The federal Vocational Rehabilitation program can offer training and other opportunities to those with a bipolar disorder diagnosis; however, there are specific requirements.
Photo: Getty Images/ Phoenixns
By Allison Strong
Due to some paid opportunities to speak publicly, I’ve started thinking about finishing my education through Vocational Rehabilitation and going for a real job—a salaried position.
That way, I could accept paid speaking gigs part time, and not risk losing my Medicare health insurance.
Vocational Rehabilitation is a government program funded by the U.S. Department of Education that aims to teach physically and/or mentally disabled people new skills so they can return to work.
A lot of us want to!
Your counselor works with you to figure out your strengths and weaknesses, to pick a program to develop innate abilities you might not even know you have.
Let me give you a quick rewrap: The first time I tried vocational rehab was before I’d even applied for disability, which is what I’m on now.
They ran me through a bunch of psychological and cognitive tests. They determined that I was physically and mentally disabled and eligible for their financial assistance. They take bipolar disorder very seriously.
My counselor felt I was a talented writer and should get my college degree.
I had to pass an advanced algebra class to be admitted to this college, and I’m not good at math. They paid for a tutor, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I had to drop out.
Next, my counselor thought dog grooming would be a good skill for me. You were expected to study some canine anatomy books, jump right in and do designer cuts. There were tons of different cuts for various dog breeds.
I didn’t want to pick up someone’s pet and pair of clippers until I was ready…so I didn’t.
The owner of the kennel/salon bluntly told me I’d never be a dog groomer, without even trying to teach me.
Again, I had to drop out.
Later that year, I lucked into a full scholarship for a medical transcription class.
I’m really good at geeky stuff, just not math. I also type 90 words a minute and am a former childhood champion in Greek-Latin word root competitions (I know the meaning of pathophysiology, for example). I graduated and got an exciting, fast-paced, high paying job with great benefits at a pathology lab.
Then I got hit with the worst depression ever. It was a category 5 and wiped me out.
I wanted to die on a daily basis. The only thing that kept me going was a Nine Inch Nails CD called “With Teeth.”
Reluctantly, I resigned. Again.
If it weren’t for bipolar depression, I might have really gone somewhere with that career!
Three years and many months of group therapy later, in 2003, my psychiatrist, husband and I decided it was time to apply for disability. Three months later, I had it.
I had to wait a period of six months to get Medicare insurance.
I’m not sure what to do now, especially with our health care system up in the air.
In order to get vocational rehab, you must be in school full-time. That means you have to feel well enough to do that and be able to maintain that the rest of your life.
Physically, I can’t do that. I have a condition that requires regular intervals of rest. Mentally, I can work when I’m depressed, but you never know.
What I know now, is, I’m able to travel, rest afterwards and speak later that night. I can spend four hours writing a blog, but an 8 hour a day job?
Not me. Not now.
However, that may change.
I have high hopes for scientific discoveries and ever improving medications. I truly believe medicine keeps getting better and better, for all of us—bipolar or not.
Allison went to Stanford University on a volleyball scholarship, played professional beach volleyball, and has acted in TV and film. In the past, she has also been an Alternative Rock Disc Jockey for “The Edge,”“The Q” (Phx,Az) and “The X,” (LA).
She also was an international music critic for Melody Maker (UK), had a weekly column (“New Noise”) in the Arizona Republic and wrote for Hits Magazine.
When she had her first manic episode, she went inpatient and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Undaunted, she mailed out job applications (from the hospital) and landed at a local station. She loves the raw honesty of The Smiths, Nirvana, The Cure, etc, and follows new music today.
Allison lives in Hollywood, Florida and also writes for The South Florida Sun Sentinel, The Miami Herald, International Bipolar Foundation, Psych Central, and NewLifeOutlook Bipolar.
Her personal blog is: Bipolar Strength: Rebel With A Cause.
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