I had a dream night before last where I went back to teaching online. But I can’t do that anymore because teaching takes too much out of me and I can’t get a “good teaching job” anyway. I spent the whole way to work fretting for two reasons: one, that dream seemed to have really gotten to me, and two, my knee hurts quite a bit. The knee is a bit of overwork mixed with arthritis. I’ve had bad knees since I was a kid and have one leg shorter than the other so weird leg things aren’t unusual, but damn, it hurts to drive right now (even though it’s my resting leg, not driving leg; it’s the sitting in one position too long thing. Whatever the reason for the pain part, the combination of events was so freaking hard.
As a child of the 80’s (born in 1975…Gen X all the way!), I really believed in all the crap they taught us about women being able to do anything and how if we followed our dreams, everything would be GREAT! But my town was run by teachers in a town with no educational competition. No doubt they believed that we could, in fact, follow our dreams if we just got educated enough (etc.) and followed the prescribed path to college. They never did teach me when to get off the path of education, but regardless, with as much education as I have, I should be freaking set right now, right?
But I’m not.
I wonder sometimes, if I would have been much better served learning the version of the world that children of color get: that you’ll have to work hard and no, you’ll never be allowed to get as far as you want to or are capable of reaching. But yes, go to college and get out and get a good job and support your family. Education is important, but so is earning a living. As I understand it, this (alongside all the institutional racism) contributes to why so few people of color go into teaching: it’s too much work for too little reward and business and industry pay better. It’s practical.
So I think that’s why I’m still hurting (mentally, at least; physically is I’m just getting old). I worked too damned hard to have too little to show for it. I really, really loved my job as principal of that Catholic school, but I can’t support my family that way. I somehow fought my way into a job that I loved so much despite all the barriers in my path, but no one else is going to take a chance on me and even if they did, running a larger school involves political acumen that, as an Autistic, I have to accept I simply do not have. I am easily manipulated and it takes a lot of work to get parents to understand me and my methods. I also don’t run schools for neurotypicals, which is just plain weird to many people, so it would be nearly impossible to get enough people in the school or keep existing parents there.
I care too much about kids to be a school principal.
But I also worked too hard to be stocking glassware into cabinets and carrying dirty glassware into racks to be taken away. I worked too hard to collate folders of materials and make copies. And yes, the rest of my job is actually more complex than that and I admit, I’m still in the learning phase of this particular industry, and someone has to do it, and for what I’m being paid many people would do it and be glad of it, but it’s so hard to go from running everything to doing such a boring job. Yes, it can grow into more, and over time I can move to something more interesting if it doesn’t, but I prefer being a big fish in a small pond to being a small fish in a big pond.
But this big pond can pay the bills. I may be worth twenty grand a year or more than I earn now, but no one is offering me that job. This is the best I can do right now (and far better than what I was paid running that school) and yes, it meets the criteria of a “good job” for sure: decent pay for the job that I’m doing, good benefits, and it’s not wearing me out. But I have so much more I could be giving, and it’s not possible since, whenever it looks like they’re short on staff they just hire someone else. I’m used to doing things out of desperation since we can’t afford more staff. That’s how I used to shine.
When I read about other Disabled people like me, often we’re in similar circumstances: we worked too hard to be this poor, and yet, that’s how it is. When you work this hard, I think, it’s natural to feel guilty because you can’t serve others in a meaningful way. I do work that eventually, in a very long, roundabout way, makes more medicines possible so this is, I guess, good work (especially good work for Disabled people like me since medical advances make it possible for us to, you know, actually live). But I’m so far removed from anything observably helpful that I feel like my life has no meaning.
I don’t think neurotypicals think about these things for any length of time. I think they’re happy with the “good job” and find other things to do to fill this void like gardening (which, ironically, has contributed to this bum knee; screw you, yardwork). For me, the only thing that comes close to filling the void of a dull job is going to university again. And yes, I’ve been accepted to study statistics and computer programming, but I really don’t want to do that right now. My heart hurts, I think, and that’s the rub. I want so much to do what I cannot do. If I can’t teach or administrate, I want to write and read all day. Calculations and programs with actual answers should help fill this void for a while: either it works, or it doesn’t, and the computer and math world is full of people like me anyway so my Disability should be less disabling.
I didn’t write this in order that anyone feels sorry for me (if anything, feel sorry for the Disabled people who can’t get the “good job” because of systemic ableism and fight to make it better), but because I’m curious if I’m alone in this feeling: I feel successful in that I got the “good job” that I have never had before, but I feel like a shell of a person because I have more to give. I feel both successful and empty and I’m still making less than I ought to be given my educational background but no one else is taking a chance on me so I should be glad, but, well, I’m not.
Are there other Autistics out there who feel this way because they know they gave up their ideals and started trying to live a neurotypical life because if they didn’t they and their family would be even more impoverished? How did you get past this feeling of utter sadness because of what you’d lost in order to get by? Or have you gotten past it?