Rebuilding my life with #AutismAwareness

school building in snow

It’s #AutismAwarenessMonth, and I’m already tired. Ha! Of course I am. Sheesh, the ongoing … onslaught… of misinformation, disinformation, and all these otherwise unaffected-by-Autism people weighing in with their observations… it all gets to be too much.

And yet, I can’t seem to look away. It’s like a train wreck. All month long. And it’s only the 4th of April. Good grief.

One of the really depleting things about this month, is that I become all the more aware of how much more difficult my life has been, because I had no idea about how being Autistic was affecting me, or what to do about it. I spent so, so many years struggling, not knowing what the deal was with me, not understanding that there was literally something distinctly different about me that put me at a disadvantage in some ways (and at an advantage in others). It wasn’t luck or happenstance. It was a structural difference in my makeup that set me apart and introduced specific challenges to me.

I had no idea. I had no awareness. So, I couldn’t manage my situation. I couldn’t adjust. I couldn’t find any patterns, because my mind was so turned around by everything that I didn’t know what patterns to look for. I couldn’t tease out the differences from one day to the next, and did that ever have an impact.

Well, that being said, now I know better. And now I can do better. True, I did not manage to finish college (despite earning 90 credits). Too much going on. Too much to overcome. Too little information on one and, and too much on the other. It’s rarely actually been a huge problem. With a few exceptions, where my advancement opportunities were limited because I didn’t have a degree, I’ve always managed to find good-paying work that let me make the most of my abilities. I have a “nose” for opportunity, and I’m really proactive and a dedicated team player, so I’ve always had that to fall back on.

But now I’m getting older, employers are relying on web-based resume intake systems, and without a degree, I can’t even get pasts the “electronic gatekeepers” to make my case for getting the job. Plus, if I want to change careers, which I’m thinking about doing, after 25+ years in high tech, I need a degree. Because taking credit for building out key features of a leading financial services website and optimizing technology just doesn’t have the same cachet outside this gilded cage of high tech.

I need something else to fall back on.

I’ve been looking for degree completion programs for years, but none of them were accessible for me. Either they were too expensive, or they were too time-consuming and the pace was dictated by the institution. I was expected to carry a consistent courseload for two years straight, which — if you’re me — is a clear warning shot across the proverbial bow. There’s no way I can commit to that workload with absolute certainty.

Can we say meltdown? ‘Cause that’s where I’d be — probably frequently — while scrambling to keep up / catch up. Call it Executive Function issues. Call it inconsistency. Call it what you will. It’d wreck me, for sure, what with my full-time job, caring for my dependent partner, serving on town boards, keeping my own interests alive, and keeping myself healthy and fit… on top of a degree completion program.

But I believe I’ve found a solution. I found a program that’s self-paced, that gives me credit for what I’ve done, and it lets me earn a degree in what I’ve been doing for the past 25 years. And it costs a fraction of what a traditional degree completion program would cost.

I’m a grown-up, with adult responsibilities and a full life. And I’m Autistic. So, I need to choose and act accordingly. I need to be constantly aware of my strengths and my limitations, to accommodate myself and not take things for granted. I took so much for granted, when I was younger, thinking that if I just kept pressing on in the same ways, I’d be able to eventually succeed. But I was doing things the way I saw all the neurotypical people in the world doing it. I tried to mimic what they did, and how they did it, assuming that I could just power through.

Untrue. I burned myself out, over and over. I overloaded myself, pushed myself to one meltdown after another, drank too much, got pulled into the wrong crowds, took the wrong jobs, stuck with the wrong schedule, and I got hurt. I crushed myself. And that was no good.

Now, I actually have a chance to turn this around, and that’s what I’m doing. I started the exploration process a couple of weeks ago, and I started the application process last week. I’ll work on my application some more today, since I have some time. And I’ll gear up for this process, the start of this new journey, with my limits clearly in mind.

It’s not that I’m going to let my limitations define me. Far from it. I’m just going to factor them in and manage them accordingly. If I know about my limits, and I know how they block me, it’s up to me to figure out how to either adapt or avoid them. If I’m in a position to actually do something about my situation (and I am), it’s up to me to handle things properly.

If my energy levels are dropping, I need to step away and recharge — and then bring myself back on point in the future.

If I’m getting overwhelmed, I need to step away and take steps to get myself un-maxed-out again… then resume what I was doing before.

If I’m able to work faster than the “norm”, then I need to kick it into high gear, because at some point, I may need to slow down. So, I have to plan and act accordingly, so I can keep ahead of things and make the most of my up-times to offset my down-times.

And so, I shall. With Autism in mind. Awareness. Acceptance. And action.

This next step (going back to school) has been a long time coming. I’m gonna make the most of it.

10 thoughts on “Rebuilding my life with #AutismAwareness

  1. endlessfixation

    Most of my wariness towards committing to any kind of college is being aware of my past burnouts etc. At one point I had signed up with an online university for a psychology degree. I made it halfway through the second semester before everything exploded! College issues, family troubles, personal depression all combined to be too much, and I had to withdraw…which left me with $6k in debt for nothing. That’s not something I’m willing to repeat.

    That new program sounds like a good idea, and I hope it works out for you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. VisualVox

      Thank you! Yes, I’m concerned about the burnout potential, as well. I’ve tried other programs and I also sorta kind imploded. I’m wary of it, but I’m also cautiously optimistic. I’m at the point where I don’t feel like I actually have a choice. In my line of work, I literally can’t go much further without a degree.


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  4. Yeah, I did need my degree for my recent (and I expect last of my career since it’s the highest technical position in my organization) promotion not because it provided any of my qualifications, but just to get past the initial rote gatekeepers. I started it in 1985 and finished it in 2015, so it was a 30 year process.

    As a teen parent and husband (twice over), I never had a normal college career. I was 20 when I started and always took courses at night, by correspondence, and later online. I was, however, in the Army National Guard in 1985. I got a little bit of help from the remnants at the time of the GI Bill. (Those same remnants were also critical later buying our first house.)

    But more importantly, I started my degree with the local Park University extension since at the time we had an Air Force base here. And they structured their whole approach to be friendly to military students and veterans. One key feature was that they placed no time limit on how long you could take to finish your degree. And you were never required to change from the catalog under which you began it. I did update one time around 2000 because some of the classes I still needed under the original one were no longer taught anywhere.

    That structure allowed me to complete my degree over the course of my life as I had the ability, resources. and opportunity to work on it. I also added CLEP tests, did some classes at a community college, and even did all my Calculus by correspondence (very early 90s) from our local major university.

    I wish more universities worked that way. Most are structured so if you don’t complete a degree in one continuous effort, barriers are raised that make it hard to go back and finish later. And those barriers are artificial. My case is a bit extreme, but my experience at Park proves that it’s perfectly possible for universities to support students and maintain their catalog and progress even over decades. Most simply choose not to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. VisualVox

      That’s great for you. I’m glad you were able to do that. It’s looking less and less likely that I’ll be able to do it, as life demands keep increasing, as my bandwidth and energy (and available funds) decrease. Ah, well. At least I won’t be shut out of jobs because I’m “overqualified”, on down the line.

      That’s something, I suppose.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, understandable. I could never manage more than spurts of at most a year to a year and a half. Compressed classes with 8 week full semesters (another feature of Park extensions) helped me, but were sometimes a challenge for others. I’m still a bit surprised I managed to complete mine. And I wouldn’t have if I had to go through the hurdle of being admitted again every time I thought I could take another class. Park kept me as an admitted student with an open degree plan for that entire 30 year period. All I ever had to do was register for classes when I was ready to take more.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. VisualVox

        That’s really great. I could probably figure out a way to do this, but I just don’t feel up to it. Work is too demanding, and the situation at home is even moreso. Plus, I’ve got to keep myself going, so something’s gotta give. That’d be my degree…

        Oh, well. Someday…

        Liked by 1 person

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