College Disability Services

When I went to my college orientation, the lunch period included a campus resource fair at which we could pick up brochures and speak to representatives of various campus services.  One person I spoke with was from Disability Services and she told me that to initiate the process I needed to submit a letter from a licensed professional that documents my disability.

Based on my diagnosis and some thoughts I provided about potential challenges, Sadie wrote this letter and yesterday I met with Annie in the Disability Services office.  She asked me a long series of questions about my diagnosis and treatment, previous college attempts, and work.  At one point she said, “You’ll probably say no, but have you ever worked with Vocational Rehab?”  I surprised her by saying yes.  Not only did they help me get my current job, but last week I had a meeting to reapply for services to assist with college.

Annie explained possible accommodations and we settled on two: preferred seating in the front row and permission to tape record lectures.  I felt that additional accommodations for exams would be unnecessary, as I would already be minimizing distractions by sitting in the front.

I had to sign a form acknowledging that I would not share the lecture recordings with anyone else and that I would delete them within two weeks after the course ends.  Annie gave me a letter to present to professors to notify them of these accommodations.

The form I received for my records also indicates suggested resources.  She listed the Counseling and Wellness Center as well as meeting regularly with professors.

At any time I can meet with her again to discuss possible adjustments if something isn’t helping or I run into an additional problem we didn’t accommodate for.  Each semester after I schedule classes, I have to go online and request an updated letter.

Today Annie e-mailed me a copy of the Disability Services handbook.  It discusses a variety of possible accommodations and I found one that I’m considering requesting.  There is an option to schedule classes early to ensure getting the desired sections.  Given my driving anxiety it would be very helpful to guarantee minimal trips to campus.

If you are attending college and have any type of disability, physical or mental, please contact your school’s Disability Services office.  Don’t assume that your diagnosis won’t qualify you for accommodations that would help.  I was able to get accommodations to compensate for distractibility despite not having an ADHD diagnosis.  It is based more on the challenges you identify than on the label you’ve been given.

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Eventful Weeks

A couple of weeks ago I went off all my meds.  I’d been perfectly compliant since January 2nd, but I was planning to kill myself the next morning so I didn’t see much point in taking the medication anymore.  I missed them all for 6 days straight, until having to confess to Sadie.  I told her I’d restart them but needed to consult Brent for instructions on the Lamictal.  I immediately went to the receptionist and asked if Brent’s nurse was available for a few minutes.  She took me back to her office where I confessed what I had done and she told me to just restart them all.  I pointed out that I’d previously been told (by Dr. Bhatia in inpatient) that if I missed Lamictal for over 3 days I should restart at the lowest dose.

The nurse sent me back to the waiting room for about 15 minutes while she waited for an opportunity to talk to Brent.  She came back out and said he’d given the same advice she did.  She asked if I could contract for safety and I said yes.  She told me to keep my appointment coming up the next Tuesday and to call if I had a problem before then.

I felt perfectly fine off my meds.  I had some fatigue, but my mood was stable.  This definitely did not encourage me to take the meds again, even though I know that state won’t last.  When I did get to see Brent, I asked to try getting off some of the medication.  We agreed that this month he’d reduce the Latuda dose to 20 mg with the aim of eliminating it next month, and if there was a negative impact on my mood he’d increase the Lamictal to compensate.

There has been an impact.  Yesterday I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and was too restless to stay in bed, so I got up and went to work super early and ate breakfast in the cafeteria.  Then I got the giggle fits over and over again.  Initially I looked at an “oral hygiene kit” and thought, “What if we had anal hygiene kits?  Oh wait, they’re called enemas.”  I laughed so hard I nearly suffocated, and after this happened several times throughout the day my coworkers suggested drug testing me.

I crashed from this elated mood around 3 pm and felt inexplicably sad, then got super irritable for the rest of the evening.  We went grocery shopping and out to eat and I had some very unkind thoughts about every person who crossed my path.  Today is not so bad.  I’ve been very motivated and accomplished most of the to-do list that I wrote on my arm yesterday.  I’ll definitely keep an eye on the mood, but I already suspect Brent is going to need to increase the Lamictal.

A few days after I went off the meds on my own, I had a very eventful day.  I was scheduled for a mental exam with a psychologist for him to determine whether I was disabled, because Social Security couldn’t seem to figure it out from my records.  Spoiler: he said I wasn’t and my claim was denied a few days later.  Since applying, however, I’ve started to feel much better and more capable and I’m not going to pursue it any further.

In the middle of the mental exam, after I couldn’t remember 3 words after 5 minutes and started to get confused by repeating a series of numbers backwards, there was a knock at the door.  The psychologist asked if I was expecting someone, which seemed like a rather weird question, but it turned out the knock was for me.  Mom was at the door saying, “I have to go to the hospital now.  Bye.”  Not specific enough!  I said, “What hospital?  Why?” and she said, “Christ.  Kidney.  Bye.”

Yes, I was finally able to use the Hello Kidney gift.  Monday of last week, mom got a kidney transplant.  I completed my mental exam, which was rather unfair since I was too distracted to elaborate on the difficulties I have at work, and rushed home to pack a suitcase for mom and then rushed to the city to be with her until the surgery.  The doctors had to give her several units of plasma because her blood was too thin, plus three different antibiotics, so it was around 8:40 before they finally took her down to the operating room.

Mom was in the hospital for 10 nights, but I finally got to bring her home on Thursday.  Her news certainly overshadowed my acceptance to college.  Today I’ve worked super hard on preparing for that.  I received and replied to an e-mail from my academic adviser and have an appointment to meet with her in 2.5 weeks.  I e-mailed the disability services office at the college to request a meeting time to discuss possible accommodations.  I e-mailed the vocational rehab counselor who I worked with for job hunting last year to see if there is any assistance he can provide with continuing education.

I’ve also been busy with the Crisis Intervention Team.  I prepared a Google Drive where we can store the handouts from each presenter so that the participants can access them at any time.  I sent information out to everyone who was present at the last meeting so they can see the format and make sure everything is working okay.

Other busyness has included working on my book (a chapter and a half plus the epilogue to go) and changing my name.  I’d been going by a nickname for 17 years but still use my legal name for things like employment and medical care, so Sadie pointed out that I might be feeling inner conflict due to this incongruity.  She suggested that I needed to choose one, and due to my laziness I chose to go back to my legal name.  It’s not what I wanted and I’m unhappy about the choice, but I didn’t want to deal with a name change and updating my driver’s license and debit card and all those other documents.  I didn’t realize until after the fact that I would have a few hundred internet accounts to update.

Loads of Changes

In early 2015, after quitting my overwhelming warehouse job and being prompted by both Sadie and Sierra, I applied for disability.  I was immediately rejected due to not having enough work credits.  I needed to work 6 more months to become eligible.  A year later I had worked enough in my occasional job at the hospital, and the social worker in inpatient encouraged me to reapply.  I did so in early February.

A couple of weeks ago I received a call from the local Social Security office.  The man I spoke with told me that under the current conditions he could not send my application on to state with any expectation of approval – I had earned too much money in 3 out of 10 months.  He said that he understands it is hard to turn down hours when you need money and that people often push themselves too hard as a result.  He said that he could update the onset date on my application to the present if I limited my hours to stay under the maximum earnings.  The conversation otherwise indicated that he thought I had a good chance of approval.

I figured up that I could safely work 10 days per month – half time, when I was only hired for 1 day per week.  I made a pros and cons chart and planned to discuss it with Sadie, but I already knew I wanted to tell my crew lead not to schedule me as much as she has in the past.

Then I talked to Sadie.  Before I even brought up the topic of the disability application she had mentioned that she was confident I could handle full-time work, or a second job if I couldn’t get more hours in this one.  She told me that her supervisor, Nelly, had recently asked about me and mentioned that I could do any of their jobs.  I asked if that meant she was no longer supportive of me pursuing disability.  She ended up saying that if that was the fastest route to moving out of mom’s house then it was a good idea.

Sadie also said that I understand DBT better than anyone else she has worked with and that  although I think I need therapy for the rest of my life I could walk out of there right now and be fine on my own.  I left feeling torn.  I really didn’t feel confident about my ability to work more, and I knew it would be a long time before I’d ever get a shot at full-time in my current position.  I don’t want to give up the work I’m doing now though.

I kept thinking about what Nelly had said.  I don’t have the qualifications for most jobs in their field, but on a whim I checked the CMHC website and found two positions as program assistants in inpatient – one full-time and one part-time.  The requirement is a high school diploma, with preference for experience in health care.

I’ve actually applied for this position twice in the past but never told Sadie about it.  I’m sure there’s no chance of me being hired, but I do sort of have health care experience now (although probably not what they intended).  So I applied for the part-time position.  I figured if I got it I’d be working nearly full-time between the two jobs, and if I didn’t then my disability claim was still in process.

I didn’t plan to tell Sadie unless I got an interview, but I let it slip today.  I said, “I applied for a second job that I’m definitely not going to get.” She told me I could have left off the negative part of that sentence.  Then I had to explain that it’s in inpatient and that I didn’t think the rest of the staff would feel comfortable working with me even though I was fine with it.  She didn’t seem to think it was definite that I’d be rejected, but she did bring up the question of what would happen if someone I knew as a peer were admitted and I was in a position of authority over them.  I don’t think it’s a problem – most of the people I know from my past admissions have moved out of the area, and I can end up in a similar position in the job I already hold.

Sadie asked if there were other job openings.  The only other one I qualify for is in dual-diagnosis residential treatment and I am not comfortable with that.  I go to DBT group with many of the residents and am not willing to give up the group.  She suggested some kind of job mentoring kids and I asked, “Do you want to visit me in prison?” I’m sure I would end up strangling them.  I did mention that I had applied and been interviewed for a CMHC accounting position last year and Sadie asked why I had never told her.  I guess I didn’t realize that I hadn’t.

Before the appointment with Sadie I had one with Brent.  We were discussing work and I brought up the full-time vs. disability debate.  He told me that he absolutely thinks I can handle full-time work, so long as I focus on doing what’s required for my job and stop trying so hard to make everyone else’s jobs easier.  He said pushing myself that hard will just lead to burnout and me cutting myself.

I feel a transition happening.  I’ve applied for that second job.  I don’t see Brent again for 2 months and after the next two weeks I’ll only see Sadie every other week.  I’ve also tentatively taken on a challenging volunteer task.

Monday night I went to the annual board meeting for my local NAMI affiliate.  As the only one there who personally has a mental illness I felt a little out of place while they all discussed difficulties with their mentally ill family members.  I stuck it out for the whole meeting though and at the end I approached one member privately to ask if I could help in some way with the Crisis Intervention Team.  They hold monthly meetings which are leading up to a 40-hour training program for police officers, scheduled for early 2017.

At first she said no.  I don’t know what possessed me to keep talking, but I explained that this was important to me because the way I got help was through an officer doing a wellness check.  Apparently that made a difference, as she was suddenly telling me I could be a presenter for this training program.  She said it would probably be in the format of the NAMI In Our Own Voice presentations, and there just happened to be one the next day I could attend to see how it works.  I had already planned to go, so I said I’d be there.

The presentation consists of a video divided into 5 segments and after each segment the two presenters tell their personal stories on the same topic and answer questions from the audience.  I am terrified and excited at the possibility of doing this in front of dozens of police officers.  I almost forgot to mention everything NAMI-related in my appointment with Sadie and after I told her she said it was a big thing to forget.

Speaking of NAMI, the NAMIwalk for southwest Ohio is taking place on May 7th.  You can donate here or sign up to join a walk in your area.

Hopelessly Trapped

During my last inpatient stay I talked with the social worker about how to move out on my own.  She encouraged me to reapply for disability (I was rejected before because I didn’t have enough work credits, but I do now).  I submitted that application, and when I did my taxes I got a recommendation that I apply for SNAP so I did that too.  There was a phone interview about a week later and then I had to fax a bunch of paperwork about my finances.

Yesterday in therapy we were updating my treatment plan and added back the goal about improving my living situation, part of which involves creating a budget.  The ultimate aim is for me to be prepared to move out.  While talking about budgeting, Sadie brought up the fact that the CMHC billing department had contacted her about me, and said they were going to be sending me letters because my payments had been sporadic.  I had consistently paid $50 a month for almost two years, but the past couple of months I missed paying because I’ve been really short on money.  I wasn’t worried about it, because I’ve always been told that it was great that I was making payments since a lot of people never pay.  Panicked, I left my appointment and paid $25 that I didn’t really have to spare.

When I got home and got the mail, I had a pile of bad news.  I had a bill from the hospital, from when I went to the ER to get to inpatient.  It was only $8, but I was confused because my insurance has always paid everything 100% and I don’t know why it didn’t this time.  The next thing I opened was my approval for SNAP.  Good news, right?  Not so much.  I am approved for $23 a month, which won’t even buy me a cup of yogurt for breakfast every morning.

The last letter was also from the Family & Social Services Administration, regarding my insurance.  When I was originally approved my premium was the minimum of $1 per month.  After the first year, they reapproved me but raised my premium to $4.77 because I now had some income.  I paid the whole year’s premiums a couple of weeks ago.  Now they are raising the premium to $18.10, because they think I’m going to consistently make the amount that I’ve made in my busiest months at work.  Those months have been four days per week, but I’m only guaranteed one day per week.  Basically they gave me a paltry amount for SNAP but took it right back away.

I had to go to some unexpected hours at work because someone had called in, and on the way I started crying.  Not the safest way to drive.  I couldn’t think about anything but how I needed to follow through on one of my old suicide plans, because nothing about my life is ever going to get better.  I sent Sadie an e-mail saying that it was a waste of time to make that treatment plan because none of it will ever be accomplished and everything is too hard.  The response I got was “??” and I would not have been surprised if my work shift had been interrupted by a police visit.  It wasn’t, however.

I managed to hold it together for 4 hours at work, but when I got home I slipped back into my meltdown.  I knew I needed to use a DBT skill or two, but was struggling, so I fell back on the “easy” one – Crisis Survival Network.  I texted my best friend, and her responses back calmed me just a little.  Among other things, she was talking about her daughter’s massive meltdowns and said, “You worked your magic and got her to calm down when I couldn’t.  If you can do that you can do anything!  Including comforting and calming the negative voices in your own head.  The child in you is upset and hurting.  Help her like you helped Emily.”

I tried, really I did.  I couldn’t do anything to make myself feel better about the situation last night, but managed to e-mail Sadie a less cryptic explanation and get myself to sleep, and things look a little less dim this morning.

Intentional Applications

Last April I submitted an Accidental Application for disability.  I was promptly denied due to not having enough work credits, without them ever getting around to looking into the medical basis for my claim.  Ten months later, I should now have enough work credits thanks to my sub-part-time job at the hospital.

The social worker in inpatient encouraged me to reapply when I shared my concerns about being unable to afford moving out on my own.  She even made some calls for me to find out if there was a way to reopen the old application, but the information she got was that it’s best to just start fresh.  I proceeded to procrastinate for a month.

Last week Sadie assigned me a project to schedule my time each day until my next appointment (today) and then mark down what I actually did with each time block and how it felt.  When I made the schedule for today I included “disability application” and allotted one hour to do it.  She was hesitant to encourage me until she confirmed that it’s possible for me to get approved and still keep my job.

This time the application was a little easier in that I’d done it before, but a little harder in that more time has passed and there was more information to include.  I got 80% of it done in my allotted hour and saved it so I could take a break, but after supper I went back to complete and submit it.

I am scared of the rest of the process.  Of course I want to be approved and get onto more stable ground financially.  I’m not scared of the end result no matter which way it goes, but I’m very scared of what it is going to take to get there.

I also have a phone interview Thursday morning for possible SNAP benefits.  They may not approve me since I do live with someone who does pay for food, but she only provides meats and grains.  If I want fruits or vegetables or dairy products I’m on my own, which probably explains some of my current health problems.

Accidental Applications

In Undersharing With the Oversharers, I described some struggles I was continuing to have with DBT group.  At that time, I had just e-mailed the group therapist, Sierra, about these concerns.  After several e-mails back and forth, we had accomplished nothing.  I was still uncomfortable about group.  She had suggested we meet to discuss it, but I could think of nothing else I could say about the situation.

Then I went to my individual therapist, Sadie, and spent the first 20 minutes of the session discussing group.  I had failed to notice that Sierra cc’ed Sadie on her response to my initial e-mail.  The two of them proceeded to have a conversation about me, with Sadie providing examples of ways I’ve made progress since starting to learn DBT.  After being subjected to this awkward 20 minute conversation, I felt I had to meet with Sierra after all, so I e-mailed her again to further explain my problems with group.  I said that I have no idea where the boundaries are for what is or is not appropriate to share, so I stay away from anything that could remotely be crossing a boundary.

We scheduled an appointment, but it was after the next group meeting.  So I went to that meeting, trying my best to share more.  I ended up sharing 4 examples of skills I used that week.  I contributed ideas for how to use the skills we were covering that day.  I volunteered to read parts of the material aloud for the group.  All in all, it seemed to go very well.  I came to the realization that I felt comfortable that day…because a particular group member was absent.  Molly, the worst offender for dominating the conversation and going off on inappropriate tangents.

When I met with Sierra, I mentioned that things went better when Molly was gone.  I felt safe saying that, because she had already acknowledged that there are some group members who get distracted by inappropriate topics.  Of course, there’s not anything she can actually do about Molly, other than continuing to try redirecting her back to the topic at hand.  It was proposed that I might be more comfortable in the Tuesday group, which has more people of a similar mindset to mine – learn the skills and get out of group.  Sierra and I agreed that next week I will attend the Tuesday group and then make a decision.  I am anxious, but a little hopeful that it will be a better fit for me.

The conversation about group was actually very brief.  Sierra asked if there was anything else she could help with in that regard – perhaps anything about her leadership style that was bothering me – and I truly couldn’t think of anything.  She had acknowledged that, since I am the only group member she doesn’t know much about, she needs to take responsibility for looking over my chart and for communicating about me with Sadie.  I asked if there was anything about me she wanted to know that I could explain more efficiently than she could read it in my chart.

We talked for another 20 minutes or so about me, and at one point my job hunt came up.  Sierra asked if I had applied for disability, and when I said no, why not?  I don’t feel I would qualify.  I mean, there are other reasons, like the fact that Sadie encouraged me to job hunt instead, but the big reason I didn’t do it when so many people encouraged me to is because I can’t see how anyone making this decision would possibly consider me disabled.  Sierra said that with 4 hospitalizations I might be surprised how it turns out.  She also reminded me that even if I apply, I can still continue my job hunt.

So I had disability on the brain the rest of the day.  While out to eat with the cast of the play I’m stage managing, I was asked what I do for a living.  I said I’m unemployed and we discussed job hunting.  A part of me wanted to bring up disability then, but I barely know these people.  However, after I got home, I impulsively sent a message to the individual who asked and told her I was considering disability.  She ended up telling me that her father is bipolar and gainfully employed, so in her opinion I should find a job.  My gut reaction was that she was wrong.  Not wrong about working being good, but wrong that I shouldn’t at least consider disability for the short-term.  So I went to the Social Security website and started filling out the application.

I already had most of the information gathered from when I considered it before, so it was fairly easy to fill in all my medical and employment history.  I intended to save the application, give it some more thought, and potentially submit it at a later date.  When I got to the last section, I didn’t realize it was the last section and I continued, only to realize that I had actually submitted the application.  Cue panic!  Then I realized that the universe had just made my decision for me, so now all that’s left is to accidentally mail in my W-2s from last year and then wait for them to gather the records I authorized them to request and make their decision.