—by Nicole Clevenger
(Editor's note: This story originally appeared in "Work Is Recovery: True stories of real people who benefit from Supported Employment, the evidence-based practice," a booklet which was published in March 2007. View the "Work is Recovery" booklet.
Kent, OH—"I can do anything I want," John says confidently. He speaks with defiance against any doubt that limits his aspirations for the future. Some people may think that John is overestimating his abilities with such a bold statement, but he disagrees.
“If you work hard enough at something, you can make it happen,” he explains. “I don’t think that is being delusional. People prove that every day.”
In the future, John wants to become a published fiction writer, and he continues to hone his craft. In the meantime, he works part time at a fast-food restaurant near Kent, Ohio, a job he enjoys for several reasons. It gives him the opportunity to meet new people, and it also increases the money in his wallet while decreasing his symptoms of depression and anxiety.
In The Beginning: Confusion
John can remember a time when he was not thinking so positively or so clearly. It was junior year in high school. He had episodes of losing concentration that became longer and more severe as time went on, and he found it increasingly difficult to manage the abundance of thoughts racing through his mind. It was then that he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. He was hospitalized twice during this difficult period, which forced his absence for most of his senior year. He finished high school with the help of a tutor.
John sought help for his illness from Coleman Professional Services in Portage County. There, he began to work with a psychiatrist and attend a day-treatment program. As he felt stronger, he began to think about getting a degree, and he enrolled in some writing classes at Kent State University. He eventually withdrew from the University due to complications from his illness, and for months, he spent more than 15 hours per day writing alone at home—an activity which has sustained him throughout the turbulence of the last few years.
A Recovery Relationship
Although John was busy with his writing, he was unhappy spending so much time alone. He knew a job could help him begin to remedy this loneliness, so he sought the help of employment services at Coleman in order to find work. This is when John met Supported-Employment Generalist Brian Eskridge*, BA. The two have built a relationship that gives John the assurance he needs to move forward.
“The nice thing about Brian is that I can talk to him about a lot of things,” says John. “I am not afraid of what he might say. I trust him.”
This trust is built from Brian’s compassion and his understanding of John’s illness, work preferences, and life-struggles. There is mutual respect, which John finds comforting. In fact, John feels so at ease that he has asked Brian to accompany him to most job interviews. In order to protect his own privacy, John has simply told prospective employers that Brian is a friend who checks in with him from time to time.
John describes Brian as a quiet, unassuming person who offers encouragement in a way that is not overbearing. In fact, he says that one of the best ways Brian supports him is by just being there in person. Brian visits John at home often to provide face-to-face guidance and motivation and his presence has a calming effect when John is feeling anxious, especially before and during job interviews. He guides John to his own conclusions. For example, on the morning of the interview for his current job, John was feeling nervous. He had a headache and his confidence was shaky. He expressed doubts, questioning whether or not it was a good idea to try working, but true to his nature, Brian did not offer an “I agree” or “I disagree” kind of answer. He simply asked John what he thought was the right answer. After reflecting for a moment, John concluded that a job might offer him some relief from his symptoms and get him out of the house, if nothing else.
“Brian told me that I just answered my own question,” John recollects with a slight chuckle. “Brian has a way of doing that. He helps me sometimes by not doing anything. He goes to an interview with me, and he will just sit there and not say two words. He lets me do all the talking, which is good, of course, because I can speak for myself.”
So, with renewed enthusiasm, John proceeded to the interview, taking Brian along with him. Ultimately, he was hired.
Today, John describes his job as a “lifesaver”, and he readily accepts the challenges at work in place of the “nothingness” he experienced while unemployed. Working with Brian and the other mental health providers at Coleman has helped John maintain a positive focus, and he has learned not to anticipate a worst-case scenario about the challenges he faces in his life. These skills have enabled John to adjust to new situations and people.
“You know, when you finally get to work, half of your fears disappear altogether,” John says. “The other half, you find, are manageable.”
No Such Thing As Failure
John believes that his recovery will be a life-long journey. He views himself as a work-in-progress and his employment as an exciting evolution, never losing sight of his long-term goal to become a writer. He notes that some of his family and friends have referred to the stops and starts in his journey as failures, but he strongly disagrees. He tells the story of Thomas Edison, who made numerous attempts to create one successful light bulb.
“At a press conference, someone asked Edison why he kept on after he failed two-thousand times,” John says. “Edison replied that he didn’t fail; he just found two-thousand ways not to make a light bulb.”
John laughs. He makes this point: Edison proved that the only real failure is the failure to keep trying.
Nicole Clevenger, BFA, is a peer consultant at the Ohio SE CCOE, an initiative of the Center for EBPs at Case Western Reserve University. Edited by Paul M. Kubek, director of communications at the Center for EBPs. Editor’s Note: Brain Eskridge, BA, was John’s supported-employment generalist while this story was being written. He now works for the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation, Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission.