Job Transitions

I started working at the local hospital in May 2015 and have recently grown increasingly dissatisfied with my position.  Several of my coworkers did things to make work difficult on the rest of us, I got stuck working every other weekend (I agreed to it, but it got tiring after a while), I unwillingly got stuck working both Christmas and New Year’s weekends, and I was given just enough hours to stay right under the level of receiving benefits.  Outside my department there were no issues, and I enjoyed the job itself, but unfortunately the environment inside my department made it hard to sustain that enjoyment.

When I returned to college in August, my adviser encouraged me to consider the practicum course, in which you work 8-10 hours a week in a mental health setting and can earn 3 credit hours for basically just chatting with classmates about what you’ve learned.  She didn’t have any connections in my state, however, and the connection I had was struggling to think of something they could legally allow me to do.  My adviser did mention that a paying job could be used for the practicum, and in mid-November I submitted an application to work as a Residential Technician in the local residential facility for dual-diagnosis.  It wasn’t ideal, as it would make me have to quit DBT group and choose a new facility for any future inpatient care, but I was desperate to move on to the field I’ve chosen.

I heard nothing about that position.  My job became more unpleasant.  I wanted to actively search for a job, but winter had begun and I decided to wait for spring so I wouldn’t be learning a new job while having to drive to another state on icy roads.  Then I got a surprising e-mail.

A few days before Christmas, a lady from a different branch of the same organization said that she had seen my resume and wanted to know if I was available for a position she had open.  Let’s call this lady Tilly.  The position was also for a Residential Technician, but in apartment buildings for people with mild-to-moderate chronic mental illnesses.  She said the clients are mostly independent, but need some assistance to stay that way.

I had seen this job listing on the website and not even considered it, because it’s a 40-minute drive instead of the 10-minute drive I have now.  I was really excited that someone would approach me for a job instead of the other way around, so I scheduled a time to drive out there for an interview.  Tilly and a male coworker conducted the interview and it seemed to go really well.  I asked a lot of questions.  Then I told them I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue it further and would have to call in a day or two once I made a decision.

I had expressed a preference for days or evenings, then discovered that the clients need to be driven places, such as banks and grocery stores, every day.  I’m not very comfortable with driving in general, less so in unfamiliar places, even less so with passengers, and absolutely not at all with a large vehicle.  I went home prepared to call the next day and say I wasn’t interested.  Then I remembered one more question I forgot to ask, so I e-mailed Tilly again.

Her response requested that I consider night shift, in which driving would be limited to emergencies, and they would allow me to do homework in my down time.  She went over all the reasons she thought this would be a great opportunity for me.  I immediately raced over to see Glenda and we did a pros & cons sheet, which was pretty strongly in favor of the new job.  So the next day I dropped by the main center next door to the hospital and filled out paperwork for the background checks.

I got a call from Tilly the next day asking me if I could think of anything at all that I hadn’t mentioned that would show I’m a good candidate for the job, as the HR department had told her I wasn’t qualified.  I couldn’t think of much, and hung up the phone in tears.  I had gotten my hopes up, and there was clearly no way I’d get the job if I didn’t meet the qualifications.  Then I didn’t hear anything.  I was just about to contact Tilly and ask if there was anything else I could do to help the process, but I happened to mention the silence to Sierra and Rochelle after DBT group and Rochelle told me to hang in there because they were trying to work it out.

I got the job offer by e-mail that evening.  The qualifications in the job description they sent do not match the listing on the website, in ways that make it so I qualify.  I accepted the job immediately, turned in my two weeks notice on that Thursday.  My official end date was supposed to be January 26th, but my last scheduled day was the 19th and they made it clear they wouldn’t be calling me in to cover if anyone got sick in that final week.

Orientation for the new job is scheduled for January 31st, with me starting training on February 1st.  I’ll do a couple of days on day shift, one on nights, then back to days for a day so the supervisor can assess whether I need additional training days.  Yesterday I got another e-mail asking if I can attend the monthly RT meeting on the 26th.  I won’t get paid since it’s before my orientation, but I’ll get the opportunity to meet my coworkers, including the ones I’ll rarely see.  It would be great to meet people in a less stressful setting than training, so I agreed to go.

I’m excited, yes, and also a little terrified.  This will be my first job where making a mistake could have serious consequences.  Sadie said something that sounded harsh but I really needed to hear: “Sometimes clients commit suicide.  If you can’t accept that you can’t work in this field.”  I guess I won’t know if I can accept until it actually happens, at which point either I’ll cope or I’ll end up quitting my job and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

Top Reads of 2016

Last year I failed to complete my Goodreads challenge.  In 2015, my goal was 48 books, or 4 per month.  I bumped it up to 52 books for 2016, thinking I could manage a book per week.  Perhaps this would have worked out, but I returned to college and some of the books I read were lengthy textbooks, which took time away from that last 4 books I needed.

I’ve set my goal back at 48 books for 2017.  There will still be lengthy textbooks, but maybe I’ve better learned how to juggle the necessary reading with the fun reading.

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[Not pictured: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class On the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up.]

  1. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – I read my first book of 2016 in one day, during my last stay in the inpatient psych unit.  I was admitted late on January 2nd, and January 3rd was a Sunday so there were no groups to attend that day.  I pulled this, the only decent-sounding book, off the bookshelf and curled up in bed and read all day.  I’d recommend it for anyone who was able to look past historical inaccuracies and enjoy The DaVinci Code for the fun story it is.  It also evoked images of the TV show Warehouse 13.  I wouldn’t say it is directly comparable to either of these things, but I feel those are reasons I enjoyed it.
  2. The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT by Russ Harris – Sadie printed an article by Russ Harris out for me, which was a brief introduction to the content of this book.  I use some of his techniques frequently.  If you have trouble with getting stuck on negative thoughts, read this for ideas on how to accept them as just thoughts and let them go.
  3. The Sherlockian by Graham Moore – If you enjoyed any of the Sherlock Holmes books, you must read this.  It weaves a continuation of Sherlock’s story with a modern story about a Sherlock fan trying to solve a crime.
  4. The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle – You will probably cry more than once during this book about immigrants from Mexico and residents of gated communities who want to keep the Mexicans away, but it’s wonderfully written with rich details and interconnected storylines.
  5. Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class On the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – This is definitely a love-or-hate book.  Obviously I loved it.  I haven’t exactly finished the tidying up, but I did get through all my clothes and donated a bunch of stuff that didn’t “spark joy”.  I also learned better ways to fold clothes that are stored in drawers.  If you are the type of person to care about decluttering, I’m sure you’ll find at least a couple of helpful ideas.

The Day I Knew I Would Graduate

Early in 2015, I applied for assistance in job hunting from Vocational Rehabilitation.  By the time my plan was officially approved, I’d already been hired in my current job, but they retroactively paid for Joan, the employment specialist who had helped me.  Hank, the Vocational Rehab counselor, was available to help with additional problems.  A few months into the job, I was considered stably employed and my case was closed.

When the idea of returning to college started to become more than an idea, I e-mailed Hank to ask if there was anything Vocational Rehab could do to help.  I was mostly thinking of advice – helping find services on campus and the like.  I started school in August before I was able to meet with Hank, then we had to go through the lengthy process of writing a new plan for his supervisor’s approval.

In our final meeting to finish up the plan, Hank read to me the expectations of Vocational Rehab that I would have to meet.  One of them was to attend school full-time.  He didn’t notice, but I started crying.  I was about to tell him that I was wasting his time, and get up and walk out.  There was no way I could register for more than two courses for Spring and he was asking for four.  As I opened my mouth to excuse myself from his office, he mentioned that due to the nature of my disability and the fact that I also work, he could modify that requirement.

My state of panic subsided, and by the end of the appointment it was a state of shock and elation.  I’d been hoping for advice and encouragement, and expected that if there was any financial assistance involved it would be, at most, some help with textbook fees.  Hank gave me some conditions I would have to follow, such as maintaining at least a 2.0 GPA and following the university’s code of conduct.  Beyond that, my major responsibility was to file the FAFSA each year and accept any grants and scholarships that were offered.

With those conditions met, Vocational Rehab would pay the remainder of tuition and fees, textbooks, transportation (including the on-campus parking pass), and a commuter meal plan to cover the days I have to be on campus.  After follow-up with Hank, we have established that they don’t need to consider the parking pass until the start of Fall 2017 as my current pass runs through the end of Summer sessions.  We also will not be doing the meal plan as my scheduled classes are online for next semester, but it will remain in my plan in case it’s necessary when I take on-campus classes in the future.

That was the day I knew I would graduate.  I had taken a huge leap of faith by applying and enrolling in college when I didn’t have a reliable source of money to get through it all.  With every exam I take and paper I submit, I remember Vocational Rehab and am overwhelmed by gratitude all over again.

Food Bank Donation Tips

My college has a food bank for students.  You have to show a student ID, fill up your bags, and then sign and date a paper, with optional checklist to indicate what types of items you took.  Every two weeks you can get a bag of toiletries, and you can either get one bag of food a week, or two at a time if you only come in every other week.  Not long into the semester, they offered me a tote bag, which made it much easier to visit because I could carry the food with me to class without embarrassment, versus having to hike way back to the car and hide it in my trunk.

fuel-nku-fall-2016-collage

I don’t think I ever filled my bags as full as I could have, even taking fewer than the allowed amount of bags some weeks when I was feeling particularly guilty about being there.  Over the past semester I’ve made several observations about suggestions I could make to people donating to a food bank.  These are especially applicable in a college setting, but the general ideas apply elsewhere too.

  • Please choose packages that have individually wrapped items inside them.  For example, instead of family-size bags of chips, get one of the variety packs of single-serving bags.  The food bank will split them up so people can take just a few and more people will get some.
  • Granola bars go quickly and there’s always demand for those.  Usually there’s enough oatmeal to go around, but consider cream of wheat, which also comes in single-serving packets.
  • Reconsider the choice to donate a bunch of canned vegetables.  Everyone donates the canned vegetables, and there’s an overabundance of them.  Think about more unusual vegetables (maybe asparagus?  hominy?), beans, and fruit.
  • Many people may not have reliable access to a refrigerator and/or stove.  Think about items that are in smaller packages to reduce leftovers, and items that can be eaten uncooked or microwaved.
  • There’s usually lots of soup, but if you’re willing to spend a little extra (or find coupons or a good sale), the single-serving soups in the microwavable containers would be really nice.
  • Dried fruit.  Just fruit in general, but things like raisins and fruit leather are rare to find and would make a great snack when people have to rush between classes all day.
  • Please no ramen.  I know you can buy a huge bundle of them for a very low price, but the idea of the food bank is for people to get at least somewhat healthy foods they can’t afford.
  • The microwavable cups of pasta and cheese are very popular.  There’s usually a good supply of those, but how about the similar cups of instant mashed potatoes?
  • Toiletries are wonderful, but would be even better if people could donate a wider variety.  There’s always plenty of shampoo, conditioner, and soap/body wash.  There’s plenty of toothbrushes, toothpaste, and deodorant, and a lot of these items last for quite a while.  Mouthwash is pretty rare, as are floss and the little floss picks.  I have never seen Q-tips there, and those can be bought in little travel packs that would be good for donations.  Also, travel packs of tissues.  As someone with extremely curly hair, I can say some of us would be very grateful for cans of mousse to tame the curls.
  • Also consider cleaning supplies and baby supplies (diapers, wipes, formula, etc.)  Even in a college, there are plenty of parents with young children, and this would be even more true in the wider community setting.

I started forming these ideas as a mental list, so that once I graduate and find a steady job I can go back and donate all the things I wish they’d had while I was a student.  Hopefully others will find these suggestions helpful as well.

Thankfulness, 2016 Edition

A little over a year ago I started a gratitude journal, and today I’m browsing through it to remember all the things I’ve been thankful for in the past year.

I am thankful that I made it 365 days without inpatient, and soon after that I made it through all of 2015 without inpatient.  I’m also thankful that I was able to go to inpatient after that when I needed it.  Not long after my last stay there, they had to temporarily close because they had a staffing shortage, and when they reopened the census limit was so low that they still had to send people to other facilities.  They still aren’t up to full capacity, but I’m thankful that it’s high enough now that they wouldn’t turn me away.

I’m thankful for great friends that I spend time with regularly.  Shawna and her family have welcomed me into their home on multiple occasions, including a belated Thanksgiving dinner last year, and a birthday celebration for myself and her future daughter-in-law.  Glenda and Bea, my beloved coworkers, are always excited to see me and I sometimes make weekend plans with Glenda and her daughter.

I’m thankful that December 1st last year didn’t go as badly as it could have.  My mom called me at work, saying she thought she broke her wrist and needed a ride to the hospital.  I left work to get her, we discovered that her wrist was just sprained, and I took her home.  On the way back to work I had an accident, totalling my car and breaking a telephone pole in half.  Fortunately I only had minor bruising, and was able to find a new car two weeks later.

I’m thankful that the same day that I bought the car I also adopted a 4th cat.  She’s a gorgeous Russian Blue and I’m so glad that I didn’t let mom discourage me from bringing her home.  She had been shaved due to a flea allergy and was looking a little pathetic, but she now has the most beautiful, softest coat I’ve ever felt.  She also has a sweet temperament and has accompanied me to therapy several times.

I’m thankful that I accepted an invitation to a NAMI Christmas dinner, as it led to some exciting activities in the new year.  I took the 10-week Peer-to-Peer course, where I learned a lot and made several new friends.  I also began attending Crisis Intervention Team meetings and helping with a lot of planning for an upcoming 40-hour training on mental illness aimed at police officers and other first responders.  I’ll be attending the training to help out as well, for 5 alternating Tuesdays in January and February.

I’m thankful that I have attended several concerts and plays in the past year, and have more on the horizon.  I don’t have time to be involved in theatre right now, but I can still get my fix in the audience.

I’m thankful that I got to graduate from DBT group, even if I did end up returning a month later.  I’m thankful that I returned just in time to start the new edition of the material, and that after getting through the new edition I’ve been able to help explain things to newer members and provide examples that are more realistic than those in the book.

I’m thankful for the trip I got to make to visit Sabra and her family in Chicago.  All the transportation went smoothly despite my anxiety, and I was impressed with how well I handled Emily this time.  I’m also thankful that, after having another baby, Sabra included me in a list of honorary aunts for her girls.

I’m thankful that I’ve been able to donate activities to inpatient to help the clients pass their time.  In January, a few weeks after my last stay, I dropped off a bunch of velvet coloring posters.  Tomorrow I’ll be taking a set of puzzle books (mazes, dot-to-dots, and pixel puzzles).  I know how much I would have loved these things while there, and hope that others will appreciate them.

I’m thankful for the brief period in which I received a little bit of food stamps and the fresh fruit I was able to buy during that time.  I’m thankful for the items I’ve been able to get from a food bank in recent months.

I’m thankful that I was able to manage the annual February depression by writing blog posts to honor my grandparents.  I appreciate Sadie for coming up with this idea, and plan to do something similar again next year.

I’m thankful that I was invited to Bea’s anniversary party, and was able to see, talk to, and hug Deputy Wayne again.  I felt so special when he said that he’d been keeping tabs on me.

I’m thankful for the friends who donated money to help pay down my CMHC bill, and extra thankful that the rest of the bill was eliminated.  Since my insurance pays for all my appointments, I have a $0 balance and never have to pay when I’m there.

I’m thankful for the adventures mom and I have had going on weekend trips and nearby day trips.  My photography is mostly limited to travel now, and I’m excited when I have a new batch of photos to share.

I’m thankful to have completed a full year in my job at the hospital, and that it will be 18 months in 2 more days.  I’m thankful that despite many frustrations with my work situation I have learned to accept it as it is and make the best out of the situation.  I’m thankful for Jacey and Evelyn, the HR managers at work who have lent their ears repeatedly while I was still learning that acceptance.

I’m thankful that after several years of dialysis and a very low chance of finding a match, mom received a kidney transplant.  I’m thankful that she has been doing so well since then and was able to quickly reduce her transplant clinic appointments.

I’m thankful for the encouragement I received to return to college, and for the fact that I was accepted despite some pretty pathetic transcripts.  I’m thankful that I’m doing well in my classes and for the disability services that have helped reduce the stress and the writing center that gave me confidence about my first psychology paper.  I’m thankful for assistance from Vocational Rehab, which I will elaborate on in a later post.  I’m thankful that Sadie is supportive of my career goals and has started talking as though she assumes I will accomplish them.

I’m thankful for prompt treatment in the ER, first for a corneal abrasion and then for a broken pinky toe.

I’m thankful that I got to know Janie for 30 years and was able to attend her beautiful funeral.  I’m thankful for the many times I’ve been able to cheer up her sister, Jacey, by dropping by her office to say hello.

I’m thankful for the comfortable and beautiful LuLaRoe clothes I’ve added to my wardrobe, and for the consultants’ willingness to point me toward a different consultant in search of a specific item.

I’m thankful that Shawna was understanding about my opting out of the haunted cornfield, and that I still got to help by running the shop during her new daytime event.  I’m thankful that I got to face my fears three times in one day, by going through a corn maze, going through the haunted cornfield, and attending the after-party.

I’m thankful that I recently had to go inside inpatient to deliver slippers and was able to turn around and walk right back out.  It was empowering to have the freedom to leave.

I’m thankful for Liam, the guy I’ve been flirting with for months.  He appears to be flirting in return but hasn’t pursued a date, and I’m trying to figure out how to get it through his head that I’m interested without leading to embarrassment for me.  In the meantime, I’m thankful for his smile and his laughter, his appreciation when I do things for him, and the fact that he’ll often pop in while I’m checking their supplies, just to say hi.

Midterm College Update

I kind of disappeared for a while.  I’ve been super busy with school and work and other work, but wanted to check in and let everyone know I’m still out here.

I was scheduled for Abnormal Psychology for the full semester and Personality Psychology for the second 8-week term.  Abnormal is great.  So far I’ve earned 81%, so even if I gave up now I’d have a B-.  To get an A I need to complete the remaining short journal responses and average 45% on the last two exams.

Personality Psychology just started last week.  I’ve earned 11%, with another 5% pending for a 2-page essay.  I hadn’t written a paper in almost 10 years, and never in APA format, so I took my rough draft to the Writing Center to get help from a tutor.  I didn’t make all the possible changes she suggested, but did some work with citing sources and changed the topics in my final paragraph slightly to have something to cite.  The tutor was very helpful and I will definitely use that service again.  I did have to follow up with some formatting advice from a friend, which was also helpful.

On November 2nd I get to register for spring classes, which will be Lifespan Development and Cognitive Processes.  These topics are less familiar than the ones I’m studying now, but both classes are entirely online so test-taking is a bit easier.  I’m skipping out on the 3-week winter term and using that time to study for the credit for prior learning exams.

All in all it’s going a lot better than I expected.

Struggling With Urges

Yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day.  I had sworn off doing anything remotely productive that day, so I didn’t post then, but now I feel I should have said something.

Things have been going quite well in my life for months.  So far in my Abnormal Psychology class I have a perfect score, and even though we haven’t reached the first exam yet I have every online quiz done for the whole semester.  All the little details of college have been falling into place.  I’ve managed to drive to campus 6 times on my own.

Then I had some personal losses.  Brent began working in inpatient and I was no longer able to see him, so instead of meeting his replacement I transferred all my prescriptions over to my family doctor.  I tried to share good news with some people who’ve been very important to me in the past and despite knowing what to expect it still hurt terribly.

I had a conflict with Sadie and e-mailed her to say I wanted to terminate therapy.  She said we’d discuss it in person the next Monday (2 weeks after my previous appointment) and then was sick that day and I couldn’t get another appointment for 2 more weeks.

I got some hopes up about possibly becoming part-time at work, so when I was asked to work every other weekend (instead of every 6th) I agreed, thinking that was the solution to making me part-time.  As soon as I said yes I was told I would only be a .3 (part time is .5).  I was so frustrated and upset, and went to talk to HR about it, where I was told my supervisor can’t make these kinds of changes without consulting them.  So they planned to get involved, but I had no idea where that would lead.

I was working the weekend immediately following that Friday, and my weekend was going well.  There was a short period of panic Sunday morning when the phones weren’t working correctly, but other than that it was a quiet weekend.  Then I was walking casually down the hall, returning to my department, and out of nowhere I felt an intense urge to slit my wrists.  Not the kind that results in a few bandages, but the kind where you bleed to death.  I got downstairs and locked myself in my department, sobbing about how this kind of thing is going to keep happening over and over and I will never be fit to be a therapist for someone else when I can’t get my own life together.

That evening I struggled with these suicidal urges.  And again on Monday, and still on Tuesday, when I followed up on DBT group by walking over to the main CMHC building and asking to speak with the on-call therapist, Jan.  I rambled a bit incoherently and she smacked me with reality a few times.  She said it’s quite possible that I won’t be able to work with people who are acutely suicidal or actively self-harming, but that leaves a wide variety of options that I can handle.  She also talked about no one ever having their life together and feeling like an adult.

I explained about the plan to stop seeing Sadie, and how I said it was a Wise Mind decision, that I would be able to focus better on school if I wasn’t dealing with therapy and the reminders that I’m ill.  I admitted that I was trying to pretend none of it was real.  “And when has that ever been helpful?”  Never.  And I can never pretend it’s not real because I have to take medication four times a day, so there’s 1,460 reminders a year.  After nearly a month of not seeing Sadie I’m no longer even sure about my decision.  I felt confident at first, but over time I became sad and scared.

Jan went to talk to Dr. Bhatia, telling me that she worries about me sometimes and could go either way on the subject of inpatient.  I begged her not to send me, as missing school would just make my life get worse.  She came back from consulting him and had me sign a contract for safety with notes that I would: a.) see Sadie on Monday, b.) see my family doctor on Tuesday, c.) call a friend from my safety plan, and d.) follow the rest of my safety plan as needed.

So I got home, not telling mom where I’d been.  It wasn’t until the next day that I mentioned it and she could not understand why I might need to talk to someone.  The next day I had class, and I did not want to go.  Mom offered to drive me, and it wasn’t that I was worried about driving, but I let her because that way it would guarantee that I’d go and not just drive off somewhere random.  On the way home I was saying that if I’d gone to see Jan after class instead of two days earlier, I would have let her admit me.  Mom told me to stop talking that way.

I have used so many distractions and so many social interactions trying to avoid these persistent thoughts.  I do not want to die, I want to stop hurting.  Before my last inpatient stay I had weeks where every little thing made my heart physically ache, and that feeling is back.  Yesterday I finally got home and didn’t have the energy to keep fighting, so I gave mom a basket full of my pills and razors and asked her to go stash them somewhere hidden.

A part of me longs to go to inpatient.  I can keep myself safe without being there, but staying 4 or 5 nights would help me feel better.  Unfortunately it’s too late to do that without messing up my life again.  First exam on Thursday, work on Friday.  My window of opportunity has closed.