I feel like I'm about to face the biggest trial of my life.

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WildMan
Deinonychus
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17 Apr 2008, 3:59 am

I have an MA in sociology. I'm in the middle stages of my PhD (sociology as well): the comprehensive exams, which in this program can take two years or more. Which sucks. This sucks.

Last March, I backed out of the first comprehensive within a few days of it hitting because I felt the gaps in my knowledge were too big. I then plummetted into a depression that lasted a month, and I neglected everything and now I'm in deep trouble. I've got debt collectors coming after me even though I had the money to pay my bills, and I'm so far behind in my work that I've had to beg and scrape to get extensions into the summer. I haven't had this much of a breakdown since my second-to-last semester of undergrad, but back then I was able to pull it together before screwing myself like this. Anyways, word is that some of us are going to get our funding yanked, and I screwed up a bunch of paperwork so I'm 99% sure I'll be one of them.

It's not too fun right now.

Also, while this has always been at the back of my mind, it has come to the forefront with a vengeance: I've never really had a job.

Well, I worked as a barback for 1.5 years, beginning at age 20. That wasn't bad. I would've totally screwed it up if I was the short order cook, but keeping the place clean, washing dishes, shuffling stuff around, and dealing with drunk rednecks wasn't too bad at all.

The second job I had was around the age of 22, right around the time I transfered from junior college to a 4 year. I worked at a Fatburger, which is a fast food chain that mainly exists in the Los Angeles area. (There's one on the Las Vegas Strip, for those of you who've been.) It was hell. I got sh!tcanned after a few months. Well, it was more like they stopped calling me in, because I meant well. But I just couldn't do it. If I was forced to work at that job indefinitely, a few more months and you would have found me with a bottle of cognac, a note written on fine stationary, and the contents of my skull splattered all over the wall.

My dad made me get that job so that I would appreciate college more. Well, when he saw how incompetent I was at it, he yelled and screamed at me. "If you can't flip a godd*** burger at a godd*** f***ing burger joint, how the F*** are you going to work a real godd*** job!?!?!" It destroyed my confidence and to this day I feel like I am fundamentally incompetent.

I haven't really worked a real job since. I've done rinky-dink tasks as a graduate assistant in order to justify my stipend (they usually stuck me with professors that didn't demand much, but if it involved computer/internet stuff I'd screw up left and right), but that's about to get cut off. Also, I worked as the assistant for a visiting German geographer, but that was just for a few months and I got paid under the table. The job wasn't too terrible but I wasn't exactly good at it, either. My people skills (had to interview random people on the streets) ended up being lackluster.

No, my research is mainly along the lines of comparative history and theory stuff, so I didn't get into this line of work because of my people skills.

At this stage in my career, I haven't yet taught. I've guest lectured, though, with great results. Hardest part of teaching, I think, is making up a big huge lesson plan for an entire semester of a class. I took training in how to do that, and designed a course in popular culture (one of my areas), but I have yet to implement it.

The worst part is the paperwork. I always screw it up, and I've developed a highly avoidant aversion to it that keeps getting me into more and more trouble. I swear it will be the death of me.

I don't have trouble with meetings and seminars and stuff. Although if one person does most the talking and just won't shut... the f***... up!! !! then it will make me grind my teeth and make my stress hormones percolate.

Well, it looks like I'll have to find something resembling a part-time job, hopefully something remotely related to the skills I'm supposed to have. I'm scared, but I've been meaning to do this for a while and now it's do-or-die.

I live in constant fear that everything will get ruined and I'll end up on SSI, and that the life I've been trying to build from nothing will evaporate like a fart in Death Valley. When I quote-unquote "graduated" from high school, the L.A. County Dept. of Mental Health offered to hook me up with SSI right then and there, if I so chose. I chose to take my chances in the real world, and I've gotten this far. But I fear that it'll all fall apart and I'll slide right back to zero.

It's do-or-die time. It feels like I'm about to enter into the biggest test of my life. I'm kinda scared.


Also, I kind of feel like a one trick pony. I wish I had skills that didn't limit my future to academia. Academia isn't the pure shining beacon on the hill that many a doe-eyed first year grad student has envisioned. There's a lot of bulls***, and there's always the danger that the only job you can get will be in North Dakota or some other crappy location. Hey, I've never lived anywhere other than major West Coast metro regions. I'll shoot myself in the kneecap with a .454 grizzly pistol if it meant I could live and prosper the rest of my life in San Francisco instead of Alabama.

Well, I have no computer geek skills. I suck at math, and I just can't wrap my brain around all that computer stuff that a lot of you guys do. Maybe I could get into graphic design or something, because in junior college I took an Adobe Pagemaker class and did really well. Sometimes I could imagine being some kind of journalist... a man of letters, even... because I write well and I have an ivory tower background. I could see myself falling back on my master's degree and becoming some kind of welfare state bureaucrat or something, though I really don't know how that all works. I've been in this ivory tower bubble since the year 2003 and I feel pretty detached from the real world. It's this big mysterious thing to me... ironic, I know, since I'm a sociologist.

Also, if I marry my girlfriend -- yeah, it's that serious -- she wants to live back in Europe, where she's from. I'd have automatic permanent residence anywhere in the EU. However, my PhD (if I manage to finish) won't mean dogsh*t over there when it comes to becoming a college professor, unless I manage to sell myself as "American Studies" or whatever that means. It's just about impossible for an American PhD graduate to get an academic job in Western Europe. Might be different elsehwere but who wants to live in Estonia?

I worry that I'd end up as a garbageman with a PhD... but I'd do it for her. She's agonized though, because she really doesn't want to see that happen to me, and her well-connected dad is asking around as we speak. Almost as strong though is her desire to not live out her life in the USA. I agree that life is better in Europe than it is here, generally speaking, but I don't want to end up marginalized if I go over there. The American academic job market I've been setting my sights on for the past several years is daunting enough. However, if I could find a line of work that won't mentally murder me, that I could get hired for over there for a decent enough sum, that'd be cool with me.

I'm not all that passionate about academia. It takes a lot of focus, yes, but my focus stems from the fact that I've always believed that it's the only thing I'm good at. As in, it's my only way to survive on a level higher than being an SSI statistic. Now that feels threatened, and I'm scared.

The extent of my AS... uhhhhhhh... I finally got a serious girlfriend who's entirely NT, which is the one thing I have wanted to accomplish above all else. Without her, right now I'd probably be thinking about jumping in front of a truck. [Edited to add: I have absolutely no history of being suicidal, in case you were wondering. So I'm probably exaggerating.] Having a real deal girlfriend makes all the difference in the world. If god forbid it didn't work out, I would be okay though, because I now have confidence and experience in that area of life. So thank god for that.

Well, the extent of my AS... aside from the ineptitude that I've described above, I cannot drive a car. Every time I've tried, I never came close. I don't know how I'll ever manage, and I really wish I had a driver's license.

Any advice is much appreciated.



Lessian
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17 Apr 2008, 6:55 am

Greetings fellow stressed one!
I can totally understand your situation. I have aspergers and come from a family where every one of my blood relatives is either diagnosed or unnofficial. I am one of the worst in my family, but because I am not logical or mathematical (god help the person who shoves numbers in my face...) I appear the most 'normal'. This also means that I experience the most social stress because unlike my logical family, I experience more of the desire to interact even if I have just as little ability.
My interests that I have some ability with lie in the areas of art, jewellery, exotic animals, lapidary, science fiction, pokemon trading cards, various craft forms.
Absolutely none of these interests have any chance of turning into a career or job. Those interests that do have some marketability have already been glutted.
For the past eight years I have job hopped between approx fifteen different jobs, each one driving me more insane and paranoid, with unhealthy gaps of unemployment. Employers consider me to be unreliable and unstable.
While I may not have (apparantly) useless tertiary qualifications, I still know that i have wasted the last eight years (thats when I left high school), I know that I have absolutely nothing to show for my time and effort.
Like you, I have motivational difficulties. If something does not grab my attention enough or even grabs it to much, I am completely unable to focus on what is needed. on the occaision that I do have the money, my bills go unpaid as well because I simply never get around to paying them. This has gotten me into plenty of trouble with debt collectors.
Being of a completely different AS mindset, most of my family is simply unable to comprehend my lifestyle or situation. My mum is the closest to me, but she has her own problems and is able to offer little more than an ear on the phone. My partner is an NT who does not genuinely understand or accept the AS thing. Solutions are few and far between.
Does your father realise the damage that he has done to you? He probably was just trying to motivate you with the whole 'tough love' rubbish, mixed with his own frustration and feelings of failure. I find that a lot of people try to live their life through their kids and get angry when the kids dont do as well as expected. They emotionally interpret this as a failure on their part.
My parents may have been a bit more accepting of my lack of focus or career ability, but my various ex employers have had a similar effect on me as your dad had on you. I now have a subconscious terror of supervisors and managers that affects me in every working environment.
re your comment that you always seem to stuff up the paperwork aspect, that is why so many big time professors and executives have personal secretaries etc. not because they are to busy, but because they are lousy with administration matters and paperwork.
Unfortunately I can't offer any commentary on your funding issues etc, it is very likely that they have already made their decision and it is to late to try to improve your record. You can however bear in mind that the majority of acedemic geniuses are a bit eccentric and scatterbrained. Also consider that if you can be completely honest and give full disclosure of your depression and mental health issues, they may be sympathetic and offer you another chance. Do the officials in your region recognise things like mental health issues? You may be able to play on this.
Meetings and seminars are supposed to be about sharing information and ideas equally, but in reality they are meant as a means for the big cheese to express his ideas and for everyone else to nod and smile. The minions and others are not meant to have input or challenge the authority of the person who is running the meeting. While this is very frustrating in itself, once you accept and understand this as being unchangeable, your stress levels will improve. The trick is to keep your opinions and ideas to yourself and inwardly laugh as they all mill around in confusion and to mentally take glory in getting to the same conclusion twice as fast as they did.
The thing about genius (especially unrecognised genius) is that it is a very lonely thing. It is very difficult to interact with those who are not on level with you.
Re your concerns about moving overseas, do you have to be a college professor? Is there any other fields or private companies that would use your experience? Easier said than done, but try to look outside your usual square or comfort zone.
If things get to bad where you are now, it may be a good thing to relocate to a different country. A chance to leave all the rubbish behind and start again. Perhaps there is something you wanted to do but havent because you were stuck in your narrow field? I have always wanted to start my own business involving art and social awareness. I know from personal experience that a leap into the unknown is a terrifying thing, but when there is nothing else, there is nothing to lose.

I'm sorry about the incredibly long reply, I kind of get carried away with this sort of thing.
I did not want to be one of those who gives you the 'things will get better speech', I simply wanted to let you know that there is at least one person in this world who comes close to genuinely understanding what you are experiencing.
I have known many NT's who claim they understand what I am going through, but I know that there are still translational errors in communication. In my eight years of AS awareness, I have only come across two people who I am confidant that they genuinely comprehended me. No one knows an AS like an AS who displays similarly. Even other AS folks who display differently can have trouble comprehending us. Even within the world of ASD, there are still so many different dialects.
Also, it can sometimes be good to get another persons impartial perspective on things. Lets you realise stuff that would not have occured to you.
pm me if you want to go any deeper. I have a knack for getting to the heart of problems.


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hyperbolic
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17 Apr 2008, 4:45 pm

I wish you good luck in obtaining your PhD. Don't feel like a failure.

I'd like to have a Master's degree and teach computer science or computer information systems at a college someday, but I'm still a semester away from obtaining a mere Associate's degree. You've made it quite far in my opinion--and I have a lot of respect for anyone who has completed the extra work to get a Master's degree--don't be afraid to pursue your dreams!



WildMan
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17 Apr 2008, 5:09 pm

Well, a bit of good news.

Turns out I have a decent shot at getting my funding again next year. They're just going to pull a few strings, play dumb, wink wink nudge.

Also, I had a long talk with my girlfriend. I told her that if things work out and I move with her to Europe, and I just can't get a tenure-track academic job anywhere worth having one at, I'll find another line of work. But if things between her and I don't work out, I'll stay in America and stick to Plan A.

I think I'll persist with my PhD work for now.



Lessian
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18 Apr 2008, 12:32 am

Good for you! It always feels so much better when you have a plan, or even just a thought that might one day be a plan.
Good luck with the phd thing, keep up with WP.


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Recollect me darling, raise me to your lips
two undernourished egos, four rotating hips.
Hold on to me tightly I'm a sliding scale
cant endure then you can't inhale


tarl
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23 Apr 2008, 10:54 am

Does your professor know anyone in Europe? Can you meet them at conferences?

I ask because we have a grad student with our Oregon lab (Biomedical Engineering), who might be leaving for a post Doc at Imperial College, because he impressed the right person at a conference. It will just be a research position at first, but since it will be a research position with the department head, he may get a faculty spot later.

Keep your eyes open. There are always opportunities that don't follow the "rules".