In a few days, I have to go to court. I haven't stolen anything, I haven't assaulted someone. I haven't even done anything wrong. In fact, I have no convictions at all. I guess you could say I'm a model citizen. Except I'm not. I've done something awful, in the eyes of the UK Government. I'm ill. I have a long-term illness.
So at a Tribunal, with two strangers, I will detail the intimate details of my illness. They will dissect it, pour over it, punch holes in it. They will look for a way to make me a liar. They will squeeze me through loopholes, hammer me into them until I fit. Then, they will make a decision. This decision will be based on no real knowledge of my illness. This decision will largely ignore the facts I'm presenting. And the prize that we're desperately wrangling over? Whether or not I'm entitled to £135 every two weeks. Which is only enough to 'live' on, because I'm still living at home, completely supported by my mother. I already know that they will decide that I'm not 'sick enough', and I will be deemed fit for work. Because I won't gain the 15 points the system requires, for you to be deemed 'not fit for work.' I can't explain to anyone how harrowing this is, but I'm going to try.
Imagine you are very ill. Most often every day. Imagine you can't go out, because of your symptoms. Imagine that you can't eat what you want, because of your symptoms. Imagine that everything is scrunity. You can't go out to a restaurant, or the cinema, or down to the shops, you always need to know where the nearest bathroom is, you need to know if you'll pass out if you take any more tablets, you need to think before you just pick up that drink and drink it, you need to plan for hours before you can just swan out of the house and come back in one piece. Everything is a military operation, everything.
Now imagine that the very worst day of your sometimes upset-stomach is every day. Imagine that the nausea on the worst day of your random-bug, is every day. Imagine that on the days you have no choice but to go out, you are so terrified of becoming ill, that by the time you get home, you are a wreck. And if you can, please imagine that you are terrified of hospitals and needles, but the pain sometimes gets so bad, so uncontrolled by the 15 tablets a day you're in, that you could end up in A&E at any moment. That you've had more hospital stays in the last 6 years than most people have in their lifetime. Also imagine that your self-esteem, because of this, is zero. That you self-harm, because you hate the cage your body has become. Imagine that you regularly look at your body, and the operation scars, and needle holes, and remnants of what the entire illness has done to you, and still does to you, and you cannot imagine how anyone would ever want you. Imagine being 29 years old, and feeling like you're on the scrap-heap.
With me? Joyous. Now imagine that in order to stay stable, in order to not throw yourself off the nearest bridge, you start to do things at home, understandably, to fill your time. You read, you go online, you do anything that will fill your day with something brighter than agony, and opiates, and looking at your dinner and being too terrified to eat it. Then imagine going to a tribunal, in front of two strangers. Imagine telling them about your bowel habits, in excruciating embarrassing detail, your mental problems, how you are admitted to hospital time and time again, with valid blood-test results that say Something Is Wrong. Then imagine them turning around, and saying they don't believe you. Imagine them telling you that your symptoms, real and true as they are, are "improbable". Imagine having them say that because you can go on the internet at home, (which, as anyone knows, someone with a even terminal illness can still do) that means you're obviously fit for work.
Imagine going through 6 years of surgeries, of Hell and Hospitals, and then being called a liar.
That's what happened to me at my last tribunal. And I know it's going to happen at this one. Because this government has gone to the dogs. This government can't look at someone with a degree, and an ounce of intelligence, who obviously doesn't want to be on sickness benefits long term, but needs the minimum help they can possibly give, and not write them off. Everyone keeps telling me that it won't be the same as last time (the last judge I had was known to be horribly harsh), but all I can think is yes, it will. I know it will. Because this government wants as many people off my benefit as they can, and once they deem you fit for work, that's it. You can't appeal, you can't fight it. You just sit there, with no money coming in, unable to work, and a mother at retirement age, who cannot continue to support you financially. A mother who was getting chest pains the last time you were admitted to hospital. A mother who your ill-health is making ill herself.
But no, don't be glum, sweetheart! You're fit for work! You can handle a full time job! You running to the bathroom 5 times a day isn't a problem! You being spaced out on opiates isn't a problem! Of course not. They won't mind if you call in sick once a week! Don't worry your pretty head. Because that's where it is, you know? In your head. You're not ill. You're fine. You can work. You will work. Not convinced by sweetness? Then you're a liar, my love. You're wrong. We know that now. It has been written. So you look at your life, and you fucking love it. Don't dare start thinking of those 15 pills a day as a way out. You should cope. You will cope. And oh, you can fight to prove otherwise, little darling, but we won't believe you anyway. You're fucked. Remember that. You have no choice. Remember. Now, sweetheart, about work. When can you start? Because remember, you have no money coming in. Tick tock, tick tock.
The last two days, I have spent mostly in the bathroom. The last two days, I have spent mostly terrified to eat. The last two days, I have taken so many tablets, I don't feel as though I'm in my own body. The last two days, I have actually considered that I'd be better off dead.
In the next two days, I will be deemed fit for work. Imagine that.
Then be glad you are only imagining.