Post Twenty. Thank You For Funding My Wheelchair!

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Claire, Stacey, Morag, Carola, Richard, Morag, Naomi, Kate, Gavin, Heather, Anthony, Nick, Paul, Jennifer, Lorna, Rebecca, Alan, Alison, Luca, Gillian, Kathleen, Ann, Bill, Gusia, Robert, Rhona, Seonaidh, Viv, Ian, Caroline, Ann, Gary, Morag, Robert, James, Jessica, Colin, Lorraine, Dot, Natasha, Christine, Kelly, Tony, Jennifer, Kathy, Clare, Kimberly, Angela, Phil, Richard, Clara, Agnieszka, Claire, Peter, Vikki, Sandy, Abigail, Emma and Anonymous Donors x 16.

Thank you so much everyone who helped me raise the money for my soon-to-be electric wheelchair. I’m completely overwhelmed by the generosity, support and encouragement I have received over the last few weeks. It’s been a really incredible experience.

Amazingly, I met my initial target of £2795 on day 12 of my campaign! It was so quick that I couldn’t even withdraw any of the funds yet!

When I set my target of £2795, I had been planning on covering the costs of the JustGiving fees (roughly 6.5% of the total amount raised) and the delivery fee for my wheelchair (£80) myself. However, some of my friends who had intended to make a donation, hadn’t been able to yet as they were waiting for payday. They asked me, after I had met my initial target, if they could contribute to these fees. So, taking this into consideration, I decided to increase my target to £3075. Which I then met on day 22! This means I now have enough not only to buy the wheelchair, a second battery, a travel bag/cover and three years of insurance, but it will also cover the delivery fee, and the fees deducted by JustGiving.

I have now withdrawn the funds and am just waiting for them to transfer to my bank account, which can take up to ten days. Then I’ll be able to contact Careco and order my new wheelchair!

Campaign began – Saturday 14th October 2017

I reached number 5 in the JustGiving Leaderboard! This means that only 4 other campaigns on JustGiving received more donations than mine in the previous 24 hours. – Sunday 15th October

Met first target £2795 –  Wednesday 25th October 2017

Met second target £3075 – Saturday 4th November 2017

I’m so grateful for every donation. This outpouring of support has been quite overwhelming, and it has meant so much more to me than simply being able to purchase the wheelchair.

As you may know from my previous post (Post Sixteen. Wheelchair Or Not?) I’ve been feeling very nervous about this wheelchair. While the sensible part of my brain tells me this will be good for me, the anxious side feels, well, anxious. It will, I imagine, take me some time to feel comfortable using in public spaces, such as Peebles High Street. While I get used to it, in terms of how it makes me feel, and how to operate it, I’ll be practising in less public places, and this will take as long as it takes!

I will also, as always, need to be careful about my overall use of energy. Having a wheelchair will not cure my ME. I will still only be able to go out, and use my wheelchair, when I feel well enough. This might mean only once a month, sometimes less, or sometimes more frequently. I do realise that it can be confusing for people to understand that I may not be able to undertake an activity that I managed to do a few days, or hours, or weeks previously.

Basically, my body has a pathological inability to produce sufficient energy on demand. Which means I have a limited amount of energy that I can use on a day to day basis. I have to pace myself and my activity, and be very careful to stay within my ‘energy envelope’, so to speak. Oh, and to make it even more interesting, my energy levels fluctuate, so I never know when I wake up how much energy I’ll have that day. If I over-exert myself, whether physical or mental exertion, and go outside my energy-envelope, that will cause a crash, which means my symptoms will worsen, and it can take, days, weeks, or months to recover. This worsening of symptoms after exertion is known as Post Exertional Malaise, which is the defining/cardinal symptom of ME. I really wish it had a better name though, ‘Malaise’ is so misleading, and really not very descriptive of the devastating destructive brutality of this symptom. I tend to refer to it as ‘payback’, because that’s what it feels like, like I’m being punished by my body for daring to live a little.

Now, if I were being very very sensible, I would only ever live within my energy-envelope, or my baseline, as it’s also sometimes known. In theory, if I stay below my baseline, I’ll be able to live with minimal symptoms. The problem is, life within my baseline is incredibly dull and boring, and it has done considerable damage to my mental health. I need more from life than what my limited envelope of energy allows.

There are also many things that use energy that are simply outwith my control, especially emotional stress. I can control the amount of physical activity I do, but I have no control over the things that I find upsetting, from the Tories persistent assault on the poor, vulnerable and disabled, to someone I love being in an accident, to my laptop dying. The resulting emotions, thought processing and communication required to sort these things out can also take me days, weeks or months to recover from. I’m also affected by sensory input; temperature, light, noise, smell and movement. No matter how well I control my environment at home, I cannot control the outside world.

So in a perfect world I would never go above my baseline. Even on my better days I’m meant to limit my activity/use of energy, and this is incredibly frustrating. It’s so difficult to suppress my natural instinct to be active, to go outside, to be sociable, and like so many people with ME, I tend to overdo it on my better days. This pattern, the overdoing it on the better days, then paying for it for days, weeks or months after, is known as ‘boom and bust’, and it’s what I should be avoiding. But like I said, this makes life so boring, too boring for me, and it’s that, along with the isolation that this life forces upon a person, that has damaged my mental health, and as a result I am now being treated for depression.

So anyway, this has been a really long way to explain why you won’t suddenly see me out and about every other day in my wheelchair, and also why you might see me only once every few weeks, maybe enjoying Dawyck Botanic Gardens, or Haylodge Park etc. For me, at this stage of my illness, I want to use the wheelchair to enjoy the places, mainly in nature, that have been inaccessible to me for the last couple of years. The wheelchair, will hopefully allow me to take in some of these places, every now and then, but not too often, without over exerting myself so much, that I’ll suffer for it afterwards. Also, please don’t be confused or alarmed if you see me walking! I can walk short distances, and by living right in the centre of town, this means I can walk, occasionally, to a nearby shop, or Costa, and to my weekly counselling appointments, which luckily, are very close to my home.

Something that I gained from this crowdfunding experience that I wasn’t expecting, was, it helped to take the edge off my fear of the wheelchair. I was so very moved, not just by the incredible generosity, but also the encouraging and supportive comments, that I actually began to feel excited. Everyone who donated has made this possible for me, and I feel like, it’s not just me anymore who is emotionally invested in this purchase, you are too, and I can’t wait to show you what you have paid for. One of the comments on my crowdfunding page said “I’ve been trying to find another little something to send you but instead I shall buy you a brake cable or a switch or something”. I love this! I love thinking that you can all decide which bit of the wheelchair you paid for. Obviously the brake cable is already spoken for, but there are four wheels, two batteries, the joystick, and all the others bits and pieces that hold it together and make it work, unfortunately some of you will be stuck with the insurance, which is kind of boring, but still necessary.

When I first set up my campaign, I never expected to reach my target, and I thought maybe only my mum and a handful of friends would donate. I’m so touched by every single person who made a donation. My family, my friends, my family’s friends, old colleagues, classmates from school and university and people I don’t even know. It’s so lovely that there are people who care enough to help out someone they’ve never met, unless we have met and I’m terrible and don’t remember! Although, being the daughter of two teachers from the local high school, and with a rather distinctive and rare surname, means that it’s possible some of these people know of me, or my parents, or my older sisters, and we do actually have some kind of connection. Or maybe they’re just dead nice people! Which of course, all of you are, whether you know me personally or not. The loveliest thing of all is knowing, and it took a friend to remind me of this, that “it’s proof, not that it was needed, of how much you are loved and cared about”. And this came at a much needed time.

I would also like to thank a few of our local media people.

Shortly after I set up my crowdfunding campaign I approached Kris Tatum at the Peeblesshire News. For me, it was more a matter of raising awareness of ME, which as I’ve said many times, is hugely misunderstood, (please read my last post for more info in regards to this Post Nineteen. Time For Unrest) than it was to get donations. But I was delighted to find that, after my story was published, I began to get donations from these lovely strangers I’ve spoken about. Shortly after my Peeblesshire News article was published I was contacted by Ally McGilvray at Radio Borders, who kindly publicised my campaign on air and on their website. Then, I was contacted by Sarah Frances at The Southern Reporter, who also very kindly featured my story.

You can read these here…

The Peeblesshire News

http://www.peeblesshirenews.com/news/15610306.Housebound_Peebles_resident__39_s_plea_to_get_her_life_back/

Radio Borders

https://planetradio.co.uk/borders/local/news/peebles-charity-worker-makes-plea-wheelchair-leaves-housebound-two-years/

The Southern Reporter

http://www.thesouthernreporter.co.uk/news/peebles-woman-smashes-wheelchair-fund-target-1-4601029

Thank you very much Kris, Ally and Sarah for helping to spread the word about ME, and of course for all the donations that were made as a result.

And lastly, thank you to JustGiving, who provided me with the platform that made this possible. Unbeknown to me when I set up my campaign, JustGiving help to spread awareness of the campaigns on their site. Sarah at The Southern Reporter was only made aware of my story when she received a press release from JustGiving! I find that quite remarkable, that someone at JustGiving made the effort to track down my local newspaper. Absolutely worth the fees they charge!

Now that I have managed to raise awareness of ME a little bit, I would very much like, if you would like to increase your awareness even further, to bring the film Unrest to your attention. Rather than going into it here, again I’ll direct you to my previous post, in which I kind of reviewed/shared my feelings after having watched it myself.

Post Nineteen. Time For Unrest.

If you like the sound of it, I’m delighted to share with you, that you (Peebles people) will be able to see it on the big screen at the Eastgate Theatre on Thursday 18th January at 7.30pm. Tickets are now available! If we can scrounge together enough people for a panel, including me, there might be a Q&A session afterwards! For non-Peebles people, you can find details of how/where to watch it, on the big screen or at home, in my previous post (Post Nineteen).

Thank you again everyone who supported me through my campaign. It means so much to me, and I’m forever grateful. I will update you all after the arrival of my fancy new wheelchair!

PS. If you would like a reminder of the wheelchair that you have funded, here you go…

(I had previously shared a video here but it no longer seems to be available, so here are a couple of photos.)

 

Post Seventeen. The PACE Trial Scandal.

I have been wanting to write about The PACE Trial for some time, about the background, the controversy and where we are at today. I have tried, but unlike my usual posts it is very technical, involves a lot of research and there’s a lot to cover. I just don’t have it in me, with my brain fog and inability to really concentrate, it’s just too much. Luckily, this morning, a UK newspaper published a really informative and accurate article on the very subject, basically, the journalist in question, Jerome Burne, has done my job for me.

This article was in the most surprising place, The Daily Mail Online. Not only did The Daily Mail publish a good article about ME, but they referred to the illness as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), this is actually quite ground breaking stuff. Most mainstream articles refer to it as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), which isn’t officially inaccurate per se, but CFS is, on the whole, very misleading. For the uninformed, it implies that this illness is simply ‘fatigue’, it perpetuates the myth that we are ‘just tired’. I can’t think of any other major illnesses that are named after only one of their symptoms. A symptom of Multiple Sclerosis is fatigue, but it isn’t called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. A symptom of Lung Cancer is coughing, but it isn’t called Chronic Coughing Syndrome. A symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease is memory loss, but it isn’t called Chronic Forgetfulness Syndrome. I think you get my point.

What’s worse than CFS, is when it is referred to as ‘Yuppie Flu’. This stems from a ME outbreak in the 1980’s, when it was seemingly mainly young professionals who became unwell with ME, and the term ‘Yuppie Flu’ was born. It is derisive, outdated and offensive, yet it is still frequently used in the reporting of ME. A recent article in The Telegraph actually used ‘Yuppie Flu’ in their headline. Thankfully they changed it shortly after publication, realising how offensive it was (after a lot of complaints from the ME community). You might think that these things shouldn’t be that important, that we are using our limited energy on the wrong battles. That we (people with ME) should be grateful for any scrap of exposure thrown our way. No. These things matter. Language matters. The words we speak have meaning, and impact. When reporting, in the science section of a national newspaper, on a serious health matter, the language used should not reduce the health matter in question to a joke.

The PACE Trial (short for “Pacing, graded Activity, and Cognitive behaviour therapy; a randomised Evaluation) is, essentially, a medical scandal, not dissimilar to the Andrew Wakefield MMR vaccine controversy. The PACE Trial has impacted on every single person with ME in the UK, and beyond. It is the basis on which the NHS ‘treat’ ME, and due to the influence of the trial’s authors, it impacts heavily on the funding of ME research, which in the UK, is poured into psychiatry, rather than much needed biomedical research. Misconceptions were already there, but The PACE Trial, and the psychiatrists connected to it have actively encouraged the media, the government, medical professionals and the general public to believe that ME is a psychological illness. That it is ‘all in our heads’, that we don’t have an intolerance to exertion but ‘false illness beliefs’, that we have somehow, collectively, all 17 million of us, falsely convinced ourselves that exertion is harmful. In fact anyone with ME could tell you exactly how exertion, both mental, emotional and physical impacts on our bodies. I really don’t understand how it could be ‘false illness beliefs’ that cause my shoulder joints and muscles in my arms to hurt, to the point of tears, after a twenty minute (hands free) phone call. The damage that The PACE Trial has done/is doing to us is immeasurable. The trial has been widely debunked, but until it is officially retracted, the damage will be ongoing, in actual fact, the damage will probably live even after it is retracted.

Anyway, back to the article by Jerome Burne. He did such a good job, and I’m incredibly grateful to him. It’s one of the best articles on this subject that I have read. I have copied the article below, with a link to the original article (just click on the headline to take you to The Daily Mail website). Throughout the article I have added some additional information, and some of my own thoughts, you’ll find these in brackets in blue text.

Why are doctors and patients still at war over M.E.? How the best treatment for the debilitating condition is one of the most bitterly contested areas in medicine

By Jerome Burne for The Daily Mail. 15 August 2017.

Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) is a debilitating condition that can leave those affected bedridden for years. It’s linked with as many as 60 symptoms, the most common being a feeling of constant exhaustion — ‘like a dead battery’. (Yes this is a common symptom, but not the defining symptom. The defining symptom is post exertional malaise, an intolerance to exertion, which causes symptoms to flare after the activity. ‘Dead battery’ however is a good description of the exhaustion. The exhaustion is less ‘feeling tired’, but more a severe lack of energy, or severe weakness. I have experienced tiredness previous to having ME, I’ve had insomnia and sleepless nights for years. But it never caused me to be unable to lift my phone, my head, my toothbrush…)

The condition first reached mainstream consciousness in the Eighties following outbreaks in New York and Nevada. By then it was officially known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

For a time, it seemed everyone knew someone who was affected by it, and it was derisively dubbed ‘yuppie flu’ because it seemed typically to affect young professionals.

For years there’s been a long-running and bitter debate between doctors and patients about its cause and how to treat it.

The lack of a clear physical cause meant many doctors dismissed it as all in the mind. This infuriated patient groups who insisted it was all too real and the result of an infection or immune system failure.

Even now, when it is generally accepted that ME/CFS is a genuine condition, it remains one of the most angrily contested areas of medicine. But the battle lines are no longer drawn just between patients and doctors: the medical community itself is at loggerheads.

The issue: the best way to treat ME. This has huge significance for the estimated 500,000 people in Britain affected by it. The official NHS treatment for their condition is delivered by psychologists and involves a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and graded exercise therapy (GET) which involves doing a little more each day. (Interesting to see the estimated figure as 500,000 rather than the usual 250,000. I learned recently that the ‘250,000’ figure was actually estimated around 30yrs ago, so of course this number has grown.) (As well as providing little benefit, GET is actually harmful and dangerous. This ‘treatment’ has caused many people with ME to experience a severe and often permanent worsening of their symptoms, and has, in some cases, lead to death.)

The idea is that doing regular aerobic exercise would help patients a lot, but that they are held back by ‘fear’ of activity: the CBT is meant to overcome this. (Using CBT to alleviate our alleged ‘fear’ of activity is of course nonsense. I did however find CBT useful in terms of helping me to cope with this huge life-altering diagnosis.)

Many patients and doctors claimed this combination provided little if any benefit.
This dispute has now broken out into the public arena in an extraordinary fashion. Two weeks ago the Journal of Health Psychology published what was effectively an attack on the official NHS treatment. (You can find the journal online here ‘Journal of Health Psychology, Volume 22, Issue 9, August 2017. Special Issue: The PACE Trial‘)

Three editors resigned from the journal in protest at this stance. In a leaked email, one of the resigners was described as a ‘disgusting old fat neo-liberal hypocrite’ and an ‘ol’ sleazebag’ by an editor who supported the journal’s approach.

But the insults swing the other way, too — recently, a scientist described patients critical of the CBT approach as ‘borderline psychopaths’ and likened them to animal rights activists. (Remember, these are professional scientists who are referring to the very people they claim to be ‘working for’ as ‘borderline psychopaths’, simply for questioning their claims.)

The row is about a trial published in The Lancet in 2011 that helped form the official guidelines on treating the condition. This was a large trial, called PACE, involving 641 patients, costing £5 million. It was paid for by the Government and carried out by psychologists at Queen Mary University in London. (Interestingly the trial was also part funded by the The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the only clinical trial they have ever funded, I believe. Could it be that The PACE Trial was less ‘science’ but more a cost cutting exercise for the government? With the aim of reducing benefit and insurance claims? It is in fact not at all uncommon for the DWP to turn down disability benefit applications from people with ME who refuse CBT and GET…)

PACE found that patients being treated with the combination treatment — 14 sessions with a therapist over a six-month period — improved by 60 per cent, while the ‘recovery rate’ (which implied a ‘cure’) was 20 per cent. (It is worth noting here that the researchers changed, throughout the trial, what constituted as ‘improved’ and ‘recovered’, because they weren’t getting the results they wanted. Participants could end the trial being more unwell than when they started, yet they were still categorised as ‘recovered’. Also, they used the Oxford Criteria for diagnosis of the participants, as opposed to the Canadian Consensus Criteria. The Oxford Criteria is widely considered to be overly broad. It does not include the defining symptom of ME, post exertional malaise, rather, it lists ‘fatigue’ as the main symptom. So, did the participants actually have ME to begin with?)

“For every 15 patients selected under Oxford criteria, 14 will be false positives when compared to Canadian Consensus Criteria” me-pedia.org

(There is now an even more up to date clinical criteria for ME. The ME International Consensus Criteria, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine in 2011. This is an update of the Canadian Consensus Criteria, which was published in 2003. You can read more about The ME International Consensus Criteria in my blog post, Post Seven. Symptoms)

But a new analysis of the data has suggested that patients experience just a 20 per cent improvement, and only 5 per cent are classed as recovered. (Would a pharmaceutical drug with such low odds for improvement or recovery be approved as an NHS treatment?)

‘This has cast serious doubts on the recovery rates being claimed,’ adds Dr Charles Shepherd, honorary medical adviser to the charity the ME Association (Dr Shepherd was also a member of the Chief Medical Officer’s Working Group on ME/CFS and the Medical Research Council’s Expert Group on ME/CFS research).

‘The trust of patients has been lost. PACE needs to be withdrawn.’

In fact, patient campaigners have been claiming for years that the psychological approach is profoundly wrong because it implies the problem is the way the patient thinks about it. They consider that they’re suffering from a physical disorder.

The re-analysis of the PACE data has set the cat among the pigeons. A challenge to evidence supporting a NICE-approved treatment is unusual, not least because the data was only made available after a protracted battle by patients.

Ever since its publication in The Lancet, the PACE trial had been questioned by patient groups. They wanted to see all the data the trial had gathered to check the statistics.

For five years patient advocates and some doctors sent letters and Freedom of Information requests to the researchers — Professor Peter White (of Queen Mary University of London), Professor Michael Sharpe (Oxford University) and Professor Trudie Chalder (King’s College London) — without success.

Grounds for refusal included risk of revealing patient identities and claiming the demands to hand over the data were vexatious or a form of harassment.

Indeed, one expert witness for the researchers drew parallels between these ME/CFS ‘activists’ and animal rights groups, suggesting there was a serious risk of violence to researchers if the data was released. But then the Information Commissioner’s Office became involved and the university was ordered to cough up the data. It refused and then spent more than £200,000 to have the order dismissed.

This was rejected by a tribunal (as for the claim of threats being made, under cross-questioning the expert witness admitted there hadn’t been any). (The witness lied about the ME community threatening them. There have been no threats.)

When the trial data was finally re-analysed and checked by two independent academics, Philip Stark, a professor of statistics at the University of California, Berkeley and Professor Bruce Levine from the Department of Biostatistics at Columbia University, it ‘revealed that the study contained little evidence that CBT and graded exercise add anything to standard medical care in terms of patient recovery’, according to Professor Levin.

This was backed by Jonathan Edwards, an emeritus professor of connective tissue medicine at University College London.

‘The results of the re-analysis shows that the call for access to the PACE data for independent analysis was justified,’ he said. ‘It confirms that this study failed to provide reliable evidence for useful, sustained benefit from either CBT or graded exercise therapy.’

Sir Simon Wessely, Regius professor of psychiatry at King’s College London, has long been identified with the psychological approach. When he was asked about the data re-analysis last year, he was quoted as saying: ‘OK folks, nothing to see here, move along please.’ (He is unable, or unwilling, to back up his data, or to provide any evidence.)

He added that patients did improve and that the treatments were moderately effective. (Again, he has nothing to back up his claims.)

ARTHRITIS DRUGS MIGHT HELP

The Journal of Health Psychology gave the original researchers the right to respond to the criticisms — they said they stood firmly by their findings, and that ‘the PACE trial… along with other studies provide patients, healthcare professionals and commissioners with the best evidence that both CBT and GET are safe and effective treatments’.

But what about the ‘biological’ theories of ME/CFS and the new research published recently suggesting a link with raised levels of molecules linked to inflammation?
Commenting, Dr Alan Carson, reader in neuropsychiatry at the University of Edinburgh, said what wasn’t clear is whether a higher level of these molecules ‘necessarily make you feel worse’.

He added: ‘It’s highly unlikely it will lead to a blood test any time soon.’

Yet Professor Edwards, who has described the PACE trial as ‘poorly designed, poorly executed and inappropriately interpreted’ believes that studies are needed.

‘Here in the UK we’ve spent far too much on the psychological aspect,’ he says.

‘Understanding the biology is what’s going to lead to an effective treatment.’

Professor Edwards, a rheumatologist, has previously found that patients with ME/CFS as well as rheumatoid arthritis reported great improvement when they were treated with the powerful anti-inflammatory drugs used for their arthritis. A trial of this is now under way. (This drug is called Rituximab. It is used to treat some autoimmune diseases and some types of cancer)

Meanwhile, PACE continues to have support among psychiatrists and psychologists. It seems unlikely that it will be withdrawn, and so the struggle between the doctors and patients continues.

UPDATE: COULD IT BE CAUSED BY INFLAMMATION?

At the heart of the issue is what causes ME. Patient activists and some doctors consider it a physical disorder.

This ‘biological’ theory appeared to be reinforced by recent research from Stanford University in the U.S. that identified a new set of ‘messenger’ molecules in the blood that are part of the immune system and behave differently in ME/CFS patients. (You can read about it here ‘Researchers identify biomarkers associated with chronic fatigue syndrome severity, Stanford Medicine News Center‘)

New, sophisticated equipment allowed a team to run a very detailed analysis of the blood of 192 patients, comparing it with nearly 400 healthy people. They found that immune system messenger molecules (cytokines) that trigger inflammation and produce flu-like symptoms were higher in patients with the most severe symptoms.

An independent expert, Gordon Broderick, a systems biologist at Rochester General Hospital in New York, commented that it was a ‘tremendous step forward’.

~~~

Again, I’d like to thank Jerome Burne for writing this article. It means a great deal, and it brings me hope when ME is reported in the mainstream media in such a fair, balanced, accurate, informative and sympathetic manner. More articles like this will help to change the general perception of ME and hopefully result in this debilitating illness to be taken more seriously.

 

Further Reading

PACE Trial, MEpedia

The Making of the PACE Scandal, Centre For Welfare Reform

The PACE Trial: The Making of a Medical Scandal, The ME Association

‘No confidence’: Charities reject NICE ‘no update’ proposal for ME/CFS guideline, VADA Magazine

Getting It Wrong On Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, The New York Times

Bad science misled millions with chronic fatigue syndrome. Here’s how we fought back, STAT News

How a study about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was doctored, adding to pain and stigma, The Conversation

James Coyne “lays waste” to PACE trial in Edinburgh, Phoenix Rising

 

Post Fifteen. Employed To Unemployed.

This week has seen a huge change in my life, it’s been brewing since early December but on Wednesday 7th June it became official. It was my last day of employment with Cyrenians, an Edinburgh based charity.

For nearly 50 years, Cyrenians has served those on the edge, working with the homeless and vulnerable to transform their lives by beginning with their story, helping them believe that they can change their lives, and walking with them as they lead their own transformation.

Our Vision is an inclusive society in which we all have the opportunities to live valued and fulfilled lives. We work to make that vision a reality by our Mission to support people excluded from family, home, work or community on their life journey.

Our way of work is built on our four core values:

Compassion: We believe that everyone should have the chance to change, no matter how long that might take.
Respect: We believe in tolerance, acceptance, valuing diversity and treating each other as equals.
Integrity: We are committed to the highest quality of work, grounded in honesty, generosity, sincerity and professionalism.
Innovation: We are willing to take risks, challenge convention and be very creative in our search for new ways of working, in particular by taking account of the environmental impact of our decisions.

I’ve worked for Cyrenians since July 2012 in the Community and Food branch of the charity. We ran the FareShare Franchise for Central and South East Scotland. FareShare is a national UK charity who redistribute surplus food from producers and suppliers to not-for-profit organisations that work with vulnerable people, such as homeless hostels, soup kitchens, community groups and childrens breakfast clubs. We, with our army of volunteers, got the food to those who need it the most, while helping to avoid excessive food waste.

It was a privilege to work for Cyrenians, yes it could be stressful, yes it could be physically and emotionally challenging (I have cried in the walk-in freezer on more than one occasion), but taking a job there was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I have met some wonderful people. The volunteers I worked with, even though I haven’t seen them for over two years, they still inspire me. I mean, sometimes I struggled with the 7am starts. I’d walk to work in the dark on a rainy winter’s morning to arrive at the depot (that was usually colder inside than outside) to be met by smiling volunteers, ready to start their busy shift of putting the food orders together. All the volunteers, in all of their roles, with their dedication, willingness and hard work are really what made this job for me. Of course distributing seven tonnes of food per week and feeding thousands of people was good too, as was driving the forklift!

My forklift qualification wasn’t the only slightly bizarre but memorable aspect of this job. I once spent an afternoon stacking over 3000 haggis (haggi?) in our freezer. The tens of thousands of Snickers bars that we received because they were put in the wrong wrappers. I’ve seen ‘behind the scenes’ of many supermarkets and their distribution warehouses, yes I find this fascinating, really! I’ve got an Intermediate Food Hygiene (with credit!) qualification from The Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland that I wonder if I’ll ever have a use for again. I was once forced on stage by the Scottish singer/songwriter Dougie MacLean to give a speech about Cyrenians in front of a couple of hundred people. I’ve helped a poor delivery driver clean the back of his van when a yoghurt delivery went wrong and two pallets of yoghurts basically exploded in his van. Then there was the simple pleasure of working away at the computer to have a volunteer appear with a cup of tea that they’d made for me, I swear many of them could read my mind. There were a lot of sombre moments too of course, and I have many memories of a more saddening nature. But I feel pleased, and fortunate, that I was in a position to help and support people, when help and support was needed. I’m incredibly proud of the work that Cyrenians do, and am so proud to have worked there for the time that I did.

I have been off work sick since December 2014, and I have been in the fortunate situation in which my employer was keeping my job for me. This couldn’t last forever though, and as devastated as I was when I was told in December that I may soon have my contract terminated on the grounds of ill-health, I understand why. I admit to having had some less than kind thoughts about Cyrenians in the last few months, I suppose it’s been part of my process, in which I have come to terms with my unemployment. I haven’t left Cyrenians in ‘disgrace’ and it has nothing to do with my performance or ability to do my job, but it took me a while to accept this particular ‘life event’.

Despite the stressy bits, I really loved my job. It took me until I was thirty two years old but I found what I felt was the perfect vocation for me, and I had honestly envisioned myself quite possibly working for Cyrenians for the rest of my life. Not necessarily in the same service, but I admire the Cyrenains values, I share those values and I’ve never had a better employer, or felt more proud about the work that I was doing. My future is pretty uncertain now (oh dear, the song ‘Beauty School Drop Out’ from Grease is now going round my head! “Your future’s so unclear now, what’s left of your career now…”). Sorry, anyway, I don’t know if I will ever be well enough to work again. I hope I will be, but I have no idea what that work will be. I could go back to Cyrenians, I know I’ll be welcome should a suitable job arise, or maybe I’m destined (I don’t believe in destiny or fate, but I can’t think of a better word) to continue my work to raise awareness and campaign for people with ME.

It wasn’t until I got ‘the news’ in December that I really realised how much of my self-worth is tied up in my employment. My initial feelings when I heard the news was that I had lost my value, that I had been stripped of my identity and my feelings of self-worth went down the toilet. I had already not been working for over two years. I was technically employed but on long term sick leave, now I’m properly unemployed, my day-to-day life hasn’t changed. So why all these feelings?! Maybe it’s just reaffirmed the things that I miss the most, the most precious things that I have lost due to my illness; my ability to work, my ability to earn my own living, my ability to live independently, my ability to contribute and my freedom to live my life in the way I choose. Something else that’s been nagging away at me is that unemployment in general, is not looked kindly upon by society. I’ve heard friends, politicians and acquaintances in the past deride unemployed people, I’ve heard them make unfair generalised comments about benefits claimants. Now that I’m one of them, what do those people think about me?

Anyway, I can see this post steering away from the point and developing into a rant about the Tories, so I’ll end this here. (FYI That Tory rant will appear in a future post about my experience so far as a benefits claimant.)

I’m so pleased that I had the opportunity to work for Cyrenians and I’m forever grateful to my three previous colleagues, who were on my interview panel and who gave me a chance. I worked with some amazing people, not just in my service but all over the organisation, I made lovely friends and I learned so so much. I’ll miss the freezing cold depot, I already miss it, but I know they’ll continue doing the fantastic work that they do, for as long as they need to do it.

PS If you like the sound of Cyrenians and the work they do then I’d recommend you follow the CEO, Ewan Aitken’s blog. You may also like to browse the Cyrenians and FareShare websites.