Friday, August 22, 2014

Independent-Living Prospects

I am fed up with people asking me what I do for a living. 

It's one of those questions that begs the question. That is, people assume that because I am thirty-three I must have a career. But I don't have a career. It's just one of those aspects of life that is taken for granted. When people ask me what I do for a living, they are making a lot of unconscious assumptions: They see that I am a white, middle-class American. Most likely my life was uneventful. I finished high school, went to college, got a job that I have been working at for ten years or so and, possibly married with kids, am living happily ever after (fortunately I am living in an era when, and a city where, marriage and children isn't one of these assumptions). When they make these assumptions, they assume, too, that I am neurotypical, even if they have never heard of the word. These are some of the many assumptions that people make about every other human being on earth, and only recently have they been brought into question. 

People who know me and know my situation tell me to "think positive". It's easy for them to say, of course, since they are neurotypical people who are not stuck with the sometimes-torture chamber that is my brain. They haven't gone to school, constantly been between jobs-- dead-end jobs, that is-- realized that their degree was useless, gone back to school, gotten a Master's Degree, taken two jobs related to that degree and been fired from both of them because of issues related to interpersonal skills, and then realized that that they have yet another useless degree. They do not understand the turmoil I have had to live with practically from the dawn of my consciousness. And their suggestions to alleviate some of the problems related to living independently actually do not work for me. They take it for granted that these suggestions would work because they would work for most people. It doesn't even occur to them that there are some people for whom these suggestions would be harmful.

What suggestions are we talking about exactly? For example: 

1. Until you can get a permanent job (yes, like WHEN?), why not take a job in retail? At least it's some money!

No. I can't take a job in retail. I was just fired from two jobs that involved working with the public. I can only put a fake smile on my face and pretend to be interested in everybody's personal lives before the holes in my facade start to form. People can see right through that. Besides, it's too emotionally exhausting for me. This isn't a matter of "won't", but a matter of "can't", in the same way a person with an IQ of 75 can't do calculus. This is just not who I am, and I have tried it.

Just for the record, I do have a temporary work at home job. It does not pay well, however.

2. Get a roommate so that you can save money. It will also be less of a burden on your parents.

Yes, it's true. My parents are helping me to live in Boston, just as they helped me to live in New York City. My mother is retiring next year, so unless I find something within the coming year, I have to move back to Pennsylvania to live with my parents. In the meantime, I am downgrading from a one-bedroom to a studio apartment (fortunately in the same building) on August 31st. I sucked it up and got rid of a lot of books and some furniture so I can comfortably fit in this smaller unit. My one-bedroom is $1425 a month and is set to go up to $1500 this fall. The studio is $1200 a month. I actually did try getting a roommate. I met a fellow Aspie over the Internet. We hit it off immediately and started making arrangements to get a place together. But he and I got into an argument over something really stupid and realized it wouldn't work out. Before meeting him I met a few other potential roommates. None of them picked me. I am sure I would be difficult to live with. I have my own habits, my own way of doing things. This is very typical of people with Asperger's. Plus, when I was in college, nearly all my roommate situations ended in disaster. Even my parents agreed that they would rather sacrifice some extra money to help me rent a studio than hope that a roommate situation to which they wouldn't have to contribute financially would work out.

3. Move to a suburb. It's so much cheaper!

Yes, it is not only cheaper but also a lot less diverse and accepting. In places like New York and Boston, I feel comfortable and make friends with ease. It is hard to meet people as accepting and open-minded in a suburb, even in comparatively liberal suburbs such as the one in Pennsylvania where my parents live. Plus, think about this: If some employers in a city are uncomfortable with my personality, it would probably be much worse in a suburb. My job prospects would likely not be any better, despite the lack of competition. 

4. Why don't you try [insert job prospect here]?

I already have. I have been down so many paths that it is almost laughable when others make suggestions, thinking I actually haven't tried them. That's another assumption: People assuming that I don't have a career because there are avenues that I haven't thought to explore.

In short, I am beyond frustrated. I live in Massachusetts, a state that famously has the most resources in the U.S. for adults with Asperger's Syndrome, so that is making me hopeful that they can assist me with finding a job. I am, however, not optimistic. I like to think that my blog posts give people hope, but sometimes I have to be honest: Life with Asperger's often does not turn out the way it did for Temple Grandin, for example. Most people with Asperger's-- women especially-- struggle to make ends meet in adulthood. I've heard of brilliant people working as janitors or doing some work that doesn't reflect their intelligence because they can't get through a job interview. Or they get through the interview and can't hold the job because of conflicts with coworkers and their bosses. Right now I feel that my only hope is to get my writing published (I have already finished a book that I am shopping around and am currently working on another). But even most best-selling authors have to have day jobs to make ends meet.

To those of you who brandish big smiles while telling me to "think positive", please walk around in my shoes for a day. 

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