Reframing

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“Reframing describes a technique used in therapy to help create a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning.” (Kathryn Rudlin, LCSW)

I haven’t written anything since the day I had my meeting with Vocational Rehabilitative Services, because I’ve been processing what happened to me and trying to figure out where things went wrong. If you haven’t done so, the background for today’s entry can be found here.

I started by trying to determine if things did, in fact, go wrong. My initial career path was intended to be an architectural drafter. A search on salary.com for “architectural drafter I” in the Austin area came up with a bottom 10% of people in the profession making $14 an hour, the bottom 25% making $16 hourly, the median making $19 hourly, the top 25% making $24 hourly, and the top 10% making $27 hourly. Architectural drafter II positions are making $16/$20/$25/$31/$37 for the same percentile ranges, with the majority of positions requiring 2-5 years of experience at that level. As those that know from reading my prior post, I instead agreed to a certificate program doing medical billing & coding. Salary.com says that those positions in the Austin area are making $17/$20/$23/$27/$31 for the same percentile ranges above, which is considerably more than what an architectural drafter I would be making in town, for half the time in school. That got me to rethinking how things shook out last month at VRS.

In scrambling to get myself a career path, they managed to upgrade my salary and make it so I could be in the job market months earlier than I had initially planned.

Now, does this mean that I’m not going to file a complaint against my case manager? I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do about that. I have to deal with the person until I’m ready for the job market, which will be sometime next year, so I’m not certain that a complaint would help that relationship thrive. I think that his failings in my case are due to him being new on the job – the 30th was not the first time that he’d called a senior counselor in to assist him – so it’s simply a matter of inexperience, something that I’d have avoided by being assigned a more senior counselor – and something that I would have no way of knowing was desirable prior to several meetings with the man. At the least, I’m going to write out a detailed letter of what happened when, if nothing else for my own satisfaction of having written the thing. There’s also the possibility that a complaint will reverse the career path that I’ve found myself on, to something that will pay less.

In addition, I can always go back to school on my own dime once I’ve saved up some money from working to help defray tuition and expenses. That way I’ll have more time than 90 days to pick a career choice that will be both personally and financially satisfying on top of minimizing student loans.

After several days of soul-searching, I think I’m okay with how things turned out with VRS, even if it wasn’t what I was initially looking for. This is going to put me in a position to be far better equipped to make the decision regarding school when the time is right.

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The Next Steps

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Today was my meeting with my case manager at Texas Workforce Solutions – Vocational Rehabilitative Services and I think it went well.

One of the first concerns that Anthony, my case manager, has is my weight, which is understandable. They want me to be well, and true wellness lies in ditching the weight. That will help the high blood pressure, the diabetes, even help alleviate the situation that I’ve gotten myself into with my back problems.

When he went through my paperwork, the reports that my doctors and therapist have sent in to TWS-VRS covered everything but my back problems, so with a phone call we got my latest MRI results and the diagnostic summary of them faxed over and added to my file. While we were waiting, Anthony stepped out to get a colleague who has more experience dealing with back injuries. The colleague, Eric, echoed Anthony’s assessment that losing the weight would help, but he stressed that getting active and doing what physical therapy wants me to do is more important in the short term – and sticking with that in the long term will likewise be important to prevent my back from becoming a degenerative situation. If that occurs, there’s really not that much that can be done to keep me mobile. I explained that expenses were what was keeping me out of physical therapy but I promised both Eric and Anthony that I would look into going long enough to get some home exercises to help me with my case. So that’s step one.

I also mentioned that my insurance has a program that provides free gym memberships at multiple locations around the city, so I promised that I would look into that as well. There’s step two, although that one has a few prerequisites that I need to look into first – namely the purchase of some gym clothes and actual workout footwear. In the meantime I’ll be getting back to the daily walks around the complex, which I can do in jeans and Crocs.

Then we got to the meat of the meeting, which was to discuss what I want to do when returning to work. I mentioned that my back won’t let me do massage therapy anymore, and between being out of the business for a decade and my back working as a pharmacy technician is pretty out of the question, so I’d like to do something that would allow me to sit some of the time, and I’d decided on architectural & engineering computer aided design. The money’s there, the jobs are projected to be there, and while the job would have me sitting most of the time, there would be occasions where I’d be able to get up and stretch on top of the exercise that I’ll be doing anyway. I fired off some of the stats that I got from the Occupational Outlook Handbook online, and he commended me for doing my research before coming in. So step three is going to be me going back to school for my associate’s degree.

I left with some homework – get in touch with physical therapy and do what they tell me for my back, start walking in an effort to begin losing the weight, and submit my FAFSA for the degree program. The goal is for me to start in the spring, which really means mid-January. So I have a little less than two months for financial aid to do its thing before classes start. The process is underway, however – the FAFSA was submitted earlier this afternoon.

I asked a point blank question of Anthony just before I left – how much of this am I going to have to pay for out of pocket? His response surprised me.

“Zero.” Tuition, books, and supplies are all going to be covered for this program.

So I’m one step closer to getting back to work. There’s still a lot of time left ahead of me, but it looks like I’m well and truly on the road, finally. We’ll see what happens in the coming months. I’ll keep you posted.

I’m nervous, but cautiously excited and optimistic about this new future that I’m planning for myself.

Faster Than Expected

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Earlier this week I got a call from Texas Workforce Solutions-Vocational Rehabilitation Services. All the requested medical records had come in, and I had been officially approved to receive their services. I was expecting that to take three months, not the month that it actually took.

So now I have an appointment on the 22nd of November to determine what my plan of attack is going to be. I really want to go back to school, but I don’t know if TWS-VRS will cover the expenses. However, my case manager told me of a situation where they not only paid for someone’s education, but their living expenses while at school since their chosen field of study required them to move to another town to attend classes. This gives me hope.

I would prefer not to move, so I’ve been looking at degree programs at Austin Community College-Northridge, which is literally down the road from my apartment. They offer one program that interests me, Architectural and Engineering Computer Aided Design. It’s an associate’s degree as opposed to a vocational certificate, but it looks like the typical entry-level positions require only an associate’s degree, and the pay is solid, plus it’s mostly desk work, which will be good for my back. The outlook isn’t splendid, as they expect a 3% reduction in available jobs between 2014 and 2024, mostly due to more efficient work processes due in large part to improved software, so I’m a little apprehensive of getting a degree and then floundering trying to find a job locally. But the market here in Texas is better than most of the rest of the country, and the pay scale is slightly higher than the national average, although it’s the oil industry in Houston and Dallas that’s skewing those numbers. I called the college and requested someone to call me back with more information. I plan on following that up with an email by the middle of next week if I haven’t heard anything, followed eventually with an actual visit to campus to try and get some time with one of the advisers to get some more information about the career and the program.

I did something similar to this at one point in time – I was a well planner for a small engineering firm that was eventually folded into Halliburton. I enjoyed the work, but the atmosphere was very toxic to me and I went on short-term disability to learn how to cope with the situation. By the time I made it back, the merger had happened, and my position had been considered superfluous and so I was laid off.

I’m working on how to deal with toxic environments in therapy, so hopefully that will coincide with the end of this degree program, if it can come to fruition. Keep your fingers crossed that my questions are answered to my satisfaction and this works out to be something that I can see myself doing for the rest of my life.

One more step toward the goal …

Getting Beneath One’s Feet

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“A journey of a thousand li starts beneath one’s feet.” – Lao Tzu

As many of you know, I’m currently on Social Security disability for my PTSD and bipolar disorder. Yesterday I took the first overt step in returning to the workplace. I had an intake appointment with Texas Workforce Solutions-Vocational Rehabilitation Services to determine my eligibility for their services.

The interview was long, over an hour, and it was very stressful, as I had to explain in some detail the events that led up to my diagnoses. That’s never an easy conversation for me to have, and especially so with a total stranger I’m just meeting for the first time as was the case yesterday. The intake counselor was very thorough, and fortunately seemed to be just as concerned about my back problems as he was the mental limitations that I have with holding a job, even though my back doesn’t figure into my disability finding. He did have an excellent point, however, there’s no sense in preparing me for a job that my body won’t let me do – that’s why I’m no longer working in the two areas in which I hold a vocational certificate, my back just won’t tolerate me being on my feet for that long without sitting.

I’m cautiously optimistic, since he mentioned to me that my being on SSDI automatically makes me eligible for services, and their brochure explains that those on SSDI receive services at no cost to the consumer (that’s their term for their clients). The counselor mentioned the possibility of a degree, but being out-of-district for Austin Community College concerns me about whether that plan would ever come to fruition, as well as the expense incurred by returning to school. He did mention that anyone that followed that path would be returning to school full-time, which I have no issue with, so there’s that at least.

It’ll be about three months or so before I hear what my eligibility is and what path we can pursue through their services, but as I said before, I’m cautiously optimistic that this will make a difference in the quality of job that I can pursue once I’m ready.

I’m nervous about taking this step, but it’ll be a challenge, and I could use one of those right about now.