Relapse. There it is. In black and white. After nearly three years of slow progress towards a semblance of stability, in March I found myself referred to the Single Point of Access by my GP, following what felt like a major setback.
I'm avoiding the term 'breakdown' because I know I have been much lower, for longer, in the past. However, given that I had been contemplating ways to go back to paid work, this time last year, to be faced with the full extent of my regression and loss of emotional stability, felt like a slap in the face.
The major trigger? The ongoing uncertainty over my financial stability and the emotional impact of going through a PIP appeals process which is destined to end in a court hearing where I have to prove that the impact of my emotional and mental instability significantly impacts my daily life. I returned my request for a tribunal on 10th January 2017 and am still awaiting a hearing date. That along with the hardship caused by losing two thirds of my income in one fell swoop has had a devastating impact on my ability to manage the symptoms of my condition. I became exhausted with the effort of trying to manage my day to day life. Something the PIP payments are supposed to help with. Eventually, I became so exhausted I started to press my self destruct button, repeating self defeating behaviours from the past, because it seemed that no matter how hard I worked to maintain my recovery it seemed as if I were the mole in the arcade game and circumstances, particularly the system designed to support me and which I had paid into for most of my life, was wielding the large mallet which was constantly crashing me down, every time I managed to push myself up again.
Meanwhile, a decision on my PIP payments, which replaced the DLA is still awaited. The process has now lasted nearly ten months. I have never received any mobility payments, but the additional daily care component had allowed me to continue to work on a part time basis for nearly two years more than I would otherwise have been able to following my initial diagnosis. I am in 'limbo' unable to move forward towards paid employment, paralysed by a complex mix of stigma, over qualification, lack of transport options and the lack of confidence caused by my experiences of employers and interviews over the past five years. Who wants to take a chance on someone with my mental health history?
This situation became untenable, the skills which were helping me to maintain a level of stability were essentially rendered useless as I was overwhelmed by the complexities of a situation beyond my control.
The good news is that in the time since my last referral into Mental Health Services, there has been a recognition that for someone like me, a hospital ward is not a positive environment, nor is it somewhere that I seek to be to find safety. I am currently under the care of the Home Treatment Team (HTT), but needed acute care in the initial crisis period. I was offered a place on the Acute Therapy Service (ATS), an intensive six day placement which required me to travel to a local unit where I spent time undergoing a booster for mindfulness and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, in addition to Occupational Therapy approaches, Mentalisation, Holistic therapies (I opted for head, shoulders and neck massage) and art therapy.
As with DBT, the success of the ATS requires a high degree of motivation towards self management. Having benefited from the 18 month DBT programme I found that I was able to refresh some critical skills I had lost over time, as well as having a fresh approach from an OT perspective to 'regrouping'. Throughout there was a recognition that during my stay some 'magic bullet' which would have removed all the factors in my life that ground me down, was impossible. There is no such thing. What I was provided with was space to let go of the pressure to keep going regardless of my ability to do so, space to remind myself about the importance of self care and self compassion and most importantly an effective structure in which to begin to regain my sleep routines. As with the main DBT programme I left with a reminder of what I could manage, my limits, a structure in which to regain my emotional stability and most of all, a belief that I could cope.
The uncertainty around the PIP has not changed, in addition there is destabilising atmosphere of an election campaign which offers little hope of respite of those affected by 'Welfare Reforms' - I am accepting that this environment is too strong for me to fight on my own. Above all, the injustice inherent in the PIP assessment process is something which I cannot win against on my own. I must stop 'tilting at windmills' and use what energy I have to survive and hope that I can regain what has been lost through this period of relapse. Above all, I am reminded that recovery is not a straight line.