Once Vocational Rehabilitation finally came through, they referred me to a program that provided employment seeking assistance. This program happened to be run by the agency where Sharon worked, and where I received treatment. They actually made it a point to try to help people find jobs at the agency if they were interested in working there, as their employees were more likely than others to be understanding about the struggles of people with chronic mental illnesses. The agency had many different programs in their many different buildings. As long as I didn’t work in the departments where Sharon and Dr. Greene were working, it was okay for me to interview for jobs there. Because it was so large, and had so many different programs, there were actually quite a few options for me at that time.
I first applied for a job providing case management services to chronically mentally ill adults, a population that I worked with previously as a group facilitator. I did poorly in this interview, and was not hired. I was way too nervous. The VR counselor gave me feedback in order to help me present better. According to the person who interviewed me, I had flat affect and was fidgeting with my skirt. Apparently my low self-confidence was visible. This was not easy to hear, and caused me to feel more discouraged about the prospect of working in the mental health field. And, it made subsequent interviews even more anxiety provoking because I had to think consciously about not fidgeting. It was terrible!
I then applied for a position as a staff member at a day treatment program (a “Clubhouse”) for chronically mentally ill adults. I did better in this interview. I worked harder at being engaging and personable, and to not move my hands so I would not be accused of fidgeting too much. The feedback from this interviewer to the VR counselor was better, but the supervisor was taking time to interview other prospects.
I also interviewed for a job as a staff member at an Alzheimer’s assisted living program. The job would have involved the day to day care of patients with dementia including helping them with tasks of daily living like bathing, dressing and eating. I was offered and could’ve accepted this position, but it would only be temporary since the licensing expectations would change in a few months, requiring CNA certification which I lacked. I also had no experience working with the elderly population, which made this job seem much less comfortable for me.
In the meantime, I also interviewed for a child and adolescent case management position that came up. This had always remained my ultimate goal, and I must have done well in the interview, because I got the job.
It was January 2005, two years after my Meltdown. I was very excited to have finally achieved my long held goal of returning to a job in case management within the mental health field. At the same time, I was very anxious about whether I would be able to manage the stress involved in starting a whole new position in a new agency with a different system from what I had been used to. I was so anxious I was not sleeping well in the time leading up to my first day, and I got very little sleep the night before.
My new co-workers seemed like good people, but I was trying so hard to come across as a “normal” person, that it was stressful just to interact with them. I was terrified about not being able to handle the stress. I spent a couple weeks in training, shadowing other case managers and learning the paperwork. This was a helpful experience, but I felt like I was in the way. We would be going to clients’ homes, where the case manager and client knew each other, and it felt awkward for me to be there. But this was a necessary part of learning the ropes of the job.
I was assigned my own clients gradually once training was over, and I was finally a case manager again. Unfortunately, though, I wasn’t up to the task. The main difference between this job and what I had done previously was that this program required the case manager to lead meetings with members of the community and family supports. This was stressful for me, as I have social anxiety to begin with and my confidence was low from my experiences of the past few years. There was also a ton of paperwork with this position, more even than at my previous employer. Finally, the expectation in terms of the number of clients I would see was higher.
I always feel stressed at new jobs (who doesn’t?), but I was overwhelmed quickly in my new position. My sleep was affected, which just made the overwhelming stress worse. I was extremely anxious and feeling depressed, and it didn’t take long for the suicidal thoughts to kick in as I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. I had to accept that I wasn’t capable of doing case management any longer, which meant really having to give up my identity and start all over with a new life. I had struggled for two years, attempting and failing at interviewing and working, to get back to my old life in order to not have to accept the reality that it wasn’t possible. To lose this hard earned job opportunity was devastating to me. The obsessive suicidal thoughts took over again, and I ended up in the hospital. I quit the job while I was hospitalized, knowing that I wouldn’t be returning.