I grew up on a council estate, I saw and experienced poverty all through my childhood and the only reason I made it through college was because I took a night job in a call centre to cover my costs. Working 10pm-8am four nights per week before going to college for however many hours I needed for classes.
I grew up knowing that to beat the poverty bubble you worked hard, and strived for more than you were born with. My parents always told us they wanted more for us than they had and although we were one of the few families not on benefits in our street it was a close call and I saw what that cycle did to people.
I first went into mental health services at nine years old. But don't think having mental health issues stopped me. I worked hard, fought my demons and came out of everything as an adult with career goals, which I achieved. Diagnosed with bipolar at 25, I was also finding juggling career and mental health difficult but I strived to keep going.
What I didn't know is that despite all the determination and best will in the world, sometimes you can just get really sick and at 33 in March 2013 I got so sick that the whole world came crashing down around me in such spectacular fashion I lost, almost, everything. By this time I was running my own business, I had been hypomanic, working aprox. 18 hours per day seven days per week for four months. I had lost clients due to their own budgets being cut short and this was having a negative impact on my finances. I was in a mental state which wasn't conducive to looking for replacement clients and instead was stuck in a vicious cycle of panic and despair. As things escalated I headed for what can only be described as a spectacular breakdown.
The thing with bipolar is you get used to some pretty awful depressions, the depression I went into in March 2013 was by far the deepest, darkest depression I have ever experienced. It was some awful pit of hell that I have never been near before and never wish to go near again. As soon as I hit this depression I knew all bets were off. I lost my business, I had no money, because the business had taken all of that, and I had to leave my home because we couldn't afford the rent without my income.
We found a small one bedroom flat to live in, and with the help of citizens advice went through the process of claiming ESA and PIP the disability benefits. I felt defeated. I had never wanted to be reliant on benefits but I had to pay the bills somehow.
The government like to paint a picture of benefits claimants as being debt-ridden addicts who can't be bothered to work. I want to try and dispel this picture a bit, if I can.
I don't smoke, drink, take drugs (except what is prescribed to me). I only claim ESA and PIP not housing benefit or anything like that. We don't claim carer's allowance for my husband even though we are entitled to it.
Between March 2013 and April 2015 my depression was so bad I had to be watched 24/7, I was suicidal permanently and I tried to take my life nine times in this period. On three occasions I came very close to dying and fulfilling my aim. This took a lot of work on the part of my family both as carers to take care of me but also the emotional toll seeing me so desperate to end my life.
Since April 2015 I have been slowly making improvements, but things are a long way from me returning to work. I am still afraid to leave the house alone. I have regular panic attacks when faced with dealing with people I don't know, or taking on too much. My mood swings are irregular and I am learning how to manage them outside of what my medications can do.
Illness and disability can happen to anybody at any time. I thought I had things in control and it all backfired on me. Anybody can be struck down with an illness regardless of how healthy they are, or they can be in an accident. The thing is, these benefits may not be something you care about right now, but tomorrow they could be your lifeline.
The pressure put on people like me by the reduction in disability benefits isn't helping us get to work any quicker. I want to get back to work more than I can describe in words. But financial stress, makes me more sick, and less likely to get back to work any time soon. I am careful about where my money goes and how I spend it but the Government seems determined to make those of us with disabilities the enemies of the state when it comes to tackling the financial crisis we certainly didn't start.