Empathy for the People and Animals of Fort McMurray

For the last couple days I’ve been reading the news and watching video about the Fort McMurray fire, and I have been repeatedly brought to tears, thinking about what the people of that town are going through. One incredibly dramatic video shows flames right next to cars as people tried to flee their neighbourhood. Another shows footage from someone’s security camera; this person remotely watched his house burn and there was nothing he could do. This is deeply emotionally affecting me. Anyone who thinks Aspies don’t have empathy is very mistaken. I absolutely do have empathy; I just don’t always know what to do about it and I can rarely think of the right things to say.

My feelings also run deep for the animals affected by the fire. It breaks my heart thinking of people who had to evacuate straight from work and weren’t able to pick up their pets because their neighbourhoods were already inaccessible. I think about how awful those people must feel, but I also think about the sheer terror the pets must have felt as flames engulfed their homes, or how hungry and scared left-behind pets must feel right now in houses that are still standing. I’ve been glad to read that there are efforts being made to rescue these pets. Of course, I also think about the wild animals in the burning forests; I pray that their instincts have kicked in and they have been able to flee to safety, but realistically know that not all of them were likely to make it out.

I’m feeling bad that I bought those concert tickets a few days ago, because I would really like to send a donation to the Red Cross for the displaced people from Fort McMurray, but buying those tickets really stretched our budget for the month. I feel guilty that I am going to do something completely frivolous when I could have helped people instead. But I suppose that would have been true even if the Fort McMurray fire hadn’t happened. There are always people in this world who need help. It’s just that when dramatic things like this happen, and it’s all over the news, it really drives it home.

Baby You Can Drive My Car

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Photo by Andreas Tsonis via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

Some of my moments of greatest elation have taken place while driving. A few moments especially stand out in my mind. Driving alone up over the beautiful Rocky Mountains while fleeing a stressful visit from my mother-in-law. Driving south on Macleod Trail in Calgary on my way to visit a friend after doing some shopping in quiet, pleasant stores, aware of the freedom I had to go anywhere I wanted. Driving west down Anarchist Mountain in southern BC, good tunes on the stereo, awed by the stunning view before me. In those moments, my heart welled up with bliss and joy.

Unfortunately, some of my moments of greatest stress have also taken place while driving. Driving in heavy traffic, on icy roads, or in dense fog. Or even just with a loud, chatty person in the passenger seat while trying to concentrate on the task at hand. There is one person in particular who has often been a passenger of mine who is constantly making noise, if not engaged in gossipy chatter, then reading every sign we pass, humming, or even just constantly clearing her throat and fidgeting around in her seat. She has admitted to being uncomfortable with silence, which explains a lot.

When I turned 16, while my peers couldn’t wait to get their driver’s license, I was reluctant. I kept thinking about what a huge responsibility driving was, how big and dangerous a car could be, and how one moment of poor judgment could possibly result in someone’s death. I knew very well how rattled and overwhelmed I get when there’s a lot going on around me; if that happened while I was behind the wheel, the consequences could be horrific.

Still, other people pushed me. Mostly aunts and uncles who didn’t understand how I get. My first experience driving was in my aunt’s car with her in the passenger seat. She was determined to teach me. But her car was a standard and that was way too complicated for my first time. She quickly realized the whole thing was a bad idea and we switched seats.

When I was 18 and intending to move out on my own, my mom finally insisted that I learn to drive and she uncharacteristically offered to pay for me to take a defensive driving course. I am grateful for that, as the instructor was competent and patient, and I did succeed in learning to drive, and drive well. When it came time to take my test, however, which happened to be the day before I moved out on my own, I was nervous and shaking really badly and I made many, many mistakes. Things I could normally do, like parallel park, I was suddenly completely unable to execute while being examined. I did pass, but only barely. In fact, I got the impression the examiner had mercy on me and passed me only because he liked me in an inappropriate way. Ick.

So, now I could drive, but all the training and instruction in the world can’t eliminate those moments of overstimulation when I can’t think and when everything becomes a blur, and I was still afraid of that. Still, somehow I managed to cope. I put a tremendous amount of effort into training my attention and I managed to always stay alert and to drive very sensibly. It was tiring having to do that, but I did it.

My first car was a total lemon. It wouldn’t start when it rained (and where I lived, it rained a lot), so I took it to a garage, but it started fine for them and they couldn’t find anything wrong, so it seemed like it was all in my head. Nonetheless, the car was so unreliable for me that I moved to a more convenient location where I wouldn’t need it. I kept it parked and walked and used public transportation. I sold it a couple years later.

I only drove sporadically throughout my twenties, spending many years without a car at all. But then I started driving on a daily basis when I got married in 2004 at the age of 31. My husband didn’t have a driver’s license at all. He had grown up in a large city in England where there was excellent public transportation and it wasn’t as common for people to drive. His mom and most of his extended family members didn’t drive either. It was a normal thing for them not to drive.

So once we got married, I drove him to work and back every day. We were living in a city with long, harsh winters, and for 5 to 6 months of the year I felt like I was on edge all the time, stressed from the winter driving. I hated it. I was an extremely cautious driver and I had good winter tires, but there was still a moment when I lost control on the ice and skidded across the oncoming lane and ended up in the ditch on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately, there was no traffic at the time, but it was still a terrifying moment I will never forget. I didn’t want to drive after that but I felt like I had no choice. My husband wouldn’t take public transportation because he’d had a bad experience on it once, where the bus didn’t stop where he thought it was supposed to and he ended up lost in the city at night (this was before we had cell phones). He thought Canadian public transportation was terrible compared to British public transportation and I’m sure that’s true.

To be fair, it’s not like he was refusing to use public transportation knowing how all the driving was affecting me. I grumbled from time to time, but I didn’t express the scope of how I was feeling, because I wanted to be able to just suck it up and handle it. I wanted to be the kind of person who could do that. And I was very aware that he was working, and I wasn’t. The very least I could do was give him a ride.

But other people thought our arrangement was very weird. One man at church actually chastised my husband, telling him that men are supposed to drive their wives around, wives aren’t supposed to drive their husbands around. So then we felt judged.

Even though I hated the daily commute, I loved the leisurely weekend drives we took in the summer and fall. When we got married, moving in with my husband meant joining him in a new province where he’d landed a postdoctoral fellowship, and I loved getting to know my new surroundings. Some of my happiest moments in the early years of our marriage were during those drives.

My husband intended to learn to drive but his work took up so much of his time that he didn’t get around to it for years (funnily enough, his boss at the time had never gotten his driver’s license for the same reason and was also driven everywhere by his wife). Finally my husband got his license in 2011. That was a huge relief for me. He was unemployed at the time (which is why he finally had the time to do it), but then later when we were both employed, I, to my disappointment, ended up being the driver again, because neither one of us was earning much and his workplace had really expensive and inadequate pay parking while mine had ample, free parking, so for budgetary reasons I would drop him off before heading to work. We were again living in a place with long, harsh winters, so I was on edge and stressed once again.

Then in January 2014, our car broke down on one of the coldest nights of the year. We had it towed to a garage, and were informed the next day that it would cost $3500, minimum, to fix. We did not have that money. So we sold it for scrap and have been using public transportation ever since. My husband has had no choice but to get used to it. Of course, having cell phones helps now too, as we can keep track of bus schedules on our phones, find our location on Google Maps if we end up lost (well, I never end up lost, because I am unusually good at knowing where I am and finding my way around — it’s practically my savant skill, haha), and worst case scenario, call for a taxi if all else fails.

We are also really blessed to live right across the road from a large mall, with a grocery store, medical clinic, public library, bank, etc. mere steps away. When we chose this apartment, we didn’t know we would end up without a car, but we couldn’t have picked a better location if we had known.

I have mixed feelings about not having a car. On the one hand, I kind of love it, because it eliminates so much stress from my life! I remember that on-edge feeling I used to have all the time, especially in the winter, and between not driving and not currently working I almost never feel that way anymore. It is a blessed relief; words can’t even express. On the other hand, I get tired of the same old scenery all the time and yearn to go for drives like we used to. I grew up in a family that went for drives for no reason, and I loved it. I did not have a happy childhood, but I was usually happy in the car, looking at the scenery, seeing new places. I miss that so very much. Now I often watch driving videos on YouTube (edit: here is a better example; I prefer the real-time videos to the fast time-lapse ones), or navigate around places using Google Street View, trying recapture that feeling.

Best case scenario, my husband lands a reliable job that pays enough so we can get a car again and can afford all the costs that go with it, including parking, and he is the one who drives it most of the time. He’s a good driver and enjoys driving (unlike me, he is very calm and never gets rattled, even in heavy traffic), so that’s not out of the question.

That guy at church who chastised my husband for letting me be the driver may have been a dick, but I have to admit I would prefer for my husband to drive me around. Not because I’m a woman, but because I’m me.

Beep beep’m beep beep yeah.

 

 

Update on My Husband’s Work Situation

My husband’s boss has agreed to renew his contract for another month, so crisis averted for the time being. The boss says he will try to renew it one month at a time as long as possible, but due to funding issues he strongly suggests my husband look for other jobs (which he’s already doing anyway) and take the first thing that comes along. If only something else would come along.

Meanwhile, in his spare time, my husband is researching another possible career direction that would allow him to be self-employed and not have to rely on external funding. I will write more on it if it comes to fruition. I’m just relieved that he has a feasible idea, as we’ve been out of ideas for a while now. I’ve always said to him, “We’re both intelligent people, why can’t we figure out how to make some money and provide a decent life for ourselves?” Well, I guess I know why I can’t, but it baffles me that he can’t seem to either.

 

What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?

You want a Lamborghini? Sip martinis?
Look hot in a bikini? You better work bitch
You wanna live fancy? Live in a big mansion?
Party in France?
You better work bitch

I have to laugh at those lyrics. Lamborghini, mansion, and party in France? I just want to keep a roof over our heads, and even that is hard enough!

With my husband about to be out of a job at the end of April and with no glimmer of hope for anything else on the horizon for him, I am starting to panic. I am going to have to start looking for work again.

At age 42, I have shamefully still not found my place in the workforce. My training is in office admin, yet office admin jobs have proven to be too stressful for me. Still, that’s the kind of job I have the best chance of getting because it’s what I’m qualified to do, even though I know I can’t handle it long-term. At least, I never have been able to before.

I am willing to do some retraining in another field if I can secure some funding for it, but of course that wouldn’t solve the immediate problem, and I wouldn’t even know what to pick anyway. My sensory issues preclude me from doing the things I would otherwise be good at, like working with animals. Some people have told me I would make a good counselor, but I’m certain that my social issues would cause me to fuck that up somehow. Not to mention the stress and overload of feeling other people’s pain every day.

Whenever I do aptitude tests, I get the most impractical results like philosopher, religious clergy, and writer. The last one seems somewhat feasible on the surface, and I do enjoy writing, but the market is saturated with writers and you can’t make any money (certainly not enough to live on) unless you’re exceptionally good at it. Plus, from some online courses I’ve taken, I know that a big part of being a writer is promoting yourself, which is not something I can do. And then there are the inevitable critical reviews, which would probably cripple my ability to write at all. That’s what I’m like, sadly.

Still, there must be something I can do that I would be good at and that wouldn’t destroy me.

Another obstacle is that in order to do retraining, I’d need to know I can stay in one place until the program is finished. Since I got married, I have never had that security. My husband is an academic who works on short-term contracts and that means moving from place to place. Sometimes he finds himself unemployed (which is what I’m afraid is about to happen at the end of April), and when that happens he busts his butt trying to find work and we have to be ready to move to wherever he does. Right now there is a two-year program I’d be interested in at the community college that starts in September. But I don’t even know if we’ll be here in September, let alone when the program finishes two years later.

My husband has been trying all along to land something more permanent, but has been unsuccessful. He has even been willing to get out of academia entirely in order to have more secure employment, and has applied for many, many things, highlighting his many transferable skills, but so far no one has been willing to give him a chance because they see him as “too academic.” He is willing to do almost anything (legal and ethical, of course) to give us a better, more settled, less stressful life, but despite his efforts all other doors have remained closed to him.

Normally my lack of a career or even a job doesn’t bother me. I am very content being a stay-at-home wife. I don’t get bored or lonely during the day; I love having peaceful alone time and the ability to control my sensory environment. When I did work, I just wished I were at home all day. I desperately yearned for it, in fact. Home is where I truly want to be. And unlike most people, I don’t feel like I have to have some grand purpose in life. Just getting through each day without cracking up feels like work to me. But one of us needs to be making money, and if it’s not my husband, it has to be me. So I have to figure something out. Hopefully by the end of the month.

 

A Great Dog I Once Knew

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Photo from Photofunia

When I was a little girl, from age 2 to age 5, we had a dog named Rex. He was half border collie, half mystery DNA, and was the sweetest, most loving, most personable dog you could imagine. My mom used to let me play outside with him as my babysitter. He treated me like a little sheep, and if I ventured too close to the road, he would herd me back towards the house. He was completely trustworthy.

I loved that dog, and he was as much a “person” to me as any human was.

We lived on acreage at that time, on a beautiful piece of land with forested trails lined with ferns, wild berries, and trilliums. I named these trails “The Beautiful Ways.”

Unfortunately, my dad lost his job and my parents started to struggle financially. My dad sold the trees for wood and they were cut down. The Beautiful Ways were no more. Eventually my dad put the whole place up for sale. One of my uncles offered to let us move in with him in his apartment in town. The catch was that we couldn’t have pets there.

Since we couldn’t bring Rex, my dad shot him. I heard the gun shot from the house and it startled me, leaving me feeling shaky as sudden loud noises always had and still do. Then my dad came into the house and made me come outside with him and look at Rex’s corpse. I think he thought that was good parenting; that seeing Rex dead would help me to accept his death and move on from it.

My reaction still puzzles me to this day. I just stared at Rex’s body, feeling numb, as if the sight I was seeing didn’t mean anything or wasn’t completely real.

I feel something now when I remember back to that day. I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. I wonder if Rex sensed what was about to happen and felt any fear or betrayal. I cry when I think about this. He was such an incredibly good dog; he didn’t deserve that. His life was valuable, and he should not have been considered expendable.

This is going to sound crazy, but I pray for Rex now. No church ever taught me this (most of my spiritual thoughts and beliefs were not taught to me by any person or institution), but I tend to think that God created the universe, and since time is a property of the universe, God must exist outside time. That must be why the Bible says that to God, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. So I pray retroactively that Rex didn’t feel any pain or fear. It don’t know if that’s a legitimate or effective thing to do but I figure it can’t hurt.

Once my dad was working again we moved out of my uncle’s apartment into a place where we could have pets. One day when I was 7 my dad brought home a new dog. But I never bonded with him. Rex, for some reason, had never aggravated my sensory issues, but this new dog did. He smelled really bad all the time, even after a bath. My parents must not have put much (or any) effort into training him, because he was unruly and uncontrolled, jumping on people and humping their legs. My parents didn’t walk him (and I didn’t realize at that age that dogs are supposed to be walked), they just let him defecate in the yard, which made the yard unsuitable to play in. Years later after my dad left and my mom and I were about to move into an apartment again, she took the dog to an animal shelter. I may not have been close to him like I was to Rex, but it still seemed a bit harsh to just heartlessly leave him at a shelter. But then, with my dad gone, at least murder wasn’t seen as an option.

My husband and I have a completely different attitude towards pets compared to my parents. Our cat is a member of our family and we love her. We would never consider moving into a place that didn’t allow pets. It was tough finding a rental that allowed pets when we moved to this city, but we managed to do it. We’d pretty much rather live under a bridge than not have our cat with us. I tell her sometimes, “We will always take care of you.” And I mean it.

 

 

 

Trying to Make it On My Own

Toronto

Photo by Kat Northern Lights Man via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to be old enough to live on my own. My dad had left just before I turned 14 and a couple years later my mom decided we needed a new start, so we moved to a small town of her choice a four-hour drive away. Unfortunately, I hated that town. This is going to sound really flaky, but I just got a bad, oppressive vibe there. Plus, it was really hard for me to make friends there, and it seemed like all the people my own age who were willing to have anything to do with me when I first moved there were heavy drug users. I drank alcohol, but illegal drugs were not my thing and being around them made me really uncomfortable. Meanwhile, I didn’t have a great relationship with my mom. She yelled a lot and was very critical. It’s like she took pleasure in pointing out things I was doing wrong and ways in which I was at fault for various things.

For example, sometimes my dad would phone and if I was friendly to him, my mom would scream at me, “How can you be so nice to him after the way he’s treated me? I’m the one who’s always been there for you! Where is your loyalty?” So then one time I refused to talk to him, thinking I was showing loyalty to my mom like she wanted. But then she yelled, “How dare you treat your father like that! No matter what he’s done, he’s still your father, and you have no right to disrespect him that way! If you keep doing this he’ll never come back to us!” This is only one of many examples. It was an ongoing pattern in our relationship when I was a teenager. I couldn’t do anything right in her eyes and I got yelled at for every little thing. It was unbearable. I don’t even have words to describe the pain and stress her yelling and criticism caused. Needless to say, home did not feel like an emotionally safe place for me.

I had dropped out of school when I was 14, but I was enrolled in a part-time education program by this point, and through that I got involved in a government-funded employment program for at-risk youth. They got me a summer job in an office, and when summer was over, I was kept on as a part-time employee. I was extremely good at not spending any money back then, so nearly every dime I earned went into my savings account. At 18, having saved up a small nest egg, and with my hours now being drastically cut at work anyway, I moved back to the hometown I desperately missed. Alone.

It never occurred to me that I might not be able to handle it. I had this boundless optimism (which is now long gone), and even though I had already failed at many things, it still never occurred to me that I might suck at life. I just thought anything would be better than living with my mean mom in that town I hated. And I was perfectly willing to work for what I needed. I assumed I was able to do that.

I initially rented a basement suite owned by a family friend. I assumed I would find a job right away, but it turned out to be harder than I thought. Part of the problem was the suite’s inconvenient location and the transportation issues resulting from that. I loved living alone, but seeing how quickly my little nest egg was diminishing just due to basic living expenses, I took a friend (the frenemy I wrote about here) up on her offer to share an apartment with her and her boyfriend. It seemed like a wise decision, as rent would be far cheaper and it was close to all amenities, making my job search much easier (there was no internet in those days; you had to pound the pavement, as they say). It actually went well at first, but then they broke up and my friend moved out.

Now here’s where I made one of my clueless social blunders. It didn’t occur to me that because my friend had moved out, I had to move out too. I liked the apartment and the location, and I got along well (platonically) with her ex-boyfriend. He was a really nice guy. It wasn’t like he had treated her badly; she had just gotten bored with him and wanted to move on, so I didn’t see how it could be a loyalty issue like when I was nice to my dad in spite of him treating my mom badly. But my friend got very angry at me for continuing to live there, and I was utterly clueless as to why. Now in retrospect I can understand that it was highly inappropriate for me to stay there, but I couldn’t see that back then. I was just baffled. I saw that apartment as my home. Why should I have to leave my home because of a decision someone else made? It was bad enough when my parents broke up and I had to go wherever my mom went, but I was an adult and could do what I wanted now, or so I thought. But it understandably led to a huge strain in our friendship.

And then a few months later my friend’s ex-boyfriend moved out too. He couldn’t cook and I certainly wasn’t doing that for him, so he found a room-and-board situation that included meals. And I couldn’t afford to pay the rent on my own, so after a disastrous situation resulting from placing an ad in the paper for a new roommate (which deserves its own post), I ended up having to move anyway.

The next couple years were spent moving from place to place and having roommate after roommate. In total I lived in six different apartments/suites with 9 different roommates. My living situation was a constant source of stress and worry. Some of my roommates were very unpleasant. One of them told me she thought I had a mental illness because I spent so much time in my room, but I was only doing that because being around her was a constant sensory assault.

I wished I could live alone again, but I just couldn’t afford it, even once I had found employment.

I was only able to find minimum-wage jobs (not surprising, given my lack of education). The first one was at McDonalds, where I started working a few weeks after moving in with my friend and her boyfriend, but I only lasted six weeks. The noise and the fast pace were more than I could handle and I ended up having a crying meltdown and getting labelled “emotionally unstable” by my boss, so I quit in a state of overload and humiliation. About a month later I landed a job in a mall bookstore and worked there for about 15 months.

I performed fairly well at the bookstore, despite the stress of dealing with customers, but I had a difficult boss. I got to be good friends with one of my co-workers (whom I’m still friends with to this day), and our boss became very paranoid about the friendship. She accused us of plotting against her (which was a completely false accusation; I wouldn’t know how to plot against someone even if I wanted to, and I have certainly never wanted to) and forbade us to speak to each other. One time, she saw us smiling at each other across the store and demanded to know what we were up to. We were “up to” nothing. We were friends, and we smiled when we saw each other; it was as simple as that.

I have always tended to get sick a lot (mostly bad colds/coughs and nausea/vomiting) when I’m in the workforce, so my choices are to either come in to work sick and get criticized for that, or call in sick a lot, and get criticized for that. During that time, I tended to call in, but then my boss accused me of calling in sick because of hangovers! She even wrote it in my employee record! Again, another completely false accusation. I have never called in sick because of a hangover in my whole life. I did drink socially, but I’ve never been falling-down drunk in my life and I have rarely had anything resembling a hangover. But I guess in her mind, there could be no other explanation for such frequent illnesses. It is odd, I admit, but I have always been this way and nothing I have tried has helped.

The work environment became increasingly tense, and soon the boss had become paranoid about the entire staff. Apparently another staff member overheard her telling someone that she intended to find reasons to fire the entire staff so she could start fresh with a new “uncorrupted” staff. This was because she thought one of the staff members (fortunately not me) was a troublemaker and was poisoning everyone else against her. It was insane; there was nothing like that going on. But she did start firing people one by one and I knew it would happen to me eventually. I dreaded going in there every day, not knowing if that day might be the day. One day I couldn’t take all the stress anymore and I quit. I knew it was unwise, as I had nothing else lined up, but I had reached a breaking point and I knew I would soon be fired anyway. Knowing that potential employers always ask why you left your last job, I knew it would be better to say that I left of my own volition than that I was fired.

In the following weeks, my former boss did indeed fire every last member of staff. In one case, she rummaged through a staff-member’s bag and found a roll of toilet paper, which she then accused her of stealing from the staff bathroom. My close friend was let go with the reason, “The length of time you have now worked here has made you overqualified for the position for which you were originally hired.”

For about three months I desperately tried to find another job, to no avail. Then some awful things happened with my roommate. I had come full circle; this was actually the same person who was my first roommate, the friend who had broken up with her boyfriend and moved out; we had since made up and moved in together again. She said she didn’t want to live alone because she had an ex-boyfriend (not the same one we had lived with) who had been violent with her and was continuing to threaten her, and she thought living with a roommate would offer some level of protection. It didn’t. She ended up getting assaulted by him and I was called to court as a witness (it turns out he had actually been on a bit of a rampage that night, so assaulting her wasn’t the only charge). But having reconciled with him before the court date, she lied in court to protect him and got angry with me for telling the truth. She moved out of our place and in with him (and eventually married him). We had been friends our whole lives but have not spoken to each other since that day. Her choice, not mine. I did not reject friends back then, no matter what, even when I probably should have.

Meanwhile, the guy I was seeing at the time was fast losing interest in me, dashing my hopes for something serious to develop there. A mutual friend he’d confided in told me he had developed feelings for someone else, so I asked him about it. I wasn’t angry (I never got angry about anything back then; it was almost like a weird deficit in my emotional repertoire), but I did want to know. He admitted it was true, but he got angry at the person who told me, which made that person angry at me. I apologized, but she said, “I don’t have time for this juvenile bullshit,” and never spoke to me again.

Emotionally, I hit rock bottom. I had tried and tried to make it on my own. I had been running on adrenaline for two years. I was exhausted, and I was getting physically sicker by the day (probably partly because I couldn’t afford to eat healthy food, or much of anything, really). I’d lost a couple friends, lost my boyfriend, had no job, my money had run out, I couldn’t afford rent on my own, and my mom had been calling me on the phone daily, begging me to move back in with her. I remember just sitting there thinking, okay, what are my options? Everything I had tried had failed, so I narrowed it down to two: I could either kill myself, or I could move back in with my mom. Killing myself would take a certain amount of courage and impetus that I just didn’t have. So I chose the latter. And it felt like a death of sorts anyway.

Dreaming of a Life

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Photo by Kristy via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

With my husband’s work contract about to expire in a couple months, he is once again applying for jobs. Jobs in his line of work are few and far between and we always have to end up moving when he gets one. The jobs he’s applied for this time around are in a variety of different cities. So things are very uncertain and we don’t know where we’ll end up.

I hate living like this. I didn’t know it was going to be like this when we got married. Because of his degrees and career ambition (not to mention my trouble coping in the workforce… but we didn’t fully understand the reasons for that back then like we do now), we agreed that he would be the primary breadwinner and we would go wherever he needed to for his career. I was perfectly happy with that, but even though he had warned me that we might have to move to a couple of different places while he did post-doctoral fellowships for the first few years, he thought he would land a tenure-track position after about five years and then we could settle down. Instead, his entire 12-year career thus far has turned out to be moving from one short-term contract to another and therefore one city to another. It’s not his fault. This is just the direction things have taken in the last decade in his line of work. It is a common problem, but one we did not anticipate.

People with autism tend to resist change and like (or need) routines and stability. I am no different. I feel like I can’t handle this life, and yet I have no choice. This is our life and we seem to have no real control over it. It is scary and very, very draining and disheartening.

I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster lately, alternating between dreaming of an ideal outcome where my husband lands a permanent position somewhere we’d really like to live, preferably near where we already have friends and family, and worrying that he’s going to end up unemployed again and we’re going to have to move back in with my parents, which, although I love them, is a nightmare scenario at our age. I’d like to be near family, but not be forced by poverty and hopelessness to actually live with them. The reality will likely end up being somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. Another low-paid, short-term contact in a mediocre location.

But my dreams persist. There’s this one job my husband has applied for that’s in an idyllic location. Gorgeous scenery, mild winters, great culture. And my husband’s salary would be almost twice what he’s currently earning. I find myself picturing a life there. No, not just a life. A lifestyle. I see myself going for walks by the ocean, living in a house instead of an apartment, setting up a room to be my own private writer’s studio, shopping at farmer’s markets, experiencing the city’s culture, owning a car again and going on day trips in the surrounding countryside. And because of the mild winters, I wouldn’t practically become a recluse for five months of the year because of my cold-temperature-induced asthma like I do here. Plus, we’d at least be closer to some of our family and friends, if not in the same city as them.

My dreams aren’t entirely selfish though. I also dream of being able to help others. To be able to afford to give to the causes that tug at my heart. I know those who have no money can volunteer their time, but I have so little energy, such a low tolerance for busyness, and am so clumsy and inept, that I tend to be more of a liability than an asset when I try to volunteer. I can’t even serve soup without dumping it on someone. I’ve tried.

But then, why do I think I even have the right to dream about this, when I can’t even hold a job? I’m well aware that nothing comes for free in this life, and if you want something, you have to work for it, but every time I try to do that I crash and burn. Besides, if I did have a job or a career, I’d still have to leave it every time my husband had to move on, because that was our agreement. He’s often said that it’s fairly common for people in his line of work to end up having marital problems when their spouse has a career, because with the constant moving that has become the norm, there’s the struggle of one spouse having to sacrifice their career for the other’s career. He has met many fellow academics in that situation. That’s why he’s never minded one bit that I am the way I am, even if it does increase our financial struggles.

So anyway, I know I probably seem like some kind of entitled Real Housewife type, wanting my husband to provide all this for me. But I’m not really like that, deep down. I know I don’t deserve these things I desire. What I deserve is the life I current have: A tiny rented apartment (with no dishwasher or in-suite laundry facilities) in an ugly city with harsh winters, far from family and friends, and with no car to even allow me a change of scenery every once in a while. Or worse, living in my parents’ basement in their home in the middle of nowhere.

Right or wrong, I do still dream though. I’m sorry.

 

 

 

The Lack of a Secure Home, for Us or Anyone Else

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Photo by Nick Kendrick. Used under Creative Commons. (Photo’s colour has been edited.)

As I’ve mentioned before, I have no desire to have children. I’m not good with little kids, I have no idea how to talk to them or play with them, and my severe sensory issues would make it very difficult if not impossible for me to handle having a baby. But sometimes I find my heart going out to teenagers who are in bad situations, and I have sometimes thought maybe one day I might be willing to offer a home to one in need.

If this seems to contradict what I’ve said previously, it’s only because I’d forgotten about it. I’d forgotten that I’d ever felt this way. But I had a dream last night that reminded me.

Several years ago, I became aware that a 16-year-old relative of mine was in a bad situation. Her parents were immature, irresponsible, and unloving, and this girl had never had any stability or security. Somehow she had managed to turn out to be an intelligent, deep-thinking young lady, with more wisdom in her little finger than in both of her parents put together. I really liked this girl, and when her mother kicked her out of the house during an argument over something trivial, I yearned to take her in.

I never told anyone other than my husband that I felt this way. Especially her. My husband and I lived in a different city several hours away. To ask her to come there, away from her friends, school, and other relatives, I would have required the confidence that we had something to offer her. But we were living in a small rented home, I wasn’t working, and my husband’s job, like every job he’s ever had, was a short-term contract with no promise of renewal. I was praying that we could get into a more stable position, and if we did, I wanted to offer her a home with us.

But instead of getting into a more stable position, things got worse. The work ran out for my husband. We both desperately searched for work, to no avail. We had no choice but to move in with my parents and we lived with them for two years. When we finally got out of their house again, it was into another insecure situation in a city even further away.

Before I knew it, my young relative was of age, having gotten by living with roommates and boyfriends. She then met and married a man with a good job. She completed her post-secondary education and eventually opened her own business. She and her husband live in a beautiful, spacious house, she drives a brand new car, they have two children, and if her Facebook posts are anything to go by, they have a very happy, successful, prosperous life. She has landed on her feet.

Meanwhile, my husband and I are still struggling. We live in a 500-square-foot apartment. We don’t own a car. I’ve had and lost yet another job due to my inadequate social skills and inability to cope with stress. My husband’s work contract has recently been renewed for only two more months, and after that, we have no idea what’s going to happen. Despite his best efforts, his PhD and two master’s degrees have not been helpful in securing long-term or well-paid employment.

Who am I to think I have anything to offer anyone? I think the reason my heart goes out to young people who need a stable, secure home is because I want a stable, secure home myself. But I don’t have one, and I don’t have the ability create one for myself let alone for someone else.

I can’t help thinking that maybe things wouldn’t have turned out so well for my young relative if she had climbed aboard our sinking ship. She did just fine on her own, thank God.

And yet people still ask, why don’t you have kids? Why don’t you adopt kids? Just recently my husband was grilled about this by an old friend of his, and overhearing the conversation made me feel angry and frustrated.

It Could Be Me

Homeless
Photo by Shots by Michelle via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

Normally I don’t broadcast it when I give to others, but something happened the other day that I keep thinking about. I had to go downtown for something, and while there, there was an unkempt man nearby asking other people for quarters, and no one was giving him any. He didn’t ask me, but I could hear that his voice was getting more and more agitated and I sensed his desperation, and I was worried about what might happen if he had a meltdown, so I said, “You need quarters? I have quarters.” I dug around in my purse but could only find three. I handed them to him. He said, “I only needed two,” and handed one back to me. Then he said, “Thank you. You’re a nice lady.” I appreciated that he called me a lady instead of a girl. That’s more respect than I usually get out in public.

I have had bad experiences with this kind of thing before with people trying to take advantage, but apparently this guy really just did need two quarters.

I realize that giving people change is a controversial issue because of what they might spend it on. But the way I see it, even if they are an addict, they’re going to get their fix somehow and I would rather them experience a moment of kindness in the meantime. Call me a bleeding heart liberal if you wish.

The thing is, I don’t use drugs or anything, but if I didn’t have a loving family or an employed husband, I could easily end up homeless at some point in my life. Due to my various issues, and despite my best efforts, I am unable to hold a job long-term, and even when I have had a job, I haven’t earned enough to get by financially on my own. I appear normal (once when I did try asking for help, I was told, “You’re obviously an intelligent person; you can figure something out”) and haven’t been (and may never be) officially diagnosed with autism or anything else that would qualify me for assistance, nor do I have the energy and emotional fortitude to jump through all the necessary hoops, so things could very easily take an unfortunate turn for me. I think about that sometimes.

So, I try not to judge a book by its cover, and I err on the side of kindness.