In January 2004, after everything I had gone through in the previous year, I was determined to get my life back to some semblance of normal. The panacea, as I saw it, was returning to work as a case manager at my previous employer. This was my obsessive focus at that time. I was convinced I just needed to go back to work in case management and everything else would be resolved. Of course, it made no sense that I wanted to return to my prior life, as it really hadn’t been working all that well for me. I don’t deal well at all with change, though.
The thought of starting over at a new job caused me great anxiety, especially when I had no self-confidence and no way to trust my ability to manage stress. But at the same time, I did not want to continue to be on disability. I wanted to have a normal life again, with a full-time job and health insurance like all the other people I knew in my age group. The only feasible way to accomplish this, it seemed to me, was to go back to my previous job with my supportive co-workers as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, there weren’t any openings on my old case management team at that time, so I applied for the next best thing…a position on a different team with the same employer. Like my old job, this team also did home-based case management with children and adolescents. The difference was that the clients weren’t referred by the welfare department’s Office of Family and Children (OFC), so there wasn’t a probation officer or caseworker from OFC involved in the cases. The clients were kids who had mental health issues and were seeing therapists and/or psychiatrists. The biggest difference for me was that I would have to start with all new co-workers. I wouldn’t be able to go back to working with the people I knew, who were already very supportive to me.
Six weeks after submitting my application for a position on this team, a decision still had not been made about whether I, or anyone else, would be hired. There had been some delay in the funding of the position which dragged the whole process out. As time went on, I became more and more anxious. On the one hand I was afraid I wouldn’t get the job. In my still depressed state I knew I would respond badly to the feelings of rejection I would experience if I didn’t get the position. I also thought being turned down for this particular job would hurt my chances of getting another job at the agency if one came up (on my old team, for example).
Even scarier to me than the thought of not getting hired for this opening was the possibility of actually getting the job. This freaked me out, and should’ve been an indicator to me that I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t looking too deeply into my fear at that time, I just panicked at the idea that I would get a case management job on a new team. My fear revolved around being hired, then not being able to handle it. The possibility of failure loomed large in my mind. I knew it would be my last chance at this agency, as nobody else would hire me if I failed as a case manager again.
Finally, I couldn’t take the uncertainty any longer, and left a voicemail for the supervisor withdrawing myself from consideration for the position. I think I realized on some level that I could no longer be a full time mental health employee. I just was not ready to fully acknowledge it yet.
It was March 2004. I decided at that time, after plenty of feedback from Sharon, that it was a good idea to start out slowly rather than jump back into full time case management. With that as my new goal, I applied for a part time mental health tech (MHT) position at the child and adolescent inpatient hospital at the agency where I had previously worked. This was a very different role compared to my job in case management, but it was possible to vary the hours based on how I was doing. My past experience in a residential setting involved similar responsibilities, so the job felt doable. Also, a former coworker had been promoted to social worker on this unit, and even better, my former supervisor on the case management team had been promoted to manager of inpatient services at the agency. I had a positive relationship with him, and felt comfortable calling him about hiring me.
This person, knowing all I had been through in the previous year, was glad to give me a chance to be successful. I was quickly hired on a part time basis as an MHT. I worked eight hour shifts, shadowing the other MHTs on the inpatient unit to learn my role and responsibilities. As I expected, it really wasn’t that different from my role in residential treatment in the past. It required supervision of the patients and de-escalating them when they acted out. The MHTs were also responsible for leading various therapeutic group activities with the patients. This position should’ve been easy for me compared to my previous job. Unfortunately, though, I only lasted a few days.
As one might expect, the patients acted out even more than the kids I worked with in residential treatment, and physical intervention was common as well as verbal de-escalation techniques. It was just too stressful for me. There was frequent verbal and physical acting out by the patients, often directed at the MHTs. The unit was often in chaos, and even when there wasn’t any crisis playing out, I felt tense, waiting for it. I was simply unable to cope with the stress of the situation, so I resigned after several days. On some level I realized I had hurt my chances of going back as a case manager at this agency, but I didn’t consciously acknowledge this. I was still not ready to face this reality.