All posts by tony

Terrible sentence structure

I read back the blog post I wrote yesterday, and the sentence structure is shockingly bad.  I’m prone to passive writing, and equally prone to run-on sentences.  That blog post is pretty much a master class in shockingly bad writing (structure, not necessarily content).  I thought about going back and correcting it, but it seems a little disingenuous given the post was off the cuff as it were, just a rambling dialogue with my own brain.

It does highlight something I’ve been getting worse at over the years – proof reading.  I’m getting lazier.  I used to write and read everything back a couple of times, these days I’m lucky if I read it while I’m writing it.  This increases the number of incorrect word endings I use (-ed instead of -ing, -ing instead of -s, etc.) along with just missed out words.

I must try harder.

Coming to terms with it

md01-095_m_1_grandeNot a happy go lucky blog entry – you may want to move along if you’re already in a down mood.

It’s funny how we forget what we were like, or what we enjoyed, or what we did.  Is that just me?  My memory of my life is quite bad, I don’t think about the past much (other than a few specific things), but memories are sometimes triggered by other people having conversations about stuff.  I moved away from home when I was 18 (went to Uni) and never really went back.  That meant my conversations from the age of 18 onwards were about new stuff.  I wonder if this is what people mean by the phrase discovering yourself?

Because I mostly listened to people and spoke about how I felt about stuff, rather than the events of my childhood, I never reinforced those memories I guess.  Over time, still not talking about them (not for any dire reason, just because I was always private) means they didn’t get refreshed or used, and unused memories fade.  Or mine did.  Now, because they’re hazy I just don’t talk about them because I don’t really have good recollections of them.  So, I was going to start this blog with, I was never one for big family gatherings, and then I realised I wasn’t actually sure if that was true.  Maybe I was when I was young but I grew out of them, or maybe I was always too old for my boots, too sarcastic and cynical for my shorts?  Who knows.  For the benefit of brevity, let’s assume I was never one for big family gatherings.  I didn’t dislike my wider family as much as just disliking the process of being in a large family group.

I used to go to my grandparent’s (on my mam’s side) house for dinner (which is the midday meal where I’m from), during school dinner break when I was in my teens.  It was right next to the school and my mam worked school dinners in the same school, so you know, it made sense.  Kitty and George, I knew things weren’t perfect but as families do, everyone pretended it was fine for the kids.  I loved my granddad’s yorkshire puddings, and his bacon sandwiches made with white bread a foot thick.  Kitty didn’t do much cooking, but she let us tear up the place so we didn’t mind.  They had a scary shed full of tools and stuff I didn’t understand, a garden which had a chain-link fence which overlooked the school sports field, rocks in the garden painted with white gloss paint, and one year the snow drifts were so high in their back garden, we hid in them.

I’m not sure if I didn’t know my dad’s parents at all or if they just lived too far away to be part of our lives.  My dad died when I was 4, and my mam didn’t talk about it.  We moved back to Newcastle after he died, because we no longer had to follow his army postings, and we made new lives near to my mam’s parents, and her 3 sisters.  I never asked about my dad’s parents.  I never used the word dad much, I remember once a cousin of mine calling me a bastard, in the way kids do, and I was a bit upset by that for a few days before learning what it really meant, and that it didn’t apply at all.  I’m not sure I missed him, although I know my sister did, and it became apparent that despite never talking about him, my mam missed him more than pretty much anything in the world except her two kids.  I was really too young to remember much, or I blocked it out of my memory, one or the other.  If you can’t remember someone, it’s hard to miss them.

My granddad died before my grandmother.  I visited him when he was in hospital, really unwell with pneumonia, and we spoke briefly about cricket which he loved a great deal.  My enjoyment of cricket, my limited knowledge of the game comes from his love of it.  I felt bad that I’d only visited him once, and that he was really ill, and probably unaware of me.  What can you do.  I was in my late teens.  My grandmother leant on all the daughters then, as you would.  I can’t even remember if I went to the funeral.  How shit is that?  I’m not even entirely sure if I was at university or at home.  Is it because I’m callous, or because I block this stuff out?  Because I have a bad memory or because I choose not to remember?

Not long after moving to Nottingham with Greté we got news that my grandmother had died.  I travelled back to Newcastle for the funeral.  I remember that.  I remember trying to be strong for my mam, because she’d lost her mam.  I probably failed.  I wouldn’t say I was openly close to anyone in my family, immediate or extended.  Emotionally stunted?  Just too cynical?  I’m not sure.

My sister had kids, and although she complained about it, my mam loved looking after them, loved having young kids around again.  It gave her a new lease of life.  Then they got a little older and to that age where they did stuff that my mam found hard work, like making a mess, running around putting their knees at risk, jumping off stools.  She’d moved closer to my sister, and my sister basically looked out for her.  I spoke to them, and saw them once a year, maybe twice, but that was it.

Then my mam had a stroke, and a fall, and although she was well enough to go home, she never really recovered.  She lost her confidence, would get lost walking short distances.  She was miserable.  She hated life.  She’d lost the man she loved in 1975 and never replaced him, her kids had grown up and moved out, and her grand-kids were growing up, and now she was stuck in her flat, no one to talk to.  She had another catastrophic, fatal stroke in December 2012.  I was sad, but I knew that was no longer unhappy, no longer trapped.  My sister organised the funeral, I attended, tried to say some words.  Saw my best friend from my youth, made promises to stay in touch, never did.  Saw the whole family, cousins and aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews.  Then went back to my life.  I saw my sister, her husband and her kids more often after that.  I made more of an effort.  Not a massive increase in effort, but I think we both knew we needed to keep in touch more.

Then, in September last year (2015), my sister died.  She’d had a long illness, undiagnosed, then a diagnosis, surgery and then in a very short time, a more negative diagnosis and what was ultimately a very short period of very intense illness before she passed away.  Highly aggressive, pretty much untreatable, cancer.  She knew what was happening, the night before she passed away she had her husband bring the kids into hospital so she could talk to them.  Even in that last moment her thoughts were with her kids, making sure they knew what was going on, what they had to do.

That was it.  All my immediate family (as I use the phrase) gone.  Plenty of aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters-in-law, and of course, my amazing wife; but my family unit gone.

What does it mean?  I’m 45 this year, and I guess it’s not an unusual position to be in, but I’m still coming to terms with it.  Is there a message?  Life is short, buy the shoes?  I saw that today, and I think it’s true, although it’s never easy.  But is that the message?  Talk to your family more, live in the now, enjoy them now, but reminisce,  Talk about the past, laugh about it, because if you don’t exercise those memories they’ll just fade.  Don’t live in the past, you can’t change it, but bathe in it every now and again, remember how it felt.  Is that trite?  Probably.

Greté got me some socks and boxer shorts for Christmas (among many other wonderful gifts).  She was a bit apologetic about those, but I reminded her I’d run out of other people who were going to buy them for me, so it was her job now.

Finally got out

It’s been a couple or three months since I managed to get out and do any photography (outside of choir events), so I was pleased today when we got some bright sunshine.  Was still cold mind you, but it gave me a chance to get a couple of hours in Nottingham taking pictures.  Not very good pictures, but pictures none-the-less, and I won’t get better by sitting at home doing nothing.  So, parked in the Broadmarsh car park, walked around for a couple of hours, took some pictures, headed back to the car park.

Paid my £3 fee, took my ticket back to the car, and put it into a little pocket area on the drivers side door, like I usually do.  Drove down to the exit, opened the car window and as I reached the last ramp, went to pick up the ticket.  Which wasn’t there.  Fuck.  Pulled over into the area designed for people who’ve forgotten to pay, and checked the inside of the car.  No joy.  Got out, searched under the seats, in the door, in the back, all over.  Still no sign.  Fuck.  Locked the car, jogged back up to the 3rd level and searched around where the car had been parked, in case it blew out while I was closing the door.  Still no sign.  Still fuck.  Jogged back down to the car, and had another look.  Nope.  Gone.

So I walked over to the customer service booth, and there was a guy outside having a cigarette.  To be frank, I was expecting a tough conversation.  I asked him who was best to speak to with regards to lost tickets.  He mulled that over and said, “normally they make you pay the full day rate”.  I said, “Yep, it’s annoying, I paid my £3 but I’ve lost the ticket somewhere between putting it in the car and getting down to the exit.”  He took a draw on his fag, and said, “well, I don’t want to make you pay again, give me 5 minutes to finish this and then I’ll let you out.”  He took my name, told me to wait until I saw him to into the booth and then drive out.

Which I did.

What a nice man.  Thanks nice man, whoever you are.

You’ll be pleased to know that I drove about 80 metres and remembered that I’d put the ticket into the ticket slot on the sun visor, because I was worried about it blowing away, and then because the sun was so low in the sky, I’d popped the visor down.  Hiding the ticket.  I checked at the next set of lights, and yep, there it was.  So, thanks again nice man, I didn’t actually lose the ticket, just my mind, but you helped.  I’d have been annoyed beyond reason if I’d paid the day rate and then found the ticket.

Fallout 4

F4_Wiki_BannerI really enjoyed Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. I played both of them to death, despite the bugs. It was therefore, no surprise to me that I was super excited about Fallout 4 when I heard it was being released.  The only issue really, was Bethesda, they’re not well known for releasing bug free stuff, and on top of that, I’d found Skyrim to be lacking any soul.  I feared that perhaps Fallout would be gutted, ripped of its sense of being and left cold and emotionless on the floor.

I needn’t have worried.  I’ve read reviews and comments from people who find Fallout 4 lacking; they say it’s just a big tower defence game, or there’s little purpose beyond travel to point A, shoot the enemy to death, and then return to point B.  I’d argue that’s no different to Fallout 3 certainly, although Fallout: New Vegas was a little richer than that.  However, the key with all three games is that the main quest line, and in fact, most of the side quests, aren’t where Fallout games get their humanity, their soul, or their poignant introspective.  They get those from the little letters, terminal messages, holotapes, non-main-quest NPC dialogue and other sources of background information.  Seeking those out, reading everything is what gives me the sense of enjoyment from the world, and Fallout 4 delivers on that level as well as the others.

Power Armour Army
Power Armour Army – about half the suits I eventually collected. There they’re displayed on top of the three story house I built for myself.

There are tales spread throughout the whole of the Boston, Massachusetts (the location for Fallout 4) of people living, dying and being reborn in the aftermath of the nuclear war.  Yes, there’s a main quest (mirroring that of Fallout 3 in many ways), and yes there are factions (bringing something from New Vegas more formally into Fallout 4).  Yes, the Brotherhood of Steel turn up (of course), and there are raiders and supermutants and ghouls.  There are vaults and mercenary groups, and bars and shops and blasted wasteland.  All of these things are there.  They’re all to be explored, and shot up.  But the soul, the jam in the centre of this delicious doughnut is the treasure trove of hidden history that you only get by digging through the bodies of those you have vanquished.

Knee deep in ghoul remains, trying to find a vacuum tube, you discover a hastily scrawled note.  A husband, telling his wife where he has gone, and that he will be back.  You know he never made it.  Half dead from a deathclaw attack, you open a cabin door and find the remains of a young woman, running away from home to be with her lost love.  She never found him.  Resplendent in your new power armour, you find an abandoned room in a sewer, and huddled in the corner is a skeleton, grasping the last Salisbury steak box a 10mm pistol and 5 rounds of ammo on the ground.  You know they made a last stand, defending the boxed meat product from all-comers.

This is Fallout 4, this is why it still has a soul, and this is why I played it for over a hundred hours.

Power Armour - Back View
Here are the suits from the back

The main quest is clearly signposted as always, but you’ll struggle to simply follow that and do nothing else.  As with Fallout 3 the second location you need to reach is a fair hike across the map and unless you have excellent luck and incredible tunnel vision, by the time you get there you’ll be knee deep in side quests.  F4 has companions and factions which affect which quests you get offered, which ones you can complete and how the game ends.  Having to repair weapons and armour has gone, and the crafting system from New Vegas has been boosted with weapons and armour being highly customisable.  The two key new features are settlement building and the way power armour is handled.  I won’t talk about how those features work (the web is covered in that) except to say, I really enjoyed the settlements, and while the new power armour has advantages and disadvantages, I enjoyed it, and found it less game breaking in some ways than the power armour in F3.

The all new voiced dialogue was interesting, and although I don’t think the game needed it I think it benefited from it.  Dialogue wasn’t quite as witty as Fallout: New Vegas, but it was still engaging and at least on my first play-through of a quest (i.e. assuming I didn’t die and have to do it again) I didn’t skip any dialogue (which I’m notorious for, even when it’s unheard).

The locations are interesting, with some new approaches and some old classics.  I did find some of the z-axis layouts very hard to understand and deal with – both inside buildings (their own discrete areas) and in the open world setting.  There are some very high places you can reach through some very convoluted routes, which frustrated me several times.  I’m sure other people love them, and I learned to deal with them, but as with F3 and F:NV, it’s not always obvious how to navigate around key locations.

NPC companions are varied and interesting, and their dialogue is all spectacularly different, which was enjoyable.

Power Armour - Side View
Dramatic shot of power armour!

Some of the faction quests were very repetitive (especially the Minutemen), and they didn’t always feel joined up.  I often completed a Minutemen quest for a settlement which had already joined the cause, only to be told it was great to get another settlement on-board.  I didn’t personally suffer any significant bugs, certainly nothing quest related.  I did get stuck in the scenery once and had to reload a save (Greté played on the PC, and the one time she got stuck she used a console command to get out, I was very jealous).  There were times when my character just stood still after dialogue, both he and the NPC kind of playing chicken to see who would walk away first.  It always resolved itself eventually but I’ve read some people getting stuck like that and having to reload.

Faction-breaking quests (where you cause one faction to hate you) are clearly telegraphed, and for the most part I knew if my actions were going to upset someone.  However, as with F3 and F:NV it is possible to do the quests in such an order that you confuse the NPC’s who won’t let you hand a quest in because they’re eager to talk about something else.  Also, as with all Bethesda games, I found NPC’s would assume I had knowledge of an event long before I actually triggered it.

Even with those flaws though, Fallout 4 was absorbing, engaging and fun.  A worthy successor to Fallout 3 and although some might argue it doesn’t make enough of a step change, I always prefer evolution rather than revolution in my game sequels.

Play Fallout 4, it has a heart, and it wants to be your friend.  If you’ve played Fallout 3, take time to look for all the connections that Fallout 4 has to that game.  NPC’s, locations, events, and even the main storyline.

Note: The screenshots are from my Xbox One play through.  It’s ridiculously complicated to get screenshots out of a game on the Xbox.  In the end I had to sign up to One Drive, save them to that, and then get them on the PC via the One Drive web interface.

How come it’s only Wednesday?

Feels like it should be at least half way through Thursday by now, if not next Tuesday.  We finally got Greté’s ESA submission completed and sent off.  It arrived on the 8th December, just in time for Christmas.  So thoughtful of them.  As usual, the mere existence of the form made a big dent in Greté’s confidence and overall management of her depression.  Being asked to describe how bad your illness is so that someone else can judge whether it’s bad enough to deserve welfare isn’t exactly the most confidence building of actions.  Doing so when you’ve had to appeal and subsequently win twice previously just makes it all the harder.

I’m still not convinced the financial cost of processing the ESA submissions and subsequent appeals outweighs the financial cost of just paying anyone who applies for it in the first place (never mind the health cost to those affected).  There’s a flat percentage of people who’ll take the piss, and they don’t mind lying on the forms.  Most honest people who aren’t trying to deceive anyone are honest on the forms anyway, and still get rejected until the appeal stage.  I don’t see how anyone wins at this process.

Anyway, we’ve filled in the forms, honestly, and we’ve included the letter we sent in for the 2013 appeal, and we’ll see what that results in.  We’ll keep trying to manage the impact on Greté’s health and hopefully get her back to a more stable position.

Slowing Down Time

So it’s 2016, which is as much a surprise to me as it is to anyone.  Where does the time go?  A few years ago now, David Gemmell told me about a friend of his, an elderly gentleman, who suggested that we feel time passing more quickly as we age, because we experience less new stuff each day.  As children, everything around us is new, or we’re doing new things, exploring and discovering new knowledge.  As we age, in general, our days are filled with very similar things, and there’s little new or surprising in each of them.  So our experience of time is based on the density of our memories for any given period.  More memories of different things and the passage of time feels slow, fewer memories and the passage of time feels quick.  The aim then, is to keep doing new things, discovering new things, experiencing new things, and thus, slow down the passage of time.

I don’t know how true it is, but I don’t see the harm in trying.

I pay lip service to new years resolutions usually, if I go that far, and although I’d like to think this year is different it probably won’t be.  However, even in the face of obvious failure it’s usually still worth having a shot, so here are my new years resolutions for 2016.

  • Drink more.
  • Eat more.
  • Photograph more.
  • Watch more films.
  • Be happier.

I know that being happy is not really something you can choose (others might disagree), but you can take steps to increase the chance of it working that way – if you have the energy (there’s the kicker).  I don’t drink much alcohol any more, partly because we’re not in the situation where alcohol is often consumed very often, and partly because of the diabetes.  There’s a lot of sugar in beer, and alcohol screws with your blood sugar on top.  However, I do like a bit of whiskey and people keep buying it for me.  So I really should drink it.  I resolve, within reason and within sensible measures, to drink the whiskey I have in the cupboard and to bloody enjoy it.

I already eat too much so the second one might seem odd, but I tend to eat too much low quality food.  What I want to do, is eat too much high quality food (or, a more sensible amount of high quality food, as an alternative).  I want to eat more exciting things and less boring things.

I’ve struggled with getting out to take photographs in the last few months.  Part of this is because my sister died in the latter part of 2015, after a short and devastating battle with cancer.  I was on the road a lot visiting her, and while my battle wasn’t anywhere near as hard as hers (clearly), I pretty much expended all of my energy and had nothing left over.  Most of that travelling took place at weekends, which was the only time I really had for photography, so it took a back seat.  Then Christmas was upon us faster than we could imagine, we had a lot of work to do helping Greté’s mum and step-dad move house, and now it’s the new year.  So, in 2016, I will take more photographs (and I will try and be less negative about the output).

I love films, I should watch more of them.  I will watch more of them.  You can’t stop me!

Part of being happier means expressing myself again, writing, and that means blog posts.  I like writing them, because they help me understand how I feel, even when they’re about nothing more than how my day has gone.  So, I intend to overhaul the blog, replace the template with something a) cleaner, b) less black, and c) easier to maintain.  And I intend to blog, to alleviate stress, to ramble, to solidify my thoughts and to share (maybe) my photographs.

Here’s a funny picture of some cats.

Given up blogging?

Maybe not. Last few weeks I’ve had an itch forming to start writing blog posts again. Maybe I’m starting to finally recover from the crushing despair I felt in the job I left in June this year? Who knows.

Whatever the reasons, I’m definitely starting to feel more creative again and that inevitably leads to blog posts.

Street Photography

So to my great surprise, I seem to enjoy ‘street photography’ more than the other kinds of photography I’ve tried over the last few years.  I’ll be the first to admit however that much of my street photography is ‘photographs taken in the street’, rather than the more classic street photography.  By that I mean, the form is really about capturing ‘decisive moments’ in a candid way, usually at quite short focal lengths.

At the moment, I tend to use longer focal lengths, and often my results are more candid street portraits than actual street photography.

Despite that, and with all the respect due to the real tradition, I’m enjoy what I do none-the-less, and over time hope to improve my confidence, and my technical ability, to switch to shorter focal lengths and capture more moments rather than interesting faces.

When I bought a DSLR, I really thought I’d be spending my time shooting pictures of animals and wild life, and early on, I did that.  However, wild life photography (good wild life photography) requires a large investment of time, spent waiting, watching, and planning for the moment in which to capture the animal.  Taking a thousand pictures of swans, however beautiful they are, isn’t in the long term wild life photography.  As such, I haven’t invested the time, or found a place in which I want to invest the time, to carry out high quality wild life photography.

Landscape photography is as time intensive as wild life photography, and certainly requires just as much planning.  Taking an occasional picture of a stream, and capturing a brilliant image of a landscape are two different things, and the latter requires a lot of planning, preparation and timing to get the right light and the right shot.

Portrait and event photography both interest me, probably for the same root reason as street photography – they’re about people and I find people fascinating.  However, I don’t have the confidence yet to take portraits and I don’t have the opportunity to take shoot many events (although I take the chance whenever I can).

So I’ve found the immediacy and unpredictable nature of street photography to be the most engaging activity I’ve been involved in since getting the camera.  I love looking at the pictures and finding hidden gems of human behaviour that might not have been obvious at the moment I pressed the shutter button (see the guy on the left in this picture, https://www.flickr.com/photos/eightbittony/19423003901).  I love seeing the emotions of people’s faces, and I love building a narrative that may or may not be real based on the instant the picture was taken.

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea that truth is based on your perception at the time, and street photography really encompasses that philosophy for me.

Hopefully my confidence will increase, and I’ll get better at shooting at short focal lengths.  I’m not going to stop trying to improve at wild life, landscape, event, sport, portrait and the other forms of photography of course, it’s just that street photography is both accessible at any time, and more thrilling so far than anything else I’ve tried.

Depression Awareness Week – 2015

This is the letter I wrote, but never sent to my MP. I never sent it because writing it took so much energy, that I couldn’t face going back and proof reading it, and by the time I was ready to do that, we’d completed the appeal and Greté had been moved to the Support Group. So apologies in advance for bad grammar, repetition and typos.

I wrote the letter the day we got back from the interview at the DWP, which is a mandatory aspect of being in the ESA Work-Related Activity Group.

“I appreciate this is a long letter, but it is written from the heart, and I implore you to read it.

Myself and my wife (Greté Evans) have just returned from a mandatory interview with an employee at the Job Centre. Firstly, I want to say that I have the utmost respect for the staff working there, and that despite the rest of this letter I have no complaints about how any individual has dealt with our case.

My wife suffers from a condition which used to be called Dysthymia, but is sometimes known as Persistent Depressive Disorder. The Wikipedia link for the condition is,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysthymia

My wife also suffers from a Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia and a number of related conditions. Additionally, she has chronic back pain due to an issue with her spine.

In the mid to late 90’s, while undiagnosed but still suffering from dysthymia, my wife continued to try and work. Sometimes those were paid roles, sometimes they were voluntary. However, around 1997 my wife’s health deteriorated and she was laid off from her last paid job. Although she was diagnosed (again) as being depressed, and given anti-depressants, the diagnosis was not for dysthymia and the anti-depressants in question were unsuitable.

After a number of months, Greté tried again to get work, with a temp agency, but during her first day suffered a severe panic attack and had to leave the office to which she had been sent. This crushed the last of her remaining self-confidence and over the next year or so, her health suffered even more greatly. Over the following 2 years there were periods in which she considered suicide as her only source of relief.

Over subsequent years, Greté had severe bouts of depression on and off, over the top of the constant dysthymia. Eventually, she met a GP who understood her condition and together they finally found a diagnosis for Greté (tragically, the GP was Dr Elizabeth Kinston). With the right medication and support, Greté has been able to manage her symptoms for a number of years now.

But she is not cured. Every day she battles depression, every day she battles panic attacks and crushingly low self-esteem. Some days Greté is able to go out to places she knows well, with people she trusts, and those people might think she’s perfectly healthy. Greté can go shopping to Tesco, but if something out of the ordinary happens, or the aisles are busier than she was expecting, she might well suffer a panic attack and have to leave. Other days she battles to even get out of bed.

During all of this, Greté has received various benefits, and until recently was receiving the non-means tested benefit introduced before ESA. During those periods we have both suffered the shame and dehumanising health assessments, carried out over the years by decreasingly qualified medical staff. In 2006 we appealed when Greté was told she was fit to work. Within minutes of the appeal board interviewing Greté, it was clear to them the decision had been made in error and her benefit was re-instated and back-paid.

Earlier this year, Greté was informed she would be moving to the new benefit system, and would need an assessment. We received the forms and completed them honestly, as best as we could. Within a few weeks Greté was notified she was being categorised and placed in the Work-related activity group. We were told we had 30 days to appeal.

But we didn’t know what to expect. Greté doesn’t want to spend her life not working. She already suffers from severe self-esteem issues and not being in work in the current climate and current ‘scrounger mentality’ government stance makes those feelings ever more acute. We both hoped that maybe the process would offer up some help, some assistance. Greté could speak to people who understood her condition and together they could work through the options and perhaps begin the process of understanding how, if possible, Greté would be able to get back to work.

This is all against a backdrop of my deepest fear. Greté’s condition means that she can’t handle change, confrontation, unexpected situations or some social interaction without severe panic. A panic attack at work so severe you can’t breathe (let’s not even talk about getting through a job interview), and leads to you running out of the building will only lead to a tough conversation the next day. So maybe Greté has a panic attack and a few days of severe depression and then goes back to work. Maybe it happens again a few weeks after, and another conversation with her manager results. But Greté’s illness prevents her from handling that as well, and she’s signed off for 2 more weeks. Combined together, this causes Greté’s ever present real illness to worsen, her self-esteem to crash and her anxiety to take over her whole day, and suddenly she’s considering suicide again as the only option.

Despite that fear, we didn’t appeal immediately, we waited and we went to the first interview with the DWP. Of course, Greté couldn’t go on her own, but I went with her and we listened to the member of staff tell us what this process entailed.

Her first comment was that most people miss the bit in the letter that says benefit is only paid for 365 days before becoming means tested. Indeed, we had both missed that. Greté immediately suffered a panic attack, began crying uncontrollably and would have left the building had I not been there to basically physically hold onto her. I got her calmed down, and we listened to the rest. Basically, there is no support, there is no officer who understands Greté’s mental illness. There is someone who can help you find work, but finding work isn’t the problem.
The issue is Greté being physically capable of attending an interview and holding down a job with her current illness without eventually becoming suicidal.

Even if we don’t engage with the process, and just go by the numbers, in a year my wife’s benefit will stop. I work full time, and earn a salary. I’m sure we’ll still be able to eat, but that’s not the problem. My wife’s illness leaves her with no self-esteem. She already considers herself, during the worst of her days, a burden on me, and those around her. The fact that she currently has her own money with which she can contribute to bills, gives her some sense of worth. When that last thing is taken from her, when she feels as worthless as she can, it will be the final act of a government that doesn’t care about her.

So today, while my wife recovers from her ordeal and tries not to slip into a further depression which may last weeks, I am going to start the process of appealing the initial assessment.

We tried to engage this process constructively, we wanted and hoped that we might get some help, and that Greté might get some support to work despite the significant challenges she faces. But it is clear to me that the process itself is not constructive, that actually it doesn’t care about the effect working for a living might have on someone’s health, it cares only about getting that person off benefit and into a job. Should they fall sick again afterwards, or indeed, God forbid, should they become so sick they commit suicide, the process doesn’t care and for a short time at least the person is off benefit and killing themselves slowly in a day job.

I will not allow anyone to make my wife more ill. No matter how healthy she appears day to day, the very act of working for a living could put her life at risk, and I won’t allow it to happen. Ironically, if she were in work right now, she’d be signed off sick due to the anxiety and additional depression the recent few weeks and months have brought on.

You may feel I am being melodramatic. I have no idea how much you know about mental illness, depression, anxiety or any of the other issues that myself and my wife live with on a day to day basis, but I promise you, there is no exaggeration here, no drama for the sake of it.
Just an amazing wife who suffers from a terrible, invisible illness.

I do not know what I expect you to do with this letter, I guess I just mostly want you to know how current policy is affecting real people.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.”