Readers, I have committed a cardinal sin.

I quote, from a DWP representative who visited me for an hour, with me being the last one on her list of six for that day:

‘she … raised both arms up to her head running her fingers through her hair.’

That is an actual ‘observation’ of what it is like to live with MS.

Funnily enough, all her comments create an image of a meeting I don’t actually recall taking part in. Apparently I was ‘dressed appropriately for the climate and was well-kempt.’

If you consider a worn and old t-shirt and jogging bottoms (minus a bra) to be well-kempt, I would seriously worry. Likewise my hair, greasy and lank, which I hide under a woolly hat most days.

My ‘memory is good’.

Yeah, I wish.

I ‘handled my ID well’ – which is strange as my mother did that for me.

My ‘speech was normal and I showed no signs of distress’. So she obviously forgot when I asked her to give me a break and stop asking me question after question after question, with the sole aim of catching me out.

Apparently I ‘visit family often’. My mother lives two streets away, my sister a few miles. I haven’t seen my sister in months and my mother visits me by taxi.

I could go on but I won’t bore you with the endless lies.

One last thing, I was ‘chatty and engaged’, with ‘full eye contact’. Which is strange as she (the Assessor) never looked directly at me once. She was so disengaged she might as well have spoken to my back wall.

I am entering the sixth month of DLA to PIP assessment.

Six months.

And according to this person, I should go through this again every three years.

If I were to write about her in a DWP report, I would say:

‘zero eye contact, rude, abrupt, uncaring, disinterested.’

Two points?

Nul points?

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herniaAt first, I put it down to pasta.

Then croissants, lattes and wholegrain rice.

It started with a slow but distinct rumbling and gurgling in my stomach and I thought no more of it.

Until it started to grow.

The upshot is, I have a hernia. I mean, what? Huh? How?

I’ve been to my Doctor and I’m waiting for a scan (‘the same one you get when you’re pregnant. You’re not pregnant are you?’ chirruped my Doctor, as I chuckled), but this lump in my stomach doesn’t seem to want to wait and grow at a semi-decent rate  – it’s morphed from a cute little egg-size into a full-blown grapefruit in the space of weeks.

And it moves. Even the Doctor was impressed, and she’s probably seen everything, warts and all.

Of course, as with MS, I’ve been inundated with horror stories – aunties and uncles who ended up strangling their hernias or being strangled by them, hernias that popped, hernias that led to … more hernias. There’s even support groups out there, filled with more horror stories, along with some excellent advice (I am awaiting a hernia support belt – extra strong – as I write).

To be honest, it’s uncomfortable in the extreme. I may as well have a brick strapped to my stomach. I look weird in the mirror, my podgy belly is still there, but now with a pronounced lump on top of it.

In a bid to embrace this unexpected addition to my already raddled body, I’ve decided to name my hernia Phyllis. My MS has many names, most of which are too rude to publish. More often than not, it’s a malign shadow – the exact replica of my body, but completely different when it moves.

And that’s the great thing about hernias! Yup, there is one. It’s got a definable path. I know what to expect. I’ll most likely have a quick operation, where the Doctors open me up and squish everything back inside then staple me back together. Or strap me up with gaffer tape. I don’t mind, I’m easy.

It’s refreshing in a way. Like having a cut I know will heal. Or a headache I can take a tablet for. So although it’s dominating my life at the moment, it’s temporary and it will go.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we can one day say the same for MS?

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I’m Hitting The Road …

cuckooThe Boss (aka Best Friend) has been a huge support throughout this whole DWP nightmare.

Every day over coffee, I bore him with the next instalment, picking over and analysing every tiny thing, such as, ‘the assessor smiled at the cat, surely that’s a good sign?’

So last week, when I was munching on a healthy carrot stick (I’m trying) during a break, he asked if I wanted to go to Switzerland. In light of what I know goes on in certain places there, I was momentarily concerned.

I ran through other possible scenarios in my mind – the mountains? The lakes? The clocks and chocolate?

None of these. Did I want to drive from Wales to Switzerland to visit … the Geneva International Motor Show?

Erm. Hmm. I like travelling. It would be amazing to get away. I don’t have to do anything, except sit there, which I’m really, really good at. He’d do all the driving, sort out the tickets, plan the route and all I’d have to do is be a back-seat driver and eat Gummi-Bears. I wouldn’t have to worry about anything for six whole days.

I’m going spare at home, fears and anxiety swirling around my mind. I wake in the wee small hours, wondering how to live on a negative income despite working, how to make four cans of baked beans last a week, whether the cat could adapt to a rice-based diet. I’m in a weird kind of limboland. Again.

The Boss could have said anything – car show, tool fair, fly fishing – and I’d have leapt at the chance, metaphorically speaking. The chance to get away from all this is too alluring to pass up. And now that The Teenager is safely ensconced and thriving at Uni, there’s nothing to hold me back.

Except MS. Comfort zone. Sofa.

However, if there is one positive thing to come out of this whole ghastly DLA/PIP reassessment process, it has made me realise just how home-bound I am and just how much I don’t do any more. From someone who used to hop on planes like they were going out of fashion, I’ve been reduced to watching the clouds pass by through my window, while I lie on the sofa scrolling through Netflix films.

I like the idea of seeing different clouds and breathing in different air. It feels like a stay of execution, but if it’s in Switzerland, maybe I can handle it at a distance.

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16 Weeks Later …

disabledOur Government never lies.

So, when you receive an indefinite award for Disability Living Allowance, you tend to believe them, especially as MS is incurable and degenerative.

As it was for me back in 2012. The money, as stated, went towards the extra costs a disability can bring. And life went on.

We still had a lot less money than before, as my working hours had substantially reduced, but the DLA provided a cushion of sorts.

Until October last year when The Letter arrived. It was entitled, ‘Your Disability Living Allowance is ending’. So it wasn’t ‘indefinite’ after all – ‘this affects you even if your DLA has no end date’.


Imagine the uproar if people receiving the basic State Pension (by far the biggest benefit paid out – for costs associated with being older and probably not working) were suddenly reassessed:

DWP: You’ve been claiming your pension for years. Indefinitely, we say in Government Speak. Subject to change, of course.

Pensioner: Well, yeah?

DWP: Ah, you see, not all pensioners are the same. Some need more support but most need far less. So we need you to fill out a massive form, gather evidence and put yourself through a degrading assessment where we will decide on the spot whether you are deserving or not.

Pensioner: Okaaaaay?

DWP: And that automatic Winter Fuel Payment you get? You know, the one you have if you were born before 1953? Even if you’re a millionaire? Don’t worry, you get to keep that. Not worth the backlash. It’s only £550 million a year. We normally target disabled people to get some money back in to the coffers. Makes for the most sensational headlines. 

Everyone under 65 receiving DLA or PIP for MS will have MS for the rest of their lives. Yet, they are all reassessed. One-third will lose their benefit, according to latest figures. They’ve taken £6 million off us people with MS so far, and counting.

Everyone receiving the State Pension will receive the State Pension for the rest of their lives, no assessment needed. Neither are people on DLA over the age of 65 reassessed. It’s an automatic roll-over on to PIP.

I have absolutely nothing against pensioners, I’m merely using their particular demographic to highlight the gross injustices within the entire DWP system. Here’s the latest figures:

£171 billion spent on all benefits, of which;

£90 billion spent on the basic State Pension

£36.7 billion spent on disability benefits

£2-£3 billion spent on Winter Fuel allowance for all pensioners living in the UK

£550 million spent on free TV licenses for people over 75

The whole system seems somewhat arbitrary? The assumption is, when you reach pensionable age, you are due benefits, regardless of any other factors.

As for working, which most of us with disabilities try to do as long as possible, 46.5% of us still work. 10% of people with the basic State Pension still work. In fact, we are pushed in to work, no matter what our disabilities. Figures show at least 90 disabled people a month are dying after being found fit to work. Again, imagine the outrage if the demographic group was different?

My face-to-face PIP assessment took place yesterday. I had, after much consultation, filled in the huge form, adding as much information as I possibly could, a brutal and inhumane exercise in its own right. Apparently the one hour the assessor spent with me will count towards the Final Decision the DWP will make – to continue disability payment or not.

We’re told this kind of assessment forms but a small part of the DWP Final Decision. I’ve heard otherwise and I have no idea whether I ‘scored’ enough points (yep, that’s what they do, they score you).

The weird thing is, I am fighting to remain poor, to retain the same benefit between DLA and PIP. Mine is not a new claim. If it wasn’t so tragic, with the possible outcome being so life-altering, I would laugh.

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pipWell, the forms are in and the date’s been set for my face-to-face PIP assessment.

Do I spend the next couple of weeks fretting and worrying?

I did that yesterday and ended up a nervous wreck, my brain fit to explode. I can’t live this way and I’m not ready to give up, not just yet.

My MS is my MS. No one knows it better than me and only I know what it’s taken from me and what it continues to take, bit by bit, like some insatiable beast.

In the back of my mind, there is always that alternative; give in, give up. Admit defeat. Believe me, I’ve been close far too many times to count. It whispers in my ear. I’m there right now, teetering on the edge.

Everyone with MS knows that we just have to take each day as it comes. You can go to bed one evening, congratulating yourself for a ‘good-ish’ day (which to anyone else, would be pretty dire) and be on the floor (literally) the next. We take nothing for granted.

PIP is nothing to celebrate; the title of this blog is of course heavily ironic. MS is still incurable. I still spend far too many days alone at home, pinned down by endless symptoms. My life has shrunk to a fraction of its former size. Will I be able to convey this? I truly hope so.

Anyone going through this PIP exercise is aware that you have to focus entirely on what you cannot do, and for some of us, this is a brutal and cruel wake-up call. Over the years we adapt and accommodate each limitation, perhaps not noticing until all those limitations builds up to a traumatic picture of loss. In some cases, like mine, MS appears overnight with a massive relapse, affecting speech, balance and cognitive functions all in one devastating blow.

I had no time to adapt back then and the change was instant, with every area of my life affected – bye-bye job, bye-bye partner. In short, I am battle-scarred, and this is yet another battle.

I am scared. There, I’ve said it.

Actually, I am terrified. The stakes are pretty high and I am trying to block out what could happen. So, to end on a positive note, in other news:

  • The Cat seems to be cured of her flea-bite allergy. Yay. She has also overcome her resistance to a basket I bought her in a ‘Pets At Home’ online sale. After ignoring it for weeks, deliberately sleeping right next to it, she is now in it, and loving it.
  • The Teenager has popped home a few times to use my washing machine and play loud music. I have ear plugs, it’s fine.
  • The Boss brought over two huge boxes of chocolates last week, when I was off work and feeling poorly.

And there was me hoping to report an astounding weight loss …

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