One would never know by looking at me that I have a disability. Sometimes I which it was visible. I found it frustrating until I received an official disability status from the government. Up until then I was always worried if I told people about my special education, especially when interviewing for jobs right out of college, I did not know how they would react. I did not have great grades nor did I have a job or a lot extra activity to put on my resume. When I was able to find work after college, I faced some personal attacks from supervisors. I had one tell me I would never amount to much in life and just do the job he offered me. I had another supervisor where I experienced reverse discrimination. I have had co workers accuse me of being a racist without even knowing me or witnessing anything racist in any of my behavior. When I married outside my race I felt I could relate to my ex wife because we had some similar challenges. She gave me some insight to what she and many people go through. For example, we would go into to a large store and the cashier would say hi to me but not her. I took part in a peaceful protest because of my marriage experience but also for my own experiences in the workplace. I found that most people were grateful for me showing up. I had kept quiet out of fear for many years.
In the mid 90s I started to work with a therapist and I would like to share how my life changed over time in working with him.
When I started working with him I had been living in a house for many years with 3 other men due to my low wages and my job history. I felt like the care taker. I was constantly dealing with my Mother’s issues and late night calls. I struggled with minor depression due to unmet life goals like a better job history and having my own family. I had some challenges with my father due to his frustration with me and my ability to support myself. Every time I lost a job I would always get re-tested so I could figure out what was going on and make corrections. Employers would tell me things like I was too old, I walked too slow, I had poor people skills, and I would never amount to anything. Since college I had over 10 assessments done with no real answer.
As our work progressed I started to go to 12 step meetings to understand my family behavior around addiction. I also learned my role as a codependent as well. My relationship with my mother never really improved due to her own challenges in life. It took a long time for my relationship to improve with the rest of my family. I ended up working two jobs and trying to hold them at all costs. I left them eventually due to the effect on my mental health. As I became more assertive it did cause me some problems. After fourteen years I moved out of my house into my own apartment. I managed to date for the first time but found that I was expected to care for them financially which I could not and did not want to do. I attended a social skills program at a local university which opened my eyes on various mental illnesses like bipolar disorder. The goal of the program was to improve my skills but the instructors didn’t think I was suited for it after several months. In 2003 my therapist referred me to a specialist to do some detailed testing. The test showed high functioning Asbergers, non verbal disorder, ADHD type 2 inattentive, pervasive developmental disorder consistent with Asbergers syndrome, decreased occupational functioning due to limited social skills and vulnerability to anxiety and missing nonverbal cues contributing to ineffective behaviors. The testing also found I was best suited to jobs with high structure. In 2007 I had a social security hearing and was approved for disability. This finally put my put my disability on record so if I went back to work I would have protection.
The plan now was for me to do some volunteering to build positive experiences where I was appreciated. My hidden disability was defined and now I am working on my acceptance of how I move about the world.
After many years of going from job to job with a lot of judgement being made against me and harassment towards me, I decided I needed to officially document my disability in order to have some protection in the work force. My disabilities caused frustration for me and my family for many years. I had problems with communication and difficulty interacting with others. Yet I was too social to be considered to be autistic. As a result I had difficulty maintaining jobs and relationships. My slowness in the way I move my body can be misinterpreted as being lazy, which is not the case at all.
In order to obtain my disability status I was given medical tests and the findings were dysthymic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, learning disorder, and avoidant personality disorder. I also struggled with slow processing speed but I was very detailed orientated in my work. It was determined by the state that my ability to perform sustained work over a normal work day without frequent breaks is limited. The state officials said there was also impairment in social and occupational functioning. The judge did feel that I was highly motivated to improve my success in the workplace. It took me three years to gain my disability status. After my approval some of the relationships I had changed. Some people who were supportive and kind over time became the opposite. The people who had been unkind and lacked understanding over time became very supportive. The most important change was my father’s understanding. My dad was frustrated at times because he did not understand why I could not hold a job, although he knew I did my best to be successful in the world. After my disability status was approved, our relationship improved. I viewed my dad as a boss. He knew how to manage an office but struggled on the home front. He was however, able to see my success in the volunteer world where I received several awards due to my service. My dad has passed away now, but I continue up my efforts in the community.