As someone who suffers from both chronic back pain and treatment-resistant depression, I was very offended by Tony Abbott’s remarks back in December 2016 when he said:
“we were far too ready to put people on the DSP [disability support pension], with bad backs, a bit of depression and so on. These are not permanent conditions.”
Well I’ve got news for you Mr Abbott, for some people, myself included, these are permanent conditions – at least for the foreseeable future anyway.
Unfortunately, the type of ignorance of chronic pain displayed by our former Prime Minister, is all too common in our community – even within the medical community. Only those who work with sufferers of chronic pain (of which there are far too few) understand the barriers people like us face everyday of our lives.
My Chronic Back Pain
My lower-back pain developed over a number of years until one day I could no longer ignore it. After dropping my car off at the mechanic I tried to walk the 2 kilometres home but had to stop and rest every 100 metres or so because the pain in my lower back was excruciating. I was 45 and I didn’t go to the doctor straight away because I only felt pain when I walked anywhere. Two years later and the pain is now constant and I can’t even do the shopping anymore without experiencing agonising pain and numbness in my right leg.
When I finally went to the doctor she ordered a CT Scan which showed that I had developed arthritis in my lower spin and the bone was pressing on a nerve (hence the numbness in my right leg). She said nothing much could be done to relieve my pain. Surgery is always an option but lower back surgery has a poor success rate and could actually make the problem worse.
There is pain medication but as anyone who has chronic pain will tell you, over-the counter pain medication is useless, especially when the pain is at it’s worst. I don’t want to take opioids because they’re addictive. But sometimes the pain is so bad, I’d be willing to try anything to get some relief!
Even though the medical experts don’t recommend it, I live a sedentary lifestyle in an attempt to relieve the pain in my back. I drive everywhere, I don’t bend down and I don’t lift anything heavier than a coffee pot. It’s not ideal and I’m afraid of what my sedentary lifestyle will do to my long-term health and well-being, but it sure beats living in constant pain!
Disability Support Pension Reject
While running Australian Women Online earns me a little bit of money, it’s certainly not enough to live on, especially when I have so many out-of-pocket medical expenses. My medical conditions prevent me from working outside the home. I work as often as I can but between the chronic back pain and the treatment-resistant depression, I have more days off than any employer could tolerate.
So I did what most people do in my situation, I applied for the Disability Support Pension. I applied in August last year and my application was rejected 2 months later after a Job Capacity Assessor at Centrelink labelled my condition as ‘low impact’. I was furious!
“Try walking in my shoes honey and then tell me my condition has a ‘low impact’ on my life!”
I applied again on 3 March 2017 and to date, I’m still waiting for my application to be processed, but I expect this application will also be rejected, despite the mountain of medical evidence I submitted. I’m already preparing my appeal!
We’ve all heard stories about people who are in receipt of the Disability Support Pension for relatively minor medical complaints. The community is also fed up with financially supporting alcoholics and drug addicts. My own sister was granted DSP as a drug addict in her early thirties and more than a decade later, most of her pension is still going to pay her drug dealer. However, people even more deserving than my sister and I are being denied a Disability Support Pension and that isn’t right.
Talking About Chronic Pain
This is the first (and probably the last) time I will share my story of chronic pain because of the stigma in our community. Nobody wants to hear it and those who dare to talk openly about their struggles are labeled ‘whingers’. Ten years ago I would have scoffed at a conversation about chronic pain. Now I know what it’s like to have a “bad back” I can emphasis with the 1 in 5 Australians who live with this horrible condition.
I don’t like to talk about myself on the internet and I rarely do it. People are mean and I’m just not that brave! But the stigma around chronic pain is precisely why we need to talk about it. We need National Pain Week and we will continue to need it for the foreseeable future.
Share Your Story
It’s National Pain Week in Australia – an opportune time to share you own story of chronic pain to help raise awareness of this issue in the community. As Tony Abboot’s remarks show, there is far too much ignorance around chronic pain in this country.
You can share your story online at Chronic Pain Australia’s Chronic Pain Forum or on social media using the hashtags: #NPW2017, #NationalPainWeek, #BeBold, #LetsManagePainTogether.
You’re also welcome to share your story here by leaving a comment below.