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March 28, 2024

After almost seven years of receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) after being diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD, Jennifer Smith found herself ready to test her resolve to head back into the workforce. Through the Ticket to Work program and with encouragement from her program specialist, Georgina Garcia, at the San Diego Workforce Partnership, Jennifer developed the tools and fortitude to successfully restart her career in healthcare administration.  Below she tells us about the struggles she overcame in her career and her path towards self sufficiency 

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I was a business service representative for medical patients for over a decade. Even though my family would always encourage me to take a vacation, I never did. Over time, it started to take a toll on my mental health, especially after losing my father, adding another layer of stress to an already overwhelming situation. When the symptoms started, I was losing focus and would become forgetful; then I developed a stutter. It began to affect me outside of work as it progressed, and even listening to music became hard. I went to see a therapist and psychiatrist, and then found myself in a cycle of taking short breaks from work only to return and struggle once again. Eventually, it became clear that I needed an extended period away from the workforce to focus on my well-being. The decision to take a hiatus from work was not easy. However, it was a necessary step toward healing and finding stability in my life. During this time, I faced isolation and struggled to connect with others. My social circle dwindled, and I retreated into myself, finding solace only in the company of my immediate family.  The first six years were tough, and it wasn’t until the last year that I began to feel like myself again. Most of the heavier symptoms started to be manageable. I knew I wanted to go back to work, but I didn’t know if I would be able to. Realizing that I probably won’t ever stop taking medication and attending therapy helped me manage how I felt about my new reality and gave me the courage to reenter the world and look for a new job.  

Thanks to my years of experience, I was able to ease my way back into the workforce by obtaining a part-time, remote contract position at CVS verifying patients’ health coverage. I still was not ready to deal with people face-to-face often. However, once the contract was up, I wanted to fully reenter the workforce and become self-sufficient again, especially after many years of living with family members. It was about six months since my contract at CVS ended when I received a leaflet in the mail advertising the Ticket to Work program. At first, I was skeptical, but with encouragement from my family, I decided to explore the opportunity further. This is when I was connected with Georgina, who became an invaluable source of support and guidance. Georgina understood my challenges and relentlessly tried to uplift and empower me. She patiently worked with me, helping with my resume, applications and interview preparations. With Georgina’s help, I secured a part-time front desk and call center ambulatory specialist position at UCSD. It was a pivotal moment, marking my return to the workforce after years of uncertainty and self-doubt. 

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The transition has its challenges. My stutter resurfaces at times, reminding me of the challenges I overcame. Even still, I am filled with gratitude for my family’s unwavering support and the guidance of people like Georgina. They helped me realize that seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but a testament to one’s strength and courage. My experience has taught me the importance of self-care and seeking support. I am filled with hope and optimism for the future. I am exploring new opportunities, considering further education in insurance billing, and embracing the possibility of owning my own home. I would tell others who may be in a similar place that, as hard as what you are going through may seem, never give up. Realize that you need help, take advice from others, and look out for your best interest. You may never be the same person you were before; accept that and move past it. If you want to go back to work and can’t return to a traditional career, find things that interest you and seek jobs that align with those passions and curiosities. 


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