It’s been an incredibly busy past 4 weeks… or has it been 6? Business travel, deadlines at work, projects not turning out the way they should, people making excuses, left and right, and the very people who are making a mess of things taking control of all the projects.
Ah, me… I’m at a loss, as are many of my co-workers. It’s incredibly dispiriting. But at least I’m not alone in my despair. I have plenty of company (fortunately or unfortunately).
One of the benefits of being too busy to think about much, is that I find out what matters most to me. Because that’s the stuff that bubbles to the top of my thought process. That’s the stuff that works it way out, like rocks emerging from the soil in the New England spring. All the rest of the stuff I’ve been thinking about is apparently compost… it will go through its decomposition and melt back into the background of my life. But some things have “sticking power” and won’t go away.
It’s those things that I’ve been thinking about.
So, of course I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood and how it set me apart. When I was younger, I was tempted to believe that my lot was terrible, painful, horrible. That it was too punishing for words, and oh, how I suffered. It’s true. I did suffer. But that’s just what happens, sometimes, and I’m through with thinking that suffering is a sign of aberration, of something being amiss. Nope, sometimes that’s just how things go. And the magical part of it is, I get through it. All of it. Just because it’s uncomfortable, even painful, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad thing. Because, after more than half a century on the earth, I now realize that pain is very much a part of life — but suffering is something I make worse, myself. By judging and resisting that pain.
It’s much more productive to take a Meh attitude — a Meh-titude, if you will — and get on with it. Get my mind off the anguish (much of which I’m causing myself) and just get on with living.
My childhood, in retrospect, really worked in my favor. It prepared me for the world as an adult. It made me into the person I was. And it was full of wonder… precisely because I grew up in an autistic household which absolutely, positively accepted my Autistic traits for what they were and revelled in them, rather than pathologizing them.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all delight and bliss. My childhood was, in fact, extremely difficult, both inside and outside the home. My family got a lot of things really wrong. But the parts that my family got right, they got really right. And I’m a better person for it. So many of the “disordered” behaviors — repetitive motions, echolalia, alternative play styles, talking a “blue streak” about passions, having passionately focused interests at all, even my frantic energy — they were all recognized and welcomed as the things that made me what I was.
My Mom, in fact, loves to talk with exuberance about so many of my behaviors that qualify me as Autistic. Singing a song to myself over and over and over for days at a time. Dismantling a toy vacuum cleaner that was given to me, so I could play with it my own way. Immersing myself in Native American studies, learning about trees, animal tracks, animal scat. Talking, talking, talking some more about the things I cared so deeply about. And running wild, all over the place, making my Mom nervous, but never actually getting hurt.
My parents remember those things as wonderful. Because they were me. They could also relate. And for all the things I did wrong and was punished for, at least — at the core — they recognized and loved me for who I was. Because that was me. And they’d both been punished enough as kids for their own Autistic traits, that they never wanted to do that to their own kids.
That’s one thing they certainly got right.
And I’m glad I can see it now. Because for years, I got so hung up on the things they got wrong, for their shortcomings, their failings, their neglect and abuse, that I missed the ways they were so good for me, so healthy, so helpful and supportive. And although I’m still at odds with the community of my upbringing (they still seem a bit cultish to me, to be honest), I can still see there was a lot of good in it for me, that helped make me who and how I am.
It helped make me healthily Autistic, in so many ways. So much so, that I have to just look at people (or shake my head when I’m online) when they talk about Autism only being a problem. Or only a disorder. It can be problematic. It can be disordering, even disabling. But in and of itself, Autism is not the enemy. And it’s not only one thing.
It’s not only one thing at all.
It’s many things. And we can choose for ourselves what we’ll do with the full spectrum of experiences. That much is very clear to me.
With that being said, it’s a gorgeous day. I have an all-day conference call I need to attend — and no, I’m not looking forward to it. It’s part of the job. It doesn’t happen every day. I’ll survive. Plus, I get to work from home while I’m doing it, and I can sit out on my deck and enjoy the breeze and sunshine, which is wonderful and delicious today. There are worse ways to make a living, that’s for sure.
I’ve been on pretty much of an emotional roller-coaster at work.
Everybody has been so busy, and there are a lot of changes going on. And we’re all pretty much at our wits’ end.
I was on a call with a co-worker, this afternoon, and he was giving me tips on not burning out, not taking on too much, how to delegate to others. He was talking about tips he’d given one of our fellow co-workers, and as he was explaining, he said, “I love B___________, I love all you guys, I really do. And I want to help make your lives easier. That’s all.”
At first, I was a little taken aback. I’m old-fashioned, I know, with a whole lot of working history that’s trained me to keep a professional distance from everyone, including my co-workers. But then I thought about it, and I realized that that’s something I say all the time, too. “I love you guys… I love them… I love _______.”
And that’s just how we talk to and about each other at work.
Plus, it’s how I’ve talked about my co-workers many times in the past. With love. About love. For love.
Despite all my complaining about my job and the hassles and the pain and suffering that comes with it, there’s still a lot of love there. For others. From others. Even the people who drive me to distraction and keep me up at night with their political shenanigans… I love them, too. And they love me.
That’s something you don’t find everywhere — especially the company of people who get that and reciprocate and who make it easy to talk that way. At work.
So, I’m feeling pretty positive, right now. Of course, it helps that I had a little nap after work, and I have three days off. But even so, there are worse things than working with people who feel as loving towards you, as you do towards them.
Back in 1987, I was stuck. I had just come back to the United States after studying in Germany for a couple years, and I had to find a job. Not just any job, either. I had to find a real job.
I had four years of college – two in the U.S. and two in Germany – but I didn’t have a degree. I also didn’t have much real-world 9-to-5 working experience. Running a paper route, tutoring students, typing manuscripts for an automotive industry translator, and doing manual labor in greenhouses, restaurants, and styrofoam cup factories, on and off, since I was 12 years old had all been great work experiences and instilled a great work ethic in me, but they hadn’t prepared me for the adult-world realities of finding — and keeping — steady 9-to-5 work.
I had to find a job, though. I was an adult, and at last I could legally get away from my parents. We’d had a difficult relationship for years, and I was sick and tired of the constant pressure to conform to their religious, heteronormative, homogenized way of life. I could never do anything right, in their eyes, even though I knew my own way of doing things was the perfect way for me. I was queer (though I was a bit fuzzy on the details at age 22). I wanted to be a writer, an artist, an explorer. I didn’t want the drab, boring, predictable life they were constantly pushing me towards. All I’d ever wanted, since I was 12, was to be independent… to get up and go to sleep whenever I chose, to write books, make art, find out what the world had to offer. I needed to carve out a place that was all my own. And since I was (finally) of majority age, I was in a position to do just that.
I was setting up house in suburban New Jersey, and the rent needed to be paid. Of course, with an unfinished double major in German and anthropology, I’d been told that I’d never find good-paying work. To do well for myself, I’d have to have an advanced degree in a specialized profession. But I was out of money for school, and I needed to get on with my life, degree or no degree. I needed a car, I needed new clothes, I needed to put food on my table and pay my bills. But after searching the newspapers for days and weeks, I wasn’t finding any work that appealed to me, and I was having no luck at all with sending out my rèsumé.
I was at my wits’ end.
Then I remembered a guy I’d known when I was in high school. He’d been a few years older than me, and he’d been living on his own for a while. He didn’t have a “regular” job, but he always provided for himself in perfectly legal ways. How? He’d signed up with a temporary employment agency, and when he felt like working, he’d pick up the phone and give his agency a call. Sometimes they’d have a couple of days of work for him. Sometimes they’d have a couple of weeks’ worth. He wasn’t the kind of guy who really liked to work (he was pretty lazy, actually, and he admitted it), but he sure did like to make money. His employment agency kept him working pretty much whenever he wanted to.
So, I thought I’d try that, too. Not knowing what to expect, I went down to a branch office of the same national temp agency he’d used, and inquired about getting work. I could type, I could file, I could do just about any office task you put in front of me.
It worked! Within days I was working and earning a regular paycheck. And the jobs just kept coming. I worked at various and sundry offices around the area — hospitals, industrial distributors, and general offices. I don’t remember many of the details about my first assignments. They were pretty boring, as I recall. And that doesn’t matter. The most important thing was what happened as a result of those assignments.
You see, my temp agency offered free computer training if I worked for them for two solid weeks. What a great opportunity! Now, remember, this was in 1987, before computers had taken over the world (how times have changed!), but I had a feeling I should get as much training and develop as many skills as possible to make myself as marketable as possible. So, I put in my hours (I can do just about anything for two weeks) and signed up to learn a popular word processing program through a self-paced tutorial at the agency’s office. As a result of my increased skills, I got assigned to progressively more challenging assignments, and each experience offered me a little more opportunity to learn than the last.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Over the course of the past 30 years of working in the 9-to-5 world, the longest I’ve ever been out of work against my will was two weeks. I’ve taken time off, like the month I took off in 1992 to move across the country, the month I took off in 1995 to move back, and the first six weeks in 2006, when I started my own publishing company. I’ve changed jobs a bunch of times (as one does in this economy), and I’ve chosen to work part-time when my health was poor or I was perpetually burned out. But I’ve never had trouble connecting with great opportunities.
This is all because I got my start doing “temp work”. As maligned as it is, temping provides a huge number of benefits and advantages, especially for folks like me who have chronic health issues, problems with Autistic Burnout, and who get just plain sick and tired of dealing with neurotypical people, day in and day out. Time and again, I’ve parlayed my experience at short-term assignments at big and little companies into long-term positions, including lucrative full-time employment. With the right combination of social observation, practical skill, and an eye for opportunity, I went from being a jobless college dropout without much of a future, to earning six figures at a multinational financial services firm. And I did it in just over ten years, as my three-month temporary assignment turned into nine years of building technology with a leading financial services firm.
Temping made it all possible. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that if I hadn’t been temping most of the time between 1987 and 1999, it might never have happened. In the coming weeks, I’ll discuss why that was, and how I did it. I’ll lay out the kinds of steps I took to “trade up” from temp jobs to a steady work in a field that’s got plenty of opportunity. And I’ll lay it all out in common-sense terms that I hope you can apply in your own life. If I managed to do this, maybe you can, too. With the right attitude, approach, and techniques, I’m convinced other people can do it, too.
Bottom line, I wouldn’t be where I am today, without temping.
It’s so important to talk about Autism and suicide, and it’s important to talk about things that can substantially make our lives better. Things that can keep us fed and housed and connected to the rest of the world in constructive, mutually beneficial ways.
Having a job and/or finding meaningful work is a big part of what keeps me going. As much as I complain about my job, and as much as it exhausts me, it provides me with the following necessary elements of my life:
Structure. I know where I’m going to be, each weekday (pretty much). And I know what’s expected of me. The corporate world is very much an institutional environment, and that suits me. Behaviors are regulated. Interactions are prescribed. There are guidelines for everything. And expectations are made clear.
Predictability and Routine. My days and weeks have a predictable rhythm. And even if it’s exhausting and depleting, at least I know what to expect. I not only know what to expect from myself, I also know what to expect from others — when they’ll be around, what they’ll be doing, etc. That’s so important and helpful for me.
Social interaction. Even though I absolutely dread dealing with other people, and I avoid it whenever I can, at work, I can’t NOT interact with others. I’m forced to. But the interactions are all structured and defined by our roles at work, and I can very easily leave a conversation under a completely believable pretext: I have work to do. I can interact with other people — both Autistic and non-autistic (I work in high tech) — on a regular basis, but I can always get away. And they understand. Because they’re supposed to be working, too.
Community. This is more than just social interaction. It’s a sense of belonging, of knowing others and being known, and finding commonality and shared purpose. It’s about being part of something bigger than myself. Even though I would never personally choose to hang out with 98.72% of the people I work with, I’m still part of their “tribe”, and they seem to like me. I like them, too, within the work context. No, it’s more accurate to say we all actually love each other. That sounds strange, considering the work environment, but there’s a loving-kindness and comaraderie we share that I haven’t found anywhere else. Someone out there cares about me. And that helps immensely.
Money. Obviously this is a big deal. For me, more than many others. Being Autistic puts me in an extremely vulnerable position, with all my social and communication difficulties that can literally get me killed (either slowly or quickly) in the outside world. But “money talks”. And when I am in a financial transaction with others, giving them money, they have to be nice to me. Or they don’t get my money. Money is very much a “crutch” for me. It opens doors that would otherwise be shut tight — and crush me like a bug under a steamroller.
Status and Social “Lubrication”. I’ve made a point of working for Big Name Companies for years. I learned back in the late 1980s that, for some reason, people are impressed by certain “brands” and they cut everyone slack, when they are associated with them. Score! And it works. I’ve literally been in social situations that were going terribly, until I mentioned where I worked — and people were so impressed (huh? whatever…) that they started treating me like a human being. So, I’ve actively sought out a series of jobs with big, recognizable names. Like money, that paves the way through social situations that I’d otherwise not fare well in.
Those are six big things that I get from having steady work. There are more, but I have to get to work, so I’m running out of time. I’ve sacrificed a tremendous amount, over the years, to get where I am now, and it has not been easy. It’s driven me to the edge, more times than I can count. But I’ve always come back from the edge. And one year after another, for over 30 years now, I’ve made progress.
When I hear about how only 16% of Autistic people are fully employed, I have the same reaction as “the ratio of Autistic men to Autistic women is 4:1”. Bad data. Incomplete data. I’ve worked around tons of Autistic folks in the past three decades, and all of them have been more than fully employed. There are lots of tips and techniques that we all just used to find out organically — because different generations actually talked to each other, and we passed survival information from one to the other. I can’t even count the number of conversations I’ve had with folks much older than me who I now would ID as Autistic. They gave me lots of info about how to deal with the working world, they propped me up and helped me sort things out. And they let me know, I was not alone in my suffering. They were suffering, too, but they’d figured out how to deal with it.
Of course, today, it’s much more en vogue to sequester yourself in your own generational peer group, so tons of info doesn’t get passed along. Maybe that has something to do with it? Or maybe it’s about expectation. Back in my early adulthood, it was simply expected that I’d find work — whatever position I could find — and work my way up in the world, just like everyone else.
The world has changed, needless to say, but some things don’t change.
It’s just that nobody’s telling others what they need to know nearly as freely and completely as they used to.
Oh, but I’m digressing. Time to go to work. More to come.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve lived my life, thus far. My birthday is coming up in less than a month, so my thoughts turn to retrospectives on the past year, as well as my life. I’ve only been around for ~53 years (compared to the 100+ years my elder relatives usually live to), so relatively speaking, I feel like I’m just getting started.
I know, I know, Autistic people are supposed to die something like 16 years before their neurotypical peers, and I’m sure many do. But all the Autistic folks I’ve been related to and have known, have all lived extraordinarily long lives, and they’ve been active and engaged in the world until the last few years.
So, I’m planning on being around for at least another 53 years — probably longer, since I’m in better shape than most of my peers, and I live my life intentionally, with future strength and stability in mind.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about the choices I’ve made in life, and how I haven’t really achieved everything I hoped to, over the course of the years. I’ve had so many dreams, so many plans, so many good intentions, and they all came to nothing. Because I couldn’t sustain the level of effort required to make it happen. I ran out of metaphorical steam. I got worn out. I worked to excess, then I crashed, and I never fully recovered. Basically, my life reads like one failed experiment after another.
And yet… I’m still here. And thinking about suicide and death and mental health, these days, I realize just how much of my life has been structured around keeping myself alive and mentally healthy, as everything around me has seemingly conspired to do the opposite.
I live in a profoundly hostile environment, full of social land mines and ample opportunities for faux pas that carry a heavy social toll. I’m active in my world, but I’m not at all comfortable in it. And while I do contribute, and there are a lot of people who really love and care for me, if I could leave it tomorrow for a destination that suits me and who/how I am more comfortably and healthily, I would — without a second thought.
But I can’t leave. The supports I’ve got, which I’ve worked so hard to put into place, are just now starting to “bear fruit”, as it were. After years of really scary precarious living, I’m finally in a place of stability that I can build on. And I have a household to support, including a disabled partner, so I’m not going to ditch my job anytime soon, unless something equal or better comes along.
That being said, I realize it’s been this way for my entire adult life. I’ve made my choices, and I’ve situated myself in life in the most economically advantaged position I can get, at a great cost to my mental and physical health. So, I need to go to extra lengths to keep myself viable.
That means… books! That means… taking the whole weekend off and decompressing… writing, reading, researching. That means, surrounding myself with stuff that brings me pleasure, whether it’s artwork I’ve made or pictures I’ve taken or art and photos I’ve bought from other independent artists. My home is full of many, many relatively inexpensive things that I love, which I (and my partner) just happened upon in our travels. A little figurine that cost $2. A Chinese hand fan that was given to us by friends whose wedding we DJ’ed. A giclee of a painting of a scene not far from my childhood home, by an Autistic woman I know. Pottery I threw many years ago, which I still love.
And my research… My special interests have varied and been in flux, over the past 10 years, but I still have the books. And when I dig into them again, I realize just how much they have helped me, over the years. All that reading, all that journaling, all those notes… they may never come to anything in the big, wide world, but they’ve kept me sane. They’ve kept me healthy. They’ve given me the outlet and the self-expression I needed, away from the pressures of professional performance.
And that’s a beautiful thing.
So, as my birthday approaches, and I start to slip into regret over all the things I never managed to accomplish, I have to remember — I’ve been very, veryactive in the field(s) of my choice over the years, and I’ve made some pretty amazing contributions to those fields within the sphere of my own personal life. It’s kept me alive, and it’s created something beautiful in my life — as well as indirectly in the lives of others who I’ve helped because my intense “special interests” made it possible for me to function.
That should count for something, to me. And it does. Just because nobody else knows about it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
If a tree falls in the forest, and I’m the only one who hears it, yes… it does make a sound.
For the record, I’m not sure where this blog post is going to go, so if you get triggered by talk about Autism and suicide, it’s probably best not to read this. There are so many other really great things written on the blogosphere. I encourage you to seek them out instead of losing time here.
So, Autism and suicide. Apparently it got a lot of attention at the latest INSAR conference in Rotterdam, last week. And a lot of people on Twitter have been talking about it, since.
I have mixed feelings about suicide. I’ve dealt with suicidal ideation since I was a teenager. I can’t recall having that issue when I was younger — I think I was way too overloaded all the time to spare much thought about anything being different for me (i.e., not having to endure a miserable life). Then again, as challenging as my childhood was, there were ample opportunities for me to decompress and experience the ecstasy of special interests — and, well, just be and autistic little kid.
My mother actually loves to talk about what a little scientist I was, when I was younger. She thinks it’s hilarious and fascinating (not pathological) that I dismantled “girl toys” that were given to me, to see how they worked and use them for different uses, rather than playing with them as they were originally designed. All the stuff that would have qualified me for a DSM-V autism diagnosis and pathologized me within an inch of my life… well, those were all just quirks I had. They were the things that made me… me. And both my parents really loved and enjoyed that.
Of course, home was one thing. School was another. I was bullied intensely all during 5th and 7th grades, and I really struggled in many ways. But I ever thought about ending it all. When I got into high school, that changed. And I have to say, looking back on my four years there, I did engage in self-injury… but in the form of cross-country running. I ran myself ragged. Wore myself down to a rail, with my intense workouts. But I was fit, and I was winning, so it didn’t stand out at all.
I also started drinking in high school, and that took the edge off my intense discomfort. But it took me down some very dark roads, and when I re-emerged from my drunken haze(s), things were even worse than when I’d picked up a drink the night (or afternoon or morning) before. Drinking, ironically, may have saved my life at the start, because it helped me take the edge off the intense discomfort and mis-match between what I wanted for myself and what the world was imposing. Even if it was temporary, even if it did screw me up, it was still a pressure valve I could use at will. But it became a case of diminishing returns, and drinking in fact pushed me towards killing myself a number of times, until I quit for good, 29 years ago.
Thoughts of ending it all (let’s call it “SI” for “Suicidal Ideation”, a term I hate, but which serves its purpose) started in earnest when I was drinking, now that I think about it. I was so, so miserable. So queer. So autistic. So confused. So set-upon by everything. People expected a tremendous amount from me — and they weren’t wrong to do so. But they never provided me the kind of conditions I needed to truly excel. They just expected me, like some automaton, to produce excellence on a regular basis. They expected religion to meet my spiritual needs. They expected conformity to provide all I could ask for. They expected me to crank out superior “results”, time after time after time, with no break, no respite. And I expected that of myself, as well.
Because that’s what was done. That’s how things worked. And if I couldn’t do that, then I was clearly broken.
I spent a lot of time believing I was broken. Even before high school and college… back to the early days of not “getting it right”. Broken. I was broken.
And as adulthood encroached, with its requirements and expectations, and practically nothing on the horizon that appealed to queer little, autistic little, decided non-feminine little me… what was the point of going on? Seriously. What was the fucking point?
The closest I ever came to killing myself was at the end of my drinking, when I was scoping out the best place to end it all. I was working at a business 5 minutes from my home (for a sexual predator who literally salivated over “sexy” Black women who walked past his office windows)… and I would drive home for lunch most days. Because I could. There was a bend in the road that everybody went around too fast, and I was pretty sure that if I drifted into the oncoming lane during certain times of the day, I’d be killed on impact. Those were the days before airbags in cars, or regular seatbelt use. Oddly, I never thought about the other person I’d be hitting head-on. I didn’t care. I just wanted to end it all. To be done with everything. To stop the pain I was causing myself and others.
Because I believed it was all my fault. I was broken. There was no way out. So, I was going to do the world a favor and get myself out of the picture.
Fortunately, I quit drinking before I could see that through, and I got a lot of support from a 12-step group that focused my attention on my sobriety and getting my life together.
I wish I could say that I never thought about suicide again, but for 20+ years, it continued to be an issue with me. Until I hit menopause, SI was a regular occurrence, and it usually happened when I was in hormonal distress — just before starting my monthly cycle, when my body was completely out of whack and felt entirely at war with itself. As it turns out, one my ovaries was probably malformed and malfunctioning, which could have been why every other month, my life descended into a living hell for no discernable reason.
My SI also tended to coincide with the holidays, when I was in overload, anyway, what with the seasonal changes, the disruption to my regular routines, all the bright, flashing lights, the increased social demands, and extended visits to family — replete with opportunities to open up all those old seeping emotional wounds. Combine a holiday family visit with PMS (that sounds so inoculous, doesn’t it?), and you’d better believe I wanted to kill myself. Just end it. Put a cork back in the bottle and keep the evil genie from ever coming back out again.
I can’t even count the hours I spent howling in despair and anguish I experienced simply living life. I scared the shit out of my partner, that’s for sure. And it happened a number of times a year — usually around the holidays.
Looking back now, I have perspective. And I have understanding about why SI was such an issue for me. I understand the despair that drove me to want it all to End Right Now as a failure of pattern detection. I couldn’t see beyond my immediate excruciating pain, and I certainly couldn’t detect any possible alternatives to what I was experiencing on a regular basis:
Pressure to Perform
Recurrent failure to perform
Feeling broken, rejected, useless
Not being able to do what I truly loved often enough to make life worth living
Impossible expectations to conform and live up to society’s expectation of how and what and who I “should” be
Exhaustion — bone-crushing exhaustion that never quit
Chronic pain that would subside but never went away 100%
Brain fog, confusion, etc. from my impacted and constantly beset state
There just didn’t seem to be any alternative. There was no way out. Nobody was giving me a break. Nobody was just letting me be. It was just one incessant series of demands after another, and I wasn’t keeping up. I wasn’t keeping pace. I was drowning in all the things I was doing wrong, and there was little to no relief in sight.
When I hear people talking about how extraordinary it is, that so many Autistic people take an early route out of life, I have to wonder why. Do they not get how hostile the world is to us? Do they not see how futile it all looks to so many of us? Do they not know how impossible it all is for some of us to sustain and maintain the semblances of “normalcy” that are required, these days? What’s so wonderful about this world, so filled with anger and hatred and hostility and — worst of all — lack of logic and reason, that’s so determined to crush us under its boot heel, that we’d go to great lengths to stick around?
Seriously, who thinks the standard-issue world is such a great place? Yes, there are some really wonderful things about this planet, but the way things are set up, all of it is slated for complete and total destruction, while the vast majority of people just sit around and wait for it to happen — or buy popcorn and find a seat to watch the show. It’s an embarrassment, that so many people think this human-created world is the pinnacle of human achievement, and most days I know for sure that I really don’t belong here.
So, what keeps me around? The fact that I can make my own life exactly the way I want it to be. I’ve worked overtime for years, to get to a position where I can have a life that makes room for me. I’ve had to funnel a vast amount of energy into it, and it takes time and great spirit to defend it and keep it going. But doing that gives me a focus for all the anguish and sadness that’s a constant undercurrent in my life. It fuels me and motivates me to do more, to be more, to create more — and to do that in the ways I see fit, regardless of what anybody else thinks.
But most of all, the thing that keeps me from ending it all is curiosity. I’m too inquisitive and imaginative, to believe that Things As They Are is how Things Will Always Be. That’s highly unlikely. And I’m curious to find out what will happen, and what I can take from it.
Also, I know how fickle I am.
Seriously, if I were to throw myself off a bridge, there’s a 98.7452% chance I’d change my mind on the way down and kill myself against my actual will. I came close to doing that, about 5 years ago — I had the spot picked out and I was getting ready to get in the car and drive out to a bridge in western Massachusetts and jump. But then I thought about what would probably happen. I’d make the hour-long drive, and I’d get up on the cement span, and as I fell, I’d remember something that made my life worth living, but by then it would be too late to do anything about it, and I’d miss out on the rest of the experiences I could have had.
So, I didn’t get in the car and drive out to the bridge. I stayed at home and wished I were dead, instead.
I’m still here, as you can tell.
And I have more to say about this. But right now, I need to go to work and find out what’s going to happen nowin that swirling mess of neurotypical mediocrity.
I’ve been wanting to write something about Autism and suicide for a long time, but I’ve been reluctant to do so.
Everything I say can be incredibly triggering (not to mention convincing about why it’s preferable not to live, sometimes), and I don’t want it on my conscience that I convinced anyone to end their life sooner.
Or that I somehow encouraged / validated that choice.
Everybody has their reasons, of course, and I can’t take the blame for others’ choices. But I’m sure you know what I mean.
I could password-protect it and only let people in who choose to see it. But there’s now way I’ll put it out there in plain sight.
It’s much too grim. At least I think so.
That being said, what do you think? Should I write something about it? I’ve got a lot to say, and a lot of personal experience w/ dancing w/ this subject. And it might help people understand.
I just don’t want to be irresponsible with it and make the world any worse of a place than it already is.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.
Update 16. May 2018 – I did write a post about it. And I’ll be writing more. You can read it here:
I’m putting “career path” in quotes, because I can’t say that I’ve ever really had a career path. More like, looked for opportunities and followed them where I found them.
In setting myself up for success, I’ve used temping / contract positions regularly to get a foothold in certain industries. I also used it to get free training, as well as support myself during times when I could not — NOT — handle working 40 hours a week, for 50 weeks out of the year. Whenever I’ve needed to take a break from the political nightmares of full-time employment (and for this Autist, they are nightmares), I’ve just bailed out of the full-time scene and switched over to contract / temp work.
Irononically, it tends to pay better — see the spike in 2014 when I was making significantly more than in the years before and after? That’s when I was on a contract with a company just 10 minutes from my home. So, why did I leave? Because I couldn’t stand those people. They treated me like an idiot, even though I was more experienced than they. The whole environment was deeply infantilizing, and they acted like they were doing me a favor, tolerating my presence. Oh, please. More like the other way around. The money wasn’t worth it. Plus, I was approached by someone with a really great position — less money, but more influence, and the chance to really feel like my work was making a difference in the world.
This is how it’s always been with me. I haven’t deliberately set out to get certain kinds of jobs — they’ve just come to me, actually. It might sound weird, but here’s the thing:
If you set yourself up with all the right external props to cue employers about your intrinsic value, you can “engineer” your work life to sync up with good opportunities. And they will actually come to you.
In other words, if you make sure you have all the right pieces in place, the industry of your choice will make room for you. It’s not magic. It’s science. And art. And doing a handful of things in a considered, deliberate way.
Sound unlikely? That’s been my experience for 20+ years, and it keeps happening. And this, while I’ve been without a college/university degree, I’ve been chronically ill, absolutely wiped out by the demands of the neurotypical world on my Autistic self, and supporting a disabled spouse.
I haven’t had the time or energy to map out a “career path”. So, I’ve arranged to have it mapped out for me.
My system is basically a “career hack”, if you will. And it saves me considerable time and hassle — because I just don’t have the time or energy or even the confidence to come up with a career plan and expect it to work out. It just never has for me, so I’ve had to do things differently.
Oh, I’d intended to post the first part of my “insider’s guide to using temp / contract jobs to get ahead as an Autistic individual” here, but I’ve gone down a tangent…
Well, I’ll start posting that in a little bit. It needs some cleaning up, since I wrote it 12 years ago, and some things have changed, since then. Not a lot, but some.
Talk about an uneven developmental trajectory… Here’s my earnings history over the course of the past 32 years. Here are the jobs I’ve had:
Direct mail coordinator
Web dev / project mgr
Web dev / team lead
Web dev / team lead
Web dev / team lead
Web dev / team lead
Web dev / project mgr
Web dev / project mgr
Web dev / project mgr
Web dev / project mgr
And my earnings have changed significantly, over time – particularly when my health took a turn for the worse, or I picked up new skills that matched the market demand.
I’ve never had a “career path” in the sense that others do. I’ve basically just gone where the opportunity is, where the need is, where the money is… and what I know for sure I can do. People say that I’m too hesitant about taking on work I’m not 100% sure I can do, but frankly, the stress of not being 100% proficient at something actually erodes my capabilities, so it ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. Plus, working as a woman in STEM, there’s a lot more pressure on me, as it is, so that also factors in.
I do want to write more about this later, but given how flat-out busy my life has been, of late, I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get to it. I do feel, though, like I’m approaching another point where I need to take a lower-paying job to take some of the pressure off and give myself a chance to catch up. I’ve been saving money really aggressively, and I have over 6 months worth of living expenses saved up. So, if I do change jobs and make less, I can offset the “hit” I take. For a while, anyway.
Oh, lord… I’ve been caught up in that high-tech mythos that Everything You Do Has To Have Global Impact, or it just doesn’t matter.
Huh. How ’bout that. I’ve been thinking a lot about how my life has unfolded, and I’ve been feeling badly that I haven’t Made A Global Impact, the way we’re expected to do, these days.
No matter what we do, these days, we’re supposed to Go Big. Especially online.
We’re supposed to “generate content” that gets lots of views / likes / responses.
We’re supposed to “engage” on a global scale, and that’s allegedly going to change things.
We’re supposed to Go Big Or Go Home. And anyone who doesn’t aim for BIGness is a liability and a drain.
Huh. How ’bout that.
As it turns out, even after being in high tech for 25+ years, I’m deeply skeptical of the whole promise around dramatic, lasting global change. If anything, I’ve become more skeptical. Yes, it’s possible to have a global impact. And yes, it is possible to really make a huge difference in the world. But will it last? Will it have the intended results? It’s still too early to tell.
Plus, the way we measure what does and doesn’t matter seems pretty much based on numbers linked to volume (views, likes, sales, etc), and that doesn’t actually show us what kind of impact we really have in the world, qualitatively speaking.
See, the difference I want to make is about quality, not quantity. I don’t want to have to worry about volume of likes and views and shares and whatnot. I just want to do what I do, and have it make a difference. I want to do something constructive, every single day, and see the tangible results of my work.
I also need to provide for myself, pay the bills, and keep the money coming in, so I don’t end up living on the street (that happened to me years ago, and once is enough for one lifetime, thank you very much). That’s been a huge concern of mine. But I just ran the numbers for the trajectory of my financial situation, and it looks like I’m actually going to be in good shape, provided things stay relatively stable over the long-term. The big opportunity for me are the years between when my house is paid off in another 12 years, and when I am slated to retire, another 10 years after that. Once my mortgage is taken care of, I’ll be able to save most of what I earn, and I’ll be doing that pretty aggressively.
Of course, all this is assuming that I continue to be employed… that I can keep earning at an acceptable rate. But honestly, since I’m a little on the low end, earnings-wise, I’m a bargain. So, I get to keep my job. It’s easy to price yourself out of the global job market. Don’t want to do that.
But it’s not just about money. One of the key ingredients of my ongoing employment is making a substantive, positive difference in people’s lives on a daily basis. If I contribute to the well-being and success of people I work with on the job, they have incentive to keep me around, and even advocate for me. Making a constructive difference means I’m contributing. It means I’m integrated into the ecosystem I’m operating in. It means there’s a reason for people to keep me on.
And this is where being Autistic keeps things interesting. See, I didn’t even realize all this until somewhat recently. I’ve been in the everyday workforce for 30 years, and it took me this long to comprehend all this. I mean, intellectually, I understood the principle of making yourself useful and contributing. But it hadn’t really sunk in about how my day job fits that focus in my overall life. I strive to help people I meet outside of work — but helping people on the job? That was of no interest to me, quite frankly. If anything, other people were an intrusion and a drain to be avoided at all costs.
For so many years, I treated my day job as just that — a job, a way to make money to fund the things outside it — the things that really mattered. I wasn’t interested in getting invested in the relationships with people I worked with, because I just didn’t see myself as part of it all. I was too cut off, too separate, too intent on protecting myself and making sure I had what I needed, regardless of how that impacted others.
But now, I realize that what really matters to me, is living in a comprehensively connected way, finding paths to contribute and be a part of something bigger than myself. While I’ve never before considered my job worthy of full investment, now that’s totally changed. It was partly because I was so busy managing my Autistic issues without having a full understanding and appreciation of them, how they impacted me, what impacted them, and so forth. I didn’t have a whole lot of bandwidth to get personally invested in what was going on — especially because so many jobs I’ve had involved long commutes and really tough environments which were loud and open and constantly challenging.
Now, however, I have a job where I can work from home whenever I need to. That means I can often take a nap when I need one. And I get a break from the busy-ness at the office. I don’t have to drive in rush hour traffic. I don’t have to constantly make eye contact and figure out social interactions. I can relax… Even lie down, if I need to, while I read and answer emails on my mobile phone.
And that makes all the difference.
I can take care of myself. And I can take care of my work, my relationships, my future. The thing, too, is that I notice that others I work with are doing better when aren’t stuck in the office 5 days a week, as well. I find that people who work really effectively in a remote environment can be more mature, better at managing their time, more motivated, and more adept at building and sustaining relationships than people who have to be at an office to do their jobs. So, the types of people I’m working with are also more compatible with me.
It’s a win. For everyone. Especially me.
So, while I’ve been feeling a little “slacker-like” for not having turned the world upside-down with my dramatic innovations and whatnot, I’m finding that I’m much happier just tooling right along, taking care of myself, taking care of my relationships, taking the pressure off. Just living my life… Doing something meaningful each day, wherever I am, whatever I’m doing.
It all matters. It’s all connected. And after so many years of stress and strain, I’m finally really getting it on a deeply felt level.
And that’s a good thing. A very good thing, indeed.
Hi I'm Mike. I am 27 and I was diagnosed with "high functioning" autism as an adult at age 25. I live for music, nature, and technology. I'm still trying to figure out what it means to be autistic. This is my story.