Tuesday, 5 November 2013

"Not-work" life balance, are the sick entitled to a social life?

I am not fit for work - my doctors and consultants agree.  The university I worked for tried to "terminate" (lovely word - not quite sure they thought that one through) me due to ill health in 2010 (I had been refused retirement on ill health grounds) and eventually I took voluntary redundancy because I'd been fighting them for so long about it.  They didn't want me because although I was good at my job when I was there (seven years of gradual promotion appears to prove that point) the problem was that it was getting to the stage where I WASN'T THERE often enough to be of much use.  By the end I had been off sick for nearly eighteen months straight and on and off for at least three years prior to that.  They did try to accommodate me at first - reduced hours, wrist supports, desk near the toilet and such like - but eventually I was just an encumbrance to them.

Sheffield Hallam University - my employer for nine years

As you can see I write a blog - it takes me about two hours to write maybe 1,500 words or so with a couple of pictures.  My average for the last year has been around about three posts a week - but that average does not tell the whole story.  For the last two weeks I've not been well and I was also facing not only a hospital appointment but also an ATOS interview.  Enough to make anyone feel a bit stressed I think you will agree.  The consequence is that I have only posted twice in the last ten days and one of those was to apologise for falling behind in the Book of Me project.
The Book of Me, Written by You logo
Book of Me - info here

I am currently studying my final Open University module "A327 Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity" which unlike most of the other OU modules I've done over the past fifteen years is mostly based on online resources, making study difficult to do anywhere but in front of the computer.  I have previously written about why this is my last module, suffice it to say here that I am not happy although I did win a small battle to be allowed to do the module I wanted to do rather than the one dictated by their new restrictive rules. 
Open University Logo

We are supposed to study about sixteen hours a week I think - but many of my fellow learners are unaccustomed to using ebooks or searching online databases for information and are without Kindles or other tablet like computers to at least make it possible to read this electronic stuff while waiting in the doctors or sitting on a train. The amount of printouts I have done has shot up compared to previous years (but some of the resources do NOT ALLOW you to print them out), other people are getting in a muddle about the importance of finding some obscure piece of information and bogged down by reading all the recommended "Futher Resources" ...  oh, dear.  The course Facebook page and the OU forum are full of complaints and worries about the doability of this new course.

I'm not finding it too bad, but there again it is my second degree, I've studied at Postgraduate level too and I'm a bit of a techie geek despite my age so I find digging around in e-journals and library systems fairly easy.  Plus it's a study of the 20th century - and being a local and family historian I know the outline to First World War, Interwar social changes, Second World War and so on already.  The challenge for me will be the Cold War stuff next spring ... not at the top of my reading for pleasure list I'm afraid.  It's a good job I don't go out much any more - more time for reading, but does confessing to studying at home mean that I may be fit for work?

The Outpatients' Entrance to the Northern General Hospital, Sheffield
(from Geograph © Copyright Terry Robinson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)
A trip to the hospital in Sheffield last Tuesday meant that when I got home after a five and a half hour round trip involving four buses I went straight to bed until the next day.  Fortunately the OH was otherwise occupied and not expected home for his tea that evening.  It did serve to remind me why commuting to work made my illness so much worse - it's the sheer time it adds to the day and the strain of waiting for buses (or trains) which may or may not arrive on schedule to get you where you are meant to be in good time.  Not to mention the added complications of travelling in rush hour periods, thankfully not something I had to put up with last Tuesday.

Does getting to the hospital under my own steam, no matter how tired it made me afterwards, mean that I could be expected to travel regularly on buses or trains to get to work?  Despite proof that four years ago this added to my illness and was part of the reason I had to leave work?

I can't face the idea of a trip out like this for purely social purposes - it's not worth making myself ill - if the OH can't take me in the car I'm not going.  I would love to join him and our other CAMRA friends at Beer Festivals and on pub surveys, but I can't, I just can't.  However I do manage a little bit of my own style of daytime socialising at the library and the Archives ... but is declaring this going to get me into trouble with ATOS?

ATOS logo

My interview with ATOS has been in the pipeline for months now, they've cancelled it twice and rearranged it giving me very little notice either time.  I have posted in the past about my worries concerning the whole thing.  My illness is NOT going to get better and three years in the Work Related Activity Group has NOT moved me any closer to finding the niche type of work that I could possibly do - about two hours a day, flexible, at home - oooh, rather like studying an OU module in fact!

At my ATOS interview last week the "health care professional", a nurse this time, asked me what I did at weekends.  I explained that as this was the only time I had to spend with my husband due to our unselling house problem meaning he has to live apart from me during the week, that at the weekends it was nice to spend time with him.  Something she said made me worried about what she had written so I asked her to read it back -

"client socialises with her husband at weekends"

I asked her to change that as it could quite easily have given the impression that we both spent two days out on the razzle!  She had also interpreted my family history hobby and my OU study, as -
"client can write with a pen"

Ermm - no - client can type - for a while, with a wrist rest and a laptop raiser.  I also have trouble using a standard mouse.  I explained that for the past two years I have had a letter from my doctor to allow me to type in my exams as I can't "write with a pen" for much longer than it takes to jot down a short shopping list.

I got her to change that too.

I am now overwhelmingly worried that all the other answers to her questions have been similarly misinterpreted and twisted and in the fullness of time I will be deemed fit to work - despite having hardly left the house for the past two weeks except to attend the hospital and the appointment with her.  I explained that I like to attend the Local History meetings at the library - which is about 100 yards from our house.   This was met with the comment, "Oh, it's a group ..." in a very patronising tone suggesting a circle of chairs and self flagellating confessions of some kind of misdeeds.  Grrr!  I further explained that I can't take on any kind of responsibility (such as taking minutes) at the meetings because I am so irregular in my attendance due to my health and I don't like the idea of letting the other members down.

I'm worried that drinking this glass of wine makes me fit for work
Copyright © 2012 Jim Sizemore. (from Doodlemeister.com)
Am I allowed to socialise?  Or does expending energy on hobbies and personal improvement mean that I could work in the opinion of ATOS and the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions)?  Does doddering to the Archives once, or even twice on a good week, for a couple of hours followed by a glass of wine and a cheap Wetherspoons burger with my friend once a fortnight (we are both quite poor!) mean that I could hold down a job? 

When I get the result I'll let you know - I'm not expecting much in the way of sympathy from the government - although they don't pay me anything (and haven't done so for a while now) they can still make my life worse - and I am sort of expecting that they will ...

1 comment:

Robyn said...

It's so wrong that you (and others!) end up feeling this way - and also wrong that it seems the very people who are supposed to be there to help you are constantly on the look-out for ways to interpret things to get the answers they want, rather than those that you have given. In short - yes, unless you are claiming to be permanently layed up, unable to move, then you ARE entitled to some sort of social life - without any question whatsoever. xx