Seems Like a Simple Thing

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Today we had planned to go to the store together, and then to do our radio show in the evening, and do a lot of goofing off around that. But instead my wife got called into work for seven and a half hours, which put everything else on hold. So I decided to take up the slack on my own.

I dropped her off at work, then came home for a few minutes, long enough to make a menu for next week and a corresponding grocery list, and then I headed to the store.

Now, for most people, that’s absolutely no big deal. But I haven’t been to the store but once by myself in years, and that one time was to only pick up one thing. This is the first time that I’d prepared to do a week’s worth of grocery shopping on my own in a long time – I think we were living in Illinois the last time I did that, and we’ve been back in Texas for going on five years now.

Furthermore, it’s the first time that I’ve gone to a grocery store on my own on a weekend afternoon in a very, very long time. Even when I was doing the best I was able to in Illinois, I avoided the store on Saturdays and Sunday unless it was absolutely necessary, and even then I went either with my wife or late at night, long after the crowds had died down.

So while it may not seem like much to you, to me it was a very big deal.

I made it through the store with only minor anxiety for part of my trip. When I first got there, I started mirroring another customer’s path through the aisles. She was talking at someone on her phone – I hesitate to use the term “talking with” since she was speaking almost nonstop the whole time I heard her – and she was speaking very, very loudly. This unnerved me, and it started getting my anxiety up, but I managed to fight it well enough, and eventually she jumped ahead of me in her progress and I couldn’t hear her anymore. (It took putting four aisles between me and her, though.)

That was about the time I decided to check Quicken, just to be on the safe side, and I’m glad I did, because there was considerably less money in the account than I had anticipated, so I went through the process of picking the stuff that we absolutely had to have for the next couple of days and putting everything else back. On a bad day, that would have embarrassed me and triggered my anxiety. Today, it did nothing. (We’re going to make it through to the next paycheck, we just needed to drop back and plan something cheaper for a few nights.)

I came home, put the groceries away, and then the shopping bags. (Austin has a city ordinance prohibiting the use of disposable plastic grocery bags. We carry reusable bags with us everywhere.) And I sat down and took it easy for a while.

That wasn’t the end of my day, however. There were several household chores that were in need of doing, so after a decent enough rest, I started in on those. Even without the trip to the store, it’s been a productive day.

I went to get my wife from work and was able to surprise her with many things around the house, and we had a nice dinner before settling in at our desks for an evening of leisure on the computer. She went to go lie down, however, and while she did I wrapped up the last of my checklist for the day (with the exception of bedtime stuff).

I’m tired, but it’s a good tired.

A Potential Change of Plans

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Yesterday I wrote about my discussion about school with my therapist, and mentioned that she wanted me to contact my Texas Workforce Commission case manager regarding changing my action plan with them. Here’s why.

Late last year, I began working with TWC on a plan to get me back to work. They could either give me assistance with trying to get work in an area that I was already capable of doing, or they could give me assistance with retraining me for a job in a new field. I have two vocational certificates, one in massage therapy and one in pharmacy technology, and both of those fields require long hours on my feet, something that I can’t do anymore because of my back. So rather than risk returning to generalized clerical work, something that I’ve spent a good portion of my professional life doing, I opted to pursue education in a new field.

I initially looked for an associate’s degree in architectural drafting, but subsequent job searches turned up precious few leads statewide, and none within commuting distance from where I currently live, so I started looking at another field. After discussing my options with my case manager, I decided to go to my final meeting with TWC intent on pursuing a bachelor’s degree in mass communications. That meeting went disastrously, as I discovered from my case manager that everything that I’ve suggested as a potential field of study wasn’t considered feasible by TWC standards, and I was basically given the choice of accepting a certificate in medical billing and coding or walking out the door empty handed with nothing to show for my time spent with TWC. (TWC has a 90-day window to design and approve an action plan. This final meeting was on day 83 of my window.) So I settled for medical billing and coding and went home to research what would apparently be my new career.

It turns out that medical coders make decent money, better than I would have gotten as an architectural drafter, and there were better job opportunities, so I decided to make the best of the situation I found myself in and start looking into everything that I needed to do to enroll for the fall semester.

I had my orientation on Tuesday afternoon, where I learned what the next steps to enroll were, and I had a good meeting. I wrote about it on Facebook, and a friend of mine told me that she was pursuing an associate’s degree in essentially the same field out of state. I was curious, and after a few minutes of research discovered that Austin Community College, the institution that I would be attending for my certificate program, offered an associate’s degree in health information technology, which covers both medical billing and coding and medical records analysis. The potential for becoming gainfully employed would be increased significantly with an associate’s degree, so I filed that information away for pursuit after I had gotten the certificate and had worked enough to afford the degree, if the field interested me. I was further encouraged that the associate’s degree at ACC would transfer to Texas State for a bachelor’s degree in health information technology, so there would be the potential for even further education in the field.

I mentioned this to my therapist yesterday, and also mentioned that in the pursuit of the next steps for the certificate program I had learned that my former case manager, who had stuck me with this field in the first place, was no longer with TWC, and that my case was being handled by someone new. My therapist recommended that I reach out to TWC and ask what the possibility of switching my action plan to the associate’s degree would be. I didn’t really hold out much hope, but I told her that I would try. So this morning I sent my new case manager an email explaining the situation.

My new case manager called me this afternoon to follow up and ask a little more about what I was looking to do, and why. So I told her briefly about the background of my case and how I was pretty much assigned this field by my former case manager, and how the addition of the medical records analysis would increase both my earning potential and my employment prospects. She said that she would need to meet with me to discuss this in further detail, so I have an appointment on July 11th with her to go over my suggestion.

I honestly don’t hold out much hope for a switch, mostly because I know that TWC won’t cover the expense of prerequisite classes, and the associate’s degree program has five prerequisite courses before the start of the six-semester program. But at least I will have talked it over and found out the answer instead of assuming what it would be.

If I don’t get to switch to the degree program, that’s fine. It just means that once I get back to work, I’ll start saving money to be able to go back to school on my own, should the field prove to be interesting to me. If I do get to switch, that’s even better – an associate’s degree in one field is better than none at all to some employers, so even if I choose to leave the field eventually, I’ll have an education under my belt.

I’ll keep you posted on what I find out.

Progress on Several Fronts

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I met with my therapist today.

We talked about the last two weeks – about the SCA event over the weekend, about how I managed to avoid much anxiety, how much fun I had, and how glad I was to be getting back into an area of the SCA that I used to enjoy very much. She was very pleased to hear about everything, and when I was quick to give credit to having the Zoloft on board she was just as quick to correct me. She said that most of what I did over the weekend was me, and not the medication. The Zoloft might have taken the edge off, but the complete lack of panic leading up to the event and the relative low amount of anxiety I felt during the event was because of my progress over several months and my own efforts were what kept the panic attack at the event at bay.

We also talked about school, and she mentioned that my classes over the weekend will go a ways toward preparing me for my classes in the fall. She was concerned that I was going to be doing four classes at once, but she was relieved to hear that I would be doing them sequentially. I told her that Austin Community College offers an associates degree in Health Information Technology that would expand on the learning that I would receive through the certificate program, and that the associates degree transfers to the Health Information Technology program at Texas State University for a bachelor’s degree. She asked if I could go back to Texas Workforce Commission and ask if they would greenlight the associates degree instead of the certificate program. It’s six semesters versus two, but it would open more doors for me at the end of my education, and presumably increase my asking salary. I told her that I have a new counselor at TWC and that I’d send something over to her tomorrow.

We also touched on my fear of dying. I mentioned that it had come up in the book that I’m reading on her recommendation, and that the entry wasn’t very helpful. The end result of that conversation was a little surprising. She wants me to do some soul searching to arrive at what I believe happens when we die. I’d never given it much thought beyond “if there is something, living a decent life on Earth is the best way to secure a happy afterlife, and if there isn’t something, living a decent life on Earth is its own reward.” But I suppose that over the next couple weeks I’ll be deep in thought about this so I can report back to her.

It was a good session today.

Back to School

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I’m going back to school in the fall for Medical Billing and Coding, and today was my orientation at Austin Community College. It was a good session, but short, and likely would have been shorter had there not been  a couple of obstacles in the way.

When my adviser brought me back, she took my application, reviewed it quickly, then started telling me about the coursework that I would be taking. First semester was recommended to be three classes, then second semester would be four, and third semester was two more classes and the practicum. This differed from what I read online, but I figured there was a change to the program that hadn’t made the website yet. The fall 2017 continuing education catalog was just released today, and this was the first time that my adviser had looked at it.

I told her that I could likely take the full four classes since I’m on disability and not working during the day, and she told me that the fourth class was largely on campus, with some of it taught online. Again, this was different from what I learned online, but I went with it. Then she told me that she couldn’t find the class listed in the catalog, so she checked online to see if it was in the system, and it wasn’t, so she told me she’d have to get back to me with all the registration information I’d need for that fourth class.

It’s at this point in time that she asked me if I was sure I wanted to take the medical assistant program, and I corrected her. She looked back at my application and said that she must have read it wrong, and then she wondered about the medical assistant program being “on the run” and probably not something someone coming back from a disability would want to jump into. She was thinking medical billing and coding given that piece of information, and I told her that was what I wanted. So she scratched through the classes that she highlighted and started over.

She told me that there were two semesters, the first being all the non-coding classes, and the second being all coding classes and the practicum. That meshed with what I’d learned online, so I felt we were back on the same page at this point. She went back through the catalog to highlight the correct classes and noticed that one of my four wasn’t listed. She checked online and sure enough, it wasn’t in the system, so she told me she’d give me a call when it was live and accessible. She asked if I had any questions, and I told her that I’d never done online classes before, and would she give me an idea of what to expect, and she filled me in on how they were run. That was the only question that I could think of, and she said she was available if and when others came to mind.

We shook hands and I left, making a stop past the registration desk to make sure that when I registered later online, I knew what information they needed from the catalog.

The whole thing was over in about thirty minutes. It was a good meeting and I’m looking forward to registering. My next step is to contact my TWC liaison at ACC and start the ball rolling on tuition arrangements, and when she clears me – and I have information on the fourth class – I can get online and register. At that point, it’s simply a question of picking up textbooks and waiting for class to start.

The online classes are arranged differently than the classes on campus. Each class is taught sequentially, so I’m only taking one class at a time. The downside to this is that each class lasts just a few weeks, so there’s very little room for getting behind. I’m going to have to stay on top of my classwork in order to succeed in this program, but I believe I can handle it.

I’m really looking forward to getting this first step to getting back in the workforce underway.

Steady As She Goes

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I had my first follow-up appointment with my new psychiatrist this afternoon. He asked how things were going, and I told him about the event on Saturday – how I didn’t have panic attacks beforehand like I’ve been doing recently, and how I handled the minor panic attack at the event. He said that it sounds like the Zoloft is working as expected to control my anxiety, perhaps even a little bit better than expected, and he said that he was going to keep my meds where they were. He wanted to know if I felt myself wanting to do things that I had been avoiding and I told him that the event on Saturday was my return to an aspect of the SCA that I hadn’t felt up to pursuing in years, so he was pleased to hear that. He inquired about side effects and I told him that I haven’t seen anything. I was honest – not every day is rosy, but very few days are truly down right now, and he commented on how things seem to have turned around for me pretty notably in a short period of time. He advised that the Zoloft still hasn’t reached maximum efficacy, so I might see that similar attacks like the one I had on Saturday are even easier to deal with in another month or two. He asked if there was anything on the horizon that might test the Zoloft at full strength and I told him that I was returning to school in the fall, and that the plan was for me to be working again about this time next year. He was happy to hear that I’m looking forward to school and to getting back to work. He wants to see me again in August, just to follow-up around the time that the Zoloft has well and truly kicked in. All in all, it was a very good appointment.

Taking the Day Off

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Today is Father’s Day, and my wife is making a big deal out of it. She’s done everything she can to allow me to just take it easy, and I appreciate it. Yesterday kinda wiped us both out, unfortunately, so we’ve been content to do as little as possible today. That crosses over to this blog, where today’s post ends right here.