This was hard to write. Not because it’s personal – I’ve been comfortable sharing more than people want all my life – but because I’m scared that if I give the impression I’m doing even a little bit better, no one will help. There’s so, so much more, but if I wait until I have everything no one will ever see any of it.
In 2009, when I was 28 years old, my life fell apart. Before that I was fairly successful, with a solid, promising path opening up ahead of me. I directed a thriving non-profit, and did so very well. I sat on fundraising boards, I was social, had plenty of friends, was physically fit, and happy. Until, in October 2008, my boss caught me looking into the fraud he was committing, I lost my job, and everything started to unravel. Fast.
I don’t know why I crashed as hard as I did, but I crashed hard. I started trying to look for a new job, but I got too scared, too fast. Of what I don’t know, but I was terrified, and it wasn’t long before I was hiding in my room, in the dark, cutting myself off from the world…and I didn’t know why. My three roommates were friends, but eventually got fed up with my inability to pay my bills, because who wouldn’t? In late 2009 I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (now typically called high-functioning autism), right before moving to Colorado in January, 2010 to stay with my mom.
I didn’t know anyone, I had no money, and I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to go back to school – I’d left prematurely when I was offered the aforementioned great job – but despite being smart enough, my ever-present social discomfort had always frightened and overwhelmed me. I’d begin with high grades, but after 2-3 semesters I’d start panicking, melt down, and just disappear from the school. From the three times I’d attempted higher education I had accumulated awful grades and incompletes. No school in its right mind was going to want someone like me, and understandably so.
I began looking for a community to be a part of, but it just never worked. I’d find somewhere, get along well, but my fear and growing distrust of people kept getting in the way. I often got ghosted, sometimes worse. Each time it happened I’d find myself lonlier, more hurt, more depressed, and less capable of handling the next attempt. Eventually I just stopped trying altogether – I was too afraid, too sure I’d embarrass myself, and certain that every attempt would drive home how unwanted I was. There were a few people who went out of their way to help – and I’ll always be so grateful to them – but I was too hurt, and in need of more than they could give. Eventually – and understandably – they fell out of my life as well.
Being so sad for so long wears a person down, and eventually, starts turning into anger; anger at being so unhappy, anger at feeling so excluded, anger that you’ve all but disappeared from the world and feel like no one’s noticed or cared enough to come and find you.
Anger is fine. It’s a normal, healthy emotion. Until – for whatever reason – it’s left alone. Then it starts growing, and – when there’s enough – distilling into rage. You don’t want it to. Really you just want to be happy, productive, relevant. But if you aren’t able to resolve the circumstances or traumas that began the downslide – along with anything else that’s cropped up along the way – that rage will poison you. It poisoned me.
I had so much rage inside me that the reason for it just stopped mattering. It could be directed at anyone or anything unlucky enough to trigger it, including those wanting to help. But the most unnerving part for me was that it almost always felt completely rational and justified. It was only on looking back that I’d realize how out of control I was, but by that time I was far too ashamed and humiliated to show my face.
Being so out of control of your emotions is terrifying: “This isn’t who I am. what’s happening to me? Why can’t I stop this?” It’s humiliating: “Adults aren’t supposed to be like this. Why can’t I just act my age?” You lose so many friends, and again, for good reason: it is so hard spending time with someone like that, someone so angry. It’s taken quite a few years, but that rage is almost entirely gone. I still have anger to deal with, but it’s under control, and doesn’t hurt anyone anymore, including me. I try not to be ashamed of my past behavior, but it may be something I’ll just have to live with. Fortunately, I’m finally strong enough to believe that I can.
I’m not free yet. I’ve only recently begun finding interests again, and for that I am so grateful. It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to do anything at all.
And more than almost anything, I want to talk. I want to talk about mental health, what it means, where it comes from, and different ways of thinking about it. I want to hear other people talk about their stories and experiences. I want to discuss the things most of us are a little too uncomfortable or embarrassed discussing, despite wanting or needing to.
I just need to figure out how to undo the fear I’ve taught myself is so necessary over such a long time.