Countering #suicide and #Autism with #Autistic Career Hacks

woman walking down a long road 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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Short-Form, Long-Shot – When the usual path to literary greatness is… cut off

Minoan bull leaping - three humans jumping over a charging bullI’m dictating this as I drive in my car, on my way to buy supper that I have to cook at 7:03 PM.

I stayed in bed too long after my afternoon nap between 4:15 and 6 o’clock, because frankly lying in bed under heavy warm covers, reading through Twitter, finding what’s there, discovering which voices are saying what about their lives, is about the most pleasurable thing in my life, these days.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty – and I say plenty – of enjoyable experiences in my day. My life is never without them. But lying in bed, idling away, my mind afire with ideas from people who think on purpose, in a warm, weighted space is about the closest thing to bliss I can imagine, these days.

And reading the words of others, I think about my own voice. I think about my people. I think about all the Autistics I know and have known, and I think about what we bring to the world. Everybody knows what we bring, but very few people know that we’re the ones who bring it. And they certainly don’t know how we do it or why we do it. There’s no point in trying to explain. They think they have this Autism business all figured out. Some assholes with influence and power have decided it for society at large, and who are any of us to question that?

And I think about this writing. “Blogging” they call it. Makes it sound so simple. Makes it sounds so trite. An exercising in ego. Just a few words barfed out on the screen, in the hope that anybody’s listening… regardless of whether anybody cares.   Ego-casting. Vanity. That’s how it’s often been seen, and sometimes we earn that reputation.

But still… it seems unfair.

The blogging medium has been mine for almost as long as it’s existed. I knew, right away, how powerful it could be. I’ve turned friends on to the practice, and some of them have become extremely successful at it, gaining followers and fans, professional connections and book contracts and staff positions as writers with publishers like Conde Nast. Pretty sweet. It’s way more than I’ve ever been able to accomplish, but I like to think my input made a difference.

Most of the time, that’s about the best I can ask for, anyway.

As for me, I just don’t have the energy to do much more than I already do. I don’t have a working partner to support me as I pursue my dreams. I don’t have a life that lets me spend hours and hours on refining my craft. And I certainly don’t have hours and hours to spend reading the words of others, as much as I’d like to. People put down the short-form reading and writing that abounds these days, but it seems to me that some of us can’t afford anything other than short-form.

We don’t have the time, we don’t have the money that makes that sort of leisure possible. You know — the stuff the people used to just take for granted – cozying up with a long book on grey, rainy day, sinking into it for hours at a time, becoming one with the material, being one with the story, feeling as though the author has crept into your cells and reconfigured them from the inside out. Who has the luxury of that, these days?

If you’re not chronically ill and trying to hold down a full-time job while you support your disabled, dependent spouse and keep your house in order, yeah, I suppose you would. If you don’t end up exhausting yourself jumping the horns of the 9-to-5 bulls in the Minoan circus ring of modern day society, yeah I suppose you might. If you don’t completely destroy any semblance of functionality in the course of just getting by on neurotypical terms, day in and day out, yeah I can see how that would be possible.

But me? Nope. That’s not the world I live in. And that’s not what’s possible.

So, I blog. I read blogs. I follow links on Twitter and I see what’s there, preferably something that’s a little bit longer than a 20 minute read, but not too much longer, because I have stuff to do. And I have to get it done, because nobody else is going to do it for me. I really don’t feel like dying.

It’s really easy to die when you’re Autistic. It’s really easy to just lose it. I lose it regularly. I usually can get it back, but it comes at a cost. It takes hours, days, weeks, sometimes months to get it back.  Yeah, I can totally right myself again. But not like other people think I can. And that like I wish I could.

It’s taken me, what — 35 years? — to figure it out. I’ll say 35 because it sounds nice and it digits out to eight, which is the signifier of eternity for me, which is what pretty much everything feels like to be, half the time. Eternity. Infinity. Endless possibilities, with no end in sight… fortunately… unfortunately.

And as I pull into the supermarket parking lot, I’m happy. Because it only took me 13 minutes to get here, there was no traffic, the light rain is keeping people off the roads but not making my life that much more difficult to navigate, and I know exactly when I’m getting when I walk in the grocery store. I wish to God I had the time and the energy to write more.

But I don’t.

So I won’t.

#Autism and #suicide – what keeps me alive

bookshelf packed with books

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, very active 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.

A very loud sound, indeed.

#Autism and #suicide / suicidal ideation… for starters

Trigger Warning

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.

Camouflaging may be an autism specific marker for suicidality.
Camouflaging may be an autism specific marker for suicidality. Pretending to be neurotypical may literally be killing us. Wow. #INSAR2018  From Sara Luterman  ‏@slooterman

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
  • Isolation
  • 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 now in that swirling mess of neurotypical mediocrity.

Figuring out this work flow thing… eventually.

Picture of newspaper with crossword puzzle and glasses and pen lying on top
I need to discern patterns to live effectively. Sometimes it feels like it takes forever to figure it out.

Ha! I’ve finally figured a few things out. I’m a “late bloomer” in many ways, developing skills at a different rate than other non-autistic people — social skills, logistics skills, and just figuring things out at a different rate than other people seem to expect.

The crux of it all is that I’m a heavy-duty pattern-thinker, and it takes me a while to identify patterns — including exceptions to rules. It takes me years of observation, sometimes, before I get to a place where I’m feeling expert enough to predict what’s going to happen… where my anxiety is at a manageable level… and I can just relax and settle into my life.

I’m currently at this place, in terms of my day-to-day responsibilities. I’ve got a full roster of activities at work, and I’ve finally figured out that I don’t have to attend every single meeting on my calendar. Yeah, I know — you’d think that I’d get that, by now, but I can be extremely literal and rigid when it comes to my obligations. And frankly, my determination to keep every single commitment I make has worked in my favor many times, over the years.

But as I look at my calendar today, after 2 days off work and hundreds of emails to catch up on, I realize that some of that stuff is optional.

Plus — major development — I realize now that I don’t need to be fully engaged in every single meeting I attend. Many meetings I attend cover a variety of topics, and I don’t have anything to say about some of those topics. Or they have nothing to do with me. Or they’re informational only. So, I can actually be doing other things at those moments. Like catch up on emails. Like browse through Twitter. Like do a little web searching for subjects that fascinate me. Walk around. Get something to eat or drink. I’ve perfected my technique for calling in to conference calls with my mobile phone, while doing conferencing on my laptop.

Balance is good.

So is realizing that I don’t have to be 100% ON, 100% of the time.

That’s just exhausting, and I’m tired of being so exhausted every single waking moment.

Of course, this all takes time to work out. And sometimes I get so wiped out by the situation that I can’t continue long enough to really figure it out. I have to change jobs, because I’m in danger of failing so catastrophically that my “career” (as it were) could be derailed and I’d never be able to hold my head up in the field where I work. Those times are the worst — a horrible in-between place where I’ve gotten far enough down a path to partly understand my situation, but I’m not far enough to  really get it. And being so depleted and disoriented, that I’m incoherent in job interviews.

Ugh. So horrible.

But every now and then, like now, I get to a point where things “click” into place, and I actually have the sense that I understand my situation and I “have a feel” for it. And parts of the whole become second-nature to me.

Like right now… as I blog while half-listening to a conference call that doesn’t have 100% to do with me and my work.

Should I write a post about #Autism and #suicide / suicidal ideation?

storm over sea

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.

Thanks.

Update 16. May 2018 – I did write a post about it. And I’ll be writing more. You can read it here:

My very #Autistic “career path”

30 years earnings historyI’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.

More to come…

 

My very #Autistic earnings trajectory

30 years earnings history

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:

Year Job
1987 Office temp
1988 Direct mail coordinator
1989 Legal Secretary
1990 Legal Temp
1991 Legal Temp
1992 Tech Writer
1993 Tech Writer
1994 Temp
1995 Staff Supervisor
1996 Staff Supervisor
1997 Web developer
1998 Web developer
1999 Web developer
2000 Web developer
2001 Web dev / project mgr
2002 Web dev / team lead
2003 Web dev / team lead
2004 Web dev / team lead
2005 Web dev / team lead
2006 Web developer
2007 Web developer
2008 Web developer
2009 Web developer
2010 Web dev / project mgr
2011 Web dev / project mgr
2012 Web dev / project mgr
2013 Web dev / project mgr
2014 Project manager
2015 Project manager
2016 Program manager
2017 Program manager
2018 Program manager

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.

That, and keeping expenses down…

Well, gotta run. Work awaits.

#Autistic Ninja-Level Disaffection

#AutisticNinja - You'll only see me If I let you
#AutisticNinja – You’ll only see me If I let you

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about how I do — and do not — fit into the world around me.

With every news cycle, every new revelation about what’s going on in the world, every new development at work (heaven help us), and every twist and turn that the world takes around me, I can’t help but think,

This has nothing to do with the things that matter most to me in my life.

And I have to say, it’s a weird feeling. To be so disenfranchised. All . The . Time. Almost as if I’m not even here. I know there are a lot of Autistic people who feel that way, too, so I’m not the only one. All the meanness, the pettiness, the fighting, the drama, the emotion-for-emotion’s sake… it’s all very tiring.

And I’ve really resented this for the longest time.

But you know what? I’m over it. I tasted the proverbial Kool-Aid, and I didn’t like the taste of it. Spat it out, in fact. I’ve been slogging along, over the years, trying to get myself to want to participate, to feel invested, to connect, to dig in and be one of the gang. But after all these years… seriously, what’s the point, anymore? I’ll do my job, I’ll pretend I’m totally into it(!), and I’ll make the best of a bad situation. But don’t expect me to buy in. Don’t expect me to believe. Expect me to perform. But sink my heart and soul into it?

Nah. Not anymore. They had their chance to win me over, and they failed. So, so badly.

This used to legitimately frighten me. I thought that if I didn’t “get onboard” (what? the Titanic?) and sign up with my soul, I wouldn’t survive. They’d cut me loose, force me out, and that would cost me my livelihood, my home… my life.

Now, though, I see how much I really do add to every venture I participate in. I’m a really valued team member, and I bring something useful to pretty much every interaction I have. I’m an asset. Because I make a point of being an asset. Even if it causes me discomfort, even a bit of pain, I make it my job to do my part. And it shows.

And I figure, if people want me around, they’ll have to put up with me just as I am — disaffected, disillusioned, doing the best I can (of course), but not particularly invested in everything going on. I mean, seriously, there’s so much stupidity running everything.

OMG! Have you done your TPS Reports lately?!

I just can’t work up any enthusiasm for that foolishness. At all. I’m just here for the paycheck.

And I’ll do what I damn’ well please, how I damn’ well please. Because my way is waaaaaay better than anything the rest of these mediocre TPS-Report-filler-out-ers will come up with. And even the stuff I don’t know hands-down, I can — and do — learn in a matter of minutes. And they know it, too. They’re kind of in awe of me. And that’s fine. Let them be. It blinds them to my flaws, which is handy…

Anyway, it’s Sunday evening, and I had to work over the weekend, both Saturday and Sunday. Ugh. It wasn’t bad… just irritating. And I would rather have been doing things like work in my garden or go for along walk down the road. But no, had to be inside with my laptop for hours at a time. Cue the mournful violins 😉  I’m feeling sorry for myself, to be sure, and in the morning, I have to deal with my incredibly anxious boss who’s so busy “managing up” that he has no idea what any of us underlings are up to. Until he tells us to switch gears and work on something different.

Ah, me… Monday will come, and we will all suffer. Don’t care. It’s not a good use of my time to fritter away my valuable hours and life force fretting over the stupidities of others. I’ll take what good I can get from every situation:

  • A steady paycheck
  • Structured social interactions to meet my social needs in a predictable, formal way
  • A chance to get out of the house and see what else is out there
  • Maybe even a swim in the pool at the fitness center(?)

And I’ll disregard the rest, with my AutisticNinja style.

And other people take their cues from me. The funny thing is, even my non-autistic coworkers respect and admire my detachment. They have no idea how excruciatingly painful the whole deal is for me, and they’ll never know. I’m so under the radar with all this, and I’m so non-disclosing (I have enough to deal with, between chronic pain, a disabled spouse, a household to support, a nationally syndicated broadcast to get on the satellite each week, and an ever-increasing workload), the last thing I need is non-autistic people telling me, “Gosh! You don’t look autistic!” like it’s a complement. No thanks. I have no patience or energy for that. I’ll stay under the radar.

Just.

And I’ll set a fine example for all my coworkers who know in their heart-of-hearts that this is really all a bunch of crap, and we’ll take solace in each other’s company, sharing tidbits from our lives and commiserating about the sad turn of affairs that landed us in such a woe-begotten state.

Meh. Whatever. It’s a paycheck. It’s a job with a lot of glitz and glamour to it, as far as the rest of the world is concerned.

Right here, right now, I’m more focused on dinner.

It’s a lot more fun to think about than what tomorrow’s going to bring.

Thinking about this whole “Asperger and the Nazis” thing

In case you hadn’t noticed, a paper came out recently entitled Hans Asperger, National Socialism, and “race hygiene” in Nazi-era Vienna, and it’s been stirring things up in Autistic corners of the world. Apparently, Asperger’s role and involvement with Autistic children in Nazi-era Vienna was a lot less benevolent than a lot of people have supposed.

The news isn’t good, especially for those who have seen Asperger as an under-the-radar resister to genocidal fascists, a kind of light in the general darkness, whether it was WWII or the cluelessness that’s dominated discussions about Autism, lo, these many years. His descriptions of Autistic kids have been called out as perceptive, even appreciative, and his name has been associated with Autistic folks with a certain profile of abilities and support needs. But… he was allied with the Nazis.

The paper is open access, and you can either read it online or download a PDF. I skimmed through it yesterday. The text itself is over 30 pages, and then there are 10 pages of endnotes (which is fun for some of us – you know who you are 😉  It’s no small task to wade through paragraph after paragraph of carefully woven narrative, citations, references, and so forth, which go directly against the prevailing perception of the once-favored Herr Doktor.

Asperger never joined the Nazi party, apparently. But he did plenty to appear compliant. ‘Beginning in 1938, he took to signing his diagnostic reports with “Heil
Hitler”,’ and he described some of his partly-Jewish-descended patients as “Mischlings” (“mixed Jewish blood”, which was literally damning, for those times). This is just not good:

On 27 June 1941, 2 months before her third birthday,
Asperger examined a girl at his clinic named Herta
Schreiber (Fig. 6). The youngest of nine children, Herta
showed signs of disturbed mental and physical development
ever since she had fallen ill with encephalitis a few
months before. Asperger’s diagnostic report on Herta
reads as follows:

Severe personality disorder (post-encephalitic?): most
severe motoric retardation; erethic idiocy; seizures. At
home the child must be an unbearable burden to the
mother, who has to care for five healthy children.
Permanent placement at Spiegelgrund seems
absolutely necessary.95 (Fig. 7)

Herta was admitted to Spiegelgrund on 1 July 1941. On
8 August, Jekelius reported her to the Reich Committee
for the Scientific Registration of Serious Hereditary and
Congenital Illnesses, the secret organization behind child
“euthanasia.” In the form he sent to Berlin, Jekelius
pointed out that Herta had no chance of recovery but that
her condition would not curtail her life expectancy—an
unacceptable combination…

In the end, Asperger did have blood on his hands. As did everyone who actively cooperated with Nazis at that point in history.

Now, before you start thinking I’m an apologist for this sort of thing, rest assured, I’m not. I’m seriously reconsidering referring to myself as an Aspie, or talking about Aspergers Syndrome at all. I’ve never been 100% comfortable with referring to myself as having a “syndrome”, anyway. If I have a syndrome, then the rest of humanity does, too — and they’re far worse off (not to mention more dangerous and impaired) than I am, thank you very much.

Here’s the thing, though… So much of our completely justifiable outrage doesn’t account for how things were, back then. I often wonder why — why?! — any Jewish or otherwise non-Nazi doctor or professional would have wanted to stay and work in Vienna, in those days? It was their home… okay. They were settled there and had their roots there, and nobody was going to push them out. Okay. I understand that perspective. But if things are going south… or even smelling like they’re going to… why stick around?

I say this as someone who grew up in an environment that literally wanted to destroy me. As a woman, as an intelligent person, as a non-binary queer. I’ve moved a number of times in my life, and for the past 23 years, I’ve been settled in a place where I can peacefully exist without constantly looking over my shoulder or worrying about being attacked or losing my job or being pushed aside, just because I’m different.

I also lived in southern West Germany from 1985-87, in an area that had a lot of children of hardcore Nazis. Even some surviving Nazis. Around midnight in the pubs, when the televisions signed off for the day and the national anthem played, all the old-timers who were out late drinking would be mournfully silent during the song, then their stories would turn to the “old days”, for example, when they worked in concentration camps. Hmm. Something about sitting a few tables away from someone who might have had a day job at Auschwitz … well, it makes you think.

It still makes me ill, to recollect.

And what I remember so clearly from those days in rich, well-appointed, idyllic West Germany was how hush-hush everything “unpleasant’ was, and how incredibly screwed up a lot of people were. Heavy, heavy drinking. Domestic violence. Just a ton of dysfunction simmering under the surface of what was an otherwise prosperous and well-run society — the most prosperous in Europe, at the time. It was seriously messed up. If everything was that twisted under excellent economic conditions in times of peace, I can’t even begin to imagine how screwed up it was back in Asperger’s time.

Now, I wasn’t a professional in Vienna in the 1930s, so I can’t know for sure what I personally would have done at that time, but in my own life I’ve relocated over less dangerous circumstances, and I seriously doubt I would have stuck around. Maybe it’s because of the lessons from that relatively recent history that I’m so willing to relocate — I’ve learned what happens when you “stick it out” even though things are clearly developing against you. In any case, I’m pretty sure I would have booked passage and gotten the hell out of Europe, if I’d had the chance. Hell, even if I hadn’t had a chance, I would have done my best to get out of there. Of course, that wasn’t always possible, especially if you were Jewish, but Asperger wasn’t Jewish. He probably would have had far fewer barriers to leaving. He had more of a choice than most. He chose to stay.

With this in mind, my attitude has always been that Dr. Asperger did a deal with those devils. In fact, I feel like pretty much anyone who stayed behind and continued to be installed in their position in Nazi-occupied areas, had to collaborate at least a little bit, to keep practicing their profession. Think… Vichy France. And a little bit of collaboration could morph into a lot without even realizing it. It’s not hard, under those conditions, to get swept in, even if you are trying to find a balance. The vice was so tight, the control was so pervasive, and everyone and everything was so scrutinized by the Nazis’ machine, that I firmly believe there was no way anybody could have practiced professionally — especially medicine — without furthering the Nazi agenda to some extent.

There were some Schindlers in the crowd, of course, but the vast majority were not… making increasing concessions as the years wore on, to stay in the game, till the pendulum of history swung back around and they could get back to their non-Nazi-fied lives.

Does this vindicate Asperger or any of his other contemporaries who went along (er, like thousands upon thousands upon thousands of everyday people), hoping the bad dream would finally pass? Not even close. But it does put things in perspective.

And whenever we look at history, I feel we must view it in light of how things were, back then. Not how they are (or should be) now. That’s extremely hard, these days, because the world we live in (and lots of young people have grown up in) is so very, very different from how things were in 1930s Vienna. Or the 40s. Or the 50s, for that matter. Things that used to really suck have been turned into consumer commodities, with the rough edges buffed off to make them more saleable. The 1950s have morphed into the “mid-century” with stylish furniture and television shows (e.g., Mad Men) extolling that “simpler time”. But some of us still remember just how completely screwed up that time was, with women not being allowed to have their own credit cards without their husband’s approval, and homosexuality being a jailable offense. The 1960s have been cast in a counter-culture light, but for many people they were just an extension of the oppressive 1950s, with the Vietnam  War taking place of the Korean Conflict. I know my own upbringing in the latter half of the 60s was every bit as oppressive, sexist, classist and exploitive as the 1950s were for others. We look back through the lens provided by a market economy that has everything to gain from us reveling in the good, while setting aside the bad.

The whole 20th century was a bit of a sh*tshow, as far as I’m concerned. And yet, it was an improvement on the 19th. Indoor plumbing. Electricity. Internet. Every generation has its disgraces that it can never get free of. And when we lose sight of that, we lose the ability to think critically and assimilate the lessons of the past.

So, no, Asperger has never had a “get out of jail free card” from me. I’ve always known he was culpable. Especially for the stuff that wasn’t documented.

Plus, beyond the times he lived in, he wasn’t the only medical / psychiatric professional whose practices were suspect. Let’s not forget how young the psychological field is. It’s been around for just over 100 years. Not a long time, really, and in many ways, it’s still in its infancy (despite what the Psy.D’s of the world would have us believe.) Especially with regard to Autism, pretty much most medical professionals have been barbaric / sadistic in their treatment of people like me… And many still are. It’s not so different from the treatment of queers when I was growing up was. If you were a homo, you could get shipped off to a psychiatric facility, given the early version (ugh) of shock treatment, be beaten, killed, lose your job and your home… you name it. And there was nothing you could say about it, because those were the norms of the day. If you were really that different, that’s what you could reasonably expect.

I’m not saying it was right. I’m saying that’s how it was. And it was even worse in prior decades and centuries. When we lose sight of that miserable fact, we stop being able to have a rational conversation about Asperger, Autism, difference, and human nature in general.

So, no, the whole “Asperger was a Nazi collaborator” trope hasn’t ruined my day / week / month / year / life. I’ve always figured his record was far more besmirched than anyone guessed. Just the fact that he was able to keep practicing medicine after the Anschluss, and throughout the reign of the Nazis, always seemed clear evidence that he was compliant in ways that killed off people like me. We just didn’t have documented proof, till recently.

To which I say, “Meh. So what else is new?” People have been trying to destroy me, my entire life. They haven’t succeeded. Yet. They will keep trying. I don’t take it personally. I see them for what they are, and I act accordingly. I live my life — in places where I can live safely. I avoid people who wish me harm, and I try not to give them my money. I don’t take their sh*t, but I know my life force is worth more than hassling with people like that. I have things to do. I have another world to create. Asperger being ID’ed as a Nazi accomplice doesn’t make his work any less useful — for the good it’s actually done. It just makes our understanding of him — and the human species — a little more complete.