I’m on the record at the Vocational Rehab center for having PTSD, but the majority of what prevents me from working comes from being autistic.
Specifically, the discrimination that comes with it. The complete lack of understanding or trust in the autistic experience leaves my support infinitely baffled about how to help me.
A Conversation with a Counselor
My last visit to Voc Rehab demonstrates this phenomenon perfectly.
I tell my counselor that showing up and doing the work has never been enough for me. Then she suggests my time might be best spent at home working on myself some more… as if I am the problem. As if trying and trying and still managing to disappoint others is a lack of accountability on my end.
I say perfectionism is killing me, that masking is the process of “working on” yourself until you don’t even know who you are. She says she agrees that I’m an over-thinker. Then, she suggests I work on myself some more.
I tell her I am too isolated and need social support. She says, “Walk to the library.”
I tell her about the groups I’ve joined, the drawing class I took, the jobs I’ve tried, the employers, acquaintances, friends, and family who either left or invited me to leave. She expresses skepticism and suggests that we close my case so I can double down on that personal growth.
I want to scream, “But it’s happening right now! You are literally doing what I’m describing.”
Instead, I try to explain that my impairment is social navigation. She suggests I sit in on a workshop to learn interview skills.
I tell her this is masking and it will lead to me setting an expectation I can’t maintain. It’ll lead to more of me showing up and doing my best only to disappoint and be asked to leave.
She asks me why I feel so strongly that I need to work.
I tell her that I’m bored, that I want to feel fulfilled. I want to provide my own financial stability and help my family.
She floats that I could be happy existing without health insurance, as if not having access to healthcare isn’t a big deal. As if not being able to meet my family’s basic needs now doesn’t translate to bigger issues– like my son’s future or a retirement plan. What if a problem comes up with the house?
She says that self-employment won’t work for me, and I’m utterly baffled. After all these meetings, she doesn’t seem to know me at all.
Self employment has literally been the only way I have managed to get what I have. I remind her about the business I ran for six years. It was a “crafting” business, so she smiles like I’m being cute. She tells me that I haven’t “figured out” self-employment yet.
But I’m not delusional. That business didn’t turn a big profit, for sure, but I learned every skill on my own. I had to teach myself.
My education is incomplete, but I’ve figured out enough that it counts. What I have done up to this point matters, dammit. It matters.
It got me the small apartment that helps my income stabilize a little and my first new car in 10 years. It got me to the point where I’m paying on debt instead of acquiring it, mostly.
And when my arms were too injured to keep designing patterns, I needed a new gig. That’s been my focus for the last two years. I’ve been showing up.
It’s just that my value hinges on having people skills.
I don’t always have people skills.
I’m impulsive and indecisive. I have executive dysfunction. Maybe ADHD.
I can’t have a full time job or a boss, because self care is a major commitment for me.
Also, I don’t let people tell me what to do anymore. That privilege has been revoked.
While ableism is certainly part of what fuels my drive, so is the desire for peace and comfort. Treading water isn’t the same as being stable. There’s no way to control the waves that inevitably come.
No matter how many mistakes I make, I don’t give up. I deserve to feel purposeful.
Social functioning is my greatest impairment, and all I hear is that personal growth is the answer. There is no one who can help me. My requests for support aren’t reasonable.
My needs are imaginary.
I am unemployable to the point where even I shouldn’t hire me.
It’s enraging. I’m there, time after time, doing my very best and I leave with discouragement and despair. My automatic thoughts fill with suicidal ideation. I start having heart palpitations. The fruits of my labor.
I go home and talk myself up like, “No! You’re a bad ass, a Queen. You can do this on your own.” I can’t. No one can. Most people aren’t even being asked to.
I vow to set up a bullet journal to help me organize some goals. “Let’s get to work on something fun,” I say.
I go to bed, braced to hold my head high among the naysayers. It’s time to outrun, “I know you, you can’t.” Again.
And in the morning, I am paralyzed with the notion that nothing I do will ever be good enough. Suddenly, I don’t have the energy to even start. I can’t think clearly or focus. Perfectionism has me.
It feels like it’s my fault.
To be continued…in Part 2.