THIS week sees the cinematic release of I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach’s mirror to the welfare state, about a disabled man repeatedly thwarted by the system’s bureaucracy. In response, many are using #IamDanielBlake to share their own stories on social media, shining a light into the much-maligned world of the benefit claimant. This is my attempt to do the same.

No-one plans for their life to be derailed. We don’t build our families and our futures predicated on the eventuality of it combusting at some point. My parents were no exception. They hadn’t started a life, made a home, had two children and moved country knowing that my father would commit suicide by the time I was six. It set the wheels in motion for a different life than the one they’d planned together. A life of uncertainty, of flux and of my mother having to do everything she could to provide for us. A life, I’m sure you can imagine, that was far from easy or straightforward for her, and as a result, for us.

By the time I was a teenager, I’d had a serious eating disorder. I’d been hospitalised. I had even tried to take my own life – not because I wanted to die, but because the Sisyphean task of managing the day-to-day meant I couldn’t imagine anything better. I was angry. I was ashamed. My ticket out of there, I was told, was that I was smart. I’d been a straight-A student my whole life, and knew that if I could just get my Highers, and start my law degree, I could start again. I could shake the Etch-a-Sketch and start my adult life on a better footing. So that’s what I did.

Fast forward 12 years, and the life I have doesn’t resemble the shape I’d been expecting. The route I took to get here looks like more of a spirograph doodle than a straight line. A significant part of that, which I’ve done my best to keep quiet about, has been my interaction with the welfare system.

By the time I was 21, my life had undergone a significant upgrade. I had a partner, a child, a job, a beautiful big house in Edinburgh. I remember being heavily pregnant with twins, sitting under our pear tree with my daughter, trying to catch newts from the garden pond, and saying to myself: “I’ve done it. This is everything I wanted”. I was happy. I was myopic.

A year later, I was in a tiny flat with a three-year-old and two babies. Two babies who had to sleep in the hallway in their cots because there was no room elsewhere. In my grand plan for self-improvement, I’d made a couple of egregious oversights. I hadn’t factored in my partner’s sudden parental caring responsibility and subsequent bereavement. We hadn’t planned for my emergency C-section, peripheral neuropathy, long hospitalisation and severe postnatal mental illness. I hadn’t expected us both to emerge from our year of hell as entirely different people, our personalities chamfered, and attempting to continue without one another.

I remember the first time I had to attend the job centre to complete the application forms for Income Support and Housing Benefit. I was recently off crutches and had enlisted the help of a friend – a male friend – to help me in with the children. I hadn’t dreamed for a second that he would be asked personal and probing questions about the nature of our relationship. I was admonished – told that if I was found to be lying there could be serious consequences. It was my first taste of the shame and the questioning my mother had spent her life navigating. Later, I remember sitting in the job centre attending a work review. Trying to answer questions about my job search as my colicky child cried on my knee. My key worker repeatedly told me to quieten him down, and to have them cared for next time so as not to disrupt others.

At my lowest point, we were destitute. I was denied a crisis loan. I couldn’t afford to put the heating on, so we slept in our outdoor clothes. I couldn’t afford sanitary towels, so I made do with old clothes cut into rags. As we waited for the money to come through, I sold everything I could. I took out dodgy loan after dodgy loan, sinking deeper and deeper into debt with each passing week. I’d given serious consideration to sex work. I ate plain porridge or cornflakes with milk so the children could eat proper food and I could afford nappies for the babies. I remember the guilt and the humiliation as I’d handed over the wedding rings I’d inherited from my mother and father to Cash Converters, and having no choice but to take the paltry £30 they’d offered me for both. Memories and sentimentality versus food, heat, life. An easy choice to make when there are three small faces looking at you.

I felt ashamed. I was embarrassed to my core. I don’t talk about it often. Despite the baggage that came with asking the system for help, without it I wouldn’t be where I am now. When you’re on your lowest rung, sometimes you just don’t have the energy to grab hold of the one above and wrench yourself out. You need a hand. You need to be lifted.

That is what welfare is for. It’s the reason that now, seven years later, things are comfortable. I have a house, a good job that allows me to support all of us unaided, and the privilege of not having to jump through every degrading hoop asked of me by a system that sees numbers instead of people. I know that I am an outlier here. Many more need help for more complex reasons, for far longer, and sometimes indefinitely. And that is not something we should allow to be demonised. I am proud that my taxes help to offer a hand to those who need it, however flawed.

The burden of a personal crisis is hard enough without the side of shame we generously help ourselves to. We could all do to remember we are just one crisis away from needing our safety net. The safety net none of us should be ashamed to call on when we need it.

As Angela Haggerty said in her own video: I am Daniel Blake. We are all Daniel Blake.