I had to resign from my job last year, due to my mental health issues. It’s been a struggle since then but I’m getting back on my feet with a part time job at a local arts venue and increasing amounts of freelancing work. Although the future’s looking brighter, the next few months are looking a little precarious when it comes to my finances.
Everyone I’ve spoken to – health professionals and friends – have said that I really need to keep the bank informed, that they’ll be helpful if I give them advanced warning of any difficulties, but if I leave it until I’m in arrears I’ll be in trouble. Rather tellingly, the only person that has told me I shouldn’t get in touch with my bank is my dad – and he used to work in one. This week I have tried to open channels of communication with them.
You’re going to have to bear with me for a while…
I understand that the situation I’m in would be stressful for anyone – that’s a given – but this is what’s happened this week. I dialled the generic number for my bank’s call centre and requested an appointment at my local branch. When I was asked why I needed one (because you get loads of money from me and I want half an hour of your time in return?) I explained that it was about my mortgage repayments and I was told to ring the mortgage centre.
I was getting incredibly anxious at this point, but explained that I have mental health issues and that telephone conversations about stressful matters are a massive trigger for me. I even shared that I had tried to do this last summer and I’d had a panic attack which ended up in a 48 hour meltdown – and because of this, the conversation hadn’t even led to any of the issues I’d spoken about being addressed.
Feeling unusually assertive, I persisted in saying that I needed a face-to-face appointment and eventually the voice on the end of the phone said that somebody from my local branch would contact me. I then waited two days before somebody called me.
Marcus, from my local branch was a really nice guy, but despite his best efforts, he could only offer me the same phone number to call as the voice on the end of the phone had. I again explained why this wouldn’t work for me and Marcus went to talk to his manager – who said that I could come into the branch to make the phone call, but it would be no different to me making the call at home. That’s not really a face-to-face appointment is it?
This morning I naively tried again to explain my needs and reasons for requiring an appointment with a real person who was sat in the same room as me. It didn’t work – and just as an aside, let’s not forget that when they wanted me to sign for one of their mortgages, I had a ‘personal adviser’ that gave me hours of her time. Where was that service now?
That’s the background – this is the point I’m making.
If I had a physical disability and couldn’t climb stairs without it causing me significant pain for the rest of the week, the bank would be heavily criticised if they didn’t accommodate my health-needs. If they denied a wheelchair-user access to their branch, the same would happen – and quite right too. Think hearing loops, or fact sheets provided in braille, larger font and as audio-transcripts.
I understand that financial problems are incredibly stressful for anyone, I really do – but for me they are a massive trigger for a relapse, something that can cause me to become seriously unwell if they’re not managed in the way I need them to be.
Think of it this way. It’s the difference between stairs causing someone problems because they are unfit or because they have a physical disability. The difference between a person with a visual impairment needing fact sheets in a large font and me just forgetting to put my specs on.
I don’t understand why this is acceptable. I’m at a loss at what to do next. I’ve looked at selling up and renting, but renting is no cheaper and the cost of moving would eat up the equity I have – as with no children, I’m not a priority for housing or any additional financial support.
What do I do?
The choice I have seems to be this: go through the channels the bank want me to go through and plan for at least a week where I’m ill and unable to work, or ignore the bank and keep working in the hope that I’ll have enough money to actually pay my bloody mortgage by the date they take it out of my account.
I might excel at self-loathing, but choosing to do something that sets my recovery back – and in such a swift and sudden manner – seems a little too extreme, even for me.
I told my support worker about the barriers I’d come up against and she suggested that I write to the bank – and email them and there and then, rather than stressing about every word for days. She knows me well… This is what I put.
“In the past week I have attempted to discuss my current financial situation with you. I have mental health issues and require a face to face meeting to do this. The last time I tried to call to discuss this matter (summer 2014) I had a relapse and was quite ill. I have explained to several people in HSBC that phone conversations, especially about stressful matters, are a trigger for me relapsing but I have not been offered a face to face meeting to discuss my situation. I would like it recorded that I have tried all avenues to keep you informed but have just met with resistance when requesting support to accommodate my disability. For the above reason, please do not try and contact me by phone – I just had to complete this section of the form to be able to submit this. With regards, CNS Blogger”
Well OK, I didn’t sign off as CNS Blogger…
Jackie from the bank phoned to discuss ‘my complaint and my current mortgage problems’.
Me (starting to stammer) – “Is this the matter I asked not to be contacted by phone with?”
Jackie (sarcastically) – “No because otherwise I wouldn’t be phoning you.”
I had a complete meltdown, full blown panic attack. Jackie then took the time to read my email and started panicking herself, saying ‘oh my god, oh my god I’m so sorry. What can I do? Breathe!!’ over and over again.
Between gasps I started stammering an apology for being so nuts, saying how I’m trying my best to get on with the life I’d been given and not give up etc (usual ramblings). Bless her, she then tried to make amends by telling me that she thought I was doing really well and I should be proud of myself – and then went on to reassure me with the classic line of ‘please don’t worry, we’ll only take your house off you as a last resort‘. I went to pieces so badly it made the first half of the conversation look like a light-hearted chat. She panicked…repeat for ten more minutes.
Bizarrely I grew rather fond of her. She’d obviously just never encountered mental health issues before and had no idea what to do. In the end she felt so bad that one of their mortgage guys came out of his call centre for a face to face meeting with me in my local branch. So kind of worth it. And at least I proved my point, albeit in a totally humiliating way.