Tag: employment

Constant anticipation of the next error – and consequential disaster: Part #1

I try hard to look for good things to appreciate. I’m trying to counteract my anxiety and overwhelming emotions by looking for the positive, hopeful things that can come from a situation. (It’s something of a DBT technique which I’ll elaborate on in another post.) I’m told I’m not yet very good at finding positive things about myself. I think gradually I’m getting better at seeing positive things in the outside world.

However in some areas it’s hard not to not only feel overwhelmed by both emotions and external negative events and also to expect them.

Benefits is a case in point right now and it has been for years, every single time I’ve needed to claim a Benefit when I haven’t been able to work / haven’t been able to work full time, because of my health.

Today, I received a letter from the Tax Credit Office about an error made in my tax credits earlier this year, when I was working at the department store. I was aware of that mistake. They had incorrectly recorded the income figures I had given them and given me only partial information about eligibility. Consequently they paid me tax credits I wasn’t entitled to. The letter I received today was rather confusing but essentially confirmed that. So far, that wasn’t too bad – I will have to pay back the overpaid money when they ask for it but I already knew that.

Next, I opened two letters from the Housing Benefit Department. The first contained two award notices both almost the same but with completely confusing dates, entitlement and income figures. What’s that about, I wondered. One of them was marked “change in personal circumstances”. What change in circumstances? I haven’t had a change recently. I opened the second letter from Housing Benefits, with a certain sense of foreboding!

Yup, disaster again. The letter told me that the Housing Benefit Department had been informed by the tax office that I am in receipt of working tax credit, therefore I am working and my housing benefit has been suspended until I give them details of my new job and current income.

Oh my days. I assume they have received a copy of the letter I got from Tax Credits. If they took time to actually read the letter, they would have seen it was saying that I am not entitled to tax credits. If they had looked at the dates in the letter (not to mention previous documentation I’ve supplied them and previous discussions I’ve had with them about my receipt of tax credits) they would have seen that it referred to a period earlier this year, not to now. They also know that I am not working – I have given them proof that I am currently in receipt of Employment Support Allowance because I am not working because of my health.

So, my housing benefit has been stopped. I will have to contact my landlord on Monday to explain why the benefits payments have stopped. I will have to contact Housing Benefits and try to prove to them that I am not working. This will probably involve chasing around the tax office and the other oxus involved in my employment support allowance. I have to make a written statement and gather together copy documents from my employment support allowance claim and tax credits. Quite probably I will have to take this in to the housing office, queue for a long time to see someone, which physically I cannot cope with at the moment as I can walk so little. My anxiety has skyrocketed because of the financial problems this suspension in my housing benefit will cause. Worse, from my past experience, once one benefit gets stopped, all the other benefits get stopped too. I am anticipating that I’ll be contacted by the employment support allowance office next week saying they’ve received information I’m working so my benefit has been stopped. Then I’ll have nothing coming in.

This may sound like an exaggeration but it has happened to me and to friends of mine before. And it could all so, so easily have been avoided. How easily the housing benefit office could have seen that the correspondence referred to months ago. How easily they could have checked with the tax office to see if I was working. How easily they could have made a quick phonecall to me or my support worker, if something wasn’t clear or they needed a particular piece of evidence. Wouldn’t this have cost them less, as well as me? The situation would have been resolved in minutes. Instead they have sent out a letter, required a statement, someone has to take copies of this, take copies of documentation, probably see me for an appointment, restart everything, set up payments to my landlord again (God willing!). Even without counting the cost and distress and anxiety caused to me, it is a hive waste of resources and confusion for nothing.

Since I first had to claim Benefits in something like January 2015, I reckon I have been paid the correct amount I was entitled to for a maximum of one month at a time, before the next error or mess-up has occurred and at least one of my Benefits has been cut, stopped or refused incorrectly – and completely avoidably. Last year when I rented as a lodger in a private landlord’s family home, this array of errors left me so very close to being on the street; if it were not for an extremely generous friend who paid my rent one month, I would have been out with nowhere to go. It is hugely fortunate that I now live in a housing association flat where I will not be thrown out immediately if there is a problem with my housing benefit. It is hugely fortunate I have the expertise of my support worker who will help me get this resolved as fast as possible and stop me going to pieces in the meantime. Most people don’t have those two blessings.

I don’t want to complain and whinge and expect money for nothing. I don’t think I deserve other people’s constant support. I could very well have nothing. I need to try to become independent and able to support myself. Support doesn’t come for nothing and I should expect to take responsibility, not have everything handed to me.

I think one thing that makes it so hard is when you have been through every process as well as you can, given all the information asked of you, taken all the steps you can, and despite this everything still crumbles. My experiences over the years tell me as soon as there’s any stability, it gets taken away again through error or miscommunication, despite all your best efforts. And the error seems to have an effect like tumbling dominoes on all the other areas of your life there is any stability. Losing stability has immediate big consequences when you have very little to live on. It also drains all your energy, time and emotional resources, which go into trying to correct the error before disaster point (losing your home, no money for food, etc) rather than leaving you any strength to recover, contribute something to your community in your day to day life, benefit from opportunities that might make your situation better (and even maybe less dependent on social and state support, not that needing it is a bad thing). When you are constantly using all your resources fighting the next mistake and next disaster, trying to ensure that you have the basics you need to get by, in a state of anticipation of the next disaster so you can try to minimise or allow for its impact; when you feel as if you’re being knocked back, kept vulnerable, denied any security, despite your hardest work to set things right; then there is no way you can do more than just get by, in a constant state of strain.

So, I’m wondering what I can change. It seems I cannot change the fact that mistakes constantly occur, despite me trying my hardest to do the best I can for my part and to take steps to pre-empt the problems. I don’t want to feel so spent, trapped, angry, vulnerable and at risk as I do at the moment as a result of the repeated cycle of mistakes.

So, what can I change?

[Part 2 to follow, not that I have any answers yet! Thoughts are most greatly welcome, as ever.]

Ginny xxx

 

All change…

Officially, my last day of work at the department store was yesterday, although as I am currently signed off sick, I was not actually in work. Last week I had my exit meeting with my manager (handing back my ID and keys etc) and said goodbye to my closest colleagues. I’ll be popping in again this week to say bye in person to a few people I was not able to see, and deliver some notes of thanks. They gave me a reed diffuser in a summery freesia scent, which is already providing a perfect calming aroma in my lounge, as well as a card wishing me well. I hope that I keep in touch, in particular with a few people from the department where I worked. We found a lot in common in the months I was there.

So it’s all change again now. I’m sad to leave. I’ll miss people – colleagues and some customers. I’ll miss the creativity. I’ll miss some aspects of the routine and order. I feel bad for having to go after I’d got to grips with things, received training and my colleagues and manager had put time in to show me what to do and support me into my role. They are all incredibly understanding and caring over my situation that has led me to need to leave and that helped me a lot; I still feel bad for leaving the team and leaving more work back on other people. I guess the good side of that is I must have had some confidence, in the end, that whilst I was there I did manage to do some good. Before I started this job I felt utterly useless, unable to trust that I could do any good because my previous employer seemed to find me so deficient. I see now that at the store I gained a tiny bit of confidence, as well as knowledge.

I’m amazingly anxious and I’m not quite sure why. I’m feeling it physically and feeling shaken and near crumbling and crying and really wishing someone could hold me and tell me it would be alright. I don’t know exactly what is causing this. I’m teetering on the edge of dissociating but I’m staying on this fragile edge instead of slipping over. On the edge are raw and exhausting emotions and I’m spinning and spiralling rather than falling into the safety in the hidden mist of dissociating. It’s painful. I’m trying to use my grounding techniques and self soothing and trying, if only in tiny moments, to avoid falling over that edge. Dissociating may be a relief but the pain it causes me afterwards, and others during, is even worse.

I’m trying to find the way through the next steps now that I will not be working for a while (on my GP’ s and support worker’s and others’ advice). I’m confused about all the forms I have to complete and assessments I have to go through. I’m scared of how they’ll judge me. Scared of whether I’ll manage financially. Scared of so many things that are making me feel trapped, not believed, going into the unknown…. I’m so thankful I have my support worker guiding me through, otherwise I’d implode and go back to shutting down and hurting myself out of fear and pain and flashbacks. I’m so thankful I’m not alone. I’m trying to find ways that this instance of having to leave work – because I’ve lost or head to leave more jobs than I can cope with counting, for the same reasons every time – is not yet another repeat of this cycle and is not only another failure, loss, or let down to those who have tried to help me. I’m trying to find ways I can make this different. I have therapy now. I have my doctors and support worker. I have a home. God willing I am soon going to have some more social interaction and a place to contribute something, in a mental health charity I’ve been referred to. These all count for a lot in stopping me going so deep over the edge and now I pray I can build something good from this place.

Ginny xxx

5 Things – update

I’m sorry for the late update. Yesterday took a rather unexpected turn. If I tell you one thing to be thankful for was the nice A&E doctor, you’ll start to get the picture! :-0 🙂

I fainted at work and had so much pain I went to A&E. I wasn’t sure whether to go or not especially as this is now chronic, but work pushed for me to go.  It was the worst pain yet. It was probably the right choice to go as if things had got even worse later at home I’d only have been even more stuck and maybe ended up going anyway. As it was, they were able to give me a stronger dose of analgesics which have started to control the pain so that is really good. It took about 4 hours before I could walk slowly without feeling so dizzy I thought I’d faint again. I got discharged home in the late afternoon.

Roll on the surgery…

Still, I promised to update with the 5 things I’m thankful for, so here goes:

1 – That I have a caring manager and colleagues who really did seem to care more about my health than the trouble my absence would cause on a busy Saturday. How different this was from all my previous experience.

2 – The particularly caring doctor at A&E. It matters so much to feel listened to and that a plan is put in place to manage and cope better with symptoms when they can’t necessarily be cured immediately.

3 – The friend who most unexpectedly was in the area and came to bring me some grocery essentials and stayed to talk a while.  Someone caring enough to go out of their way to give practical help and give me company made a huge difference.

4 – A sea of beautiful daffodils spotted on the way to work. Pretty things are close at hand if you force yourself to look.

5 – My hot water bottle and my blanket!

Ginny xx

 

 

You don’t waste good

“You don’t waste good.” [Or, Gibbs’ Rule #5, for NCIS fans 😉 ]

Don’t waste good…. I’m trying to hold on to that right now. Hold on. There is good even though it’s very hard to feel it right now. I have a home (for now). I have a job. I have an understanding employer. These things can be built on. Two very good friends seem to be able to see some hope that it will be alright, even though I can’t. Don’t waste good. Don’t waste it because I give up right now because it’s so scary and I don’t know how to get through this night. Don’t waste it because everything crumbles and I lose my job because I stop going to work and give in to the fear and drowning sensation that tells me to stay at home. Don’t waste it because I stop looking for little gifts and little joys – or big ones – my beautiful god children, compassion of a friend, something at work that makes me laugh, being able to try to do at least something to help people at work. Don’t waste it because I assume rejection and punishment is all I deserve and all I will get in the end. Don’t waste it because I get so wrapped up in my own little world and little problems that I miss chances to serve, chances to thank, chances to show compassion or do that little bit more to help another in some small way.

You don’t waste good.

Ginny xx

[“You don’t waste good,” – from NCIS Series ?8 episode “Baltimore”. All rights to NCIS series belong to CBS / Channel 5 and respective directors and artists]

Not working out….

“I shudder to think what the state of my in-tray would be if I was away from work for five days!”

“Yes, someone might slip dragon dung in it again, eh?” said Fred.

“That was a sample of fertilizer from Norway!” said Percy. “It was nothing personal!”

(JK Rowling, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”)

 

Well, I haven’t found any dragon dung yet, but I certainly have been having problems with my in-tray.  It has really not been a good few months at work and now everything has finally come crashing down.

All my life I’ve found a kind of escape in work.  As a primary school age child, I was taught at home by my mother who suffered severe mental illness.  Achievement, excelling and perfection was of such importance to her and the only way to avoid her accusations, threats, shouting, violent distress, which would erupt when I could not do something or did not do as she wanted. It was the only way to be safe by avoiding this explosion and avoiding the harm I appeared to cause, escaping the danger and catastrophes I believed would ensue or did ensue. (This probably warrants another post at some point.)

When I went to secondary school, I physically escaped her illness for a portion of the day. Soon I worked out that if I stayed at school as long as possible (extra clubs, volunteering, staying on to do some of my homework at school rather than going straight home at the end of the day of classes) I could escape for longer. Working in my bedroom in the evenings was preferable to staying under her intense gaze, or risking conflict if I was around her. Being used to the need for excellence, I worked as hard as I could, so though I was nothing particularly special or noteworthy I got good marks by virtue of the time I put in, and this too was “safe”. It secured her approval too sometimes.

I continued to work as hard as I could and give my all in every job I’ve had.  Perhaps it’s something that comes fairly naturally to me in my character.  If so it’s a gift I am thankful for.  It is very important to me to do a good job, give my best, serve the people I am working for properly, offer my work in prayer and dedication.

It has been a way to escape from the noise in my head, the hollow emptiness and uncertainty, flashbacks and panic attacks. Focussing on work takes me away from myself, to look outside and to others, to keep my concentration on the task in hand. Although I have never had much self-confidence, I have gradually learnt there are some areas I have some strengths and where, even if I may never be satisfied, my managers at times do seem to be. So whereas pervading most areas of my life I have suffocating fears that I am going to hurt someone, that I’m bad inside really, at work at least I can hope objectively to do some good, give a good service, help someone.

All that has come crashing down in the last few weeks. I’ve been on a phased return to work since I was last off sick after being in hospital.  I’d got up to about 4 days, to accommodate therapy appointments at hospital.  For several months the pressure of the workload seemed to be increasing.  I was getting more and more stressed and though it was agreed in principle for me to go to my appointments, there was not any support in terms of managing the workload or anyone covering during my absence, so work built up, causing more stress for me and more anger from my managers.  I tried to address this, together with the general atmosphere, which was becoming more and more uncomfortable and hostile.  I did manage to have a few brief discussions with managers and was never told that there was a problem with my work and my appraisal earlier in the year was, to my surprise, good as well.

A month or so ago the pressure built up to a point I could not cope with and I insisted that something needed to change.  At this point, I was told that there is not much on, it is not busy, nothing much is expected of me, everyone knows I cannot cope with the work, and people hold back giving me work because they know I can’t cope with it. The fact I do extra hours was used as a fact to support the idea I cannot cope with the work because it shows I can’t get the work done in the standard working hours (whilst I would say there was simply too much work to get through).

There were many other things said that were very upsetting which I won’t go in to here, partly because I don’t want to say anything directly identifiable to my employer.

But basically, I was told that I’m rubbish and I cannot cope with the job an don’t get through the work, and that I am not providing the kind of service that I am supposed to because people know I won’t be able to cope with it.

So many feelings went and are still going through my head over this.  Partly anger and shock, because I had found that it was busy and was giving everything I good even to the detriment of my health.  This was so contradictory to all the feedback I’d had before – why? Then fear and anxiety. I didn’t even know I was doing so badly or that people were so unhappy with me.  I mean, I knew they were unhappy with me, and thought they think I’m stupid and don’t do what they want quickly enough, but I hadn’t realised how incompetent I actually was.  It’s even worse that I did not realise how bad I was, because I fear so much in my life that there is something horrible and bad in me which I’m not aware of and can’t control, which hurts people and I don’t even realise it, means that my family even can’t stand to be around me.

I had hoped work was one area in which I could do some good but now this is gone too.  It was what I was clinging on to and trying to keep going.  Even though I could see in a way it was doing no good to me because I was so stressed and couldn’t cope with other areas of my life at the same time (not looking after my flat, not cooking, getting mixed up over bills, so drained I did not socialise with anyone outside of work).

I know that my concentration is not good, that I dissociate for periods of time and lose track of time when I am stressed and very upset.  I know I do not work as quickly as I used to.  I didn’t realise the extent of the effect it was having.  That I can’t do my job.  That my perception of the situation should be so different from other people’s – I thought I was giving everything, I thought there was pressure, when other people are saying there is no pressure, it isn’t busy, and I can’t do it. That is frightening to me.  According to my therapist, a disconnect between one’s own experiences and other people’s, and a difficulty dealing with this, or dealing with situations in which our emotions and feelings are different from others’, is common in personality disorders.

I don’t know where I go from here.  I called a couple of advice lines and they told me that possibly I have some case to say that more could have been done to support me, with more “reasonable adjustments” at work.  I looked into this and wrote down a case around this but I couldn’t go forward with it in the end.  I doubt my own perceptions and feelings too much and even writing it for myself, I felt like a complete fraud, that I’ve invented everything and the problems lie all with me not my employer.  The voices in my head are telling me I’m nasty, disgusting, invented it, liar, fake, you’ve invented a story to accuse people of things… I just cannot cope with that and know how much more intense it would be if I actually tried to put anything in. Crazy, I know, but that’s what goes on in my head.  I’m scared in the end that I’m just bad and evil and greedy inside.

In the end, my employer has told me I’m not coping with the job and not competent and I think I’ll probably be dismissed.  Even if not my GP and specialist have told me it’s too stressful an environment.  I need to get out of this role and do something less pressured and stressful and where I can engage in the therapy I’m doing at the minute, get to appointments and get support. I agree with them.  Even if I am dismissed or do have to take the decision to leave, the one good thing I can see is that at least I am choosing to try to do something to put my health first, for the first time. Not admitting what I need to do in the past has just led to things getting worse and worse.

But it’s scary right now. I’m signed off sick at the moment. I feel empty and frightened and anxious all at once and there’s too much space for the spiralling thoughts and fears in my head.  I’m trying to focus on positive and creative things. I don’t know how to trust myself at all because even in the last things that I trusted I could do properly, it seems actually I wasn’t doing a good job at all, and everyone except me knew it. So many jobs have ended in the past  and I so want to find something that is sustainable but where I can engage with my therapy as well.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on work if you’d like to share them. Is work a good experience or a bad one for you? What kind of work you find is good for you and something where you can give your skills and abilities? If you find part time work is helpful and how much flexibility you find employers can give to be able to go to therapy appointments as well as working?

It seems like a very anxious and uncertain path at the moment.

Ginny xx