my first ever job was a nightmare

I secured my first job at age nineteen. My parents were so proud of me and I’m sure they were also relieved. I had a job. I was a productive member of society, working away in an institution/company along with a thousand other little workers, all being watched and dictated to and assessed. In my case, the assessments I received were poor. (No surprises there.)

There was one woman in particular who bullied me – I was very fearful of her and tried to hide from her, when I could. She worked in tandem with another awful woman with a very strange hair-cut. They both spoke to me like I was an imbecile with a hearing problem. They were very condescending, catty, loud and angry. I was sure that I would be fired, and the fact that I wasn’t fired just meant that this terrible twosome had no real power.

However, by staying employed, I remained at their mercy. The humiliation of being fired would have been painful, but I was actually worse off psychologically, staying under the influence of their abuse. I should have just left that job, although my parents would have been furious with me for giving up. It was their worst fear that I would be unemployed and unproductive. I suppose I must have been afraid of their judgement, too. I couldn’t just give up, so I endured the job and tried to hide my feelings of distress and depression.

Sadly, it seems that I was not successful in hiding my feelings. I remember once coming across a funny little cartoon drawing, pinned to an office cupboard. The drawing showed a succession of silly faces with various expressions. The cartoon was meant to be a lighthearted take on how stress could effect a person at work. There was a smiling face, a neutral face, a frowning face and so forth. The very last face appeared to be cringing in terror. There were beads of sweat dripping off the face and a wide grimace drawn for a mouth. Someone had written my name underneath this face. My full name.

I never found out who wrote down my name. I never asked for the offending cartoon to be removed. I might have laughed and then never looked at it again. But that picture and my name written down for everyone to see and laugh at really hurt me deeply. People could see my distress and yet they made fun of me. It was humiliating and baffling. I actually didn’t realize that people were so mean, until then.

I felt defeated. Why didn’t I leave? Fear. I was fearful being there and I was fearful of leaving and of trying something else. I wanted to prove people wrong by staying. I wanted to be a good employee, after everything. And I did try. Jesus, did I try.

I recall once being told off for laughing inappropriately at work. That was embarrassing. I didn’t know I had been laughing inappropriately – I was trying to be cheerful. I was also reprimanded for forgetting things and not being able to prioritize tasks. Once a senior staff member told me that she had received some concerning reports that I was ‘very vague’.

One time I caught some of my fellow junior staff members talking about me. That was totally weird and unexpected. They seemed baffled by me and couldn’t believe that I had done so well academically – I wonder in hindsight if they speculated that I had cheated on my exams or something? I only know that although I was intelligent and actually very good at processing information, I came across as I bit of an air-head. I always felt confused and uncomfortable and defective.

This was such a demoralizing time in my life. I wish someone had been able to take me under their wing and help me. I wish I had known where to go and what to do. I do wish I had left that job and gone off to university where I belonged. Where I could study things I was interested in, by myself and in peace. Where my type of intelligence was put to some kind of use. Where at least I would have had some self-esteem restored by getting high grades. But no. I stayed there. I didn’t have good instincts for self-preservation. I was trapped by my own disillusionment.

As time wore on, I did improve my job performance in increments. I slowly, slowly learned how I was supposed to act by watching others and by speaking like they did, and pretending to be interested in what they were interested in. I also developed a rebellious streak at this time. I worked out how to get as much as I could from the company (without doing anything illegal) while I was there. Looking back, I see that there really was not much to gained from that company! That job was completely without any perks. It was all suffering and despair, and had no redeeming features. I left there exhausted and depressed.

I often feel like writing an anonymous letter to my first place of employment, all these years later. I would take some satisfaction in detailing all the things that I suffered through there. But I’m sure no-one would read it. I sometimes wonder if those two revolting women who bullied me are dead yet? They would each have to be around eighty or more years of age, if they are still clinging to life, somewhere. Are they happy? Who knows?

Just this morning, I called the psychology clinic yet again, about getting a formal autism diagnosis. I left a message. I’ll just keep trying. If I ever do manage to get assessed, then I do believe that it will make my life easier in some ways. Just knowing that I really am different and that my struggles are not imagined would be so helpful and reassuring.

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adulthood and other shades of hell

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One of the first signs that I might be suffering from depression came to surface under an interesting set of circumstances. After I dropped my boyfriend Alex, I immediately began dating a nice man named Tristan. When I say ‘immediately’, I do mean immediately, as in, within days. I met Tristan through the people I was by now working with.

As part of his studies, Tristan had to set up a kind of practice counseling session to demonstrate his counseling skills. Tristan was a chiropractor who was doing some further study; he was very ambitions and motivated. He used me as his guinea pig and recorded our counseling session in order to hand it in for assessment.

In the session, I started crying and feeling very sorry for myself. I was also incredibly defensive in answering Tristan’s probing questions. It was all so embarrassing, looking back. If I had not been so clueless and emotionally immature, I would have never have let Tristan use me as his subject. He played the session back to me and I saw myself crying, searching for answers and feeling out of place and emotionally exposed. I was also angry. It was cringe-worthy.

I quickly put this episode behind me and wished him luck with his project. Little did I know that this wasn’t the last I would hear about the counseling session. The feedback from Tristan’s teacher was that I was a very troubled young woman who had some pressing problems. She felt for me and hoped I’d ‘recover’ or at least sort things out. Something to that effect.

I wonder why Tristan never urged me to seek help? Or perhaps he did; it seems reasonable that he would have done. He was a caring professional. But I would have fobbed him off, and told him not to be silly. I didn’t need any help, there was nothing especially wrong with me, was there? (Well, I would say that yes, there was!) Help may have been there for me all along, but I was so completely unaware of my own short-comings that I did not know how to accept help. I would have found seeing a professional daunting and intimidating.

At the same time I was unhappy, perpetually confused and exhausted. I drank too much, and I had begun to gain weight. The exhaustion was all-consuming. If ever I had a spare moment, all I wanted to do was sleep. My friend Ellie plagued me to spend time with her and my boyfriend always wanted to to be out and about, dashing here and there. It was all so hectic.

I couldn’t fathom how people lived this way – being busy all weekend, and never stopping in any one place for a decent stretch of time. Going out night-clubbing had been alright when I was unemployed and could spend my weekdays recovering, but with a job to go to, it was all too much.

Having a boyfriend was nice, but I had to spend time with his friends, his Mum, his work-mates…. so many people and obligations. It’s not that I didn’t like people, it’s just that I didn’t need so many of them, milling about everywhere, all the time. I didn’t know what to say to them and I found conversations draining. I was still petrified of new people and my fear made it difficult to concentrate on what they were saying to me. I got the feeling that most people brushed me aside and were not interested in me, anyway.

Tristan was my third serious boyfriend in four years. According to everyone else at the time, he was the most ‘suitable’ of the three. And guess what? He didn’t last the distance, either! Tristan applied for and attained his dream job in another state. I assumed he would start talking about the prospect of me eventually moving there too, to be near him. Or at least he would want to secure my first visit there, to spend a few weeks getting to now that place.

But No. Tristan did not talk about anything like that, our future together as a couple remained unspoken. I waited and I pondered. I wasn’t going to be the one to bring it up. I felt rejected, like I was not an important piece of his life. I didn’t know what to say to him, so I said nothing.

In hindsight, I think Tristan was afraid of emotional intimacy and that is why he was attracted to me. I could be aloof and appear very self-contained and independent. I also liked spending time by myself, so on the surface at least, I looked like I had it together in some respects, as though I didn’t need a man. I never made any demands on Tristan.

Tristan had said some strange things about marriage and parenthood- things that I didn’t agree with. This was at a time when I thought I might have children – one day. I certainly did not want children in my twenties, thank you very much. Life was already so full of things to do that I was struggling to cope.

Some of what Tristan said seemed misogynistic. He implied women were parasites who attached themselves to men. He believed that men were forced against their wishes to procreate with women, when all they really wanted to do was drive fast cars and have a good time! This was all news to me- I was so naive at that time. I didn’t know that men could think that way – especially not educated, intelligent men who appeared to be kind and caring.

After a while, I started to lose interest in Tristan and started to go out and about with my newest friend Bella. I did not make Tristan an immediate priority in my life. I tended to be busy on the weekends, when he wanted to see me. I actually broke off the relationship with him before he even moved away to take his dream job. Another one bit the dust.

I never received any kind of report from Tristan as to the defects in my personality. His Mum did ring me up once and say how much her son was missing me and how much out break-up had hurt him. This surprised me, as I had honestly thought that he just wasn’t into me.

In summary so far

I will add the ill-fated ‘counselling session’ with Tristan to my increasing list of evidence that something was not quite right with me.

In total we have:

  • the damning character reference from my ex-boyfriend Alex, citing my social awkwardness
  • the written report from the child-care course I attended, saying I was ’emotionally expressionless’
  • my toxic friendship with Ellie, my lack of boundaries and inability to express myself
  • informal counseling session suggesting I was troubled and possibly depressed
  • perpetual, unending exhaustion with unknown cause
  • multiple relationships breakdowns

On love and longing at seventeen

I drifted through my final year at high school in a sea of disillusionment and anxiety. Underneath my outward indifference to boys, I wanted very much to fall in love, and to be accepted and cherished by a boy. But on the other hand, I now knew that love could cause excruciating pain. I was very wary of love and didn’t exactly hold it in high esteem. At seventeen, I now knew that life wasn’t like the advertising I saw on T.V, where girls and boys wandered off into the sunset holding hands, and where their lives were perfect, forever after.

I remember my sister being a little bit of a bitch about my failed love affair. She asked me bluntly:

“Well, what did you expect would happen? Obviously, you two were going to break up sooner or later, anyway. It may as well have been sooner.”

Her words really cut me deeply. I was even more reluctant to share my feelings with my sister after she dismissed my seven and a half month relationship in such a callous and unkind way. She really did have a mean side, my older sister. I don’t recall ever being so dismissive of her feelings, but perhaps I sometimes was.

I was also anxious because I still didn’t know what I wanted to be “when I grew up”. The ‘super-nice girl’, who I suppose was more-or-less my best friend at that time, decided to change high-schools, right after we commenced our senior year. She was very ambitious and because she didn’t get her choice in the subjects she had wanted to study at our public school, her parents coughed up the money to send her to the upper-crust private school. (This was the same school attended by Brian, whom she was friendly with.)

My parents must have liked the ‘super-nice girl’, because they also offered to send me to her exclusive school, if I wanted to go! Looking back, it seems strange that I declined their very generous offer and elected to stay where I was. I might have been frightened of change, or else I had already developed a distaste for the kind of elitism that this private school represented. This distaste of elitism and ‘prestige’ has stayed with me to this day.

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I liked the idea of attending a public school. I liked the hand-made and recycled fashion that I wore and I liked being part of a large class-room where I could sink into anonymity.

Surprisingly, I did get invited to the parties thrown by the popular kids. I don’t know why I was included, because I barely said two words to any of these mysterious and scary individuals during school hours. I barely said anything to them at their parties, either, but I did attend a few of them. I must have been curious as to what went down at these parties and I secretly must have wanted to be included in the ‘action’, such as it was.

One of the most popular and beautiful girls in my high-school was also on somewhat friendly terms with my ex-boyfriend, too. That would have definitely sparked my curiosity and I would have been endlessly speculating as to the nature of that friendship. Not that I would have ever confided such a thing to her or to anyone else. Not in a million years.

There were even rumors circulating that some of the girls in high-school were able to sneak off and have sex with their boyfriends (or someone else’s boyfriend!) at these wanton, beer-fueled soirees. Of course all this was very irregular and just a tiny bit baffling. Why would someone want to do such a thing?

the end of the love-affair…

After what seemed like a life-time, but was in reality only seven and a half months, my boyfriend broke off our love-affair very suddenly. I was distraught and inconsolable, just crying, crying and crying. I couldn’t sleep at night and I felt very lonely, like no-one understood my pain.

Never mind that I had old Brian on the back-burner and that I was shameless harlot who had not exactly been loyal to my boyfriend. But I did suffer with genuine emotion once I had lost my boyfriend for good. This is true of many women with autism, I believe, that we feel emotions very strongly, even though we may struggle to articulate our emotions. It was a terrible time in my life. I lost my appetite and I lost even more weight – I had already been thin from dieting. Now I was extremely thin- but I think I thought I looked good.

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The break-up happened just before my seventeenth birthday and just before I was due to start my final year at high-school. I then began dating Brian officially, but the relationship faltered very quickly. I remember that a week went by in which I didn’t hear anything at all from Brian (he went to a different high-school to me) and so I decided that it must be over between us. I suppose he just wasn’t what I wanted, in the end.

I had the ‘super-nice girl’ tell Brian that he and I were now over. How carelessly mean I was, to send my friend to do my bidding like that! But at the time it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. I hadn’t heard from him, so I just assumed he would be cool with my decision and would rather not have to see me in person, as this would save embarrassment for both of us.

Many years later, I did hear that Brian had been involved with a much older women, one of his teachers no less, at around about the same time as he was dating me. This scandal was confirmed by the super-nice girl, who in adulthood became friends with the teacher involved. Many years later, I even met that particular teacher at a dinner party, but of course, we did not speak of such things over our dessert.

Looking back, I wonder why Brian’s parents did not press charges against the teacher? She was asked to resign from her job at the high-school, I believe, and then the whole thing was covered up. I wonder if Brian received any compensation from the school? It was a very upper-crust private school that he attended.

Meanwhile, I remained safe at my lowly public school where the teachers kept their hands to themselves, as far as I was aware. I felt very free after breaking it off with Brian and I felt as though I didn’t really need a boyfriend and that they were more trouble than what they were worth.

Around this time, my interest in fashion evolved and I began to get attention for my style and for my looks. As a special privilege, the final year students at my rather progressive school did not have to wear the uniform. So each day I put together a funky outfit that reflected my artistic style.

I adopted a kind of warped, preppy retro-style, that sometimes had a punk edge to it. I really loved clothes and I lived to dress beautifully, always taking time to style my hair before the school day began. However, for the most part, I was a real loner and I didn’t frequent the common-room where all the other final year student hung out. I didn’t know where I fit in.

love and confusion at sixteen

You have to remember that I was only sixteen, I was very clueless and innocent and that when I met my boyfriend, it was the first time I had even talked to a boy, let alone anything else! So if I tell you that I thought of myself as being ‘madly in love’ – then you will just have to take that at face value.

Looking back, I don’t know what it was that I was experiencing, I mean, emotionally. I suppose I was infatuated with this boy and that is all. I certainly didn’t talk to him about all my hopes and dreams (there were so few of those, anyway) or reveal anything remarkable about myself to him. I’m not sure if I even showed him my artwork, which I was proud of, but not devoted to. What on Earth we talked about for the duration of our romance, I can’t recall. I wish I could go back in time and watch my teenage self and eves-drop on my scintillating teen conversation!

After we had been a couple for some time and exchanged “I love you’s” with each other, my boyfriend introduced me to a friend of his. This new fellow must have been the second boy I had ever spoken to in my entire life (just to give some perspective to the story).

I’ll call him ‘Brian’. He was slim, pale and blond. He was a character – very outwardly confident, charming and articulate. He was more ‘cultured’ than my boyfriend, more of a know-it-all and very sure of himself. Where my boyfriend was rebellious and street-smart, Brian was intellectual and composed. I didn’t especially warm to him, but he went out of his way to pay me attention and I guess that was flattering.

I can’t recall how this happened, but Brian got hold of my phone number. Did I give it to him? Well, I might have done, because if someone had asked me for my number, I probably would have just assumed they wanted to call me for some legitimate reason, like to ask me advice on mathematics or something. Really, that’s how clueless I was. I didn’t think that phone numbers were some sought-after commodity that teenage boys coveted.

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Brian used to phone me up at home, on a semi-regular basis. We talked about this and that. I think I must have realized that he was interested in me, but I didn’t think anything much of it. My parents didn’t tell me that it was wrong to encourage one boy while you are supposedly committed to another one. If anything, they just thought it was funny. For the most part, I suppose there was nothing especially wrong with me chatting to Brian, as our interaction could certainly pass for a just a friendship.

One day Brian called me up while my boyfriend was over at my place, and I answered the phone. This was before caller I.D. or anything like that. We had a big old phone that sat in the kitchen. There were no cell phones at this time. They had not even been thought of.

I remember feeling very undecided as to if I should reveal the identity of the caller to my boyfriend. In the end, I got off the phone to Brian pretty quickly. Around that time, I realized that I liked Brian’s calls and that I wanted to continue my budding ‘friendship’ with him. At the same time, I was ‘in love’ with my boyfriend… I didn’t know that you could like two guys at once! But now, after a lifetime of experience, I think that yes, you certainly can. Whether you should or not….? I would say ‘not’. Ha!

I remember I even went out on a kind of ‘date’ with Brian, while I was still seeing my boyfriend, shameless harlot that I was. I went to the local swimming pool with my friend, the ‘super-nice girl’ and with Brian, too. It was the three of us together, so perhaps that made it seem okay? Brian could look like he was my friend’s boyfriend if anyone was interested in gossiping about the situation.

I can’t remember if I let Brian rub sunscreen onto my back or anything like that. I might have done.

As a teenager I was….

Passing for ‘normal’. It is surprising to note, that my teenage years were for the most part, uneventful. This is at odds with how most autistic women describe their teenage years, so if I am indeed on the spectrum, then I didn’t fit the classic autistic presentation during this part of my life.

I had been a plump kid and I then matured into a plump teenager. When I was old enough to care about my looks, I realized that I wasn’t exactly attractive. I decided to ‘diet’ my way to beauty, and boy did I diet! I practically starved myself and after several months, I emerged from my puppy fat as a very slim and (if I do say so myself) conventionally pretty young woman. I had long hair, wore discrete make-up and followed the latest fashions – I put a lot of time and effort into how I looked and I spent a lot of time gazing in the mirror at myself, wondering if I was ‘acceptable’. I remember thinking that if I could just ‘look the part’, then everything in my young life would fall into place.

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To this day, I still believe that my looks helped me to fit in and enabled people in general to assume that I was an average kid. I was still extremely shy and did not speak to anyone, unless I was spoken to. Even then, I would give people a one-word answer if I thought I could get away with it. I never answered questions in class, nor drew attention to myself in any way. I didn’t talk to boys at all until I was sixteen years old. I was clever and excelled at mathematics, science and art. I usually got very high grades in most subjects, so I didn’t have any kind of learning disorder.

I was friends with a group of girls who were all misfits in one way or another. One particular girl who was routinely super-nice to everyone, sort of ‘adopted’ me into her group of friends. They were actually very nice people and I liked them. I remember that we did share jokes and have fun at school – I remember all this as a very care-free time.

Although, I had a chip on my shoulder about all the popular kids and how entitled they acted and how loud and bitchy they could be. I was in awe of them, but they frightened me. I could never be popular, because I had no confidence in myself. Without my group of misfits I would have felt entirely lost…

Did I see myself as ‘different’? Did I feel different? Well, I suppose I did, but I just thought it was because I was artistic and not interested in sports. I enjoyed making things with my hands, to a much greater degree than anyone I knew. I made jewelry, head-bands, hair-ornaments, and I loved cake-decorating – I loved the intricacy of the details of things you could make.

My friends rarely saw each other outside of school (or perhaps they did, but just not with me included?), and so on weekends I just hung out with my sister and my family. We did pretty boring family stuff and I filled in my time doing a ton of homework. I remember having a lot of anxiety over doing well at school, which was pretty ridiculous, since I was so studious that I was destined to do well. I remember losing sleep over assignments and crying over losing my favorite pen. I was pretty up-tight!

I wasn’t rebellious. I would day-dream about getting a boyfriend and falling in love. I was in love with the idea of love, and I longed to find true understanding and acceptance with some teenage dream-boat. I had a very unrealistic idea of what romantic relationships were all about. I though that things between a man and a woman should progress as they did in Hollywood movies from the 1940’s! That’s all I knew.

My sister and I remained close, but I felt she was very judgmental of me. I didn’t tell her all my deepest thoughts, like I had done when we were kids. I didn’t tell anyone anything. Even my friend who was super-nice to me and to everyone else as well;- I didn’t tell her much. I still daydreamed a lot, but I did not share any of my dreams. I did keep a diary, which I found again a few years ago.

It was funny reading back over it. I was very matter-of-fact about everything, while at the same time sounding essentially clueless. I was intelligent, but quite immature for my age. In the diary, I dished out on the super-nice girl quite a lot, so things must not have been as rosy as I remember them between the two of us.

My main problem as a teenager is that I had absolutely no ambition to be anything. The prospect of choosing a career was very daunting. I remember my parents were not interested in me attending university, which left me feeling disappointed. Why were they not happy with how clever I was and how well I did at school? Weren’t they proud on my achievements?

As a child I was…

Living in my own little world most of the time. It was pleasant. I had a very rich imagination and I enjoyed daydreaming. Usually, I was able to concentrate in the class-room enough to be able to remember everything the teacher said and learn all the required material. At the same time, I could allocate plenty of time to day-dreaming and not miss anything vital that was required of me. I didn’t find the classroom to be boring. I found it to be very peaceful.

I was advanced in my reading ability, but had no particular interest in reading. I liked looking at the pictures in books, rather than reading them. I loved drawing and was praised for my drawing ability, as far back as I can remember. I did at one point make some very unusual drawings for my age, which was a concern for parents, who I think told me not to keep drawing them. I wish I had kept them, as I would love to see them now. They looked like the intricately patterned ‘mandalas’ you see associated with Eastern religion, with an emphasis on the color yellow. The color yellow always seemed to vibrate before my eyes. It was kind of entranced by it and got a good feeling from looking at it.

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I was fascinated by abstract patterns and loved patterned surfaces. I liked looking close up at things like grass and flowers. I liked to see the way they were formed. Especially all the details and intricacies.

Other children were not my concern. It wasn’t until I was around 8 years of age that I remember making any friends. Quite a few of my friends were people that I did not particularly like. How can I explain this? It sounds so crazy now. They were people who tolerated me and so I, in turn, tolerated them, because I knew that you were supposed to make friends and have friends, I knew that it was the done thing. I listened to all their chatter and thought most of it was pretty unintelligent, but I went along with it and even encouraged it. It was good to have company.

There was one friend I made who I really did love and spent a lot of time with. She was very sweet and very funny and we did laugh about the same things. I was also extremely close to my sister, who was good to me, but bossy.

At around 8 years of age also, my panic attacks began, coupled with terrifying thoughts about all kinds of weird stuff. I would sit in the corner crying and praying that those thoughts would end. I was in a bad way. My parents did not know what to do with me, although I remember them being very concerned. I don’t know why they didn’t get me some kind of professional help at that time. I also suffered from nightmares and insomnia and was afraid of the dark.

Eventually my Mum told me that I had to ‘snap out of it’, which was a pretty inappropriate thing to say to a child, to put it mildly. With determination and practice, I was able to make the ‘bad thoughts’ go away. I decided that I would put these thoughts away and not think about them again, until I was an adult and then I would be able to handle them better. That was an example of my advanced problem-solving skills, I guess! Possibly this was a primitive form of cognitive behavioral therapy that I devised for myself. It worked, but I don’t know really, I might have just sort of recovered spontaneously, anyway, without employing any methods of thought- suppression.

I was a very shy child and didn’t interact with anyone unless it was necessary. But I was helpful at home and usually quiet, and able to occupy myself, so I wasn’t a bother to anyone, for the most part. I was always messy and I used to misplace things and lose things all the time. I could get very upset and frustrated with losing something and think about that thing for a very long time afterwards.

I wasn’t exactly bullied at school. No more than anyone else. I didn’t get involved with other kids and apart form my ‘friends’ I stayed away from other children, who I saw as loud, disruptive, unpredictable and prone to casual violence. I would rather be alone than have to bother with them.