I'm smart, shockingly so. "Human Encyclopedia" has been used to describe me quite a few times, several of those times it wasn't even me saying it. I also have Asperger's, and no I didn't self diagnose. Co-workers, friends and strangers with Asperger's kept suggesting it to me. I disagreed, but during one of my few moments of being insured I went to a psychologist and met with him bi-monthly for about six months. Near to the end of these meetings he told me he thought Asperger's was the right diagnosis for me. I asked if I could get that in writing, he told me no. He wanted to see me for a few more years to make really sure. I ran out of insurance soon after and have not been insured since. But at least I knew the medical community agreed with everyone else.
Why did I preface this with bragging? Because being an "Aspie" means sometimes I act a bit... obtuse, tactless and blunt. So unless I'm fixing your bicycle, drawing a picture or finishing a Rubik's Cube in less than two minutes, I don't necessarily get on with people all that well. In a professional environment, where I can enjoy rigid expectations of how I am meant to interact with customers, I am usually regarded as the warmest, friendliest server you know.
But with the casual, day to day talking, I am not so good. I tend to rub people the wrong way (you've all seen Sheldon on Big Bang Theory, so you've seen a clownish impersonation of Asperger's, and you can see how I'd be abrasive... if you haven't seen Big Bang Theory then blessings be to you, you're doing good work.)
If you've made it this far and are still reading, you probably do not have ADD and you're thinking to yourself "When is this guy going to get to the point?" Now, I will get to it now. Okay not right now, the next paragraph.
I've had around 16 jobs in five years. I've been just about every entry level job you can think of: car salesman, craft store employee, Wal-Mart employee, carpet cleaner, disaster clean-up, nurse's aid, mechanic, bike mechanic, satellite TV salesman, Internet salesman, quality control, barista, copy-shop employee, Subway employee, Mormon literature shipping employee, grocery store clerk; plus I've done and designed sets, costumes and make-up for several large scale haunted houses. All this and more.
Why have I had so many? I wish I had a good answer for it. One part is I get paid a bit better when I'm doing the haunted house stuff. But it's seasonal. Another, more common, problem is the more average jobs are filled with people who are less socially able than I am (which is a feat, because "Aspie"). Sooner or later they find out I'm autistic and it becomes a game to them. It's a handicap they can make fun of. They'll disorganize things because it amuses them to see me frantically clean them up. They'll touch me just to see me flip out. They'll make loud noises simply to upset me. When I swallow my emotional response they just try harder. When I go over their heads and ask someone to stop this behavior, I generally get chastised for "being a snitch" or whining. So I've stopped doing anything about it. I take the abuse as long as I can and I move on when the nervous breakdown is about to start.
I live in America. So I don't get to go to a doctor at all, and I can't find a good one to give me the diagnosis the last shrink held off on writing down simply to fill his schedule and his pockets.
I live in America, so employers see my handicap as a myth; an excuse for me to be a jerk. (Which is odd, because most everyone I know thinks I'm an incredibly kind person. I just have really loud opinions, which I long ago stopped sharing at work.) There is quite simply no place for me here. I have a long list of past employers I made very happy, some of them are still my references. But because of the stress caused by being who I am, I had to leave.
I'm kind, warm even. I work incredibly hard and I am incredibly skilled. That Rubik's Cube I mentioned earlier, I bought it because I'd never tried to solve one. Nine hours later I had. Three days later I was down to two minutes to solve it. Not only can I fix your bicycle, I can explain to you what makes the steel tubing in it good or bad, I can explain how a triaxial weave works on your carbon frame, and the physics of how you shift gears or stop. With no prior experience I replaced the rear end on a Ford Expedition. And I did it in an afternoon, the right way.
But what I can't do is shake hands and make eye contact all day. That beats the hell out of me. Because of that I've been homeless more than a few times.
I spent six fun months squatting in an abandoned house. I'm 28 years old and I was unable to date until I was 26. If not for my girlfriend I'd be homeless now. I can't own a car and I've got a mountain of debt for medical and student loans. My credit is so bad I can't even get a cell phone contract.
There is literally no way out for me. No way to make enough to get on my feet. Or to own a car, even with my girlfriend's wealthy parents footing half the bills. I only just break even. I own next to nothing and it enrages my debtors, because there is nothing to take from me. I can't legally marry my girlfriend, because if I do it will destroy her credit and they'll seize her belongings.
I'm lost, suffocating in poverty, and I have a disability that is the primary cause of that. But I can't pay the people to write the paper that says I need my version of a wheelchair ramp, my vocational rehab. Because while my handicap makes me brilliant, it also makes me sick and miserable around crowds, noise and disorder. It makes me smarter than my bosses, and no matter how I hide it, the bad bosses take revenge on me for it.
Whitney's story is part of a Huffington Post series profiling Americans who work hard and yet still struggle to make ends meet. Learn more about other individuals' experiences here.
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