The Center for Life Beyond Reed

Division of Student Services


Class year: 1990
Major: English Literature
Company/organization: Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare
Job title: Residential Counselor II

What lessons have you learned along the way that you'd like to pass on to current Reed students?

I have an Oregon certification in providing mental health care and work as a Residential Counselor II at Multnomah County’s primary mental health provider, Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare. Cascadia has been my only career, as a consequence of recovery from mental illness. I have made use of both the Social Security Administration’s employment program, Ticket to Work, and the U.S. Dept. of Civil Rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act to succeed. This leads to an inevitable question: does disclosure of a disability do more harm, in the form of stigma, than good? Using the Ticket to Work program was an unqualified good. Cascadia offers permanent on-call, part-time and full-time employment, so I transitioned from approximately 40 hours per month to 32 hours per week, permanently. The outcome of Ticket to Work was no more monthly checks, but I did not need them any longer since I was earning a good hourly at 32 hours per week plus health insurance.

Understanding and requesting accomodations entitled to me by the ADA has been requisite for remaining simultaneously employed and healthy. My MD gave Cascadia a medical diagnosis qualifying me for the ADA. I had to disclose my psychiatric disability at the conclusion of my successful job interview, since I was receiving SSDI checks when interviewing for a Cascadia job, which meant I was not able to earn more than $801.00 per month.  I have a psychiatric illness with an acuity of “less than one episode per year,” according to my MD, and this measurement became my company’s way of finding differences or patterns in any further medical documentation necessary while negotiating employment fitness.  A simple example of an accommodation I received is restricting my hours to a consistent time of day in order to help me have a stable sleeping pattern.  I work 8 hour shifts and had worked Sunday (days), Tuesday (nights), Wednesday (nights) and Thursday (nights). My MD wrote a letter which read I ought to work only 32 hours per week, the same shift, preferably nights. The result has been increased quality of rest and improved alertness while waking, increased quality of life activities such as exercise and dating, and less conflict over medications, from among other things.

Stigma, another word for discrimination, lowers morale and negatively impacts productivity.  It causes staff to consider changing jobs and it seems as if stigma towards individuals with mental illness is intractable. I do not agree. I’ve been able to make perceived weaknesses into strengths so that I’m going to honor eleven years’ employment September 22, 2013. With punctuality, a tendency toward modesty as opposed to leadership qualities, and a knack for doing unwanted tasks such as archiving, filing, and enduring long and quiet hours alone, I am a relied-upon Night Shift employee. I have built trust with Residents as a consequence simply of listening, empathy and time devoted to quiet activities such as issuing Tylenols many times or soaking infected digits in water with Epsom salt. There are crises also, but I’m here for the fun, also, such as baking the Birthday Cake, watching the raccoons lope across the street and Facility cats scamper down the halls. Also, my husband of two years is comfortable with this life of mine, which I appreciate so hugely. He says he knows how much I love my work. 

In what ways you think you can help Reed students?

Sharing about succeeding at employment while experiencing a psychiatric disability which derailed me from plans I had to attend graduate school, otherwise to continue academic training.  I belong to a community in my work life where I continue learning in various means, for example, connections to community colleges and to public lectures in my field to contiue learning. 

What else should students know about you? (e.g., volunteer engagement, avocations, interests)

Interested in Northwest history, in spirituality, in cooking and local politics.