I’m HIV+ and dealing with depression and in practical terms that means I lack energy and I get anxious and I find paperwork and officialdom daunting. I’m on Employment & Support Allowance and Housing Benefit and receive lower rates of DLA for care and mobility. That said, I undertake permitted work, I can earn up £92 per week on top of my benefits, though work has been scarce.
On September 8 I went for a medical assessment as instructed by the benefit system. On September 14, and again on Sept 28, I received my E&SA direct into my account as usual. In October I noticed my bank account was getting closer and closer to my overdraft limit. Finally, yesterday, October 27 I went through my bank statements and worked out what was missing and phoned the DWP.
The nurse who had examined me at the medical assessment deemed me fit for work and so my E&SA has been stopped. I now have the option of appealing or going on to a lower rate, i.e. Jobseeker’s Allowance. No one informed me of this decision, so in the meantime I’ve had to top up my bank account with a credit card.
I saw my GP today and he assured me I am not fit for work, and I am not to blame, and that he will support me as necessary. I’ve written to my Tory MP asking for help and to have the E&SA reinstated. I see my psychiatrist tomorrow, an appointment I already have as she is helping me deal with anxiety. I see a disability rights advisor in a week to make my E&SA appeal.
I’m lucky. I am articulate and have friends who support me. But I feel very much as if the rug has been pulled out from under me. The poem that keeps going round and round in my head is this one:
what does it mean to self-harm?
self-harm is a broad term for many acts that cause personal harm,
from not looking after your needs - to scratching, cutting, burning
or hitting yourself, swallowing or putting things inside you.
why do some people self-harm?
self-harming is a way of dealing with unbearable feelings. You
may be overwhelmed by painful emotions. Injuring yourself
may help you cope.
is self-harming attention seeking?
self-harm is often treated with mistrust. If someone you care about self-harms,
you may feel helpless when faced with their wounds,
and your own feelings may cause you to blame them.
is self-harm an attempt to commit suicide?
self-harm is about trying to stay alive. Many more people self-
harm than commit suicide, and most people don't risk their lives.
Of those who do - killing themselves may not be their intention.
No one should have to suffer physical or verbal abuse for being who they are, regardless of their race, sexuality, faith, disability, whatever. On Saturday 23 October there will be Candlelit Vigils organised by the No To Hate Crime Campaign in Toronto, London, Brighton, and Norwich. The Vigils began as a response to the nail bomb attacks in London some years ago, and are an opportunity for the silent majority to show their support for the vulnerable, and their opposition to the bigots.
I had every intention of joining the vigil in Norwich, but I’ve been invited to perform poetry in Sheringham, Norfolk, at the launch of the Coast Festival, and so, long story short, I’m organising a vigil of my own.
I’m a member of the newly formed North Norfolk Pride and at a meeting, two school leavers told us about the homophobic bullying they had endured while at school in Sheringham.
The recent review ‘How Fair is Britain’ published by the Equality & Human Rights Commission states that two-thirds of lesbian, gay and transgender secondary students report that they have been victims of often severe bullying (17% of those bullied reported having received death threats).
At first I worried that no one else would turn up, but as my friend Trudy rightly said, “If it’s just you and me and a candle, so what? It’s still worth it.”
In actual fact the response has been very positive. People have helped decide the best place to hold the vigil, and offered shelter if wet, flyers have been designed, invitations sent out to various networks, and the Chief Executive of North Norfolk District Council, Philip Burton, has agreed to attend and explain the council’s view on Hate Crime.
I’m not suggesting that North Norfolk is a Hate Crime hot spot, far from it. However it has to be much better to be visible, let potential victims know there is support in the area, and let potential bigots know they will not be tolerated.
Vince Laws is organising a Candlelit Vigil Against Hate Crime on Lifeboat Plain in Sheringham on Saturday 23 October, from 7.30pm, with 2 minutes silence at 8pm, to coincide with vigils in Toronto, London, Brighton, and Norwich. Bring a jam jar and a candle and show your support. Meet in Oddfellows Hall if wet.
Earlier this year, frustrated with the difficulties of finding gallery space, I rented a whole church and put together a group of artists whose work I like and we called ourselves The Norwich Dandies. Last weekend the Dandies took part in a Wellbeing Festival outside the Forum in Norwich, promoting the five ways to wellbeing, i.e. Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning, and Give, as created by the New Economics Foundation.
Eloise brought all the bits and pieces needed to make recycled chandeliers. I took in a box of magazines, scissors and glue to make collage poems. But it was Dugald and Chrissy’s idea that took off, and in the end we all focussed on that and had a fabulous day.
They brought in a wardrobe of costumes and wigs and accessories and invited members of the public to’ Dress as a Dandy!’ Once dressed, the brand new Dandy lay on our open-air chaise lounge and one or more of us stood at the easel and painted them. Before long, members of the public were queuing up, trying on outfits, and also doing the painting.
Next we opened a Gallery inside our Gazebo and filled a wall in no time. “I haven’t painted for 45 years,” said one chap, before producing a colourful likeness of the rock chick before him. “I love it!” said a woman delighted with her portrait, and in no time she was back with a friend who wanted to take part too.
There’s no doubt in my mind that we connected, the public got active, passers-by took notice, all ages learnt, and the artists gave the sitters their work – result.
The Norwich Dandies are available!