Anxiety · Aspergers · Autism

Working on the Spectrum

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I’ve just read this tremendous post on autisticacademic about working – or more specifically in the case of the author, working yourself into the ground.

The post resonated with me in a number of ways, and I wonder how many of you reading this will also identify. This quote stood out:

“Autism is a disability.  It’s damn hard to have a job outside our own homes in a world that is not only not designed to accommodate our brains, but is often aggressively opposed to accommodating our brains.  I work from home because I cannot juggle the demands to do excellent work and to fake non-autism excellently.  I can do one at a time.  Both at a time almost killed me.  Twice.  Before age 35.  If I want to work at all – and I do – I must do it in an environment whose inputs I can control”autisticacademic

I now work from home as a freelance writer, and have done since 2012. I’m used to being told how “lucky” I am to be able to do so and what a dream it must be to be my own boss. To an extent, yes it is, but it isn’t without it’s problems and to get to be in this position has taken a long time and a lot of ill health. But the quote above basically explains the reason I do it. I’m 36, I’ve been burnt out too many times already and now, if I want to earn a living, this is the only way I can do it.

After I graduated for the first time, 15 years ago I held down two jobs. One as a part time librarian and the other full time as an admin assistant in local government. This involved me being in and around people 6 days a week, with one day to recharge. I couldn’t understand at the time, why other people worked 6 days a week, took 1 day off and were able to function normally, when I couldn’t.

I moved around employment a lot. I always kept my library job, but swapped between admin jobs in local government. Never really settling, and having to take lots of time off  – because I was always burnt out and unable to cope with the demands of both doing my work, and essentially being social all the time – and I count having to interact with colleagues and use the telephone as being social.

Work nights out and social occasions were simply unachieveable for me and I always felt I was making excuses for not being able to go (well, essentially I was). There’d always be something coming up – a family get together (when there wasn’t), an unexpected migraine etc that would prevent me from participating.

In truth, sitting in pubs, restaurants and cafes was, on its own, simply too much to bear, without the added hassle of having to be social and talk to people too. If I ever did manage it, I’d be so wrung out after an hour, it would take me two days to recover.

I trained to become a teacher in 2004 – and although I passed and graduated in 2006, I never went back to teaching. I looked around at all the other people in my year, on the course and wondered how they were sailing through it, whilst I was physically and mentally exhausted after two hours teaching a relatively small class of students. I remember organising my whole week round my one teaching day, so that I could have a day off either side just to recover. At the time, I *knew* inherently this was not how it should be, but hadn’t a clue how to address the feelings I had.

There followed a long-ish period of unemployment – and roughly 4 years on sickness benefit, which were hell on earth. Let no-one EVER tell you that being on benefits in this country is an easy ride. IT IS NOT. I was made to feel like a failure, a fraud and a thief for claiming a paltry £26 a week in Incapacity Benefit. Attending the work capability assessments was demeaning and degrading. We were treated little better than cattle.

In the end, I had to explore other options – and look into working from home in order to make a living. I started off small, with a part time job audio-typing and worked my way into freelance blogging after a lucky break with a content mill – the money and standards were bad, BUT I was earning £80 a week and that was a whole lot better than nothing.

4 years on and I’m writing full time. The money (at the moment) has enabled me to find a home to rent and a place to live on my own (I’ll explore autism and relationships in another post). Work is up and down, and managing my finances is tricky, but I’ve saved and planned hard so that I can support myself for a little while if the work totally dries up. I have to talk to people on a daily basis, usually on the phone or on Skype. It takes a lot out of me and one of the worst aspects of this work is the inability to turn projects down, so you can end up totally overwhelmed and unable to plan anything properly. But, on the plus side – if I am having a down.anxious day, I know that I don’t have to commute out anywhere and I can just sit quietly to work if need be.

The chances of me ever being able to leave home to go out to work are rarer than rocking-horse shit now. Whatever it takes, I have to cling on to my foothold of freelance work – it has its pitfalls and its down sides, but for me – there’s no other option.