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.

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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.

Reduced Work Hours

When I made my Plan for Employment Services with Vocational Rehab in the spring, I was only seeking 8 hours of work per week.  I could accept a job with more hours, but that was the minimum needed to be considered a successful placement.  The job I got should have exactly met the requirement.  It is called a .2, meaning 2 days per pay period, or 1 day per week.  That’s not exactly how things have worked out.

For the first 4-6 weeks I was supposed to work 4 days per week for training, before being reduced to my regular schedule.  This ended up taking about 8 weeks, because I was out of work for 2 weeks after my gallbladder surgery.

Pay period 1: .8
Pay period 2: .6 (missed 2 days due to surgery)
Pay period 3: 0 (completely missed due to surgery)
Pay period 4: .6

Then when we went to my “regular schedule” it was still more hours than anticipated.

Pay period 5: .5
Pay period 6: .3 (almost the correct amount!)
Pay period 7: .3 (almost the correct amount!)

Starting in September, I was told to expect nearly full-time hours due to everyone taking vacations.  I worked full-time for the first week and was completely overwhelmed, so I told my supervisor I couldn’t handle more than 3 days in a row.  She adjusted the schedule, but I was still working a ton, just with a brief break during the week.

Pay period 8: .7
Pay period 9: .7
Pay period 10: .7
Pay period 11: .8
Pay period 12: .5

Now I have my schedule through the middle of January, and things are looking better coming up after I get through November.

Pay period 13: .8
Pay period 14: .7
Pay period 15: .3
Pay period 16: .2
Pay period 17: .2

I will definitely miss the nice paychecks, but I won’t miss working so much.  I have gained a lot more confidence about the job, but still stress out about working day after day.  Realistically, I know those nice big stretches of a week to a week-and-a-half with no work are not going to actually happen.  It will be winter, so people are going to get sick or not be able to make it in on the snowy, icy roads.  I live closer than anyone else in the department, so I’ll be the first one called when they need a replacement.  Even so, I hope to stay under a .5 as I’m tired of working over part-time status but not getting the part-time benefits.

Today I had my case closure meeting with Vocational Rehab, and was asked how many hours a week I average.  I said this was hard to answer, given that I’ve been working so much but will be working less in the future.  Hank said, “Okay, I’ll just put down 20.”  Glad to know accuracy is important.

I was a little confused by the meeting.  After I got the job, there was one point at which the employment specialist, Joan, contacted my supervisor to get an assessment of how I was doing.  There was also a day when we went shopping for a set of scrubs that Vocational Rehab was buying for me.  Other than that, I only had contact with her a couple of times to ask questions via e-mail, and we never met for any reason.  I also only got a couple of e-mails from Hank during that time to check in on how I was doing.

The gist of this meeting was that I am still welcome to contact Joan if I have any work-related issues, and if I need additional help I can also contact Vocational Rehab and there are things they could do to help me without even reopening my case (and it would be simple to reopen my case if I needed even more help than that).  So what exactly changes after my case is closed?  I guess that I have to initiate contact if I need anything, but that’s been true all along.

Ms. Self-Destruct

On Tuesday I started a new job at the local hospital.  I am a Central Supply Technician, which involves stocking supply carts on all the units, cleaning equipment, and delivering equipment when it is requested.  That’s the simple version.  The reality is that the job is extremely complicated.  In all my previous jobs, I have started with one simple task that I repeated for weeks on end before being taught a new task.  In this job, everything is being thrown at me at once, and I have 6 weeks of training in which to learn it all.

The first day was a nightmare.  It was the day after a holiday weekend, and all the carts were low on supplies.  I had no idea what I was doing, and I was lost everywhere we went.  The hospital is like a giant maze and I was one very confused lab rat.  Also, the reality of working in a hospital did not sink in until I looked at my first supply cart and saw cadaver bags.  Also, also, it is very uncomfortable seeing the hospital as an employee when I was a patient there so much last year.  Finally, I was humiliated in the cafeteria when I brought my food and debit card to the cashier only to be told it was cash only.  The cashier ended up letting me have the food for free, but I nearly cried through my lunch break and felt guilty about eating it.

Had I not signed the agreement with Vocational Rehab promising not to quit, I would have quit by the end of the day.  I saw my employment specialist, Joan, in a different context that evening and she did not even say hello to me, let alone ask how my first day went.  So I e-mailed her that evening.  Joan typically replies to e-mails very promptly, but I reached the middle of Thursday without a response.

I did receive a response to my e-mail to my therapist, Sadie, though.  A response which completely pissed me off.  She told me that she would now be copying Joan and the group therapist, Sierra, on all the e-mails I send her, so they would “be on the same page”.  I don’t trust Joan or Sierra.  Now I can no longer e-mail Sadie, and e-mailing her has been very helpful in the past, especially when I send her links to blog posts so we can discuss them later.  I certainly don’t want Joan or Sierra reading my blog.

Sadie also reminded me to use emergency services, because e-mail is not efficient in a crisis.  I had said nothing to indicate I was in a crisis, and she knows how I feel about emergency services, so it felt like she was telling me to stop e-mailing her.  If that’s the case, I wish she’d just say so directly.

My next appointment with Sadie was scheduled for Friday morning before work, and as I finished up my Thursday and the job was going slightly better, I realized that I did not feel comfortable even speaking to her.  I called her office after work and cancelled the two appointments I had scheduled.  The receptionist asked if I wanted to reschedule and I said, “No, thank you.”

I had some errands to run after work, so I didn’t get home until nearly 2 hours after work ended.  I came home to answering machine messages and e-mails from Sadie, telling me that she would be sending someone to do a wellness check if I didn’t reply.  Initially the deadline was 5 pm, but she spoke to my mother, who gave her the phone number of the friend I was visiting.  When she called there and my friend said I’d just left, Sadie extended the deadline to 6 pm, her quitting time.

Mom called Sadie on my behalf and assured her that I was fine and did not need a wellness check, but that I had no interest in speaking to her at this time.  I received one additional e-mail saying that she wasn’t sure what was going on and to let her know when I’m ready to talk.  In response, I e-mailed Sierra to drop out of DBT group, and failed to schedule an appointment with Brent, my psych APRN, to get new prescriptions for the medications I will run out of in 2 weeks.

The next morning, I called and left Sadie a message, saying that I was angry about her e-mail and didn’t want to talk to her, but would if she called back.  She didn’t call before I had to leave for work, so I reluctantly sent an e-mail detailing all the reasons I was angry with her.  I knew this would be a bad idea, given that I was saying something negative about the people she intended to share my e-mails with, but since I had no intention of seeing any of them again I took the risk.  I told her I was angry she was going to share my e-mails with people I don’t trust, angry that she nagged me about emergency services, angry that she spoke to my mother and friend, angry that she said I “refused” to reschedule when I politely declined to do so, and angry that she threatened to send the cops after me.  Then I said I was done with therapy, group, and medication; that I had done fine without it all for 33 years and could do so again.

I kept telling everyone that nothing bad was going to happen as a result, but I knew I was lying.  I felt like I was standing outside my body and watching myself self-destruct.  I’ve always worked out my problems with Sadie in the past, and resisted the BPD urge to push her away over the slightest conflict.  I don’t know what changed that made me so willing to sabotage myself.  By Saturday morning I was e-mailing Sierra to ask if I was still welcome in group, and Sadie to say that although I was still angry I was also scared that I was self-destructing and wanted to reschedule.  Hopefully I will hear from them both on Monday, and also be able to schedule an appointment with Brent.  I don’t have much hope of hearing anything from Joan – even if my e-mail didn’t get to her, she should have contacted me to ask about the new job by now.

And the job?  That’s becoming the least of my worries.  I’m doing well with anything computer-based, I’m starting to know where things are located in the store room, and I’ve learned my way around enough of the hospital that my coworkers sent me to do some tasks alone on Friday.  I only got minorly lost and was able to ask random employees for help.  There’s still a lot to learn (and I need to get over my fear of answering the phone), but I no longer feel like I can’t handle it.

Vocational Rehab Responsibilities

When I quit my job in early December, my therapist offered to refer me to supported employment services for help in finding a new one.  I was finally able to meet with an employment specialist there in January, and we applied for help from Vocational Rehabilitation in February.  Technically she was not supposed to be helping me job hunt until VR approved me, but that took a long time and we did meet and look at potential job listings while waiting.  I submitted a bunch of applications and had a few interviews.

Just after interviewing at the county hospital for a Central Supply Technician position, I was notified that VR had approved me.  We scheduled a plan development meeting, but it wasn’t due to take place until late May and my employment specialist felt I would be employed before then.  A few days later, I accepted the job at the hospital.  My employment specialist notified the VR counselor that I would not need their services after all.

Friday the VR counselor called me to verify that I wanted my case closed, and pointed out that there was more they could do to help now that I have a job.  I really didn’t understand what they could help with beyond the job hunting process.  So I agreed to come in for the plan development meeting anyway.  It lasted two hours, and mostly consisted of him typing things into a form and asking the occasional question, while the employment specialist and I distracted him with chatter about the play we are both working on.

I’m still a bit unclear on how they will be able to help me, except for the part where he said that VR would pay for an additional set of scrubs.  The hospital only offers reimbursement for one set for those hired in Occasional status, but for the first 6 weeks I’ll be working 4 days a week.  That’s a lot of times to be doing laundry.  As it turns out, the set of scrubs I did order did not arrive in time for my first day (tomorrow), so the hospital is going to loan me scrubs until I get my own.  The second set can’t be ordered until my plan is officially approved by VR, and then the employment specialist has to go with me to order them.

I was asked by the VR counselor if I am willing to disclose my disability to my new supervisor in order to ask for accommodations.  He feels I need permission to take multiple small breaks throughout the day, in order to reduce stress.  I agree, and I told him I was comfortable with this disclosure, but I’m not sure I am.  At my previous job, I was very open with my supervisor, but he had already had the opportunity to get to know my work before I was even diagnosed.  I don’t know how I feel about walking into a new job and immediately asking for accommodations when I haven’t had the chance to prove myself yet.

I also don’t know how to bring the subject up.  I am not good with approaching people in person.  I do have the supervisor’s e-mail address and have already e-mailed her before (regarding the scrubs, and scheduling), but I fear she may be even more put off by my disclosure if I do it by e-mail.  So, although I said I’d tell her, I suspect I will just go to work and hope I can struggle through with the rare breaks that are authorized for everyone.

I don’t recall this disclosure being one of the responsibilities listed in my plan.  The two that did stand out were: 1.) That I continue with my mental health treatment as prescribed, and 2.) That I not quit the job without first consulting my employment specialist and VR counselor.

Relative Calm

A year ago, I was in a locked psychiatric unit after telling my therapist I planned to attend a gun show and buy my suicide method.  Therapists tend to be sensitive about that sort of thing.  I knew where I was headed when I said it – I had a back-up plan of asking a friend to call the cops to come take me for an involuntary admission, if I were to chicken out about telling my therapist about my plans.

During this inpatient stay, I received my official diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder and was started on medication.  Soon afterward, I read something very depressing about it taking up to a year to be stabilized after a major episode.  I couldn’t imagine how I would survive a year of this instability, and as the year continued with delays and setbacks, I was very frustrated with my progress.

One year later, I can say that it took almost exactly a year, just as I had read.  My life kept falling apart spectacularly throughout that year.  I fluctuated from suicidal to anhedonic and back, rarely experiencing joyful moments.  I struggled through the longest months imaginable in a job which I liked but which did not like me much in return.  I worked long hours, coming home only to collapse into bed and start over again the next day.  The best things I can say about the job are these:

* I had excellent insurance coverage.
* I worked 3-4 days a week, leaving plenty of time for therapists and doctors.
* My supervisor was as lenient as possible with handling my absences and need to leave early on occasion.  Okay, on a lot of occasions.

The job ultimately did not last.  I had special accommodations made for me in regards to tasks and to scheduling.  After they agreed to let me leave earlier to get out of the enormous, anxiety-inducing crowds, I only lasted 3 more weeks, one of which I was out of work due to another inpatient stay.  At the end of the third week, dangerously close to losing my job for attendance reasons, I had a very bad day which could not be improved by all the coping skills in the world, and I ended up quitting the job.

Since quitting, my moods have improved greatly.  I have more motivation and more ability to concentrate.  Occasionally I feel joy, and I almost think I’m stable.  The drawback has been lack of income and lack of insurance.  I’m getting by for now, but this situation is unsustainable.

Things are looking up.  I’ve had two job interviews and am working with supported employment services in my job hunt.  We are waiting to see if I’ve been approved for assistance from Vocational Rehabilitation.  I’ve been approved for new insurance coverage through my state, which will leave me with no co-pays and a premium of $1 per month.  After 7 years away from theatre, I am stage managing a play, and I also applied to volunteer at the local library.  I indulge in my love of writing through this blog, and planning a book about my experiences over the past year.

My medication seems to be working, without significant side effects.  My psych APRN only wants to see me every other month, and my therapist is talking about reducing our appointments as well.  I go to group DBT therapy every week, and am almost starting to be comfortable enough to share in the group.

Of course there are still obstacles.  Right now I’m feeling a lot like sleeping my days away, just wishing for the time to pass.  I still occasionally feel impulses toward self-injury and suicide, although I’m learning to handle them better.  I am very anxious about the future, and fear that this period of relative calm will not last.