Before you read my post, I want you to read this.
I am disabled. I have always had some form of disability. I was born autistic, with difficulties in communication and interacting with the world, a world that’s not really designed for people who think and see things like I do. I developed mental health problems when I was about 12. When I was 18, I had my first stay in a psychiatric ward. While there, I was told I should claim DLA, as my mental health problems were so severe I needed a lot of help just to live. I was one of the lucky ones- I applied and was awarded Higher Care and Lower Mobility on my first try. This means that the assessors agreed that I needed a lot of help during the day, at night, and when I went out.
When I say I was lucky, I mean it. Getting that rate of DLA meant I was automatically considered too ill to work, which meant that I could claim Income Support for incapacity purposes (I was ineligible for Incapacity Benefit as it was then because I’d not made any national insurance contributions) without having to go for medicals. Getting it on my first try meant I didn’t have to try and navigate the appeals system, which I was too ill to try and do. It meant that my partner could claim Carer’s Allowance, which meant he didn’t have to try and work and look after me full time.
The money from DLA pays for me to live as normal a life as possible. The mobility component pays most of the cost of my husband’s travel pass, as I cannot travel independently. The care component has paid for my wheelchair, for other items to help me with my disability. It has paid for ready meals and takeaways so when I was living alone I was able to eat everyday. It has paid for extra clothing when I’ve had weight gain due to medication. It paid for a clothes dryer which meant until my recent relapse, I could still do the washing. It pays for my internet connection so even when I’ve been very ill, I’ve been able to communicate. It pays for my travel costs to attend a college 20 miles away, one where I get specialist support that has enabled me to continue with my education. It has also enabled me to have enough money to pay for my interests, which went a long way in helping me come out of my nearly 12 year long depression.
In addition, Income Support is a passport benefit. It means that my council tax and rent are paid for me (I’m on Local Housing Allowance, which enables me to live in my flat). It pays for my prescriptions, which while I was trying out lots of different medications to try and help me would have been very expensive. The main thing though is that while I am ill, I don’t have to think about working, and nor does the person looking after me (a full time job that currently involves 6+ hours of travelling four days a week, on top of everything else).
I was hoping that once my mental health improved, I would no longer need DLA at the rate I was getting it. I will probably always be eligible for and need some DLA- even when completely well, my communication difficulties and lack of safety while outside caused by being autistic would mean I’d always need some support. Unfortunately, after getting the flu in August 2009 I continued to be physically ill, and I was diagnosed with M.E. a few months ago. The caring duties of my husband now include pushing me to college (as I am unable to walk for more than a minute, or self propel my wheelchair for much longer), physically helping me with tasks such as washing and dressing, making sure I eat even when I feel too ill to do so, and taking over all household tasks as I’m physically unable to do. I also need near constant companionship, because although I’m no longer depressed my brain is still quite capable of turning into a scared, shaky rat thinking that everything is out to get me and I need reassurance that it isn’t the case.
Do I want to work? Yes, very much so. I still look at job adverts in areas that I would be good at, if only I were well enough. I imagine applying for those jobs, being able to earn a wage, to stop being reliant on other people. I dream of being able to walk into an office, being able to manage a full workday, being productive. That’s all not possible at the moment. I manage college part time with frequent rest breaks and with an appalling attendance record. My lecturers are understanding if I cannot get into college that week- an employer wouldn’t be. I also have to rely on support staff while in college to push me to my lessons, to take me to get my lunch, to help me get to the toilet. The reason I continue to go to college is to get me the qualifications I need to eventually be able to work in an area that interests me, as most jobs for those without qualifications aren’t suitable due to things that go with being autistic, such as being sensitive to noise.
Take away my DLA, and I will no longer be able to attend college, or to buy the extra items that being disabled I need, including things like my wheelchair. Take away my Income Support, and I will no longer be able to live in my flat, to take my medication, to eat, to manage anything. I’ll be homeless while unable to walk, while unable to communicate effectively, while unable to care for myself. Force my husband to work, and my illness will get worse (as it did while he was ill). I’ve not been suicidal now for several months, but being dead is probably preferable than trying to live without the support, both financial and practical, that I currently get.
I apologise for the muddled-upness of this blog post. I used all my writing spoons on my exam on Thursday.
For Johan’s blog post on this subject, please see Why We Can’t Grin and Bear It Anymore.
For other blog posts in this blog swarm, please see One Month Before Heartbreak.
Please feel free to link and share this blog post. I’m releasing it under an Attribution-Share Alike licence.
On Disability and DLA (One Month Before Heartbreak) by Danni Brennand is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at dannilion.com.