I received the dreaded Form ESA50 from Atos this last Thursday. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a Limited Capability for Work Questionnaire, which you have to fill out if claiming Employment Support Allowance if you are unable to work (or can only work in a limited way) due to illness or a long term health condition. I’ve been in the Support Group for the past 2 years and rightfully so given the risks, hospitalisations and how unwell I’ve been. However, I’m now making progress and taking steps towards recovery, including venturing into the world of voluntary work. I’m perfectly happy to be re-allocated from the Support Group to the Work Related Activity Group as a move back towards employment but given all the horror stories of the incompetence and unfair decisions of Atos, I’m concerned they will see me fit for work right now, which is actually not true. So why does this prompt me to consider the fragility of recovery? Well, due to the following:
- Just receiving the form sent me into a borderline style mess of dysregulated emotions. The already high anxiety I am currently experiencing on a daily basis, due to attempts to progress my recovery, sky-rocketed in moments. I had a panic attack, I was crying and I was entering into my familiar thought pattern of catastrophic thinking. In those few moments, given all the news of unfair decisions etc, I saw my future:
- I’d fill in the form and be called for an assessment with Atos (I’ve never been to one before having been so unwell that I was placed in the Support Group with information from my doctors and the ESA50 alone).
- Given that I present myself well and I am articulate and don’t like to admit to the extent of the problems I have due to shame, I’ll be deemed fit to work right now.
- I’ll be on JSA and be pushed into unsuitable employment and too many hours.
- I’ll manage for a short period of time in employment, a few weeks, maybe even a couple of months (as has been the pattern in the past when I’ve forced myself too quickly back into too much work).
- After that, I’ll be unable to hang on any more and my mood will deteriorate to the point of my old friends of self harm and suicide starting to call.
- All the hard work in DBT and the progress towards recovery that I have already initiated of my own accord will be lost.
- I’ll end up in a cycle of self harm, hospitalisations and possibly even dead.
See how skilled I am at this catastrophic thinking lark 🙂
- There is the inescapable inevitability that this form will take some time and effort to fill in. I will have to admit to the problems my mental health can cause in terms of my ability to work and this causes me much shame. I’ve already spent 2 and a half hours filling in the form, (in chunks) and a lot more time will be required. After that there’s the wait to receive a letter from Atos, followed by the wait for the actual assessment appointment, the appointment itself and then again another wait to receive the decision from the DWP as to how they view my capability to work (despite what my doctors say). This is a lot of stress and anxiety over a prolonged period of time. My anxiety prior to receiving this letter was leaving me drained and physically exhausted and this is likely to continue due to the worry over ESA. Anxiety breaks down my will to fight and struggle with life, it impacts on my sleep and thereby my mood. A prolonged period of anxiety might in itself result in me being too unwell to work even at my 1 day a week voluntary role at the CAB.
These feelings, catastrophic thinking process and my past experiences and vulnerability, make me ponder the question: How fragile is my recovery?
I frequently joke that I’m cured (although I wasn’t joking in Jan-Feb whilst hypomanic, I really did think I was cured). However, the simple receipt of an item of post sent me into old, familiar and very problematic thinking and emotions. I was a pool of Borderline mess. The great bit about this situation was that I could recognise this quickly, acted wisely and managed the intense and frightening emotions much better than I previously would have done. I didn’t wake up the next morning in hospital due to the fallout and I didn’t even have urges to harm. That is a massive improvement for me! But it does show me that my emotional resilience leaves a little to be desired. I need to acknowledge that although, superficially, I am doing much better in terms of chaos and self harm, I am easily tipped into problematic thinking and extremely intense emotions. I’m making huge steps towards recovery but taking on too much at this stage is more than likely to lead to setbacks in my recovery (although perhaps not to the extent my little catastrophic mind likes to revel in :)).
I’m early on in my journey to recovery and it’s fragile and needs handling with care.