Posted in Burnout

Autistic Gratitude and the Workplace

I have a picture of a drawing one of my former mentors made.  It’s of a white candle, embellished with gold rings at the bottom and a cross on top.  It illustrates the words of Blessed Theresa Gerhardingher, founders of the sisters who sponsor my alma mater: “The candle consumes itself as it serves others by its shining.”

As principals, we were encouraged to not keep ourselves burning constantly, and take time to replenish ourselves so that we would not deplete our reserves.

It was impossible this year.  I worked almost every day, and all summer long planning and trying to bring plans to fruition.  My priest took two days off, half days Sunday and Tuesday, and a full day Monday.  He’s had true retreats and mini-vacations.  I was working weekends and every day, and if I was very lucky, I could work at home on the weekends.

Even Mass was working for me, as it was for him.

A candle’s wax burns, but if you let it cool off once in a while and grow firm again, it lasts longer.  Yes, it will eventually consume itself, as we should all do to serve others, but it should take a long time.  Protecting the candle helps a lot, since if the wax all drips off to the side, it’s not very useful when it firms up again.  Apparently you can add things like salt to candles, the internet tells me, and they’ll last longer.  I’m not sure if this is true or not, but it’s a nice thing to say, since care and feeding of the candle are important, I’d like to think.

My candle is gone, or near to it.  It’s like I didn’t even burn the candle at both ends; it’s like I tossed it into a bonfire and wondered why it melted so quickly.

I’ve been blogging for months about near burnout.  A funny thing about us Autistics is we’re so used to the world giving us shitty treatment even when they don’t realize they are (he kind of knew, but didn’t bother himself about helping me to find ways to take time off) that when someone appreciates us, we’ll do just about anything to please them and prove worthy of their support.

Until we wear out and can’t go any more.

Right now, as you can imagine, I’m hurting, with the closure of the school.  But what hurts the most is that, as usual, I’ll be out of work again soon, and that I’m not even worth wooing back for another position.  I’m a strong writer, bilingual, and actually understand the Church’s mission and teachings pretty well.  I’m an asset to church ministry.

Oh, I’ll also work dirt cheap because I’m so grateful someone will take a chance on me.  And I’ll work harder than most everyone else and do more, too.

And yet, I was not asked to consider even a demotion.

This desperation-in-the-workplace is obviously not sustainable, especially since few employers, not even church employers, are going to really look out for their employees, apparently.

I have a lot of strikes against me: 1) I’m fat, so I make a poor first impression, 2) I’m Autistic, so my first impression is going to also be, well, “weird,” and 3) I have so many degrees that employers think I won’t stick around anyway.  Any one of those things is difficult for employment purposes, but all three is a trifecta of obstacles.

Then add in that I’m fresh off a rather public failure.

All this, despite the fact that I did everything (or most everything) right.

I was so grateful to be asked to take this job even though it was impossible and I probably shouldn’t have been asked in the first place.  We should have closed last year, or (more properly) ten years ago.  But I was so grateful someone wanted me to lead and loved my ideas that I tried anyway.

I want to tell other Autistics not to do what I did, not to consume yourself so you’re left with nothing for yourself, but I don’t know that that is realistic.  We have to work harder to get and keep a job than most, so we’re going to be grateful and taken advantage of without people even specifically trying.

But what options do we have, really?