Let me tell you a story of trauma, zero self-esteem, and severe depression.
Before I hit PUBLISH, only three people outside my small family knew this story. Why? Because four years after it’s over, just thinking about it still gives me nightmares.
I was at the beginning of my self-advocating for autism and Neurodiversity, which pays little or none. I, as 87% of my autistic brothers and sisters are, was underemployed or unemployed. I fell onto the underemployed category.
I was coaching ice hockey in the youth development department of a Southern California NHL franchise. I wasn’t making a lot and definitely couldn’t afford a place to stay. I was freaking out about what to do and where to go. My panic attacks were constant and severe.
I asked my mom, who was rattling around in the big house we were raised in, but she said no. No reason. Just no.
I finally went and talked to my brother who owned an industrial building with a shanty-type wooden garage attached to it. The type of garage you wonder if it’s going down in the next strong wind. In the garage was a room that was maybe 8 ft X 10 ft. I asked him if I could live in there, knowing there was no running water and that if I had to go to the bathroom or take a shower, I had to go into the offices of the industrial building.
In that small room I fit a twin bed, dresser, bookcase that doubled as pantry, kitchen counter/desk, and a hotplate and microwave to cook on. I also had a small TV, mini fridge, and my dog, Lucy. The garage wasn’t sealed well against the industrial building, so every evening I would sweep the leaves that had blown onto my bed that day.
I also removed the occasional rat droppings on my bed. In the six years I lived in that little hovel, I never saw a rat in my space and they never messed with my food. I caught them in other parts of the garage, but not in my little slice of heaven.
Over the years I had other visitors. I can’t remember how many times I very carefully opened the door and slowly ushered skunks out of the garage from a distance, and a feral cat that my brother refused to help me catch and get rid of, had three litters of kittens during my stay. The noise alone was marvelous.
You can imagine how living in such an environment can knock down your self-esteem and sink you into depression. Add to that the fact that you’re often reminded that you’re extremely lucky to have a roof over your head and running water nearby.
Nearby. Yeah. Here’s the procedure for using the bathroom or taking a three-minute shower because that’s all the hot water they have.
Unlock a door
Lock a door
Walk across a courtyard
Unlock a door
Lock a door
Do what you came to do
Walk across the courtyard
Unlock a door
Go Inside and hope you don’t walk in on a skunk
Lock a door
That’s a lot of steps to take.
After a few weeks living in my luxury digs I basically shut myself off from anyone I knew, because I was beyond embarrassed for them to learn where I was living. Then a few months later came the So Cal rainy season. It seems that the entire driveway slopes slightly towards the rolling garage door. There’s a small drain in front of the door that’s supposed to run the water out to the street. It’s partially clogged, so it doesn’t drain much. Instead, it backs up into the garage.
I found this out one morning when I arose from bed and put my feet in ankle deep water. At the same time, I was livid and also began thinking that living here, in these conditions, is exactly what I deserved. That thought would be a dominant thought the entire six years I lived there. I mean, if I couldn’t do any better than this and pull myself out of this, it had to be what I deserved, right? It’s just logic.
My brother came to work that rainy morning and I talked with him about the partially clogged drain and how I would like to have him help me clear it. He just gave me the speech about having a roof over my head and how standing in water for a couple of days wouldn’t be a big deal.
But it was.
I would spend hours sweeping the water out of my hovel and the garage, only for more to come. Over the years there were countless times my “home” flooded and probably eight or nine times I seriously considered dropping something electrical in the water so my shitty existence would be over.
I was at the lowest point in my life. My depression was so bad that I didn’t want to do anything. Coaching was the one thing I loved to do, and it was tough to do that, as my social anxiety would kick in hard. My self-esteem was completely gone, and I was sure I was going to die in that shithole in the next year or so.
Then came an opportunity to move to the Missouri Ozarks and to continue and expand my autism self-advocacy that I had started doing in Southern California during my brief moments of low self-esteem, as opposed to no self-esteem.
Two psychologists have called that six-year experience trauma and the writing off of it as if people were doing me a favor, is part of that. I shouldn’t feel lucky to deal with what I did. I never saw it as trauma, but the more I think of it, I guess it is to some degree. It’s something I’m working through now and probably will be for a while.
If you find yourself in a negative situation that you don’t see a way out of, find help. It’s out there and people have suggestions, ideas, and connections. If I had told anyone other than a couple closest friends, things might have gone different. I don’t know. But I do know that despite all the pain, talking down to, and all the bad stuff I endured, it made me the man I am today, so I guess in someway it was worth it.
We’re here for you. I’m here for you. Tell us your story and let’s start a discussion