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Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Me And My Many Jobs

Hi everyone! In a previous post I mentioned that I have never been fired from a job, but that I tend to quit unexpectedly because depression and anxiety start to overwhelm me. I said that I might do a post about all of the jobs I've had in my life. Then I realized that that would be pretty embarrassing. People do not think highly of someone who has very little money, yet has quit a bunch of jobs.

On the other hand, I realize that it is an important post to write. I have read that quitting jobs is very common for autistic adults and adults with ADHD, of which I am both. Maybe this post can give others an idea of why that is, and why an adult who seems to you to be capable of working full time may actually have an extremely hard time doing that. So, I'm going to do it. I'm going to tell you all of my jobs. I'm going to try not to projectile vomit while I'm doing it.

MY FIRST JOB
In Illinois, you can legally work at most jobs when you are 16. There are a few jobs you can start when you are 14, but not many. When I turned 16 I was still undiagnosed, and pretty much mentally all over the place. Remember, at the time everyone just thought I was a very poorly behaved teenager! My mom started her first job when she was 14, so she was pressuring me to look for a job. I was extremely nervous about this. I couldn't imagine myself working at any of the typical jobs that teenagers usually get, like in a fast food restaurant. I thought that the best job for me would be something that was more slow-paced and calm, like in one of those little shops where they get about 10 customers per day. Unfortunately, none of those little shops were hiring!
I came up with a plan. There was a Brown's Chicken restaurant in my town. This was less than two years after the Browns Chicken Massacre that took place in my town. The Brown's Chicken where the massacre took place had been shut down, but there was a new location in a shopping plaza near by. I reasoned that it would be slow-paced, because Brown's Chicken is not one of the most well-known fast food restaurants. Plus, after the massacre, I figured nobody wanted to go there anyways. It was close enough for me to ride my bike there, which was important because I did not have a driver's license. I went and filled out the application. A few days later, without even interviewing me, they called and asked if I could start the next week.
It turned out to be a weird place to work. First of all, it was more fast-paced than I had thought, with people often lined up out the door. The manager was the owner's daughter, and most of the employees were about my age. The first task I was given was to wash dishes, which included all of the giant metal trays where chicken was cooked. I worked for about 2 hours on meticulously washing them, until another worker stepped in and showed me how to do it in the rapid, haphazard style that was expected.
I learned how to make orders, which was pretty easy. I still remember how... a four piece dark is two drumsticks and two thighs. A four piece light is two wings and two breasts. Some people would want one of each. I even learned how to run the cash register. I could do it, as long as nobody ordered anything out of the ordinary. For instance if someone ordered a special, or had a coupon, I would be stumped. I also had to try to keep straight who ordered what, and there were always people whose orders got missed. Plus I just wasn't very fast.
The worst part was that, during down times, the manager and all of the employees would gather in the break room together, play music, smoke cigarettes, and talk. They never invited me in. I could have just gone in and sat down and started talking with my new co-workers, but I didn't, I couldn't. At the time my social skills were way less than they are now. So I would just pace around behind the counter, alone.
On work days, I always had such a sick and nervous feeling. I hated going there. The only thing I liked was that I could take home fried chicken at the end of the day, and I was allowed to drink as much pop as I wanted from the fountain while I worked. But to this day, setting foot in a chicken restaurant brings back that feeling of terror.
One week when I went to check the schedule to see what days I was working, I was only scheduled for one day instead of my usual three. This happened a few weeks in a row. And then one week I wasn't scheduled at all. And then another. I kept going back and checking the schedule, only to find that I wasn't on it. I lacked the skills to know how to handle this. So I just stopped going. I was too embarrassed to tell my parents that I might have lost my job, so I kept putting on my uniform and leaving on my usual work days, and I'd just ride my bike around or go to my friend's house. One day they went to Brown's Chicken for some reason, when I was supposed to be there, and when they asked about me, someone told them that I had quit. When I got home my parents were furious at me for lying about where I'd been... but after they learned that I had been "phased out" of my job, they barely punished me. They just seemed a little baffled.

MY NEXT JOB
That fall when  I started school, I was in Work Program, which was geared towards kids who were probably going to enter the work force right after high school instead of going to college. I had been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder over the summer. The diagnosis turned out to be wrong, but at least it got me an IEP, Because I had an IEP, I was allowed to take a longer time finding a job. The other kids had a few weeks to get hired somewhere. I pretty much had unlimited time.
When I had been diagnosed, the school psychologist told my parents that I was never going to be able to get a job, go to college, drive a car, or live on my own. So the Work Program teacher was trying to point me towards as easy of jobs as possible. But a big limiting factor was that I didn't have a driver's license, even though I was 17 at that time, and my mom worked full time and couldn't drive me places. Our town's public transportation was sorely lacking.
Someone suggested I get a job at a retirement community down the street from where I lived. Again, I got hired, pretty much without an interview. These places were looking for warm bodies and were not picky. I was hired to work in the dining room. Serving food to old people... how easy could it get? Well, the "dining room" was restaurant style. Like a regular waitress, you had to go to the tables, take the people's orders, put in the orders to the cooks, and then retrieve the orders and bring them to the right tables. This sounds easy enough, but although they started me out with only one table at a time, the expectation was that you would be handling 6 or 7 tables at once. I somehow could not get the hang of putting in the order and then retrieving the order and bringing it out to the right table. I also had a hard time balancing a tray of food, and would spill stuff left and right. It was awful.  Again, I had a sick and terrified feeling each day that I went to work.
My parents tried to convince me that I would get the hang of it. But one day I learned that they were changing the way we delivered the food to tables. Instead of carrying a tray two-handed, we were going to have to balance them on one hand like this.
I could barely handle carrying a tray with both hands, and now I was going to have to balance it as I walked across the room? What was I, a circus performer?
I begged my parents to let me quit. They finally said I could, but I had to go in and tell the boss. My dad gave me a line to say. It was something like, "Sorry, I'm going to have to quit. It's just not working out for me." After blurting out the line I had memorized, I left the retirement home, and felt like I had been let out of prison. But any time I walked or was driven past it, I got that sick feeling in my stomach again. 


Job #3
I then decided to apply at K-Mart. Bigger stores like Wal-Mart and Target had been built in my town, so I thought, again, that K-Mart would be calmer and more slow-paced because not as many people wanted to shop there. I also was hoping to get a job doing something like stocking shelves or being a bagger, which would not require as much interaction with random people. I was actually interviewed. The lady who interviewed me was friendly, and she said she thought I would be a good employee because I was friendly as well and smiled easily. (My work program teacher had coached me about smiling and making eye contact.) She asked if I would be willing to be a cashier instead of a bagger or stocker. I said I would try it. 
I went to training, where I, along with two other new employees, learned to use the cash register. I was told that, by the second day, I was going to have to independently run the cash register. I was terrified of this! My work program teacher did not have a lot of confidence that I'd be able to do it, so she called up my new boss and asked for some accommodations for me. So for a few days, I was allowed to shadow a more experienced cashier, until I got the hang of it. (I was wrong about there not being many customers. In the evenings and weekends, we had lines that never seemed to end!)
In many ways, this job was great for me. It was a lot of doing the same thing over and over and over again. The cash register was not too hard to run... except for the annoying fact that a lot of things didn't have price tags or were marked wrong, which required me to try to call someone else over to figure it out. I turned out to be a great cashier. One quality a lot of autistic people have is that they want to follow the rules and maintain the routine. So when my boss said we were supposed to smile and greet the customers, and tell them to have a nice day as we finished their order, I took it seriously. I smiled and asked people how they were. People commented on what a great smile I had, and a few people even complimented me to my supervisor! 
As long as unexpected situations didn't come up, I did great. I actually got an A in Work Program. 
Unfortunately, after the school year ended, I ended up becoming homeless. (Long story!) I was sleeping in a different place every night, and eventually I had to quit because I just wasn't able to get there every time I had to work. 

Job #4
The following summer, I entered a group home for young women under the age of 21. One of the requirements was that I had to get a job, and/or go to school. Because I had a disability, I was again given the accommodation of not having to find a job in the required time period. My case manager took me to DORS, the Department of Occupational Rehabilitation Services, which was dedicated to helping people with disabilities get jobs. They were not able to pinpoint a specific disability for me, except to say I had "autistic tendencies" and had trouble solving problems and remembering certain information. (One of the tasks was to memorize the nonsense-sounding names of these little alien pictures. They had names like Meemaw and Gulshee. I had to memorize them in that session, and then see if I could remember them when I came back a few weeks later. I couldn't remember their silly sounding names!) I was supposedly assigned a job coach.
I decided to apply at a fast food restaurant in my neighborhood. It was a smaller restaurant, so I again assumed that it would be slower paced. (When would I ever learn???) When I was interviewed for the job, I told the owner, "I do best when I know exactly what I'm supposed to be doing." He hired me.
Everyone who worked there started out making milkshakes, which was the easiest job. The hardest part was that the people taking orders at the cash register would just yell out a size and flavor of shake, and since we again had lines going out the door, sometimes they were yelling out one after the other. I was a little slower than most people, but I got the job done.
The idea was that you would eventually move on to using the cash register and helping to cook the food. I was terrified of this. Even though I had used the cash register at Brown's Chicken and K-Mart, this restaurant had a complicated menu, and the cash register was an older kind that required you to key in the prices of things. This meant you had to more or less memorize the entire menu in order to be fast enough to keep the line going. I was overwhelmed. The owner's mother, who also worked there, had a stern talk with me. She said that if I couldn't learn to use the cash register, I would be fired in the fall, because people didn't order as many milkshakes in the fall. But the owner knew I had a disability, and so he kept me on. If nothing else, I was good at wiping the tables and mopping the floor!
I still hated it though. I kept going because I knew I had to have a job, and this was at least familiar. I tried to keep my back to the counter as much as possible, facing the milkshake machine instead, because if I looked out at the zillions of people waiting impatiently for their food, I would want to pass out!
I worked there almost a year, until I moved out of the group home the following spring.
(By the way, the "job coach" only saw me once, for a total of three minutes! She stopped by to get her kids ice cream, and asked me how I was doing. I was mopping the floor at the time. I politely told her that I was fine, and she left.)

Job #5
I was always short on money, because this job was minimum wage, which was something like $4.25 an hour at the time. I decided to get a second job, around Christmas time. There was this store in the mall, called Natural Wonders, that I really loved. They were hiring seasonal employees. I was hired as a sales person, which meant I was supposed to answer people's questions about items, and try to push them to buy things. There were lots of problems with this.
First of all, I didn't really like talking to people.
Second of all, it was a popular store, especially at Christmas time, and it was always packed.
Third of all, I had no idea what to tell people about any of the items. I couldn't quite get the gist of how the store was organized. It was one of those overwhelming stores with games and toys everywhere you looked. I didn't even know what half of the stuff in there was. If someone asked me things like, "Where can I find such-and-such a toy," or "What would you suggest for a ten-year-old," I would have no idea. I'd refer them to someone else.
Fourth of all, I had no sales talent. I couldn't pressure someone to buy something. I probably couldn't sell a glass of water to someone whose hair was on fire!
Again... same old story... I was always nervous. On the days that I had to work, I would walk around clutching my stomach, or curl up in a ball. Finally I convinced my friend to call and tell them I quit. She devised some story about how her son had developed bad asthma and she needed me to stay home and care for him because he wasn't going to be able to go to day care anymore.

Job #6
After I moved out of the group home, I was living with a friend and her young son. For some reason I decided to try to get a job at a store called Kids Mart, which I (AGAIN!!!) reasoned would be more slow-paced because, when I had gone in that store in the past, it hadn't been too crowded. I got the job easily, because of my past experience working at K-Mart.
It turned out that it was really fast-paced. I could manage the cash register well enough, but another part of my job entailed being "out on the floor," where I was again expected to approach people and try to get them to buy stuff. For me, this entailed trying to act like I didn't see people and getting away from them as quickly as possible so I didn't have to approach them.
One time I was given the task of restocking the shoe department. I don't even remember exactly what I was doing, except that I was in a room that was stacked wall-to-ceiling with shoe boxes, and I was supposed to find certain boxes of shoes and put them out on the shelves. I could never find the right shoes. I spent hours just walking around, staring up at the shoes, trying to find the right ones. It wasn't just, "Find the Nikes." It was, "Find the Nike Winner A-Style sandals in a blue size 7." (I just made up that Winner A-Style part, but you know what I mean,) I was supposed to get the manager when I finished, so he could tell me what to do next, but I just never finished. I contemplated just finding somewhere to sit down and hide until my work hours were over!
Again, more stomachaches, headaches, anxiety, crying, etc. Again, I eventually got a friend to call and say I wasn't coming back.

Job #7
I was living with a friend who had a two-year-old son who went to daycare. I enjoyed spending time with him. I'd always enjoyed being around little kids. So I decided to apply for a job at a day care center. It was the same chain that my friend's son went to, but a different location. It was good because I still didn't have a driver's license, and I could ride the bus to get to the daycare.
In some ways this job worked out really well! I loved the little kids, and they loved me. I was a hard worker, eager to please my supervisors and the children's parents. I started out working only four hours a day, every other day, but eventually was increased to full time, and then even overtime. Because I had to take the bus to work, I was pretty much getting on the bus at 7:00 in the morning, and not getting home until 7:00 at night.
There were things that upset me at that daycare. The other employees weren't always that great to the kids. One lady was talking on the phone to a friend when she opened a closet door, accidentally hitting a baby in the face. The baby's nose started bleeding. The employee got another child's nose siphon and started to siphon the blood out of the baby's nose, telling me not to tell the baby's mother about it. Another teacher used to leave toddlers strapped in their high chairs for hours at a time. Once she picked up a child and shook him. Still another teacher would use blankets to tie children to their cots at nap time.
In addition, we were always asked to take more children than was legally permissible in our rooms, to move children around in unpredictable ways, to do all sorts of stuff in order to have as few employees and as many children as possible. For instance, I was only qualified as an assistant, which meant I was supposed to be helping a teacher. But I was constantly alone with five toddlers, acting as the teacher.
Coupled with my long hours, this was stressing me out. But I did not quit, because I loved the children. I started getting more and more anxiety problems, though, more and more headaches. At one point, I started to feel like killing myself, and I went to stay at a crisis center for a few days. After that, I asked if I could shorten my hours a little, and I was able to at least sleep a little longer in the mornings.
I eventually moved back in with my parents, after having not lived with them for over two years. My parents lived about an hour away from where I worked, and I still didn't have a driver's license, so my mom was driving me to work and back each day. It was stressful for everyone. It made sense that I would want to quit now... but I was afraid to actually say I was quitting. So, once I found a new job, I just didn't go back.

Job #8
I found a job at a small day care center run by a social service organization. It was geared towards infants and toddlers from low income homes. This was actually the beginning of a streak of great luck in jobs for me.
I was again hired as an assistant, because even though I had worked at a daycare for a year, I wasn't qualified to be a teacher. This was a very small and tight-knit daycare center with only two classrooms and about six employees. Still, I had a lot of anxiety, at least for the first four months. I called in sick so often that, when my anxiety started to ease up and I started becoming more reliable, my boss gave me a card and a stuffed monkey as a reward. She was that kind of boss, the kind that would surprise you with a stuffed monkey because you improved, instead of just ripping you a new one when you were doing poorly.
She also had me and one of the other assistants do a lot of the curriculum planning. Unlike at the chain daycare center I had worked at before, where the kids just ran amok, at this day care center they were supposed to follow a daily schedule of activities that would help them develop in the areas of large motor, small motor, speech and language, social and emotional, and cognitive. We had to have weekly themes. Every few weeks, my boss would let me and the other assistant go to the break room and work on the curriculum. We even got to pick the themes! We wrote daily reports on each child. I learned so much from working there. It was also the first place I worked where I really got to know my co-workers and felt a sense of belonging. It built my confidence a lot.

Job #9
With my confidence and spirits higher than ever, I heard about Americorps, which is the domestic version of PeaceCorps. You committed to a year of full-time volunteer work, and in exchange you got a monthly living stipend, and an educational award to go to college. I decided to apply to a program. I found an AmeriCorps program in Colorado that was dedicated to helping at-risk children. I applied, had an interview over the phone, and then had a few months to arrange to move to Colorado.
I was afraid to tell my boss that I was quitting. She found out because I was talking about it with my friend, the other assistant, and one of our supervisors overheard and told my boss. My boss called me in for a meeting and asked me about it, at which point I admitted that I had been afraid to tell her and that I was regretful about leaving. She was very supportive of me and said she was proud of me for signing up to do something so big.
I left that job in early December, so I could spend a few weeks getting ready to move. I got to celebrate Christmas and New Years with my family, and then in early January I moved out to Colorado.
It turned out I was lucky that I'd made this move. I was keeping in touch with my friend who still worked there. A few months later she told me that the day care had lost its funding and was closing down. She and the other employees had been given two weeks notice. I would have had to find another job anyways.

Job #10
In AmeriCorps, all of us were placed at different organizations around the community. I worked at a foster care organization. They ran a day care for children in foster care, mainly because a lot of the foster children in their agency had been kicked out of regular day care centers for bad behavior. These were kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder, which means that, at four or five years old, they had already been abused and neglected so badly, by so many different people, that it had prevented them from developing trust and a sense of conscience. These were little kids who were filled with rage. When you read their files, and heard their stories, you could understand why. But they couldn't be in regular daycare centers, because they weren't safe, The day care had also recently started taking other children who had various special needs. So we had about 75% children with serious emotional disabilities, and 25% children with autism and/or intellectual disabilities.
Since I was a volunteer, I was mostly supposed to be an extra hand, an assistant. But this center had a lot of problems. They had a high staff turnover, plus they also lost their funding at some point during the year and were taken over by another social service organization, which caused several of the remaining employees to quit. At one point, I again found myself working as the teacher and looking after all of the kids alone, until finally an 18-year-old girl was hired to be the actual teacher. Then I was back to being the assistant. But I still had alarmingly long hours. I got there a little after the place opened, and usually stayed until it closed.
This job worked well for me because it had a specific beginning and end. I had committed to working until December. I was having a lot of anxiety at first. Plus I was dealing with living on my own again. I had an apartment with a roommate and her young son, and I was also taking care of her son a lot. He also had a behavioral disorder. I didn't really have a lot of independent living skills of my own. My roommate helped me with a lot of things, including dealing with unexpected events, like how to handle it when you can't start your car in the morning, or what to do when your cat is on the roof of the apartment building and won't come down. In return, I helped out with her son a lot. I even took him to work with me when I worked on the weekends, and whenever my roommate went out of town for a few days I was in charge of him.
One thing this job definitely taught me was that I enjoyed working with kids with special needs, and I was even good at it. Some of the employees at the day care center also worked as 1:1 assistants in special education schools. I decided, when I returned to Illinois at the end of the year, I would look for a job like that.

Job #11
Back in Illinois, armed with a great-looking resume loaded with all of the experience I'd gotten in AmeriCorps, I looked for a job as a 1:1 assistant. I was especially interested in working with children with behavioral disorders. In February, I was hired as a 1:1 for a kindergartner. He had autism, he had an IQ of 140, and he had serious, violent meltdowns that resulted in people getting chairs thrown at their heads.
It turned out to be the perfect job for me. Although I started out being kind of anxious, the little boy and I bonded well. We developed an almost telepathic connection. His teachers reported that I had a calming effect on him. He was such a sweet boy, very interesting and complicated. At first my job was just to stick with him everywhere, and run interference to keep him from injuring other children. After a while, they gave me the responsibility of teaching him reading and math. He was extremely intelligent, but he was in a special education classroom for children who had cognitive disabilities and severe learning disabilities. Before I came, they were just giving him a math workbook to do addition problems in, and he just worked by himself.
I was able to go into the school's book room and take out any textbooks and workbooks I wanted. I had the freedom to plan my own lessons to do with him. In addition to reading and math, I also started teaching him "social studies," which was really just putting together a book about all of the states in alphabetical order. We would learn the name of the state, the capitol city, the flag, and the state bird, and then we'd do some sort of art project related to the state. We compiled them all in a huge binder, which he would look through every day. He loved things like that.
I was his 1:1 for the rest of kindergarten, all of first grade, and all of second grade. I also worked with him during summer school. He still had a lot of behavioral problems, and I spent a lot of time restraining him to keep him from destroying things and hurting other people. But he also came a really long way, and was able to participate with the rest of the class a lot more, instead of just working by himself in a corner.
It was perfect for me because I had the structure of the school day, but also the freedom to use my brain to meet challenges. It also helped me learn a lot about myself. By then I was starting to realize I had Aspergers, and I saw myself reflected in the children I worked with.
After second grade, his family decided to move to another town. This was when I decided I wanted to go to college to become a special education teacher.

Job #12
I started to go to community college full time, using my educational award from AmeriCorps. But since I was in school full time, I couldn't work in a school anymore. I made a horrible decision, and decided to try to get a job in the chain daycare center I had worked in before. Even though I had quit without notice, the local branch apparently didn't have a way of knowing that. They hired me as a teacher for after school hours.
I really don't know what went wrong there. It should have been an easy job. It should have been fun. I was back working with infants and toddlers, holding and feeding  and diapering cute little munchkins. But my dreaded anxiety was back. Just walking into the building, I would start to feel sick. When I wasn't actually at work, I was perseverating on how much I didn't want to go to work. I started calling in sick whenever I could, using any excuse I could find. Part of the problem was probably that this location of the chain daycare was a lot of the same as what the other one had been... shuffling kids around, doing more to make things look good than to make them actually good for the children. Once the director came into my room and asked me to start writing a list of the activities the toddlers had done during the day. I pointed out that, by the time I got there, the morning teacher had already left and I had no idea what the children had done. The director told me to make things up... the children hadn't really done any structured activities during the day, but I was supposed to think up things that sounded good.
One day I came down with pink eye. One of my professors at school had noticed it and suggested I go to the health office, where they diagnosed me and gave me antibiotic drops. I called the daycare and told them I had pink eye. They told me to come in anyways.
I was so upset about this. Who would want a teacher with pink eye to be holding their baby? I decided I wasn't going. And then, because I hadn't showed up to work, I was too anxious to go to my next shift. I ended up quitting without notice, although I sent a letter to the director explaining why.

Job #13
I saw an ad for a job as a "therapeutic mentor" to children with special needs. The ad said that I'd be able to take children out into the community and do fun things with them. I applied for, and got, the job. I was assigned to two different families. The first problem was that the families were not so much interested in mentoring for their children, as they were interested in a Saturday night babysitter. So I rarely actually got to take the children out and do fun things with them, and instead was just doing things like making their dinners, playing board games with them, and putting them to bed. It was a pretty easy job, once I got over the anxiety of having to go to different houses and talk to these wealthy parents who were accustomed to bossing around the "help." Although not particularly fulfilling, it was okay. I needed more hours, though, so I applied for a similar job through a different agency in another county. That agency called it "respite care," which basically means "babysitting," so at least they were calling it what it was! I managed to do this for about a year, watching four children on different days. I did unexpectedly quit one assignment, which was watching a 3-year-old boy with developmental delays. The reason I quit it was because, although the job seemed like a lot of fun when I heard about it, it turned out that his mother and teenage sister and sometimes his father would all be home, while I was caring for the boy at home. They lived in a small house, so the family would be sitting on the couch watching TV, and I would be about three feet away playing with the little boy on the floor. It made me terribly nervous and self-conscious. Plus I was not quite sure what my role was. For instance, the little boy, being 3 years old, would often run over to his mother and sister and try to get attention from them, Was I supposed to run interference and keep him from bothering them (even though we were in the same room with them and the little boy could see and hear him) so that they could get their "respite" from him? I ended up telling them I couldn't do it anymore, after about a week. I used the (very reasonable) excuse that it was taking me longer to get to and from their house than I'd thought and that I wasn't having enough time to study. (They lived about an hour away from me.) I was able to keep on watching the other 4 kids for about a year, and actually left on positive terms.

Job #14
I quit my respite care job because I had finished my time at the community college and was supposed to be transferring to a university about six hours away. But the transfer didn't work out, because after I moved down there I got so anxious and depressed that I became suicidal, and ended up coming back. I started at a university closer to home instead.
I found a job at the local children's museum, as an exhibit guide. It was very low paying, but it was something. My job was basically to wander around the museum and interact with children. In many ways it was a lot of fun. But it would have been a lot more fun if it had been for four or five hours a day instead of eight.
My favorite part of the museum to work in was the art room, showing the children how to do whatever art project had been planned for the day. It was something that allowed me to really work with the kids, talk to them, and feel like I was teaching them. Plus it was in a separate room from the rest of the museum, so it was not so noisy. But I was only in there for an hour per day, and spent the other seven hours in other areas of the museum. It was so crowded and noisy in there all the time, that by the end of each day I'd be emotionally drained. I mean, it was mayhem, elbow-to-elbow children, including screaming babies, in a building that was very hollow and echoey. Picture spending your days in Chuck E. Cheese, only bigger and louder. I soon found myself dreading going there, even crying on Sunday nights when I thought of walking in there on Monday morning. Finally, my mom told me I might as well quit. So I called and left a message saying that I wouldn't be back.

Job #15
I found a job that was different from any I'd worked at before. It was as an "activity assistant" at a senior living community. I would spend most of my time in the nursing home area, doing things like playing BINGO and doing arts and crafts with the people who lived there. I also spent some time in the area that was more of a retirement community, where everyone had their own apartments and could get themselves around. I liked it almost all of the time. I liked talking to the people, and I found that they especially liked being listened to. My supervisor there told me that the people liked how respectfully I talked to them, not talking down to them like they were small children. In the nursing home part, people were always coming and going, because many of them would come just for rehabilitation after they broke their hip or had a heart attack or something. When a new person came, I had to do their "intake," which meant I went to their room and asked them a bunch of questions about what they liked to do and what they'd be interested in doing while they were there. That part was awesome. There were others that were there permanently, most of whom had Alzheimer's. I had a small group of regular friends who hung out in the hallway, and when I came in to work they would all greet me and say to each other, "There she is! That's our girl!"
One bad part was that, although I had been hired for a part time job, with the understanding that I went to college several days a week, my boss was always pushing me to work more. She would ask me to ditch school in order to work when they were short-handed. She pressured me to quit school and work there full time. There was also some sort of dysfunction going on between her and the other workers. One person who had been the lead  activity assistant for a long time ended up quitting unexpectedly, as he was being asked to work longer and longer hours and given more and more responsibilities that he just couldn't get done. My boss talked openly to the rest of us about what a jerk that employee had turned out to be, and how she was glad he was gone.
There was one part that I really hated, which I hadn't known about when I'd been hired. Part of the job involved serving wine and other drinks before and during dinner. The before part wasn't so bad... I would just stand there with the drink cart and serve up whatever type of wine people asked for. But when dinner started, I was also expected to walk around the dining room and try to help people. They were always asking me things that I couldn't really answer. I was instructed not to say, "I don't know, I don't actually work in the dining room," and instead try to help them. So this would mean things like, some person would complain to me that his steak was overcooked, and I'd have to say that I'd go tell the people in the kitchen, and the people in the kitchen would say that this was the way it was supposed to be, and I'd have to go out and relay the message and face the wrath of the person who had complained. I was always so nervous about that part of the day. Instead of walking around the room, I started just pushing the drink cart into the dining room and just standing beside it, allowing people to walk up to me and ask me for drinks, so I wouldn't have to answer their questions or handle their complaints. But the people who worked in the dining room then complained to my boss that I wasn't doing enough in the dining room. Eventually, I quit this job, again by calling and leaving a message saying I would not be coming back. I blamed it on school, saying I was falling behind and needed to focus completely on studying. I said, "I would love to come in and volunteer still. If that would be okay, please give me a call and let me know how I could set that up. But if not, could you please just mail me my last paycheck?" My boss mailed it to me, indicating that she didn't want me to come back to volunteer. I was sad about that, because I was going to miss all of my friends in the nursing home!

Job #16
Around this time, an old friend... the one who I had lived with for a while after moving out of the group home... had just gotten a new boyfriend and had a new baby. She now had three children... the boy she'd had when I'd lived with her, plus a four-year-old daughter, and now the new baby. The two littlest ones went to a home daycare during the day, but my friend said her new boyfriend had been suggesting that she ask me to watch them, because I was so good with them and would be more trustworthy. My friend told me that her boyfriend would give me three hundred a week to watch them three days a week. It sounded like a good idea to me! I agreed to do it. But then my friend said she'd talked to her boyfriend, and that they'd been paying the home daycare center $175 a week, and that she'd talked him into bringing it up to $200 a week for me.
It started out well. I loved watching the girls. I planned all sorts of activities for them. I made up a preschool curriculum to do with the four-year-old, who wasn't in an actual preschool program. We played games, did arts and crafts, did science projects, and went on daily outings. I took them to the library, to the nature center, to museums, to anywhere I could think of.
After about six months, my friend's boyfriend lost his job and told me he wouldn't be able to pay me for a little while. I told him I was willing to keep watching the girls for a while, for free, until he found a new job. Unfortunately, the new job never materialized.
Instead, he came up with the idea that I could watch his friend's child after school and during school holidays and vacations. The little boy would come to the house, and I would care for him along with the girls, for a whopping $75 a week. Because I had to get to their house by 7:30 in the morning, and they often asked me to stay longer in the evenings so that they could go out to the bar together, I often ended up sleeping over at their house. I slept there so much that I more or less ended up living there. Unbelievably, this lasted for almost three years. This family was very out of control, My friend and her boyfriend had all sorts of issues... drinking, drugs, cheating on each other, anger, fighting, neglecting the kids... that I was constantly on edge. Plus, my friend... if I could even call her a friend by that point... was always criticizing me, complaining that I didn't care for the children well enough. Although I poured my heart into caring for them, planning activities and fun stuff for them to do, even signing them up for classes at the library... she found things to complain about, like that the house wasn't clean enough when she got home, or that I didn't help out with the children enough after dinner. She even yelled at me when her older daughter, by then in first grade, got minus two on a spelling test, because obviously I wasn't helping her with her schoolwork enough! Eventually I moved back home with my parents, to give myself a break from the household, but I still went there every weekday and cared for the children.
I finally decided to tell them I couldn't watch the children anymore. I was almost finished with school, and was going to be doing my student teaching soon. That would require a full time commitment. They seemed okay with this decision.
During the time that I had cared for the children, I had gotten them all library cards. None of them had had them or had even been to the library before. The way little kids' cards worked was, I had to sign the cards as the "parental" figure, meaning I would be responsible for any fines they had. I didn't think much of it at the time. But shortly after my days of caring for them came to an end, my friend's boyfriend called me up, furious because the library had sent something saying that one of the children owed a $50 fine... in the chaotic household, several books had gotten lost in the shuffle and we never returned them. One also got eaten by the dog. My friend's boyfriend left an angry message saying that I needed to pay the $50 immediately or it would go on his credit report. Well, I had been working for $75 a week for the past two years, and had spent most of it on activities for the kids. I didn't even have $50 saved up! They got really angry at me and started leaving mean posts on my Facebook page and angry messages on my voicemail. I made the difficult decision to completely cut them out of my life, at that point, blocking them from my Facebook and deleting their messages without listening to them. After three years of caring for the children as if they were my own, I now had nothing to show for it. I couldn't even really use them as a reference to get a new job.

Job #17
We were not supposed to work at all during student teaching, because it required such a big commitment of time and energy. I was living with my parents and had some money from a student loan, which allowed me to pay for things like gas and my phone bill even though I had no job. I fully expected that I would get a teaching job the following school year.
However, the school year started, and I had not miraculously found a teaching job. I kept applying and applying, to no avail. I realized I probably wasn't great at interviews. One big problem was that my college had put a lot of emphasis on coming up with creative, engaging lesson plans that would require the children to use their imaginations and problem-solving skills. I had gotten A's in student teaching, and had a great portfolio full of examples of the lessons I had done. I had planned an entire unit on plants, for a class of fourth and fifth grade special education students, and I had made a chart showing how each one of them had made progress in learning about plants by the end of the unit. But when I went to interviews, principals did not want to hear about my units and lesson plans. They asked me if I had experience with this standardized test and that standardized test. They wanted to know about the results I had with Response To Intervention. I had never been involved in RTI at all, because the children I'd worked with were diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, and RTI wasn't applicable to them. (RTI is mostly for children in regular education who are having difficulties. It refers to steps taken to give them extra help, in hopes that they can catch up with their peers, before actually giving them special education services.) The principals had little interest in what I would do to help children who were in special education. They were only interested in what I would do to keep regular education kids out of special education.
Over the summer, I got a job as an assistant at an Extended School Year program for children with special needs. I was a 1:1 for a little boy with autism. It was similar to the job I'd had long ago with another child with autism, except this little guy's intelligence was also severely impacted. I spent most of the summer chasing him around, and trying to give him deep pressure and "squeezies" to calm him down. What I called "squeezies" were actually me holding him around the waist, and he would sort of let his body flop and be supported by me, and I would gently sway him back and forth. He loved it and would ask for "squeezies" when he was getting anxious. He was a sweet little boy! But that job was only for five weeks of the summer.
I would later get rehired, the next two summers, as an actual teacher for the summer! Those were the best two summers ever!

Job #18 (sort of)
I needed to find more work for the rest of the summer. I got in touch with my supervisor from the "therapeutic mentor" job I'd once had, and asked if I could work for a while. They were glad to have me back, and assigned me to a three-year-old boy with Down syndrome.
It didn't work out so well. At the time, I was going through some of the most severe depression and anxiety ever, second only to the  mental breakdown I'd had when I'd tried to go away to college. I was having trouble leaving the house for any reason. I would cry all the way to work. When my parents went away on a vacation for a few days, I freaked out majorly and called my mom every day bawling. I was not functioning.
At this job, it was another one where I was going to be expected to watch the child while his family was right in the same room with us. They were Orthodox Jewish, and I had to learn all these rules, like that there were different microwaves for meat products and dairy products, and that he couldn't eat anything that wasn't kosher. I don't know why, but I was really overwhelmed... even their refrigerator magnets, with Hebrew symbols on them, freaked me out for some reason. I ended up emailing my boss and saying that I had become very sick (pretty much true) and couldn't work anymore. She sent me an email back saying that, if I ever wanted to come back, we'd have to talk about handling things in a more professional way. Of course I never called her again!

Job #19.
All summer I had been applying for teaching jobs, but with no avail. In mid-October, because I was broke, I decided to apply for an assistant job. At least that would give me an "in" in a school district! In order to not be redundant, you can read what I wrote about that job, here and here  and here.

Job #20 
Again, I applied to a billion teaching jobs over that summer, but although I went on interviews, I was not hired. Heading fast into deep depression, I realized I needed something to shake my life up. I left town and went to spend two weeks with my brother, sister-in-law and baby nephew in California, followed by two weeks in Washington with Auntie Em and Uncle J. That was when I started getting the idea that I wanted to move out to the Pacific Northwest. The calm feeling and being surrounded by nature had a positive effect on me. I planned on finding a job somewhere between where  my aunt lived and my brother lived, so that I could visit them both. I started looking into getting my Oregon teaching license.

Job #21
I returned to Illinois in early October, and, resigned to not finding a teaching job, looked for another assistant job. I got hired as a classroom assistant in a special education class for first and second graders. The job was very low-paying and very uninspiring. I also had some problems getting along with my co-workers. It wasn't that I argued with them or anything... on the contrary, they intimidated me! On one hand, when interviewed I had explained to the principal about my calm and laid-back method of dealing with misbehaviors, where I would try redirection and giving choices, and my understanding that physical restraint was only for emergencies. The principal had seemed happy with this. But I was always being second-guessed by other assistants. For instance, one time one of the kids I was in charge of, a little girl with Down syndrome, sat down on the floor on the way back from the lunch room and wouldn't get up. I was cheerfully coaxing her, "We need to go to class! Miss Amy needs you to help pass out papers!" (She really loved helping the teacher.) The principal came up to us and also started cheerfully trying to get the child moving. Then an assistant from another class marched up and, without saying a word to me or the principal, grabbed the child by her arm and jerked her to her feet. The principal said nothing, and I followed the other assistant along sheepishly as she escorted the child back to my classroom. It didn't take me long to realize that, although, as always, I loved the children, I hated the job. It was the same old story... headaches and stomachaches every morning, depression and anxiety every night.

Job #22
While working at that job, I heard from a substitute teacher that you could make $120 a day substitute teaching. That was twice as much as I was making now! This was the "excuse" I needed to quit this job. I called up the district in which I had student taught, and they quickly hired me as a substitute teacher.
At first, I started accepting jobs at any school, in any grade. I figured I could handle anything for one day. But what I got were a lot of classrooms full of very rowdy children who would be as disrespectful as possible, on purpose. Half of the kids were already on "check in check out" programs, which basically means that they were already so disrespectful and poorly behaved at school that they were being evaluated for behavioral disorders. "Check in check out" was like the behavioral version of RTI, where they were trying to see if they could whip the children into shape before taking the more drastic measure of giving them special education services. It is pretty unusual for half of the kids in a class to be on "check in check out." Usually there are only one or two per class.
Most of the students also were Hispanic. I noticed something a little odd. The children who spoke the least English were more quiet, more respectful, and tried harder. The children who spoke the most English were the ones who were swearing in Spanish just because they knew I couldn't understand (although I did understand more Spanish than they thought I did!) and bouncing off the walls and getting no work done. Some kids would literally run around in circles screaming, There was not much I could do. I could use the classroom behavioral plans, which usually meant putting them on "yellow" or "red," but they just didn't care. They were willing to accept the consequences.
So I decided to start only accepting jobs in special education classrooms. I felt more comfortable around children with special needs, anyways. I understood them better than I understood these "regular" kids, who just seemed mean. Plus special education classes were smaller, and came with assistants. Before long, I was subbing every day in special education classrooms, and enjoying it a lot more. I especially liked when I subbed for six weeks as an assistant in the classroom where I had once student taught!

Job #23 (almost)
I had gotten my Oregon teaching license, and had started applying for jobs in Oregon. Towards the end of the summer, I actually got hired for one. It was in the town in Oregon where my cousin BT lived, and I was really excited that we'd be in the same town! But you can read about what happened with that, here. It makes me feel sad just to think about it.
I was broken-hearted and depressed for a few weeks. I ended up going to visit Auntie Em and Uncle J for ten days in October, and it renewed my determination to move out to the Pacific Northwest!
In the mean time, I went back to subbing again.
I started daydreaming about starting my own school, where I could teach in my own way. I looked into it, and it actually seemed like I could make it a reality! I even made a website for it! The only stumbling block would be getting enough money to get it started. You can read all about my dream here. 

Job #24 and 25 and then back to 24
When I got out here in April, I started substituting in the local school district. Since I have my Oregon teaching license but not my Washington license, I can only sub as an assistant here. It is mediocre. When I first came out, my plan was to work to save up enough money to start the school I had been talking about earlier. I had envisioned it so clearly in my mind, I even had a business plan! I thought I could raise money through crowdfunding, and maybe get a loan, to get it started. But as it is, I've barely been able to make enough money to cover the few small bills that I have.
For the summer, I got an awesome job at a day camp for children with special needs. I was hired to be the leader! I was extremely nervous at first, and didn't think I could do it. Auntie Em and Uncle J encouraged me to try it. They said, "If they chose you for the job, they must have had a good reason for it!" I ended up loving it. And I have been asked to come back next summer. If only that could have lasted all year long!
I have started subbing again this school year, and I am working on getting my Washington teaching license. Even though it seems like I'll be giving up my dream of having my own school. That makes me want to cry when I think of it. I feel like it was so close I could have touched it... but money always puts a stop to things.

So there you go... 25 jobs in less than 25 years! It sounds like a lot, but it is actually pretty typical for a person with ADHD. I don't like it, though, and I don't want to accept that about myself... and that is one reason I am hoping to go to DBT, so I can learn emotional regulation and learn to cope with stressful situations.

How about you? How many jobs have you had?

Jeez, this wins the prize for the longest post ever!

1 comment :

  1. Haha well it is a long one! All of those jobs seem to have helped you narrow down your interests and talents and what you want to do in life. Also you are still young - one day you will have your school, but first being a full-time teacher will be great for you!

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