This is probably the most improtant thread I've posted. I hinted about this in the New Year's thread. I've got a Project.
I haven't been posting about personal stuff on here for a few years. So, for those who don't know me, I'm 38, two ex-wives, two kids, one son that I just recently got back in contact with after 15+ years, and a grandchild on the way.
I could go on at length - book length - about the troubles I've had and the impact that they had on my life. A lot of it I've just learned about in the last few years. I'm not going to bore anyone (too much), so I'll just hit the high points. I'll put it in spoiler tags if anyone wants to skip it.
I was fed, but was basically left to raise myself. How does a child teach a child to be an adult? Easy - they don't. I wasn't a normal child, either. I didn't learn until I was in my mid 30s that I'm mildly autistic. I was never diagnosed as a child, so I was never treated. You know what being different is like as a child. The bullying in school was intense. Elementary school saw me being cornered and beaten almost every day until I was terrified to leave the house. The teachers saw it and ignored it. My father saw it and ignored it. There was nowhere I could look for help. Junior High was as bad, and by then the depression had hit. I didn't talk to anyone, I didn't have a friend for years. I was a total recluse from the time I was 10 until my late teens. My father knew I had serious problems. He watched me cry and beat my head against the wall, yet he never bothered to so much as talk to a doctor or school counselor about it. I could go on in this vein, but you get the idea.
The point is, by the time I became an adult, I had no idea how to function in society. Because of how I'd grown up, I'd never learned any of the skills or the sense of responsibilty an adult needs. Because of the autism, I also lacked many interpersonal and social skills. What was worse, I didn't know that these things were missing. How do you know you're lacking something you've never had or been shown? As a result, my first marriage was a disaster. We'd gotten pregnant when I was 19, and to be honest, in the condition I was in, I should never have been in a relationship. I was a horrible husband and father. I wasn't abusive, I was just not there. I was following my father's example, I suppose. I didn't know any better, and I'm ashamed of it. We divorced after a year and a half, and I just - left. I hated Indiana and wanted to be anywhere else. I'd just met the woman who was to be my second wife, and we moved away.
It was a horrible thing to do to my son, and is the biggest mistake of my life. By the time I realized how badly I'd screwed up, he already had a stepfather, who adopted him soon afterwards. As an aside, he just recently turned 18, and I've been able to get back in contact with him again. It's a chance to address that mistake (although I know I can never fix it), although I'm scared to death I'll screw it up again.
Anyway, back on topic.
There I was, 22 years old, none of what I needed to be an adult, and buried in the problems that my upbringing had given me. The autism was always the root from which the rest sprang. I needed to be a part of society when I lacked the learned skills my father should have taught me, plus I lacked the instinctive abilities a neurotypical person has. Every conversation has mistakes, and every mistake brings rebuke and humiliation. It is intensely stressful and terrifying. Add to that the way other kids had treated me growing up, and it isn't surprising that I saw people as something to be feared and avoided. Still, I was on my own, and had to make my way, so I gritted my teeth and did what 'had' to be done, never realizing that the way I was feeling wasn't normal, or that I could get help and find a better way.
I did that for about eight years. It wasn't all that effective. The stres was exhausting. The few jobs I wasn't fired from for calling in, I quit. Let me tell you, burying that kind of fear and stress for years on end is intense. At home I was constantly angry, withdrawn, and tense. It was a bomb waiting to go off.
Finally, in 2001 I got the wrong job. It was all of the worst kinds of situations for someone like me all tied together into one bundle and locked behind a series of steel doors (literally.) It finally set off that bomb. I was so stressed that I was ill. Sleep was mostly nighmares. I could barely eat. I started having panic attacks. I'd bet everything on that job, and had a baby on the way, so I forced myself to keep at it. After two months, I blacked out on the highway going to work. I went in to the office that day and requested medical leave.
A year or so later, I tried a different job. It was light, and it was laid back. Within a few weeks, I was back to having nightmares and panic attacks. It was 2003, I had just turned 30, and I'd finally broken.
About nine years ago on Gone Gold (the predecessor to OO), I posted a thread asking for help on applying for disability. I did so, and have been on it ever since. That was in 2003, the year my second son with Michelle was born, and the year my father finally died. I started receiving treatment then, although it was several years before it did much good. There was just too much crap layered on - it took a couple of years of misdiagnosis before anyone was actually able to get far enough past the symptoms to start finding the root causes. The Asperger's diagnosis was a huge breakthrough. It came shortly after my son was diagnosed with PDD/NOS, also on the autism spectrum. Things started getting better after that, and I started making progress, but after a while the progress plateaued.
In 2007 Michelle and I divorced. The reasons are complicated, but it had a huge impact on me. For the first time in my life, I was completely on my own. In 2006, I rarely left the house. I wouldn't make a phone call, and couldn't go shopping. Michelle did all that for me, taking care of the things that caused me the most trouble. Her leaving took away the support, but it also took away the crutch. It was really hard on me, but it gave me the push I needed to really start to make progress on myself. I tied up loose ends. I came to terms with the spiritual jumble I'd been fighting with for 30 years. I figured out the truth about what my father had done (it wasn't until he was dead that I was able to actually see him for what he really was.) I learned how to accept that I was fundamentally different from most people as opposed to thinking of myself as flawed. I learned how to function in my own way, to go out and do the things that needed to be done. Finally, in my middle and late 30s, I finsihed becoming an adult. 20 years too late, but better than never. I'm not 100% yet (and may never be), but the end is in sight, and I know how to get there.
That brings me to the point of this thread (for those of you that are still reading.) The Project. I'm 38 now. I've been on disability for close to nine years. I'm thankful for it, knowing that in almost any other time or place I'd have been living (or dead) in some ditch. Still, it's not a good way to live your life. I'm stuck at well below the poverty line. I have no options for advancement, for a promotion, or for a raise. I won't even get into the dread of the, 'So, what do you do?' question. I've been alone for five years, ever since the divorce. Dating isn't going to happen, not when I'm in this situation. The loneliness gets overwhelming at times. I can't make my life better than it is, which pushes a person toward a sense of resigned hopelessness that is about as bad of a feeling as you can get.
A lot of people see being on disability as some sort of free paradise. It isn't. It is a miserable way to live. What's worse, you're under constant threat. Every now and then, my case comes up for review - normally every four years. A month of paperwork, doctor's reports, and interviews ends with someone who doesn't know me deciding whether I'm still disabled. If they decide 'yes', then life goes on. If they decide 'no', then I've got a month, two at most, before I'm out on the street, and that's literal. My income would just be turned off like a lightswitch, and I'd have to find work with enough of an income to support a family of three within a few weeks, or I'd lose my apartment and I'd lose my kids. Finding work is hard for anyone, and for someone coming off of a decade of disability? I'm unemployable. It is a virtual sword of Damocles, except that there is an invisible hand with a pair of scissors flitting around the room.
My disability review was two months ago. Just a few weeks ago they said 'yes.' Life goes on.
In four years, I'll be up for review again. I plan to tell them, 'No thanks.'
That means that I have about three years. After that, I need to be ready to step back into society and survive. In that time, I need to finish getting myself put back together, and get the rest of the skills I'm lacking in order. That's a matter for me to deal with, and it is something I believe I can do. Four years ago on my last review, I couldn't say that.
It also means that I have about three years to repair as much of the damage to my life as I can. I'm talking debt, health, credit, work history and all the other practical things that twelve years of depression and anxiety folowed by twelve years of disabilty can do. I need to replace a lot of bad habits that helped me survive the stress before disability with productive ones that will improve my life. It means that I have three years to not only come up with a plan for moving from unemployable to working, but to execute that plan.
I can't screw it up. I'm 38. That means that this all come to fruition when I'm about 42 or 43, which is a hard enough age to restart one's life. If I'm not ready and get four more years, I'd be 46 or 47, which way too many potential employers would round up to 50. Plus, to be honest with you, I'd rather be doing something respectable before my kids are in high school, not after they graduate. If I think I'm ready, but am not, then I'll be giving up my disability and will be putting myself on the street - cutting the thread on the sword myself. This is my last (maybe even first?) chance to turn my life around. One shot at either being someone worthy of respect and dignity, or else being the guy people pity.
So, for the next little while, I have a lot of work to do. I have several areas of my life that I need to figure out how to fix and make real progress on. Many of them are areas that have been damaged or neglected for years. Many of them are subjects I don't know the first thing about, and don't even know where to start looking. I'll be asking for a lot of advice here. That's one of the reasons for this thread - to provide an explanation I can link back to without sabotaging any requests for advice with a wall of text.
Thanks for reading.