Thoughts and illustrations on living on the autism spectrum.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Let It Burn, Let It Burn

Ten days ago, I lost my job to a layoff. At the moment, I will be out of work June 30. In an instant, my world turned confusing, and uncertain. Each day is a roller coaster of emotion. It will be quite awhile before things feel “normal” again.

We all can be knocked on our backs by a crisis. If you are neurotypical, you have your support network to catch you. But if you have autism, as we’ve seen, your support network is often lacking. Not only are you not well-connected to people, you don’t “read” them well even in a clear state of mind. And thus, the same crisis hits you that much harder.

I’ve been told by many, “I’m here if you need to talk.” “I'm here if you need anything.” And that is a wonderful thing, until I realized I haven’t the slightest idea what to do with those offers.

I have found encouragement and support come to me from the least expected people. And, I have found a casual brush-off from others who I expected to be supportive.

I have been an actor, suddenly on a constant audition, every move carefully choreographed. I have practiced giving measured and neutral responses when necessary, compiling a mental checklist of how much information to provide to whom.

I have been a ghost, among others going about their normal routine, talking of cruises, or allergies, or playfully teasing at one another’s expense.

They tell me, it’ll work out. They tell me, one door closes and another opens. That’s all well and good, but they don’t know how the waiting feels. They imagine, but they don’t know, how different the world looks, inside a crisis.

I sat around a conference table with a bishop who blessed our meeting in Jesus’ name. The bishop greeted me warmly, and asked how I was, and I lied and said I was well. And though I don’t believe in his God, I found myself wondering what words of wisdom he might have for me.

I've been noticing things I never noticed before. I stopped at a tollbooth, and the toll taker wished me a nice day. I heard the kindness in her voice, and it gave me strength, like finding a penny on the ground.

I walked past an industrial scrap yard in the city, beside a chain link fence, and on the other side, a dog appeared and followed alongside me. He didn’t bark, he simply looked at me, wide-eyed and mangy, mirroring my steps until I passed the boundary. I think he would have followed me home if not for the fence.

I sat alone at a picnic table, eating my lunch on a sunny mid-afternoon, while maintenance workers rode past on golf carts, and senior citizens stretched and checked their maps. I watched a young woman approach an empty swing set and get on, though she was clearly not a kid anymore. She swung for a good long time, all by herself, without a trace of self-consciousness. I thought how good it would feel to do the same. But not today. There was work to be done.

I’ve had the new P.J. Harvey CD on repeat all week, “Let England Shake,” and in my head, the song, “Written on the Forehead,” about the people in a war-torn city watching destruction all around them. Some, in a last act of free will, throw their possessions in a celebratory bonfire: “Let it burn, let it burn, let it burn, burn, burn...” Others try to swim to safety: “Through tons of sewage, fate written on their foreheads.”  Neither group can escape the ravages of war.

Likewise, none of us can escape change. We can try to swim against the current, but we’ll likely fail. Or, we can let our old world burn, and seize control of our destiny rather than accept some predetermined fate.

I’m choosing to do the latter, now that war has come to my doorstep. I'm letting the old reality burn, so the new can take its place. It can be hard to find guideposts as that reality shifts and reshapes, but I need only remember to be myself, and be proud of who I am, as a person with Asperger’s. If I can do that, I am sure to emerge stronger from this crisis.


  1. Power post! I sincerely wish you the best and I feel you.

  2. Good luck Matt! I hope an even better job comes along quickly! I know how hard this time is having experienced it recently myself.

    Like your tollbooth experience, the random words and acts of kindness from strangers really make a difference for me, too.

  3. Amazing, Matt!! If you can write like that, you will find your way!!

  4. I'm sorry you've been laid off; it's a frightening experience. I hope you will find a new job soon.

  5. Thank you everyone for these words of support.

  6. Matt,

    I know this is a very difficult time for you right now. I was unemployed for a year not too long ago. I know it is often hard to keep a positive outlook, but really, that's all you can do. When you think positive and act positive, positive things WILL come your way. You are a very talented individual and you WILL find the right job that is the perfect fit for you. I wish you all the best and know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.


  7. Thank you very much, Laura.

  8. I'm so sorry. Uncertainty is so scary. I hope that you find something you like soon. :(

  9. You have skills you may not be considering. Try for editing jobs. Even little stuff to tide you over: An independant paper for writing on the spectrum or for squishy bird illustrations! (Stop snarking, those are great comics!) Go down to your state job resource office. They do stuff for you for free! They can give you lots of ideas and connections that we Aspies ordinarily don't have.
    Good luck, Kiddo. We're all out here cheering you ON!

  10. Matt it is awful when you lose your job. My husband has had this happen several times in the last ten years as our economy changes. The fear is awful.
    I see you are on "linked in" and maybe you will get some networking there. I hope so. Life is change, if you don't have a support group, maybe you can find one. Do you have family to help? Hang in there.