Posted in Autistic Identity, Social Rules, Vocation

What Putting Yourself First Looks Like for Me

I blogged earlier about a rule I’m learning from watching Survivor: that people do, in fact, put themselves first.

I had a conversation with my trusted mentor, in the wake of leaving my principalship early.  I had remembered that he used to teach in public schools, himself.  Here’s a little of what I learned.

Put Your Own Family First

[Image: a businesswoman wearing a white dress shirt and black blazer is balancing a Scrabble-like rack with tiles spelling LIFE on one side and WORK on the other on a wooden dowel. LIFE appears to be weighing more heavily.]
The thing about vocations is that we have potentially many.  We have the one where we’re a nun, a monk, a priest, a wife, a mother, a husband, a father, a consecrated virgin, or whatever.  There’s that one.  And there’s also the one where we hopefully align our job to what we’re called to do for our work.

Two vocations.

I have been living my life as if I were called to the sisterhood, yet living as a wife and mother.  That’s a no go.

Instead, because I have more degree combinations than my husband and the greatest likelihood of lucrative employment, I am called to be the primary breadwinner.  When I carry the health insurance, traditionally, we have had good insurance.  When he carries it, it is not great and we pay out a lot for a very little.

I typically also make more money than my husband.  When I was at the university, I carried professor-like health insurance for me and my family.  I put that job with two other jobs and made more than he did.  It’s almost always been that way in my marriage.

This time, I put all the eggs in one low-paying, no insurance basket.  My retirement is now almost gone, and we got taxed substantially because we had to pull money from it.  We are spinning around in circles financially because I took this risk.

The risk I took made sense if my family vocation was that of nun.  I’m not a nun.  I’m a wife and mother.

My mentor talked about how hard it was to leave the Catholic schools for the public schools.  He talked about how people laughed at him when he said that, that they didn’t understand how hard it could possibly be to take a job that paid better with better benefits.  Also, public schoolteachers have a very protective union.  They are much safer than other types of teachers.

But he had to give up some major things.  He could no longer talk about faith, nor could he hug kids if he felt they needed it.  He said it was always awkward to know a kid needed the hug and it would be better if he did it, but to not be able to do that.  He talked about how sometimes kids need love more than they need curriculum, and when he was in Catholic schools, he felt empowered to take a break when the student needed it.

But he had to put his own family first.

Continue reading “What Putting Yourself First Looks Like for Me”

Posted in Passing as Neurotypical, Social Rules

Looking Out For Number One: Even Nice Guys Do It

I have blogged before about watching old Survivor episodes and finding it interesting to learn about human nature within the context of a game. I strongly believe in the power of games to teach Autistics about social skills. While we’re doing something (not merely socializing), we can also look around and listen to other people and learn what they’re like in a context that makes some degree of sense to us. In watching Survivor, I think I’m finally starting to understand neurotypicals better. One big lesson is that neurotypicals always put themselves first.

The Central neurotypical Rule: I Am Number One

I suspect this should be obvious because when I say it, it seems so, but really, it hasn’t been that clear to me. Part of the problem, I think, is that I had internalized a lot of social rules about sharing and what is expected of me as a woman (girls are nice). But when I watch Survivor, I see being nice as a game. Strong game players will use niceness as a way to manipulate people, but they are always thinking about what they need.

I watched a lot of this play out in my principalship: the priests and pastors would always be thinking of their schools first. If one of the rest of us had it harder, and they had it easier, that was a-okay. I felt alone in my desire to grow the pool of students for all of us so that we all could win because I really didn’t believe in a zero-sum game. Meanwhile, everyone else was playing a different game: we won’t hurt you, and we might help you, but if and only if your helping yourself can in no way (even tangentially) impact us. Whenever I tried to grow the pool for all of us, it was attacked as possibly hurting the other schools.

Had I learned this lesson sooner, I would have done things differently. I would have recognized that, because we were in crisis, we needed to focus on ourselves first and exclusively. We might have still closed, but I would have gone farther and had a better chance at staying open had I focused on saving us any way possible including directly competing with the other schools.

And yes, that would involve breaking the rules I learned about how to get along with other people. That would have been directly in conflict with the rules I learned from the Catholic church, but when I observed priests breaking these very rules themselves, I realized they weren’t real rules.

Everyone else puts themselves first.

Continue reading “Looking Out For Number One: Even Nice Guys Do It”

Temporary Hiatus

During the job hunt, which has come faster than expected due to a mutual agreement with my now former employer, I am temporarily putting the blog on hiatus and removed a lot of posts.

I am still writing blog posts, and will work on design/revision of what is here, so you may notice some changes.

You can reach me, as always, via e-mail or Twitter.

Posted in Catholic leadership, Identity, School Leadership, Self-Care

The Benefits of Unicorn Status: Surviving a Job Change with Grace

I’ve made a variant of a Polish saying my mantra lately: this is no longer my circus, and these are now Father’s monkeys.

I say it a lot.

Whenever someone wants to fight over the gym and how and when it will be used?

Go ask Father.

Whenever someone wants to talk about the fish fries: Go ask Father (or, lately, the secretary he’s decided is in charge of them).

It’s not that I won’t help with these things; but the thing is my decisions have no meaning and are very short-term in nature.  The kids will be gone within two months and we’re none of us good at stretching work out.  We’ll be done with all we can do by May, easily, and yet we have contracts until June’s out.  Well, some of us do.  The rest of us are hourly, and I’d like to protect those hours, but heck if I know what it is we can all do.

Continue reading “The Benefits of Unicorn Status: Surviving a Job Change with Grace”

Posted in Burnout, Self-Care

Wiggling Past Worry: Autistic Resilience in Adversity

I’ve been told that being Autistic is kind of like having some anxiety and some depression at all times, but otherwise by itself it’s fine.

You’re anxious because of the constant stress to fit into this world not designed for us, and you’re depressed because this is just “normal” for you to be in a highly stressed state all of the time.

And the thing of it is, the anxiety and depression are connected to real, verifiable incidents.  We’re not making things up in our head about how the world treats us and how it hurts us to be out in public, even though we might want to be out of the house.  It is, objectively harder for us.

But, you know, we keep going.  This is status quo for us.  It’s never going to fully go away, and we learn how to mitigate the worst of it by changing our behaviors and/or medications, depending o the severity of symptoms and whether or not we are able to change our behaviors.

We generally have to work, for example, and work is a constant stressor, particularly when it takes places outside the house (as is the thought of interviewing and looking for work, etc.).

But you know what’s interesting about us?

Despite the constant anxiety and depression, we are freaking resilient people, especially if we have the right people around us, affirming us for what we are good at doing.

Continue reading “Wiggling Past Worry: Autistic Resilience in Adversity”

Posted in Identity

How I Became a Catholic

Around Twitter, people were sharing a story from their past that just illustrates how Autistic they are.

My faith journey, surprisingly, is how I know that I’m Autistic.

I grew up ELCA Lutheran.  The ELCA matters because that’s the liberal Lutheran.  Around here, we also have Missouri Synod and WELS, both of which are nearer Baptist.  ELCA Lutherans are nearly Anglican, and they use the same worship service structure.  Maybe if I had grown up a more conservative faith, farther away from Catholicism, it might have been different.  Anyway, my mother’s family is all Catholic and my dad’s mom’s brothers both married Catholics and converted.  We’re not a long line of anything: my dad’s dad was Congregationalist (not really; they rarely went to church) and my mom’s mom went to a Presbyterian church.  My grandparents picked Lutheran as “close enough.”

It all began when I was in high school, or perhaps middle school.  Whatever the path, I stumbled upon Gladys Malvern’s books (very few of them, but some of them; I’ve tracked down a lot more on eBay) in my public library’s collection.  She used to write historical stories that were researched, but she’d fill in the gaps, and later, I’d find out that her Tudor stories were pretty nearly accurate, as opposed to Carolyn Meyer whom I detest, likely because she is not very good at depicting Queen Mary I of England in any way I found believable.

Anyway, Gladys Malvern had two volumes I read and reread quite a bit: The Six Wives of Henry VIII and The World of Lady Jane Grey.  I fell in love with Tudor history then, because it is unusually female-centered even though historians like to shift things and focus on Henry VIII a bit too much.  His wives, daughters, and niece, Lady Jane Grey, were really huge characters in the story, and he was pretty one-dimensional.  Henry’s story is this: I am paranoid because my dad fought in a big war for years and we won only by marrying our enemy and then we got to be king.  If I die without a male heir (they weren’t yet sure how a woman could be capable of ruling), all my dad worked for would be for naught.

But here’s the funny thing about the story: he totally blew off his dad, right at the beginning of his reign.  He might have been much more interesting if he’d have stuck with that Henry vs. “paranoid Henry.”

Continue reading “How I Became a Catholic”

My Boss is Back

To tell you how it’s going at school, now that my boss is back, let me give you an analogy:

You’re in the midst of a divorce and you sit down to talk about assets.

In the conversation, your ex (who pitched you out; you were fanatically loyal) implies that he’s considering paternity testing on all of the children born of the marriage.

He goes on to gush about his shiny new family, and how he can’t wait to get started with that.  His life is going to be so much better when he’s rid of you and those inconvenient kids he had with you.

You sit there, realizing you’ve been duped for your entire marriage and wonder if you have the energy to fight for your kids and what they deserve.

So, yeah, it’s going fantastically.

Posted in Burnout, Catholic leadership

Less Than Nothing

When I took this job, it was unpleasant and awkward: Father had removed a person who was, objectively, bad at her job by all metrics.  She was a poor teacher, dressed like she was a child, herself, and played favorites and made friends with the staff.  The school was her playground.

Our students did not do well academically, and she was oblivious to this.

Religiously, we were abysmal, and she really didn’t care.

A year later, I’m in the same position she is: I have lost my job (and the entire school besides), but unlike her, I’ve done everything right.  People tell me that none of this is a reflection on myself or what I’ve done or not done.

But it’s the same story.

While emotionally, treating the former principal so poorly (he let her finish the year, but it was just dreadful) was not kind, it was logical.

Tossing me out like garbage when I didn’t do anything wrong is even less the right thing to do.

Here is a list of only some of the things I did, as principal, that had nothing to do with the principal job:

·         Safe Environment Coordinator

·         Website writer/designer

·         Marketing

·         Liaison to Spanish Ministry

·         Coordinate Fish Fry (A parish fundraiser, not per-se a school one)

·         Internet/Networking

·         Computer maintenance

·         Translator

·         Back up parish secretary

·         Rewrite and translate letters for Father (copywriting/editing)

·         Small-scale fundraising

·         Grant-writing

·         Coordinate facilities

·         Signage—Changing on outside

In short, I was the parish administrator, not just the school administrator.

And, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m paid the least of any school principal in my Diocese, with no health insurance, no retirement…nothing.

I think there’s a lesson in all of this.

I was undervalued, underpaid, and overworked.  I thought, foolishly, that being good at my job (so good I was given responsibilities for the whole parish) would help ensure my continued presence at the parish even if the school were to close because these things would still have to go on as before.  Based on the chilly reception I got when he came back, I know that he is done with me.

I was last year’s flavor-of-the-month.  Next year will be religious education.  He has an idea that will revitalize the parish, he’s been told.  Just like improving the school was supposed to.  He’s planning to find a way to convince the person who set up our endowment, designed to pay for Catholic education for students in our neighborhood, that he should let him use this money to fund religious education, not Catholic school tuition.  This was not the purpose of the endowment, and there is literally no sense in what he is planning because it’s happening piece-meal, and haphazardly, and a generation or two too late.  The young people aren’t going to flock to us for this programming; at least one other parish in town is doing this already.

He has literally no clue that when you don’t allow time for changes to take hold, they will fail.  He killed the school before it had a chance to grow.  He’ll try this new thing and it’ll fail for two reasons: 1) he doesn’t have the staff to see it through, and 2) even if he did, he’ll be disappointed in how it’s not progressing fast enough, and he’ll change again.

And he’s grown territorial.  He’s decided to save this parish, he’s going to fight with the other three priests, to stake his claim, as they have, which has so far only resulted in continued bickering and in-fighting while people flee our parishes.

But this helps me to make a decision: whatever I decide to do, we will not remain in this parish and I am questioning whether I wish to continue in this Diocese, either.  You see, my Diocese has never really supported Catholic education, beyond lip service.  In other areas of the country, Bishops have taken strong leadership roles in guiding their parishes to successfully revitalize the important mission of Catholic education.

My bishop has mostly stifled it.

In the end, my problem is that I am trying to unlearn a rule that I have taken to heart too long: that my hard work for God and in bringing children to God would be rewarded.  I would be increasingly at peace.  But with this parish already given over to the Devil, to be his plaything, why would I think I could keep fighting this evil, especially when my boss decided to stop fighting it, too?

We didn’t drive the devil from this parish; we gave it to him.

And I am spent from the fight.

Posted in Autistic Identity

Ancestry: Tracing Our Autistic Past

My grandma and I like to do genealogy.  I work on it when I have time as a way of figuring out just who I am, and how I fit into my family.

I found, after my husband realized that he was Autistic, just like our own child, we could make a game out of it and try to trace the “Autistic line” in the family, to see where the other Autistic ancestors were.

Oh, fair warning, before I do this: it is never, ever cool to start speculating on whether random people are or are not Autistic or any other Neurological difference.  But when we Autistics do it, we do it without judgment; we’re actually excited about it, since it helps to anchor our own existence and helps to prove that we are not just some freaks of nature broken by a vaccine (does anyone with any sense still believe that?).  Instead, we are here because our gene got carried through the lines; inevitably if we Autistics look around in our family trees, we’ll find some Autistic qualities.  In speculating on this, we are not trying to “diagnose and fix,” but to find ourselves and to justify our existence in a family we may or may not have felt a part of.

Here’s what I’m speculating about.

Continue reading “Ancestry: Tracing Our Autistic Past”

Posted in Burnout, Self-Care

Isolation

So, ’tis the time of year to prepare to make resolutions regarding what one will and will not do during Lent.

Lent is the 40-day time before Easter to purify ourselves and to get ready for Holy Week, which represents Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice and resurrection.

The joke this year is it starts on a day dedicated to chocolate and candy (Valentine’s Day; St. Valentine would probably not be thrilled with what his day has become) and ends on April Fool’s Day (Easter).

To get ready, we generally give something up and/or make promises to do things better.  On Fridays, we don’t eat meat (in Catholic circles, that means broth and “things from the sea” including alligator are good, but poultry are not; our Orthodox friends get to have chicken and turkey) and on some days (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) we Catholic fast and abstain from meat.

Catholic fasting is a joke for Jewish and Muslim friends: we eat two “little meals” (together not totaling a meal) and a big meal.  We brush our teeth and drink water and everything.  We are lightweights on fasting.

It’s popular in Catholic circles to give up social media as a sacrifice during this time because somehow it’s destroying us all.

Under an argument that it wastes time, I guess I can see that.  There is a certain time waste associated with social media; the endless scrolling and hope to find something to “like” or with which to interact get tedious.

However, some people use social media to connect because they are unable to have such deep, rich, and varied interactions in their “real” lives.

In fact, for some of us, an in-person visit is insipid and pointless.  I’ll use the time to get to know your cats, dogs, and other pets.  Maybe I’ll talk to your grandmother or young children, but honestly, the “age appropriate,” human types bore me.

That in person visit is a waste of time for me.

And, in my own life, Facebook has become like that pointless visit in the living room; I mostly use it to scan through prayer requests from a group of women I’m in, and I pray for them and move on.  But I don’t develop anything meaningful there.  It’s mostly full of people I knew in my past, but haven’t bothered to keep up with.  Some of these people are parents of Autistics and like to post junk from Autism $peak$, so it helps me greatly to avoid them, particularly around April since they have ignored my repeated pleas to consider dumping the eugenicist organization as a source for news about Autism.

But Twitter is different.  Autism Twitter is fascinating; we meet up there and we chat and we defend each other against the attacks of people who don’t understand Autism.  It is there we meet up with the other big names of the Disability community and share information, all in reasonable-sized chunks of information.

And we can also look at kitties and puppies, too, if we want.

Continue reading “Isolation”