I have recently completed a community development program called Activate. Below is the first assessed piece for the course. I haven’t reread the piece since I wrote it. It was hard to write so please forgive any nincompoopery.
CONTENT NOTE CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. I was also a victim of emotional and psychological abuse as a teenager. As with many other survivors, my brain processed the trauma in the safest way it decided it could protect me. Which was the worst way possible as I developed depression and severe anxiety disorder trying to protect myself.
I know the dates of the repeated assaults from my report cards. I went from being chatty and playful at to very quiet, withdrawn and unable to create or sustain friendships. I have, anxiety disorder, severe depression, IBS, migraines, cluster headaches, asthma, allergies, apahisia, PTSD and an eating disorder. I also have dyspraxia and dyscalcula. I was also sexually assaulted in high school.
Considering family history, I meet the guidelines for a diagnosis of ADHD but my teachers never picked up on it and the NHS doesn’t pay for adult diagnoses and the cost of private tests is double my rent.
There is some research that suggests that fibromyalgia is a neurological condition. It is a diagnosis of exclusion and there are no ‘standard’ tests that can medically diagnose it. Equally, over 90% of patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia are women; most of whom experienced abuse and violence at some point in their lives. This suggests that it is also trauma responsive. The intersection of mental health and traditional medical created a massive gulf in how patients are treated as ‘real patients.’ As with other research into women’s healthy in terms of heart attacks, gall stones, cancer, and mental health, women are far less likely to receive appropriate treatment as medical practitioners tend to minimise women’s pain and send them home with treatments that only masks their symptoms (especially with heart disease).
All of the above implies that this paper is about discrimination that I have experienced, but it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve experienced tremendous amounts of discrimination over the years. I was labelled a liar the first time I attempted to tell my mother about what happened (My Dad, whilst around, was not the most helpful of parents). I was bullied merciless at school and only had real friends once in junior high and for the second last year of high school. I had three teachers who helped me (strangely enough each correspond to the year of maintaining relationships). The bullying alongside the multiple sexual assaults pretty much destroyed my ability to deal with conflict or maintain relationships. I read disagreement as threats and prefer hiding to my usual schtick in public: to panic babble so that no one recognises who I am.
The one place I wasn’t discriminated against, and in contrast to the majority of people across the UK, was applying for PIP. It did take me three years to get up the courage to apply (mail and phone calls stress me out to the point of self harm through eating disorders). I’ve got 2 undergraduate degrees and 2 post-graduate degrees so I had the skills to do the research to discover exactly how points are awarded – and, weirdly, this resulted in me getting full points for things which are annoying in my life but 0 for those that make me disabled. It took me 3 weeks to do the research. Having a computer and WiFi at home also helped me in filling out the forms. I’ve got a brilliant GP and two friends who are social workers; both of whom are now in training support workers. My friends both read over my application and 1 was able to come to the appointment with me. I was treated as a professional. My research skills were mentioned in my award letter.
All of these gave me a step up from many other candidates. One elderly woman who was in the waiting room with me at the assessment centre was forced to go in 10 minutes early without her support worker, who then wasn’t allowed in because the appointment had ‘started’ despite him being 5 minutes early. A friend was denied PIP because she arrived without her support stockings on. That her support worker called in sick and she couldn’t get the stockings on without help was dismissed as irrelevant: that she is a Black working class woman was more relevant in her losing PIP than her various disabling conditions.
My experience with PIP at all levels of engagement was positive. I was treated with respect and kindness. I was supported appropriately through the process by staff employed in the assessment centres. I have yet to come across similar treatment of women applying for PIP or in the process of reassessment.
I am a white, middle class woman with a high level of education and a tendency to burn food and break cups dropping them. This is why I was awarded PIP. This is also why it’s taken me this long to write this (and a total inability to edit out things). The shame and guilt as a victim continues to make it difficult for me to engage with others- even when they are so obviously kind and generous.