Please share about yourself, your experience with the Disability Assistance Benefit, and anything else you would like people to know.
I live right now in Chilliwack, BC. I’m from Maple Ridge and have been in Chilliwack for two years now. I grew up in Maple Ridge, and lived there pretty much my whole life. I’ve had multiple brain injuries from concussions from snowboarding to hockey, and then a tad more recent one in July in a car accident. I’ve been on Persons with Disability, the PWD, for almost two years now and I was approved for the CPP disability a few months ago. I have existing mental health issues with anxiety disorder, mood disorder, and manic depression, and with all the 9 braint injuries my brain hasn’t been able to heal and I still have post concussion syndrome now, as well and likely CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), as most doctors have told me. So yeah, it’s been a journey since the last, I think 2011 was my first major concussion, and like I’ve had times where I feel good, and then a lot of times where I’ve felt bad. And like anything good, I usually have to recover from.
I guess my first introduction to the Persons With Disability (benefit) was in late 2015, I had a really bad mental breakdown and I was in a psychiatric hospital for two weeks. And that’s when they diagnosed me with all my disorders, and the post concussion syndrome. When I got out of the psych ward there wasn’t a lot of follow up, like a recovery plan, or like guidance on what I should be doing,or if I was OK to go back to work. It was just like, “Oh, see how you feel.” And all this medication, which wasn’t helpful.
So getting out of the psych ward, I went right back to work, and it immediately became too much for me. So I had left work and I was on EI for a while, and then once I ran out of EI I was forced back to work. So I started taking my yoga teacher training, ’cause that was what I thought I could see myself doing. I started my teacher training in 2016 as well, and that was really difficult for me, like I had failed the exams three different times. Just the studying and physical work, it was too much for me to be honest.
I met a teacher and was helping her out with her studio, and before I knew it I was helping her manage the studio, and I was doing way more than I could take on. Of course that led up to another big breakdown. I stayed with that until 2018, and I had to take breaks in between, but by 2018 I had another breakdown. My partner had left me, and just leading up to that I was becoming more unstable. I was telling her that I might have to go on disability, or look into that, and that kind of scared her, so she left me and then I was just super overloaded, and I left the yoga studio.
I went back to my old job before the concussions, which is woodworking, like in finishing. But I had left that job earlier because it was too much for my brain. But I went back ’cause I wasn’t in a great place and it was a way to make more money, and that was the big thing. So I did that, and within a month and a half I fainted in my shower and had another concussion. Yeah, so I think that was number eight. After, like . . .That one, and the other concussion in 2014 were ones where things changed a lot for me, and my symptoms were much more severe. I wasn’t able to stand for long periods of time, and my symptoms were a lot worse, and so I started to look for disability help, and I found a brain injury person in Maple Ridge, who I actually turned out to know. I’d gone to school with her daughter, so she was able to help me out to get on to Persons With Disability. Before that I hadn’t even known about it.
Oh yeah, in 2016 I had applied to CPP disability * but they declined me two different times, and after they declined me in 2016, like they didn’t even tell me to apply for PWD. There was no like, “Oh, you should pursue this,” it was just like, “We can’t help you out.” And then after I appealed it (unsuccessfully), but I went back to work and then I ended up having another concussion ‘cause it was too much. So yeah, after I guess January 2019 is when I was approved for the PWD, and I was living with a roommate at the time, so my rent wasn’t as bad and things were a little more manageable. But then our place got demolished because they were building a property there, and I moved elsewhere. My parents live in Chilliwack so I was trying to be close to them. I found a cheap apartment in Chilliwack, but the money that I got from PWD was not enough to cover all of my living costs. I would cover rent and my bills and stuff for my cats, and then I would just have like maybe $80 – $100 for groceries. Then that would be it and I was like getting $1235 from them, and then after the COVID bonus came in, the extra $300 has definitely been helpful. But yeah, I don’t know how long that’s going to last**. Without that COVID bonus the last year would have been a lot tougher for sure.
The thing that sucks the most was because CPP declined me in 2016 twice, I went back to work unready until I had another breakdown in 2018. I was then approved for PWD in 2019, then had to re apply for CPP, was approved for CPP on the third try (in 2020), then the retro payments from CPP went to PWD. Since I should have been on CPP to begin with, starting in 2016. The retro pay was $13,997, but most of it went to PWD, instead of being paid out to me. I only received $1600. There were three years where I should have received CPP disability pay (2016-2019) but I didn’t get anything. If I had been approved in 2016 I would have gotten that money, I probably would have saved the two concussions/breakdowns for sure, and the challenge of applying for both disabilities that I went through. I could have used that money for so many things, but yeah PWD left me $1600 and took close to $13,997.
Now my payments for PWD are like $400 and whatever, and then I get $817 from CPP. So now I’m getting two different checks, and they’re both two weeks apart,. So even when I get the first one from PWD it’s not enough to cover my rent, I gotta wait till the other one comes in two weeks. So it definitely made it more difficult having the two of them, and also losing that money that I had paid into (CPP).
With the COVID bonus, it’s like I’m getting $1500 a month now from PWD and CPP, but before that, like the $1235 a month was not enough. My rent is now $865, which is pretty cheap, and I’m living in like the ghetto apartments in Chilliwack. There’s a lot of issues in the building, like my neighbour smokes cigarettes in his unit, and the smoke comes into my unit, so I’ve been trying to find another place to live. But everywhere, rent is just obviously so high, and I haven’t found anywhere near the amount I’m paying right now. So yeah, it’s been stressful having to live in a smoke filled unit, but I can’t even afford to move anywhere else. This is all I can afford, unless I get a roommate, which was also very stimulating with my symptoms and all that. So yeah, the money has never been enough, and at least once a month my parents will help me out with either groceries or if I need any extra money they usually send me over some. But yeah, I am definitely relying on people. I have one close friend, and he usually helps out with food and stuff like that too. Because I usually don’t have any extra money, like all the money I get goes to bills, groceries, and it’s all gone by the time I would have anything left for me.
The COVID bonus has definitely been helpful, so yeah I guess if they can keep that going forward, you know, increase the payment, that would be huge. But also accessing the benefits has been tricky as well. When I was approved for both disabilities, I didn’t get like a list of all the benefits that I got. Like I had to go onto Google and then track down the PDF documents, and every time I would call to talk to somebody it would be wait lines of over an hour usually, unless you call like first thing. I still haven’t accessed any of the benefits from both disabilities (disability coverage PWD and CPP) ’cause I don’t know how to get them or what’s available. And I actually just figured out how to use the PWD dental benefits, but that took a while and like I had to get my OT (Occupational Therapist) to help me out to get that information.
Is there anyone who you can ask for help from the government?
I’ve always been on my own . . . like now, because of the car accident ICBC’s paying for treatment for me, so I get to see an occupational therapist weekly. She’s been helping me out since July now, so that’s been more helpful. But that was through ICBC.
I have called PWD in the past, but usually they’re not really helpful, or I don’t get through.
So you don’t have anyone assigned to you, it’s just whoever answers the phone?
What do you dream support for people with disabilities could look like?
I guess more money and more assistance that’s easily available. Like yeah, having a case manager for each person with a disability, I think that would be a good start. I guess more money to lower the cost of living as well. I think treatments would be another thing that should be covered as well. I still don’t know what other things I’m entitled to with the disability benefits. My experience with ICBC lately, I have a case manager and she approved all these treatments, and that system has been more helpful than the disability system. I think the biggest thing would just be to increase the monthly checks for sure.
I really like nature like trees, mountains, rivers, lakes. My two cats are like my life, so definitely cats. When I’m able to watch TV I like to watch movies and TV shows, and then I game for a certain amount of time. But I also have been playing a lot of chess lately, which has been very helpful for my thinking process. I play online on an app on my iPad, and then I have an actual board that I’ve been playing with against my friend. We just take pictures of them and say like “Knight to 8 three,” and then we gotta work it out on the board so that’s been fun.
*CPP = Canadian Pension Plan Disability Benefit
* *The additional COVID funds were decreased by half in December, and will be discontinued in March