Sunday, January 17, 2016
From February 2008-February 2013, I worked, first full-time(2008-2010), then part-time(2010-2013), at a residential treatment facility for teenage boys with behavioral problems. Basically a mental hospital. They housed the worst of the worst. Sex offenders on one unit, boys with general aggressive behaviors on the other. It was basically run like a prison. To this day, it is the worst workplace environment I have ever worked in.
Around May 2009, there was an incident. I was left alone on the general aggressive unit. A patient assaulted me. I was left with a broken nose which required surgery to repair, a black eye, a busted lip, a bruised ear, and a concussion from having my head slammed into a concrete wall. On top of that, the whole incident was basically covered up, and the patient received virtually no consequence for the whole thing except to be moved out of the facility a week or two later - but even that wasn't until after he managed to get needles from the nurse's station to try to stab people with. I still have a bit of PTSD from that incident to this day. I still get nervous when people walk behind me at work - a bit of a conundrum working in an environment focusing on Trauma-Informed Care, where we're supposed to be mindful that our clients don't want *us* walking behind *them* either, and I have to walk with them to my office for assessments, etc.
From then on, my focus became doing what I had to do to get out of that hellhole. In August of that year, I began graduate school. During that first year of graduate school, in addition to classes, I had two jobs - the mental hospital full-time, and a low-key group home part time. But my grades suffered because of having so much on my plate. So I had a choice to make: possibly flunk out of school, or cut back on work. Knowing that a proper grad school education would be my best chance of not only achieving my long-term career goals, but also getting out of that dangerous work environment (I applied to other places multiple times to try to leave that job, but there were very few opportunities I was qualified for that would also work around my school schedule) , I chose academics over financial stability. I quit the very low paying (a mere $8.25/hour) part-time group home job, and went part-time at the mental hospital, so that I could essentially make my own schedule of availability to be able to work around classes and internship. I relied largely on my meager paycheck (they were fond of sending "extra" people home due to being "overstaffed", and I often went home - good for my sanity and safety but not my bank account), as well as financial aid overage checks.
And that's where the post from the Timehop app comes in. I graduated from school in May 2012 with my Masters in Social Work. At the end of July, I was essentially evicted. I moved in with my then best friend, Kim, and slept on her couch for 7 months. A mere days after being told I had to leave, I was offered my first full-time, Masters Level job. Moving in with Kim is what I consider my first true financial mistake of this time period. In hindsight, I should've told my roommate (the homeowner whose room I was renting) the minute I got the job offer and tried to see if he would let me stay, with an increased rent to pay him back missed rent during months that he had worked with me because of my work/school situation. But I was prideful.
My second mistake was staying with Kim. What I should've done, in hindsight, is stay on her couch long enough to save some money to be able to afford a security deposit and regular rent with another roommate renting out their room. But again, I was prideful, although maybe cautious. I had dealt with several bad roommates over the years by this point and didn't want to put myself in another situation where I could be kicked out virtually on a whim. Even though by this point I knew Kim wasn't the *best* roommate, I went into a lease with her when this 3-bedroom, 2-bath house came along. We both signed the lease, and I made sure all utilities, etc. were in my name, because I figured if I wanted things done the right way, I would have to do it myself. Kim would pay me her part of rent, and I would make all the necessary payments. Besides, I didn't think I could do any better. I've struggled with low self-esteem for my entire life, but during that point it was particularly low - almost back to square one from progress I had made since 2006, another particularly damaging year for me. I was dealing with a lot - I was living on someone's couch; I had located and made contact with the father I've never met, bringing up a plethora of childhood issues that I thought I had resolved; and I would soon begin to finally accept myself in regards to my sexual orientation. My one real self-esteem boost I had going for me was getting my initial licensure making me an LMSW. Although that was a huge success, at the time it was drowned out by all the negativity I was going through.
Kim turned out to be ridiculously unreliable. Whereas I gave my former roommate a heads up if I couldn't afford rent, or had to pay rent late or in installments, she just gave me a check and let it bounce, leading me to regularly overdraft into the hundreds of dollars. I finally had to make her pay me in cash only. I gave in to the payday loan trap trying to make ends meet. I'm still in the middle of a bankruptcy process because of all of this (only because I'm saving up for the final expenses).
To make matters worse, I was in several car accidents during the years of 2013-2014, in which I was deemed at fault. Which I was, I'll admit it. Distracted driving and everything I was going through, and I wasn't paying attention and rear-ended someone at a stoplight.
Things finally started to turn around, at least financially, in 2015. I got a job at a foster care agency, which paid better than the job I was in at the time and was a step up on the career path. When the homeowner decided to sell, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was approved for a two bedroom apartment. I found a roommate to share the expenses with. Kim was finally out of my hair as of March 2015 - I may should have taken her to civil court for all the financial damage she caused me, but as I knew she was moving to Ohio, I didn't feel like it was worth the trouble. I was just ready to be done with her. The big downside right now is that I've still had to borrow money on a couple of occasions due to emergency situations. I'm not able to save any money, almost every penny goes to bills and other regular living expenses.
Now, my lease is almost up at the apartment. I'm in the process of moving out of the area, in with my partner. The cost of living is cheaper up there. I got a new job that doesn't really pay better (actually, my paycheck will probably be lower than at the foster care agency, after taxes, health insurance, and the required retirement fund withdrawals are taken out [I'm a state employee with this job, and SC has a mandatory retirement fund for state employees]), but I have the added benefit of getting my Addictions Counseling certification as well as the needed supervision for my LISW, the next stage in Social Work licensing for SC, at no cost to me as an employee benefit. This will do wonders for opening up further job opportunities in the future. My accidents of 2013-2014 start coming off of my insurance this year, so my insurance will start going back down. I'll be able to save at least $100-$200 a month into a savings account to work towards fulfilling my 5 year plan of moving up North (NYC, DC, etc.) and finally getting out of the religiously and politically repressive South for good. It may not all happen this year. It won't happen overnight. But 2016 is finally the year that I'll be able to start getting my finances where I want them. And maybe my emotions, too, for that matter.
Did I make mistakes? Sure. Everyone does. Do I regret any of it, or apologize for any of it? Not for a second. I've become who I am today because of my experiences. And after 33 years, I'm finally learning to be happy with who I am.