Workshop Hell

Photo by Justin S. Campbell via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

My husband and I both started attending employment counseling last week. After the first appointment, we came away with very different schedules. My counselor had me fully booked for workshops and appointments every day this week and into the next. Meanwhile, my husband was scheduled for only two workshops and one one-on-one appointment with a networking expert.

I had even been honest with the counselor about how overwhelmed I get and told her I can only handle part-time work (if that). She must not have understood what I was getting at. She would not have over-scheduled me if she had.

The workshops have proven to be pretty much useless. I already know how to write a resume. My problems are far more complex than that. What they’re teaching is so basic I think you’d have to be a complete idiot to get much out of it. I’m not saying I learned nothing though. I learned a couple of sneaky, unethical tricks to get my resume seen by potential employers. That’s the kind of stuff they’re teaching people.

There were really only two things I hoped to get out of all this, which have already proven to be complete busts:

  1. I was hoping to get help identifying a new career path that is a better fit for me than office admin. The only thing that’s come out of this in that regard is the advice to “find a way” to make money using my writing skills. No shit. Easier said than done.
  2. I was hoping there would be some kind of government funding for retraining, but my counselor told me on day one that there is nothing like that available.


I have ended up extremely overwhelmed and stressed by something that is proving to be of no value or benefit whatsoever. The problem is that I don’t know how to get out of it. It goes against everything in me to just not show up, so I know I need to cancel, but I don’t know how to. I will feel like I need to offer some excuse, but I don’t have one. And I don’t want to piss anyone off in a small town like this. In fact, my counselor even goes to my former church, which I intend to start attending again. If I bail out of all this without a good reason it’s going to be really hard to face her socially.

So I’ve continued to go.

My state of overwhelm finally came to a head today in a workshop on “Finding the Hidden Job Market.” This was the most useless workshop yet. It was basically hours of the instructor saying, “You have to socialize and talk to people to get a job in this town,” in a variety of different ways. I was already well aware of this. There’s no new way anyone can say it to make it any easier for me in practicality. So I was sitting there, feeling physically worn out from the week’s schedule, feeling tired from days of having gotten up earlier than my body can cope with, and with a blinding headache from the fluorescent lights. I was trying to look at the printouts I’d been given and the letters and words just started swimming on the page in pools of bright light, blending together, indistinguishable.

And then things took a bad turn, socially. She was talking about how if you’re new in town, employers are going to love that you’ve moved here, because…. she paused… she then looked at me and for some reason decided to single me out. “Do you and your husband have kids?” she asked me.

“No,” I said.

“But of course you will in the future.” Not a question. A statement.

“No,” I snapped, too loudly. “I’m already 43; if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s probably not going to.”

The room went silent for an awkward moment while everyone stared at me. Or at least I felt like everyone was staring at me. My face started to burn. I had overshared. Typical.

Then she, apparently unfazed, went on to say something… now I will probably not quote this accurately, word for word, because my head was in such a whirl that I’m not sure exactly what she said… but it was something to the effect that if we had kids, we would be seen as more valuable to the community, because our kids would be going to school here and would be involved in things and would be seen as the future of the community.

So, wait. What? She’s telling me I have to procreate to be valuable to the community? That employers would be happy my husband and I have moved here if we had kids? Was she implying they’d be more likely to employ us if we were parents and could contribute to the future population of the town? Is that how people think?! I hope I misunderstood what she was getting at because that is fucked.

I remained silent during this little lecture.

Not long after that, she had each person do a role-playing exercise with her. We were supposed to pretend that she was a potential employer and we were introducing ourselves for the purpose of networking. As she went around the room, getting closer to me, I felt this tightness rise higher and higher up my body. I started wracking my brain trying to think of something to say when she got to me, but my head was in such a fog by that point that I was a complete blank. I could not string a coherent thought together. When I realized that, I started trying to weigh my options for escape. But again, my brain wasn’t really working. My first instinct was to run from the room. But that would attract so much attention. I hate attracting attention. And there was actually someone in a chair blocking the path from my seat to the door. I would have to ask them to move to get out. So that was out of the question.

That was as far as I had gotten in my thought process when she finally came to me. She stuck out her hand and said, in her role as potential employer, “Nice to meet you. What can I do for you today?”

I blurted out, “I’m so sorry, I cannot pull it together to do this right now. I have a blinding headache and am not okay. I don’t want to be difficult but I just can’t.”

“Oh yes, you’re so difficult,” she said jokingly. Then she made some comment about how you shouldn’t be approaching employers if you’re having a bad day anyway and moved on to the next person. Funnily enough, and perhaps fortunately for me, two other people declined after me. One guy said it takes him all day to think of something to say and he can’t handle being put on the spot like that. A fellow Aspie, maybe? I could certainly relate.

As I sat there, I was feeling so awful, physically and emotionally, that I started having — okay, don’t be alarmed here; I’m not suicidal — mental images pop into my head of me shooting myself. I wasn’t actively thinking about suicide, or wanting to do it, or planning it. I don’t even know how to use a gun. It was just these images, unbidden. I used to get them a lot when I was young, but it’s been a very long time since the last time it happened. In fact, it was here, in this town, where I used to have them a lot.

When I got home, I fell asleep for a couple of hours and when I woke up, I didn’t know what day it was. I thought I was waking up the next morning. It took a few minutes to gain my bearings.

I really don’t want to go back to that place. Am I a terrible person if I don’t?

4 thoughts on “Workshop Hell

  1. Oh goodness, I felt sick for you reading this! First up, no–you’re not a horrible person for not wanting to go back. If you’re not contracted to go, if you’re not getting any benefit out of it, and if it’s legitimately too much to handle (and it sounds like it is), you’re well within your rights to back out.

    A line you could use: “I’ve decided to focus on settling in before I throw myself into the job market.”

    It’s an understandable reason from the non-aspie perspective for why you might not continue. It’s been a big move!

    For someone to comment that having children makes you a more desirable member of the community? They need a wire scrubbing brush right up their clacker. That is not accurate. Companies do value employees that have long term goals and a connection to an area, children is only ONE aspect of that. If I’d been in the room with you, I would have applauded your response. I know you might not be proud of it and think it was the wrong thing to say, but it’s an incredibly rude assumption to make. If she felt confronted or awkward about the way you responded, that’s her problem. All hers. Not yours.

    It sounds like some of the people in the class could be good allies, though, if you decide to continue. Especially the potential aspie. Even if you don’t continue the workshops, think about introducing yourself to him properly. A friend who understands the way your brain works is invaluable, especially in a small town.

    Finding work is going to require some creativity, but that doesn’t make it impossible. Office admin can be a very broad job. I kind of fell into my job doing copywriting and social media management for a small business, and it’s ideal. Maybe something like that? Investigate what small companies are operating around your area that might benefit from a better digital presence. Content marketing is all the rage and you, my dear, are amazing at content.

    The world isn’t made for aspies, so we need to make our own opportunities. Easy? No. Worthwhile? Absolutely. Go get ’em!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful reply. I’m always a little amazed when I receive a comment like yours, showing that you’ve read and so thoroughly understood what I’m saying, because in the “real world” I feel so misunderstood much of the time. Thank you again. I deeply appreciate the kindness and encouragement!


  2. I can *so* relate to this post. So many experiences like that.

    The woman conducting the workshop was extremely rude and it sounds like other people responded to that after you spoke up–good for you! (I would’ve blurted something like what you said too, probably not as politely –or printably–either.).

    As for thinking of shooting yourself, even if there’s no intention of doing it, going to these things is really not worth making yourself that stressed out and miserable. Maybe you can cut back on some of these workshops, without dropping out entirely, if for no other reason to save some face in the community, and not feel as awkward? (And I do mean, only to prevent yourself from compounding the anxiety you’re already feeling). Even if you do drop out of it all–say, by using Inshiftingcolour’s excellent excuse–why would that make you a terrible person? I know people don’t understand, but the anxiety and depression of dealing with an NT world is as real as having a seizure or a stroke. I hope you just take care of yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: New Developments | Maybe Autism Explains It All

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