Transitioning from college life to an eight-hour a day job isn’t easy for anyone, having to adjust to a new schedule and struggling to find your own identity. Autism heightens these issues, especially in the context of applying for work, as I’d fumble job interviews with my speech impediment and stiff body language. The immense pressure of senior year prevented me from thoroughly planning my career prior to graduation. My previous internship was a dead end, I had no network of my own, and didn’t take advantage of campus hiring events. Hence, a part-time position back home was the best I could get. In fairness, the job was substantial, providing an experience as if I were getting paid to go to accounting school. It covered every general function in the field; a firm basis from which to build my career. My first full-time role was less beneficial. Receiving it through a family friend, the work environment and supervisor, although not toxic, were not used to my tendencies. The general tasks were manageable, but tasks with strict deadlines were prone to mistakes i.e., mailing checks with no signatures and incomplete reports. After a mere four months on the job, most of my duties were assigned to a more experienced accountant. As someone who had managed to be a successful student, I was frustrated by my lack of success in the professional world. It was as if something within me was throwing me off.
Upon graduation, I thought I’d enjoy returning to my hometown, but Tillamook proved to be too isolating, not enough potential to expand my interests or social life. Whenever I tried to reach out to friends, responsibilities would overwhelm me. There was little direction in my life, my only real hobby besides running was watching films at the theater; usually by myself. One event I did manage to attend at the last minute was my dorm’s Super Smash Bros. tournament, open to alumni. There I was able to reunite with college friends for one last day which gave me reassurance as I felt I had left a good impression on them. It was a lovely day in February 2020.
The following month, of course, saw mass closures and a profound sense of anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I felt even more isolated by hardly going outside apart from work and running. Moviegoing was impossible. I’d have a few Zoom calls with college friends at first, though the depression lingering from last year and the anxiety of corona engulfed me. Protests from this time turned my focus to researching systemic racism, realizing my passion for learning now without the stress of homework. Unfortunately, these new findings channeled through a frustrated child transitioning into an adult. Political arguments with my parents were rampant; their anger sparking a defense mechanism in me that felt compelled to match their energy. It took several years to control my emotions and much therapy to emotionally mature.
Therapy proved largely helpful, verbally expressing my struggles to someone in private and receiving helpful feedback. Teaching me to refocus during running and exerting my emotions through healthy means, my therapist was good at providing short-term solutions but not as well equipped for my neurodivergent traits. I’d put off writing notes and topics until the last minute, often right before our sessions. Out of embarrassment, I’d lie about my progress and cut the sessions short. She could be a little too trusting. The real issue was less with her specifically and more that I needed someone who could cater to my needs. Switching therapists was a consideration for over a year but put off due my indecisiveness around this time; and resistance to changing my schedule.
I was not setting goals for myself. Even though I got a second part-time position, I was still lacking direction in life. There was a sizable friend group at my disposal, but my mind was too scattered to organize meetups. The lockdown provided more time for writing pieces, but the constant film delays sucked away my energy. Only when I had a great amount of motivation would I set a goal to complete something. Any film reviews or editorials from that time were finished because I was putting myself into them, one such example was reviewing A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood as self-therapy during the pandemic. Playing through The Legend of Zelda video game series provided much needed escapism through its visceral worlds and music. Zelda was something I wanted to experience for years, but never dedicated time with its overwhelming 35-year history and the general process of playing the game, but the lockdown forced greater engagement, and I found a new obsession.
The last quarter of 2020 provided crucial relief. I finally found housing with roommates who were working for my mom after living with my parents for a year. Being around people my age provided in person conversations, allowing us to share our experiences with politics and mental health struggles. Among my favorite events with them were hiking, bingeing TV, following the election, and decorating our own Christmas tree. Living together, they noticed my tendencies, adjusting themselves to communicate with me, and appreciating my sense of humor. Unfortunately, one of them had to leave due to her own mental health struggles, but I stayed connected with her.
Entering 2021, I still felt lost and adrift. Having invested so much into the presidential election, I didn’t have much aspiration. The combined factors of my roommate departing and working two-part time jobs threw me into a flux. My focus felt too divided between my commitments, neither job was fulfilling, and both were increasingly below my paygrade. Worse, one of my jobs became a toxic environment, with a supervisor (no longer employed there) who held unrealist expectations, refused proper communication, and only paid lip service to my accommodations. One employee was impatient with my mistakes, expecting me to adjust based on her attitude without engaging me on how to improve my productivity. She just treated me as a lost cause. My self-esteem felt shattered, caught in an endless loop without anywhere to go. Even when theaters reopened, there was a depressing feeling of isolation, driving to Portland just for a two hour show with no one to discuss it with.
My mom began noticing ADHD symptoms within me and suggested that I get diagnosed. They asked me if I had trouble focusing on reading, my self-esteem, how easily I could get overwhelmed, and other questions. It was such a relief to have the diagnosis confirmed. It gave me vindication, that all these traits weren’t some weird quirks, but an integral part of me. My lack of commitment, disorganization, and anxiety had an explanation. I was prescribed atomoxetine to calm my nerves and enable better focus; side effects being stomach cramps when taking them on an empty stomach. Unlike autism, I saw my ADHD solely as a liability to be suppressed by the meds. Searching deep within me and conducting research, the benefits revealed themselves: hyperfocus enabling strong work ethic, built-up resilience, endurance essential for running, and creative problem-solving abilities.
Changes were essential, eventually adjusting my work schedule to be more consistent while searching for a full-time role. The process was difficult, but eventually I landed a role at Tillamook’s City Hall. I resigned immediately but kept the accounting job because I didn’t know how to break it to my boss. He treated me well, and I hated the idea of leaving him without coverage for such an essential function. I had to force myself to call him regarding my resignation, teaching myself how to handle difficult conversations.
The last half of 2021 gave me a personal goal: planning a family vacation to Disney World. Before medication, it was a mental workout conducting research. With medication, I could go through the planning process more efficiently, with my passion for theme parks fueling my focus. I understood the resort inside and out, developing a sense of each ride, and improvising whenever plans changed on vacation. It was a resounding success with fewer wait times and a near full exploration of each area of the park. ADHD is beneficial when there’s clear motivation and goals set.
Throughout 2022, I adjusted into my adulthood. My other roommate moved out for college. I trained and qualified for the Boston Marathon but I had to cope with a limited social life in Tillamook. Considering the friends that I had at my disposal and anyone returning my texts, I formed the best group I could. Any social opportunities presented to me, such as camping or Rose City Con, I took advantage of and gained new friends. Eventually, I landed a job that allowed me to relocate to Portland, Oregon. It too was a lengthy process of establishing a social schedule, but I was able to designate days for meetups, volunteer work, and new obsessions such as rock climbing. Now, I have a more stable friend group in real life, some of whom I ran with in Boston.
With every resolution, another issue will arise; some of my current ones include stabilizing a schedule, seeking a romantic relationship, prioritizing certain interests over others, and finding a new job after layoffs. ADHD reinforces low self-esteem, so any setbacks can be more demeaning than for a typical person. I’m working to be less harsh on myself and find ways to avoid any mistakes after making them, rather than beating myself up. Self-acceptance is vital for any neurodivergent person: view your symptoms not as faults but as advantages. Seek help from a professional or confide in a trusted friend; being independent doesn’t disallow asking for help. Understand your passions, what’s holding you back, and develop ways to move past these barriers. One strategy I perform when I’m reminded of past mistakes is to personify these moments as myself at the time of occurrence, confront him, and say, “It’s ok. You were still learning.”