I recently made the decision to move out of the family home and go flatting (for the first time in nearly 30 years). Other than that, since my divorce, I had lived in a hostel for a year (full of druggies and boozers). I made this decision after Mum decided to put the house on the market, after Dad died three months ago.
I moved nearly two weeks ago, to live with a young family. Coinciding with my move, I received an email from Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) stating they would be making a lump sum payment for impairment for my mental injury of posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD.
Moving is always stressful but it's a massive step for me towards some more independence. I don't want to harp on about my disabilities in this blog, even though they impact every area of my life. I am trying to move on from being defined by them, even though I never fully made my diagnoses into my identity.
I deleted my old domain name bipolarcourage.com (although I can still access the website/blog content). I've been sorting out stuff, including deleting old medical records and the ACC court crap. It was over 3 years battling with ACC, a multibillion dollar entity who weilds a ridiculous amount of power.
Even though I don't intend to resume regular vlogging, I might make an update video on my pretty much archived vlog, Bipolar Courage on YouTube. I am leaving most of the videos up for now, until a time when I feel they should come down.
In a nutshell, I was assessed by three doctors (with a fourth making a legal decision without even seeing me). The decision was made on the first doctor chosen by ACC, who only talked to me on the phone for an hour. ACC spend thousands of dollars on doctors and lawyers to fight me, representing myself (I was entitled to legal aid but could not practically access it). The second doctor at review assessed my via video well in my favour. ACC rejected this as a 'mere difference of opinion in specialists'.
It went to court. It was ruled that my evidence didn't directly challenge the first doctor. I have name suppression in the case, as sensitive claims is injuries from criminal acts. In my case, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the mental injury.
Anyway, I was legally entitled to be assessed again. I was over it but decided to try one last time. I told ACC I want to be assessed in person and I can travel 1 hour. ACC chose the doctor. The doctor said he used to work for ACC. He assessed well in my favour. Plus, he said I could have had the bipolar disorder covered too (but he had to subtract some as an 'apportionment', as it wasn't covered initially). So, I could have potentially been paid out a lot more.
Regardless, he still assessed me at the top of the scale of what is typically assessed for PTSD. On a 'good' day, seeing me at my best.
Now, payouts are not generous in New Zealand but it was still a lot of money for me (as I am on a low income). I am not going to state exactly how much but it's enough to buy a decent second hand car. I am happy with my current car so want to save most of the money until I need to replace it or for any emergencies.
So then my next battle was with Work and Income (WINZ) as I receive a benefit for those with permanent disabilities. WINZ are notorious for being difficult. Three of their staff said they can't touch lump sum payment for sensitive claims. Then someone else said they will penalise me. It was so discouraging. It's like they want people to be permanently struggling.
I wrote an email challenging this, and also pointing out their staff said the opposite. So then, they came back with they can't touch it, afterall. My psychologist said that one thing I have learned to do is to advocate for myself.
All my furniture except my bed - my Dad made it. I invested in a small fridge/freezer and a mini oven. Had a few other expenses with going flatting but otherwise, I am trying to save the money, mainly as a buffer in case I need to replace my car (I need a car for work and my part-time work helps me keep my car).
It's been a very tiring few weeks with the move and work. Leading up to the move, I burnt most of my journals, after taking pics. The pics are for reference for when I write my final book inspired by my experiences, Soar Purpose.
Now that my dealing with ACC is over (other than they are still paying for my therapy), I decided to delete the court and medical records. Only keeping a few records in case I have trouble with WINZ. Declutting my hard drives is like decluttering my mind.
While deleting, I came across a few other records which I selectively kept or deleted. I came across some photos I had taken from a journal from a bipolar mania episode. I've included a photo from the journal (since burnt) as the second image for this blog post. At that time, I was put on medications but still had severe mood episodes and had not started treatment for PTSD (which is from trauma).
I had an extreme need to try and express what was in my mind. I wrote pages and pages of loose links and associations (with are pathologised when extreme). It's an indicator for me of mood elevation. I also figured out (and my psychologist said she learned this from me) that my loose links and associations are actually memories and potential trauma triggers. I use these of the foundation of my creative process, which also processes trauma.
Painting is more calming and meditative for me, yet still intense, so I painted Rainbow Pi (the third image) after I'd painted Love Lies Bleeding (the first image, which I had to look up as I'd forgotten what I'd called it). Rainbow Pi incorporates what I also scribbled, as I figured out how my mind works - it's all needing to link memories, to process. I painted multiple interlinked layers. My paintings are also metaphorical mindmaps. This painting helped me to figure out my main themes and storylines for my semiautobiographical novel, Pet Purpose: Your Unspoken Voice.
I analysed and used my own triggers, pulled them apart, made a story (some memoir, some fiction) around them. Fiction was for efficiency, disguise and to get creative. The main character in the story (80% me) is fighting her entire life to be heard, just like me.
I hadn't written anything in my journal for a few weeks as I've been too busy. I went back to Dad's workshop and painted a bird for a detachable mural for the ugly fence outside my window. I might write a blog post about that when it's ready. The doctor who assessed me noted that I find art and writing to be therapeutic. It gives me a sense of purpose while managing challenging disabilities.
I still haven't fully processed that I finally won against ACC. What was extra satisfying was that the doctor knows ACC inside and out, as he used to be an advisor for them. What is validating also, is that he added: "There was no suggestion of symptom exaggeration or inconsistency." Exactly as my psychologist had noted when she first advocated for me to have therapy paid by ACC.
I am strong enough now to advocate for myself. I feel heard.
Update: I requested in writing from WINZ that the lump sum for sensitive claims is exempt. So they sent their legislation which included:
Lump sum or independence allowance payments are not counted as income.
If the client receives a lump sum payment this should be treated as a cash asset, any income derived from the lump sum, for example interest earned on investment, is to be treated as income for benefit purposes.
Lump sum cash asset exception
Any lump sum payments made to a client are not to be counted as cash assets when assessing a client for Accommodation Supplement or Residential Care Subsidy, for a period of 12 months following the date the lump sum was received by the client.
At the end of the 12 month period, the lump sum (or any remaining amount, if the client has spent some or all of the payment) must be treated as a cash asset, and included in the asset test.
Which I interpret as the excemption only being for a period of 12 months. I think this means that it doesn't affect the main benefit, unless the money is invested so earns interest. But it does affect the accommodation supplement after 12 months if cash assets are over the threshold. It's super frustrating dealing with WINZ and I think it pays to get anything in writing, so they can't say later that owe them money if it was their error.
Disclaimer: the author of this blog is not an expert by profession and her opinions should not be taken as expert advice.