One of the things about mental illness is that it makes it really hard to do things. Case in point: I have a folder with applications for about three different WINZ grants, which I desperately want (even need), but I’ve been working on completing them over a period of several weeks. It’s hard to describe exactly how difficult this process is. For starters, just pulling them out to go over reminds me of every single thing I know about the current “low welfare rolls = success” policy, which considering I study social policy and have a particular interest in disability policy is quite a bit. Admittedly some of it is from overseas, particularly the UK, but reminding myself of that doesn’t necessarily help because then the other part of my brain points out the slow creep we’re seeing here towards the same policies as the UK. We already have private contractors who get paid for taking people off the SLP, and if they only work with some “clients” now, when is that going to change? (I hate the terminology of the market that social welfare has adopted. We’re not clients. We’re not purchasing a service. We’re citizens who pay taxes into the system and who almost everyone but the most hardcore libertarian agrees the government has a responsibility to. And yes, even people who’ve never worked pay taxes. Benefits are taxed for starters, and there’s also GST.)
Every piece of certification they ask for also requires an effort to get hold of. If you have a mental illness that inhibits motivation, makes social interaction difficult, increases fatigue, makes it hard for you to understand beaurocracy-speak or any number of other things, this isn’t going to be as simple as ringing a place up and just asking for it. Sometimes the people who need to give you something don’t actually understand exactly what it is, so you have to explain it to them, if you even know yourself. You have to constantly fight the internalised messages that tell you you don’t actually deserve to get onto the benefit anyway, you’re just a hypochondriac out to rout the system, you’re lazy, you could do this if you wanted to, and that makes you a bit defensive and a bit unwilling to be too demanding, which increases the chances that you’ll get the wrong thing and have to go back, and going back is even harder because now you’re just being a drain on their resources. Like, apparently there are two different forms for the disability allowance. I have the standard one signed by my doctor, but when I went for a needs assessment at the Phobic Trust they gave me one specifically for counseling with their section filled out, and now I have to take that to my doctor. I can’t just use the one that’s already filled out. And going around to physically get things that you need costs you both time and money. I’ve complained before about how expensive public transport in Wellington is – if I need to go and get a document from the Phobic Trust, it involves a train trip and a bus trip each way, all placed on discount cards that give me about 10% off the cash price or whatever, but it still adds up to $14. Fourteen dollars to get part of what I need for a disability allowance that tops out at $60 a week (and which will pay for something that’s $129 every fortnight, who can do basic math here?), or a special needs grant for a total of $119 to reimburse the cost of the needs assessment which I had to put on my credit card, or a supported living payment of about $255 a week.
Right now, the very last things I need are: the section asking my income for the last 52 weeks, which I’ve decided I’m going to estimate because while I could find out on the IRD website, I can’t create an account because I already have one under my IRD number but they can’t tell me my forgotten log in details because there’s no account under my IRD number and honestly I just cannot with calling them (they have a service for hearing impaired people to contact them… by fax); my GP to fill out his section of the disability allowance for counseling form, complete a work capacity certificate, and write a medical certificate. I’ve written him a letter explaining what I need done (1/3 of a page) and then justifying why I need this and what I could do if I had it and how bad my current situation will become if it stretches out for two more years (2/3 of a page), and I still kind of want to add more to it. Now I just have to take all of those forms and the letter in to the clinic and ask if he can do them between patients or if I need to make an appointment. This is literally the last step before I can finally bring everything to WINZ, and I’ve been putting it off since mid-yesterday morning. I’m scared that the waiting room will be crowded and my questions will be wasting their time. I’m scared that my doctor doesn’t think I’m that sick and will see me as some jumped up scrounger trying to play the system. I haven’t been here that long, I don’t have the kind of relationship with any medical professionals that I did with my last GP, but I have been here long enough that I can’t get anything to support my application from my last GP. I’m not her patient anymore. I’m scared my doctor will be fine with filling everything out but will tick something that WINZ thinks is wrong and decline me for the SLP, and if that happens then I can’t just blame myself for being lazy, it will be an actual external decision by a gatekeeper that I have no control over and which is in some ways a judgement of me, and that’s actually pretty terrifying. It would be easier to not get it because I “couldn’t be bothered” finishing the application than to be declined, I think. I’m scared he’ll say, or they’ll say, or someone will say, that my condition isn’t expected to last at this severity for at least two years and therefore I don’t qualify no matter how bad I think it is now, but don’t worry we’ll just put you on Jobseekers with a medical exemption (same money I’m getting now but can’t study on it, which might mess up my student allowance and leave me having to deal with the fallout). And while I can appeal a decision, if just applying for it is this hard, how hard would it be to say “actually, I think you’re wrong, and I demand someone take the time to review my case”?
Rationally I can recognise that I’m in a pretty ragged place emotionally, that this is a little bit like I felt in the lead up to the nervous breakdown I had when I was about 20, and that if I want help I have to jump through the hoops to get it. But the beast of mental illness is that it’s inherently not rational. Everyone else sees these enormous hoops a foot or two off the ground, but to me they’re mini hula hoops the height of my head, oh and also they’re on fire. Meanwhile every time I have to, I don’t know, talk to someone or perform a simple task, I just want to yell, “Oh my god leave me alone, can’t you see I have these fiery hoops of death to get through and I’m trying to figure out how to keep from setting myself alight???” Which, to an outside observer, would look absolutely crazy.