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What am I Worth..to an Employer?

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Finding a job is pretty darn high up there on the life stressors chart for anyone. So many decisions, so much time, effort. Penetrating questions. Potential adjustments. Fears. Hopes. Disappointments. The waiting. The unknown. What am I worth?

My heart rate is up just typing that.

So think about my situation for a moment. I had a certain skill set, loads of high tech and higher math knowledge, computer software, great vocabulary, fast typing, persuasive speaking and writing, super confident.

And now…I look at my resume and it feels like someone else. I have so many holes in my memory, no one would believe I used to code webpages or teach calculus or write poetry. My typing has gone from about 80 wpm to 35 wpm with so many errors, the screen is all red underlines. Words that used to flow freely get stuck and I sit and stare, waiting for a thought to form. I am relearning math, but I doubt I will have time to get back to a calculus level in my lifetime as I’m relearning basic facts. Here and there I remember things, like how a tangent works, or what an exponent does, but then I start to work it out and it goes blank again. My daughter is in  high school algebra right now, I had been looking forward to coaching her, and it all looks so familiar, but I have no idea how to solve any of it. I tell her, you have to do something with regrouping….and I get excited thinking I might recall, but no, I can’t get any further.

So. How do you get back to work, when you can’t do what you used to do? How do you explain that you can’t do what you used to do and not sound incompetent or insane?

This process has not been going well. I’ve been applying for low level part time jobs that have nothing to do with my work history. I either don’t get called at all, or when they talk to me, they say I am overqualified, they are afraid I will get bored, or just give me that certain doubtful look, or have that tone in their voice and I know it is over.

My doctor recommended I contact my state workers with disabilities board. I guess I knew there was one, because they helped my brother, but I never considered myself disabled…just never thought of it. So after the shock wore off, I looked online, and saw they had exactly the services I need. I applied online, they called me the next day, set up an intake appointment that same week. Wow!

So I met with them last week. I was so incredibly nervous. I had to gather up my medical records to prove my eligibility, that is phase one. I worked through shame, fear, felt like I was whining, complaining, oh poor me-ing. Until I got there. It was literally a life changing day.

I’m sitting in the waiting room and my assigned case worker calls my name – she is completely blind. She has a service dog leading her, and me, to a small conference room. We sit down, and I’m instantly much more fascinated by her than I care about me anymore. She is confident and professional. She has a stack of folders labeled with braille, and braille typewriter thingy I’ve never seen before to take notes as I talk. She hands me papers that she can’t see but describes them to me in detail. It blows my mind as she helps me to fill them out.

She asks about the forms and records I brought, and asked if I would give her a summary, since she could not scan through them. As I start describing my lengthy and complicated neurological issues, I could sense compassion in her, as I have for her. Mutual respect was huge in this room – like we were both thinking “Damn, I don’t want to be her…” I could tell she wanted to see me when I talked about my scoliosis, because you might think I am visibly deformed, but luckily my curves are balanced and my surgeons are talented so no one would ever know by simply looking at me. You can see my limp when I walk though. So I’m thinking she was not always blind, the way she looked directly towards things and me.

We had a few of these surreal shared moments. I liked her very much. She explained the program and seemed excited to have me there, that she can actually help me. She said so many come through and disappear, don’t show up again, aren’t willing to work hard, don’t answer phone calls. She said she can tell that I work hard from my past jobs, and that I keep my doctor appointments in the city. I never thought of that as a major accomplishment…but I see her point. That takes planning and commitment, shows responsibility to drive 2 hours away for my neurologists and surgeons.

So, the next step is I wait for them to confirm my medical eligibility, then they will set up vocational skill assessment. I’m guessing typing, reading, math, but I’m not sure what all is involved there. Then they use that to see if I nee training, find some job leads, help me re-write a resume, practice mock interviews so I don’t stumble with those tough questions. They can advocate for me, or work entirely behind the scenes, meaning my employer can know I’m using disabled services or not, we will decide which way is best in the career plan we develop. They will stay with me once I’m hired, make sure the transition is smooth. Then I get to use them again, say if I want progress in my career or my health improves, I’m not stuck. They want me to be challenged and working meaningfully. Wow.

So my nerves are gone and I’m only excited now. Someone on my side to help me navigate these tricky steps to getting back on my feet. I am so grateful.

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Accept or Fight

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When another doctor tells you that what you want is not possible and you need to accept that and set more realistic goals for yourself, do you do it or do you keep fighting for what you want?

I have seen a team of neurologists and neuropsychologists now.  They are all singing a similar tune. That I am different. That I have to accept that I cannot return to the previous version of me that I recall before the brain injuries. (I’m not sure if I have discussed the extent of my brain injuries here, I haven’t wanted to talk much about it and writing was so difficult before. But I have some serious cognitive dysfunction, memory gaps, processing delays, visual lags and disturbances, sensory overload….it goes on.) That skills like creativity, and certain personality changes, once altered, do not heal and come back, at least not identical to what they once were. I may be able to enhance what I have, but I will never be who I used to be.

I may never be able to do what I used to do.

Every time I think of this as a fleeting thought, the tears return.

Another esteemed doctor told me this again yesterday. They are well educated, at a great hospital, known for their expertise, and my gut trusts them. However, there is also something in me that is screaming they are wrong. Doctors once told me I may never walk again, that my weakened leg would never regain muscle tone. Well look who is out there attempting to jog. So I don’t accept “never” as a final diagnosis. I feel like I’m still in here, just slowed down.

He recommended I either apply for disability or try to work with a vocational counselor, but he doesn’t think I can keep up with the pace and demands of a job. That was harsh, but possibly true. I may be overestimating my stamina at this point because I want to be better.

He said that I am still traumatized, understandably, and that for me, the trauma never stopped. 40 years of trauma. He said that would be enough to break anyone. But add all my medical issues and it was like adding gasoline to a fire. And then on top of that, a stressful marital relationship, he says it was a cascade of events and none of them were good for brain health.

We talked about my social support network, and I said I’m all alone, completely. I have a few online friends and my counselor. We talked about how I isolate myself and why. I told him about how I have low tolerance for people, no matter how much I try, I can’t enjoy being with them, or think they aren’t good people when they make fun of others, are greedy, I catch them lying or cheating, etc. I said I try to turn down my moral standards but I can’t. He said something I never heard before. He said of course you can’t. You have never felt safe in your life. As soon as someone says or does something that makes them have any possibility of being a bad person, you go into self protection mode and either stop talking, leave the room, or hide or whichever other skills you have learned to avoid conflict and being noticed. This is to keep yourself safe. It makes perfect sense and is your core belief stronger than all others. Safety comes first.

My jaw dropped, and I felt angry a bit, kind of embarrassed, and I wanted to say he was wrong, to fight that, but as it sunk in, and so many social interactions spanning 40 years flashed across my mind. Holy crap. He is right.

Here I was thinking I was over my trauma and it didn’t matter any more. That I was an introvert and yeah maybe I was wired differently, or maybe on the aspberger spectrum, or maybe just get annoyed with small talk and petty people. But no. Every social decision ever has come down to safety.

He said the right trauma based psychologist may be able to assist me with that component and he would help me to locate one near me to work with. He said I can’t live the rest of my life alone, or I will continue to deterioriate.

I don’t know. I feel like I’ve tried. I feel like the people that accepted me never accepted the real me and when I do reveal the real me people run for the hills, unable to handle me. So maybe someone can help me find this tightrope skill of balance of how to build a relationship that I feel safe in, connected to the other person in a real way, without overwhelming the other person with my intensity.

I think figuring that out will help me in any job I may come to have in the future, whether I go through the disabled workers board or get one on my own.

I do know that I want to be a part of the world and connected to people, to good genuine people, and I just don’t know how.

I do know I’m not ready to give up and get on disability and never work again. I think I still have something to offer. I’m still smart in some ways, just really slow, and get tired out quickly. I’m hopeful the new migraine meds will start helping with some of that too. I’m hopeful that my family is done adding trauma to my life and I can finally move ahead on my own. My parents are gone, my brothers aren’t speaking to me. The hole hurts, but an empty hole is a dull ache, not like the tortuous pain of constant flaming daggers tossed at you.

Fighting job hunting worthlessness

Unemployed. Isn’t that a nasty word? It is to me. Synonyms could be lazy. Good for nothing. Moocher. Freeloader. Waste of space. 

Worthless.

I know those aren’t my words and as much as I don’t apply those beliefs to others, I still do for myself. My own standards are higher. I still feel driven, this need to impress and succeed, or I feel like nothing.

I have started job hunting and I’m trying to be realistic and gentle on myself. My energy is not high. I need something flexible with minimal stress and hours. I tell myself this is temporary. That one day I may apply for those more ambitious and desirable jobs again. But I’m not so sure I’ll ever be ready. So I try to focus on me now, to process the unbalanced thoughts of needing to be perfect, comforting my sadness when I feel worthless.

I keep trying to tell hubby, but he doesn’t get it, and I stop, too ashamed to continue. I tell him I don’t like job hunting. He says, yeah its frustrating. I sigh. I have no way to explain the depth of this pain. How much it hurts to be triggered by my failure stuck point with each job post I am not qualified for, or worse, so much worse, when I apply for a job I didn’t really want but get rejected.

This hurts. Frustrating would be much more manageable. 

And hubby doesn’t know how much it hurt when he asked if the job boards were full of the same sh*tty jobs as usual. Because I am applying for those crappy jobs…and not getting hired. Which means I’m even crappier.

Hubby also doesn’t know how difficult it is for me to contain my jealousy as he talks about work. I try to be supportive, but some days I don’t want to hear his hero, he saved the day at work stories. Because all I did was scrape cheese off the dishes here at home. I know I am working in my trauma recovery program, but it doesn’t feel the same. I don’t feel like a hero or a problem solver. I think I am guilty of applying the stigma to myself. Hmm. Because I don’t feel proud, or even share with my family what I do in counseling. I don’t come home and say “I finally had some movement on a tough stuck point today…” nope. My kids don’t even know I am in counseling.

So I’m tackling this  job hunting like exposure therapy. I’m doing what I don’t want to do, every day, and experiencing every negative emotion slowly, then bringing myself back to center, slowly, using my new tools. 

I’ll keep at it. Eventually someone will hire me, and eventually maybe my self worth as a human won’t be connected so completely to my ability to make money. I am not going to go numb or put on a fake smile. This hurts. So I will feel the hurt and recover. I don’t have to like it. But I do need it to stop destroying me.

Feeling mostly useless

My current state of mind and body is all new territory. I am either mentally or physically unable to do most of what I used to do just a year ago. I’m feeling mostly useless now, like I’m mostly occupying space. ( granted much less space than I used to, I’ve lost so much weight which is good)

I used to create our budget and pay our bills. Hubby does this now. I asked him to take it over out of necessity last year when the migraines hit full force, then asked him to continue to minimize my stress. Other than feeling a bit out of the loop, I don’t miss it. So lately when hubby has seemed stressed and pressed for time, I’ve offered to help out and pay bills if he wanted me too, or take that chore back from him if he preferred. Surprisingly he said no. He prefers to keep doing it himself. As much as I wanted to be helpful, I was greatly relieved by his response.

My other household tasks include washing dishes, vacuuming, sometimes making meals, helping with homework, calendar planning, driving kids to school, and general light duty tidying. The kids and hubby do all of the lifting, pushing, moving, etc.

I fill my days with TV, video games, therapy homework, chatting to online friends, exercise, and distracting myself from pain.

I used to be the person with ideas, with skills and talents, with more use than time. Now I have all of this time and I feel mostly useless.

If I wanted this much drama

I’d move to Hollywood.

Seriously blindsided again by a drama-nado. Someone at work makes an easy to make human error. Someone else finds it and starts talking about it, to everyone except the one who did it. By the time it gets back to one who made the mistake, 6 people are all in a frenzy, discussing it at length in email, phone and IM all day long.

How could this happen? It wasn’t my fault. Doesn’t she know any better? Do we need to add this to the training program? I thought we covered it already! Maybe we need to fire her? Let’s see if we can find any other little mistakes. LOOK! She did make another mistake yesterday, look what I found! Did you see this? But wait, maybe this one wasn’t her fault, look who asked her to do it. Should we make a new policy? No mistakes allowed before noon. But isn’t mistake a gray area? we need to nail it down first or it won’t be fair. We can coach the mistakes away. The system? No, nothing is wrong with the system, it works perfectly, if we could just get all of our people to stop making mistakes. No they don’t make mistakes because the system is too confusing, you just check that box, check that box, initial this one, never check that box, always write in this box, use capitals in this box, underline this one, copy this one into that one and copy that one into this one. Simple. How could anyone mess that up? Yes we’ve hired and fired 12 people to do this job and no one can do it. So what? that just proves it is so hard to find good people that actually care about doing a good job. Wait, she didn’t get the memo. I just checked and her name is not on this list. So she didn’t know we moved that box and she should check the other box now. Well she should have known and asked us before doing it wrong.

That is my day, every day.

But there is a plan. Structure is being inserted, like a pipe cleaner into jello, but it is a start. Communication is happening – starts loudly and goes to all the wrong people first, but eventually it gets to the right person now. Messes are getting cleaned up. And no one has been fired for a few months. A few key people have admitted it is the system that needs fixing. A few key roadblocks have stepped out of the way for progress.

Like any good drama, these are the days of our lives, I am hooked. I can’t wait for the next episode, even though I also don’t want to waste my time with it. Drama is addictive. I try to stay out, to only observe, but I am not immune. And darn if I’m not human.

Or maybe I just want my own academy award? why not. Well, maybe not, I don’t have it in me to compete with the divas. But part of me is enjoying being the understudy. love/hate is a fine line.