Evening. Today I advanced another year, to 47. Getting closer to that half century. Every birthday, I reflect on the year past.
Ever since late November/early December 2018, it’s been traumatic to say the least. Suffice it to say that my health, mental and physical, has not been good. Of course, there have been some brighter moments, but these have been few and far between. It’s been a constant battle to stay afloat.
Last November, I went through one of these government ordered Work Capability Assessments, and as usual, the whole experience was cold, demeaning and hugely humiliating. But more of that in a minute.
A few weeks later, I attended a Christmas party at SANE, the UK mental health charity that I volunteer for. The whole evening I found a struggle, I felt claustrophobic and succumbing to a panic attack, I headed for home.
Christmas wasn’t that inspiring and then the start of 2019 was desperate. The Work Capability Assessment found me fit to work and removed one of my financial lifelines, in a trice. That sent me into a mental tailspin and thought dark, sinister thoughts about what the future might hold for me.
I appealed this decision via something called a Mandatory Reconsideration. The reply was best described as arrogant nonsense, as though I’m making up all my issues and I know precious little. I had no money for 2 months or so, and the little money I had saved was dwindling. I decided to go to my doctors to get him to help. I was paid some backdated money while the appeal was being considered, and I was provided some help in going to a tribunal.
For the previous few months, my brother in law was ill with cancer. He seemed to be making good progress until he became very unwell in February. This was putting an enormous strain on me and my sister’s immediate family, and all thoughts were with brother in law as a rapid deterioration started to set in. I made it to the hospital to see him for one last time in late February and it wasn’t good. That’s how I don’t want to remember him. A very distressing time.
Come March, which should be a time for hope and optimism, my brother in law passed away. Even now as I type, I can’t quite believe it. My sister has borne the brunt of the strain for a while and is the strongest person I know or am likely to know.
The funeral was delayed while I, reluctantly, took a few days away to gather my thoughts. When I returned, the problems were still there. Three brown envelopes on the doormat – YOUR MONEY HAS BEEN STOPPED. Crushed, I had to carry on and try and be strong for the family. An awful time for all of us.
Then cricket season came along in April. Typically it was cold and dank, reflecting my mood. All of a sudden, I started to settle into scoring and some umpiring, albeit on a limited basis via my club. But if there wasn’t enough issues casting this dark cloud over me, another one cropped up where I felt unappreciated and undervalued. There were some brighter moments but overall, I’ve just run out of energy and enthusiasm. The cricket I’ve done recently has been sporadic and some of the fun has gone out of it, because that’s what some people actually want it seems. Not interested I’m afraid.
And then to the appeal tribunal last Friday. My sister came with me, and the wait to defend myself was like waiting to face a firing squad. It would have been more humane. Armed with a wad of papers as big as an encyclopaedia, I had some help from a local advocacy service. The lady dealing with my caseload has written a powerful and informed letter.
I sat down, terribly anxious as one might expect. I answered the questions as truthfully as I could muster, and before I could say any more, the presiding judge announced “YOU HAVE WON YOUR APPEAL”. The original and factually incorrect initial decision had been reversed. When those words were uttered I broke down, partly in relief, but partly of upset and anger about the distress that has been part of my life for the last year.
I still cannot bring myself to feel elated or joyous. I feel it’s vindication and a confirmation of what my issues are and how they dominate my life. I also feel it’s justice. My sister said the initial decision was wrong and we stuck with the whole process until the bitter end. I could have given up and there were times when that was the better option. But I have amazing support and the tribunal judge and doctor were utterly fair and impartial, asking me relevant questions, not a standard tick box exercise to satisfy quotas and ideology. That advocacy letter swayed their decision and the judge recommended that I have a two year moratorium from being assessed. I know that this will crop up again in the future but for now, justice has been done and seen to be done.
And I have faith in the UK judicial system too. And that’s the second time I’ve won an appeal. The last time was in 2012. The weight of evidence was not dismissed out of hand as historical and irrelevant (the State’s words, not mine). It was carefully considered and the right outcome has been achieved.
So here we are today. 12th August 2019. I’m 47 years old, hoping the next twelve months will be a lot better. They can’t be a lot worse. One thing hasn’t changed however, the weather is rubbish and it hasn’t stopped raining for two weeks. But on the day of the tribunal appeal, the sun shone briefly for A.S.D Brooks. Hoping for more sunshine in the next year.
Thanks for listening.