gash on my finger where the thorn ripped through my skin. Ow! Thorns also have a habit of lodging in your skin, like splinters. Remove them quickly to avoid irritation. 
Nettles – damn them! They get everywhere and I was stung several times yesterday.
Dog poo – sadly so, hedgerows seem to be the perfect place for dogs to poo and owners to not clear up after them. Also, don’t pick blackberries near or at ground level as you never know if a dog has urinated on them. Bleurgh. 
Spiders – I class these as a hazard! You might love them but I don’t… One managed to land in my trainer which caused me to flick said trainer and sock into the hedge. Spiders relish making their webs on and around brambles so careful where you’re reaching to. 
I hope I’m not ruining this for you! Blackberries are probably the most well known hedgerow food that are free to forage and devour. I don’t bother with supermarket berries or even the pick your own places, I find these berries to be bland and tasteless. Nothing compares to the taste of a wild blackberry and as they are only available for such a short window of time, I make the most of them! 
Not only are the berries wonderful to eat; the experience of being in the autumn sunshine, listening to the bird song and feeling the breeze on your face is second to none. Whilst I was out picking, I noticed rose hips, elderberries, sloes and crab apples. All are edible – as are the hawthorn berries that I spotted (but please do your research as many need cooking and deseeding before they are safe to eat). 
My top tip is to not eat them fresh but to freeze them for use in apple and blackberry pies and crumbles. They provide a welcome reminder of the summer sun when all out side is wintertime gloom. 
Once you’ve picked your blackberries, give them a good rinse with cold tap water. Allow to dry and then open on a baking tray. They don’t take long to freeze and there’s something magical about the frozen blackberry. It looks like the most delectable boiled sweet known to womankind! Bag up your frozen berries for later consumption. When you need them, give them another rinse with boiled water and add straight into whatever you’re cooking. 
Blackberries are still out in force so get out there now and fill your freezer with free food straight from nature’s larder. 
Happy picking and happy eating! 

Exxx @womentogether  

    
   

The assault I’d almost forgotten (CW/TW) 

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As some of you might know, I was in hospital recently due to a rather belligerent kidney infection. 
Waiting on a bed in A&E for the nurse to come and see me, I was surprised to be told that I was being put on a ward. Another nurse and a porter came to wheel me up to the ward on the second floor. 
I looked at the porter and we made eye contact. He averted his gaze and that was then I realised who he was, I’m not sure if he recognised me but as the nurse had referred to me by my full name, he probably had. I thought it best to pretend I didn’t know him (I’ll refer to him as D from now on). 
The man in question was someone I knew when we were both in primary school. I think I’m a couple of years older than him. His family lived up the road from mine and our mums were friends. They often helped each other out with childcare. 
There were a few afternoons when D had to stay with us after school. I’m not sure why but we were left alone in my house, maybe my mum had an appointment or something. 
We would play games and run around the house, you know, the sort of thing young kids do. Then there was this particular afternoon where things turned that bit darker. 
When I saw D standing over my hospital bed/trolley, it all came flooding back. I felt vulnerable on the bed, cannula in the crook of my arm and wiped out by days of infection. Not the sort of time you’d want memories of an assault to come flooding back. 
I remember him chasing me around the house. At first it was fun, then his jog turned into a run and suddenly I felt fear instead of excitement. I raced into my bedroom and jumped on to my bed, it was a place I associated with security and comfort. 
D raced into my room and pinned my down on the bed kissing me. I pushed him away (he has gripped my arms so this was no mean feat) and said ‘no, I don’t want to kiss you’. I ran out of the room and he followed. I can’t recall how long it went on for but he chased me up and down the stairs and through various rooms. Terror span through my mind, I needed to find a way to get away from him.
He managed to grab me a couple more times until I made a run for the bathroom. In my haste to lock the door, I caught my face causing a slight gash which bled lightly down my face. I could hear him outside the door but I didn’t come out. Instead, I sat on the floor and tried to breathe normally again, relieved that it was over. 
Time went on and I heard my mum come home. I didn’t come out, I felt ashamed and dirty. Ok, it was ‘just’ a kiss but I was a very shy 8yo (maybe 9yo) and it was like I had done something truly awful. Needless to say, I blamed myself. I was young and not equipped to process what had happened, assault was not a word that I was familiar with. 
Eventually he went home, I reluctantly stepped out of my new sanctuary to be met by questions as to why I had locked myself in the bathroom and what had happened to my face. I didn’t lie about what had happened to my face but I did lie about the events that led up to it. D never stayed over again, I can only imagine that my parents released something wasn’t right. I’ve never spoken about this before or since. 
Whilst writing this, it suddenly occurred to me that the bathroom was then and now my safe place; my sanctuary. Many, many times I would lock myself in the bathroom as an upset teenager or when I needed some space alone. It was also the place I went when I wanted to flee my ex husband. Hearing him lurking outside, sometimes thumping the door, sometimes saying my name over and over again….. 
It’s been a long time since my bed and bedroom ever felt safe and secure like it did when I was a child. Probably why I struggle with getting to sleep and feel anxious at night (not as bad in daylight). My new house has locks on the the bathroom and WC doors but they are the sort that you can undo from the outside. When I shower, I don’t feel as safe anymore. 
I wonder when I will ever feel safe again? 
Exxx