I'm 39 years old and still struggle to accept the fact that I have centralised pain syndrome and fibromyalgia on top of Crohn's disease and crippling irritable bowel syndrome. Pain has been a constant in my life since childhood, but I always assumed it would get better.
It hasn't. It's getting worse.
I also struggle with mental health issues - post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, ADHD. I've tried several antidepressants, all kinds of pain medications, physio, acupuncture, radical dietary change, everything. After endless doctors appointments and specialists and tests, my outcome is "poor".
For the past few years, I've been on a biologic drug called Infliximab for Crohn's. I get infusions every couple of months in the chemo ward at the public hospital. This medication destroys my immune system and it is incredibly fatiguing. I am often too weak to drive, cook, clean, or even shower. I am not eligible for any kind of home help and too young for meals on wheels.
It's not easy to live with chronic pain and an incurable disease, especially when you add financial stress to the equation. I'm locked out of the job market. I rely on welfare, specifically Supported Living Payments (SLP).
The government needs to remove sanctions from people on supported living payments. Sanctions prevent people like me from being able to enter into loving and secure relationships.
I read an article about the dangers of isolation recently, it's pretty scary. I never have any money or energy to go out and see friends so I have lost most of them. I'm not a senior. I'm not alone because my partner or friends have died. I'm alone because it is a condition of being on a benefit as a result of a situation I have no control over.
The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) does not allow people on the SLP to have partners without financial consequences. According to their website, even "emotional support" can be considered a form of relationship. The way Work and Income (Winz) works, you either find a partner who can financially support you and your children or you can't have a partner at all.
Life on a benefit as the laws stand today allows me few options:
Seeking out wealthy people willing to be the main breadwinner, convincing these people (where am I supposed to meet them again?) I am a viable mate, and hoping like crazy they treat me well and don't abuse me; one night stands - not my thing, since I have PTSD from being sexually assaulted; having a partner, but if they can't earn enough, I have to work; being alone.
I tried living with someone a few years ago and I was forced to enter the workforce because his full-time minimum wage income couldn't support us. Trying to juggle a household, pre-teens, increasingly poor health and unsuitable jobs resulted in me having a nervous breakdown. The stress split us up and I had to move out and get straight back on the SLP.
All I want is a shoulder to cry on sometimes, a hug. I want someone to snuggle up to on a cold night. I don't want random sexual encounters with strangers, I don't want to risk being abused by someone who may feel like they own me because they pay the bills.
People on the SLP are so unwell they are unlikely to ever get better. I should not be getting punished for circumstances out of my control. I have lived a healthy, responsible and disciplined lifestyle. My disease is not my fault, my issues are genetic.
All I need to survive is loving human contact. The government needs to remove what they call sanctions from people on the SLP. Sanctions are what prevent people like me from being able to enter into loving and secure relationships.
We should be allowed to have a partner. I should be allowed to keep my income if I'm dating someone who is not able to earn enough to cover our entire household on their own. Sure, if I do find a magical childless big-hearted millionaire who is able to support me Winz will be the first to know. But unfortunately, I live in the real world.
MSD policy has forced me into isolation and this government has the power to fix it. I hope with every ounce of my being that they do.
• Hannah McGowan is a parent and writer. Despite multiple health issues, she is doing her best to create an income for herself as a freelancer through Patreon
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE:
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757