Friday, October 07, 2005

Hardly Working

My last post at least explains my absence. I also promised an explanation. Here is the story.

Let me take you back to May 2003. At that time I was working for a family-owned wholesale magazine distributor in the return department. A new warehouse supervisor took over and instituted a new procedure for handling the returns which involved taking the bundles of materials out of a large, portable container, stacking them on the floor, then getting the returns ready for crediting back to customers' accounts. The stacking things on the floor was the extra step which was not done before. I saw it as an unnecessary step; the productivity reports proved otherwise. I didn't follow this procedure at all; I was having trouble keeping up as it was. But, being the loyal team player, I did my best to accommodate the change.

Then things started happening to me physically. With the extra handling of materials, my body wasn't adapting. While I was running one day in mid-June, I injured my left calf muscle and re-aggravated it two weeks later. It was an injury caused by fatigue, the result of the extra lifting and carrying. At the beginning of July, I pulled a portion of my left bicep. These mishaps were mild compared to what was building.

In mid-July, I started to notice my right elbow was aching on a daily basis. I was attributing that to the extra work load and thought I just needed to build up arm strength. My thinking was wrong. Two month later, in mid-September, the pain had gotten worse and was causing problems in my forearm due to the muscles getting pulled. My employer sent me to a doctor for a evaluation. I had developed tendonitis, also known as "tennis elbow". Two weeks of therapy and lighter work duty were prescribed. I seemed to have made a recovery after that and continued with the lifting exercises, as well as doing my job.

The lifting continued until mid-December, when it seemed I was at a point of diminishing returns with the therapy. It was then I stopped. Two months later, in mid-February 2004, the pain in the elbow and forearm came back, plus now I was feeling numbness in the ring and end fingers on my right hand. Back to the doctor; this time two week of doing absolutely nothing with a follow-up examination at the end of it. At that exam, on February 24 (corrected from the 26), the damage was done. I was diagnosed with a mild but permanent case of tendonitis. The restrictions place on activities by the doctor meant not only could I no longer work for my employer, but that any kind of job involving manual labor was now out of the question.

How ironic that the date of the exam was the day before Ash Wednesday of 2004. It has seemed it has been Lent for me ever since. I was placed on worker's compensation; and with the help of two people assigned to my case, I began looking for new work.

The job search essentially divided into two categories as it evolved. One was church choir jobs. The other was anything within my restrictions. The church choir jobs were the more promising leads. I went out to Bellingham, Washington over Memorial Day for an interview, had a phone interview with a church in a small town east of Lansing, Michigan, had other interviews in the region (Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin) and inquired about others from coast to coast. The "miscellaneous" category stuck to the local area, as I lost the car I had in a small accident in mid-December 2003. Focusing on retail sales and administrative positions, the pickings were rather slim.

The bottom line to all of it though is I am still unemployed. As to the church choir jobs, they never did pan out; one church in Iowa took five months to make a decision after the interview (because they were going through some internal concerns). People were hesitant to even look at me and kept asking me what my plans were. Most of my applications were sent to churches near enough where there were grad schools with a choral conducting program that interested me. (Was God in the details?) When I mentioned this to people, I think it scared them. As to the other jobs, I rarely got interviews. Over-qualified? Over-educated? My history of underemployment (meaning my work experience has been nothing but entry-level positions and no promotions)? I have not an answer.

While I was looking for work, there was still in the back of my mind going back to grad school. (That thought is still there.) It may have taken away from the focus I needed to put in more effort in looking for work. But while I was in the worker's comp program, I was dedicated to finding a job first and then getting back to school.

As the job search progressed, results and effort were diminishing while the disappointments and frustration were increasing. The labor market here is tight; my restrictions made it even moreso. I was starting to get discouraged with the lack of prospects, much less interviews.

At the beginning of 2005, I was told by one of the people assisting me that my worker's comp benefits may be coming to an end. In February, I received a letter from the insurance company stating they would cease with benefits in May, which did happen. I then filed for unemployment insurance very soon afterwards. It has been now almost five months and I have not received any decision as to whether or not I am eligible, due to the worker's comp claim being part of the problem. I haven't pushed very hard for resolution; perhaps I need to become a "pest".

And how have I been surviving without any income? My last employer had a profit-sharing plan, which I have cashed out. I also had two weeks vacation pay from them. And, thank God, the ace up my financial sleeve is still there. I am still able to do as much sports officiating as I can; the cash flow helping me meet expenses when they arise.

That is the cloud which hangs over my head at the moment. It is causing me, even more than ever, to question why things are the way they are in my life. Yes, a full blown mid-life crisis. Way too much self-doubt and wondering. My "dark night of the soul". And I seek no pity. It's just where I am.

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