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Re-Entering the Workforce After a 13 Year Absence

If you’ve been following my journey, you know that I haven’t been able to work since my ECT treatments in 2005.

Well, that’s changed.

I went to a “recruiting fair” (in quotes because there were only 4 people there) for a gig scoring standardized tests. Two weeks ago, they contacted me and offered me (and 79 others) a three-week project.

I took it.


So, I’ve been attempting, half-assedly, to start a freelance writing career for about a year now. I haven’t really been very disciplined about it until a couple months ago, when financial ruin loomed on the horizon.

I’ve been applying to part-time freelance gigs since then, with only a couple offers. But I didn’t want to write papers for students, and I didn’t want to have to pimp myself out for a tiny paycheck that required lots of work. So I didn’t bite.

I’ve also branched out and looked on Glassdoor, Indeed, and Craigslist for writing- and non-writing gigs.

I was so excited when the test-scoring place contacted me! I realize it doesn’t sound like much of a job, but I really enjoy it. Here are the details:

  • I’m on a team of twelve people who score 4th-grade math questions from students in another state.
  • I LOVE the people that sit around me!
  • Our Team Leaders and the Queen Team Leader are funny, positive, friendly, and very helpful.
  • This is a 3-week project, slated to be completed on May 23rd.
  • There are about 40 of us total who are scoring 4th-grade math; there’s another 40 doing 7th-grade math, from the same state.
  • It’s 20 hours a week, from 5:30-9:30 p.m.


And I really like everything about it! I can wear shorts and a t-shirt if I want – yesterday, I wore flip-flops! How many people get to say “I can wear flip-flops to the office!” Exactly.

Now, being on Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), I can only make a certain amount of money per month above my Disability payment. The magic number is $1180. If I make any more than that in any given month, they count it as something called SGA, or Substantial Gainful Activity”, meaning you are capable of making enough money to support yourself, so they won’t have to pay you anymore.

It’s actually much more complicated than that, and easy to misunderstand. They don’t just throw you off Disability, they give you time to get used to working again, and if it doesn’t work out and you get sick again within 5 years, they pop you right back onto Disability. (That’s the very simplified version, which took me a few years to understand.)

Let’s just say that at this point, I know that I am unable to work full-time. Not unwilling, that’s something entirely different. Unable.

I’ve made so much progress in the last two years, it’s amazing. I honestly never thought I’d be able to work again at all. Then CeAnne found TMS and Dr. Nelson, I got into a DBT class, and look how much better I am! My improvement has been exponential.

I went out on a limb taking this job, but here I am.


This job started on a Thursday. That day and the next were all about training. I know – what’s to train about when you’re just scoring 4th-grade math? Well, let me tell you. Have you ever tried to read the writing of a fourth grader? How about 125,000 of them?? Yes, you read that right.

The 40 or so of us have three weeks to score a 3-part question (Question 51!) that requires the following skills: Deciphering the logic of ten-year-olds; reading their writing; not screaming at the top of your lungs “Why don’t they teach these kids how to spell?? And what ever happened to cursive? What’s up with that??”; being very accurate with your scoring (the target as a team is 94%, but 10% of the papers get a second look by the team leaders to ensure better accuracy); dealing with scanned test papers – not the originals, where you can tell better if that’s a 2 or a 7 or Is this a blemish on the scan? Or did s/he really make that mistake?…

Yes, it’s true. Scoring word problems in math is more subjective than you think. If you have kids in school, do yourself and them a favor – make them practice writing their letters and numbers legibly!!

That’s all I’m going to say about that. If I told you any more, I’d have to kill you. (We all had to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements [NDA’s].)

Where was I? Oh yeah, self-doubt.

I really liked it and my immediate neighbors that first night and was psyched to go back on Friday. But Part C of this question was giving me some problems. So I started to doubt myself. I mean, if I can’t figure out a simple math problem, how could I possibly score it?

In my defense, it’s not (to me) a “simple math problem”. It’s a word problem involving a large combination of possible correct answers, so there’s comprehension and short-term memory involved. Sadly, these are difficult for me since the ECT. I need a very, very, very quiet and calm environment in order to focus and concentrate enough so that I can comprehend things.

By the time I was scoring by myself, on my own computer, on Monday, I was terrified that I was getting everyone’s Part C wrong.

I doubted my ability to figure out the world of math (more than usual); I doubted my ability to comprehend anything; I doubted my ability to work – I can’t even do this right?!; I doubted my gut; I doubted my ability to contribute to the household financially ever again.

I doubted my value as a person.

I was very angsty. My anxiety got pretty bad for a few days.

And then a couple days went by, I got into the flow of scoring, I learned to recognize the range of possible correct answers, and you know what happened?


I became much more confident and comfortable doing what I was doing. Everything takes practice, right? If you’ve never done something before – or if you haven’t done it since the 4th grade – how are you supposed to just know how to do it?

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Practice Makes Permanent.

Don’t ever forget that. Say it out loud to yourself, say it inside your head, tell it to people you know. Practice Makes Permanent. Believe it.


My previous career was in social services. My degree is in Sociology, so I ended up working at nonprofits out of college, which is exactly what I wanted to do. Basically, I did a lot of the same things an MSW can do, just without that specific degree.

In my twelve-year nonprofit career, I did the following: Worked as a substance abuse counselor (before there was even such a thing as a licensed substance abuse counselor); became the supervisor of the clinic I worked at; worked in San Jose matching people who needed a place to live with folks who had a room to rent out (it is SO expensive there!); worked at the nation’s largest Second Harvest Food Bank, running a free grocery program for over 5,000 low-income seniors and supervising 500 off-site volunteers; was an ARMHS worker at a drop-in center for people with Severe and Persistent Mental Illnesses; and spent 6 weeks as a case manager before I took myself to the hospital and ended up getting ECT.

The last day I worked a full-time job was August 29th, 2005.

I did try working as a tutor back in the fall, in an elementary school. I don’t think I’ve told you about that. I will someday. Unfortunately, it was too much for my brain to handle.

Doing the part-time, temporary thing is brand new to me. So far, as I said, it’s going well. I’m earning some extra money, which will help with the bills and (hopefully) pay for my next tattoo. The only thing is, it’s not regular. It’s on a project-by-project basis, although we are considered employees of this company and they do take taxes out, which is good.

Now, I haven’t had to pay any federal taxes since I went on Disability, because I don’t make enough to tax. So, I haven’t been keeping up on things like tax brackets and such. I have no idea if they’re taking out enough or not, so I chose to have them take out a little extra for both federal and state taxes.

I’m already a little worried about doing our taxes next year! Seems like it might be kinda complicated. But I’m trying not to get too ahead of myself.

This is like a whole new world for me, like I’m starting over. I enjoy being part of the working world again. I may not be changing the world, but I’m providing a valuable service and I’m having fun doing it.


Really and truly, I totally did not think I would ever feel good enough long enough to work again. The nature of my depression is that I end up in the hospital about once a year (roughly); then there are 6 weeks of daily TMS treatments, which would obviously put a serious dent in any regular, full-time job I might have.

I have accepted that I can’t work full-time. Maybe I will be able to some day, but not now or for the foreseeable future. I guess I should take my own advice and take one day at a time, eh?

I have this fear that Social Security is going to just cut me off and say I can work again and support myself and my family. But I know that’s not how they work, and I have a very good friend who is on Disability and also works part-time and they haven’t kicked her off. I realize it’s a little bit of an irrational fear, but it’s a fear nonetheless.

If I had to go back to work full-time, I just know – given my history and my cycles – that I would not last long before I ended up overwhelmed, panicky, suicidal, and in the hospital again.

And I’m not willing to take that risk.

So, this will have to do for now. And that’s fine with me. Word has it there’s another scoring project in the pipeline. As long as I don’t work more than three weeks a month, I can do it (SSDI-wise).

As for today, I have three hours before I leave for work. And I’m in a pretty good mood today, which is gravy. I’ll take it.

Maybe I’ll do a little housework before I leave. That’s really suffered since I started this job. Okay, I’ve never been a very good housekeeper, but having a job doesn’t help with that. We still have boxes sitting in the living room from when we moved a year and a half ago! I’ll start there.

Just an FYI: I’ve been on Disability (SSDI) for almost 13 years now, and Medicare for 11 years. I’ve had to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of reading, but I understand both fairly well. If you have any questions about either, shoot me an email and I’ll see if I can help.

As always, thanks for reading.

And Keep it Real!

This post was previously published on and is republished here with permission from the author.

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