TRIDENT HEAD INJURY SUPPORT GROUP 
STARTED IN 1983
36 YEARS AGO
  
Cathey Gage's Story
 
 
Posted on the THISG website by Robert Durland with permission from Cathey Gage.
 
The story below is written from a copy of the letter Cathey Gage wrote on September 6, 1994.  Cathey wrote her life story at that time to the Legislative Committee for People with Disabilities in Columbia, South Carolina.  The subject: The need for head injury survivors in the job market.  Cathey started supporting Trident Head Injury Support Group, as a member 24 years ago and served as President in 2002.  Cathey served as a Hasci Life Skills Trainer and Coach Provider for many, many years and faithfully continues.
 
Below is Cathey's story

My name is Cathey Gage. I am a head injury survivor, and I would like to tell you about my experiences here in South Carolina, concerning things that could be done to help other survivors entering or re-entering the job market.
In 1965, I started my
freshman year at the University of Vermont. On Saturday night, the car I was riding in swerved, and I was thrown out. After a brain operation and a month in a coma, I restarted my life again with basically no memory of my entire life I had to relearn everything. I am one of the lucky ones though, because I did have the ability to learn, and remember. A permanent side-effect of my injury was that I lost my total peripheral vision in both eyes, so that took a great deal of getting used to. Obviously, I had to put my college education on hold, and about 10 months after the accident I married my high school sweetheart. He made me learn things. Looking back on it, I think of myself as a 19-year-old with the experience level of a 7 or 8-year-old. During my twenties, I had two children, and I spent the next 6 or 7 years raising them. I had a few part-time jobs, but nothing very demanding or challenging because it was a resort town, the jobs usually ended "at the end of the season." Driving was a problem because of my vision, and I had probably at least one accident every year.
Then when I was 30, I found myself going through a divorce and faced the prospect of supporting myself and two children. I took a course in bookkeeping at a small community college and went out "in the real world" to get a job as a bookkeeper, not having any experience or concept of what to expect. Now I was a 30-year-old with the experience level of a 15-year-old, but even 15-year-olds know things that I didn’t know. I was also scared to death of course and had no self-confidence at all. My first job in the accounting department of a local hotel lasted 5 weeks-I didn’t know anything-I had to ask how to open the drawers of the filing cabinet!
Bookkeeping was complicated- because of my vision, I would often miss the figures in the left column, either the hundreds or the thousands. Balancing debits and credits was so time-consuming because I almost always had to go back and find which number I had misread. I found another job as a bookkeeper/secretary for a construction firm, and within 6 weeks, they had hired another girl as a secretary, and I was demoted to a part-time bookkeeper. I was let go from that job about a year and a half later because they decided they needed more of an accountant than a bookkeeper.

During that time, I had taken 3 more courses in bookkeeping and accounting, so that year, 1979, I decided to try to make my way in another part of the country and I came to Charleston. My first job down here at a CPA firm lasted 2 months. I went from job to job for the next 5 years, always being let go for reasons that were not very clear, but usually because of my slowness. I remarried in 1982, and my husband provided financial and moral support. In 1985 1 had 4 jobs in one year and was let go from all of them. At the beginning of 1986, I decided to go into real estate so I couldn't get fired. Driving was the downfall of my career as a real estate agent. It cost me more money on insurance than I was earning, so I decided to go back to secretarial work. The real estate company where I had been employed hired me as their secretary, and I started taking courses at Trident Tech at that time. I worked there for almost 3 years, and out of the blue, they let me go. They said it was because "I wasn’t fast enough.” By then, I had discovered temporary employment agencies, and they kept me busy. 
It was so much easier to get let go with them because I knew that the jobs were temporary anyway. I was still looking for a permanent job though, and in the summer of 1991, I had a job with another real estate firm which I lost in 3 months for no reason. In the summer of 1992, I had an appointment with a lawyer, which I lost in 2 months for no reason I had been studying to be a paralegal at Tech, and I felt I was doing an excellent job and I wanted that job so much. After I was let go, I went to see a psychiatrist, because I was so devastated. I went to Voc Rehab, and they were the ones who sent me to Trident Head Injury Support Group. I have fought a lengthy battle without really knowing who I was fighting or why I had to fight it. Now I see something could have been done to help me and others like me. I wish I’d had a job coach who could have guided in entering the job market. A job coach can help all disabled persons in helping choose a field to go into, concerning talents, abilities, and limitations. He or she can assist in preparing for interviews and acting as an intermediary with the employer when a job is secured. Emotional support is also very important-l know that from hard experiences. Providing transportation could enable a person to work who otherwise might not be able to. All our needs are different, of course, but we all need a sense of self-worth, and being able to have a job and keep a job is so very fundamental to anyone's feeling of value.