July 2020 will ring in my memory for a while. Not because of COVID-19, protests, elections, or wildfires. On July 7, a video chat announced that I’d lost my job.
For the third time in four years, unemployed. My inner liberty bell rang — time to quit trying.
The job-loss showed me how deeply Autism* and my concussions** had eaten into my ability to ‘play architecture’ in a traditional setting. The anxiety and PTSD, accumulated across four decades of laboring in a field I not-so-secretly despised, overwhelmed me. Exhaustion had eaten my free time; depression stalled my creativity. And I needed to learn why my body experienced crippling pain.
With decisions to make and resilience shredded, I froze. Gaming, Mexican food, ice cream, and whisky kept me distracted until I admitted it: I didn’t care whether I lived or died.
Since my early twenties (that’s 30-plus years), I’ve dealt with depression. So I know mental health professionals can help. And meds can help. I entered an inpatient program to reset my perspective and get treatment. I didn’t give a @#$% what it cost. If you’re suicidal, you get at least a minimum level of care, even if you’re broke with no insurance.
From the folks who saved my life that week, I heard this, over and over: “You have gifts. Call upon them and build a new life for yourself.”
I returned home, determined to keep my spot in this perfect-for-me old house — and to do what I love. Returning to college tempted me. Or diving into advocacy for adult females on the Autism Spectrum. Or women in architecture.
Then I noticed: those choices might suck me back into an over-zealous drive-to-accomplish — the one I’d battered myself with for decades. When my mental warning buzzer stopped ringing, I wadded up my imaginary scrap of professional accomplishments and tossed it into the bonfire of closed chapters.
I applied for Disability. One of the scariest things I’d ever done in my life. It was worse than divorce, foreclosures, bankruptcies, food stamps, or homelessness. It took weeks to feel confident that my ex-employer’s NDA didn’t screw me. To learn the SSDI application process, complete the documentation, and figure out when I’d run out of money.
Whiteboard to-do lists and a strict daily regimen kept me on track with meds, responsibilities, and therapies. But I didn’t know where I was going. Sitting in front of my shrine, I asked the Buddhas, “Please forgive my neglect. I need your help again.”
Then one morning, I heard it: “Write, Leslee. Just write and stop worrying.” An idea for a new novel and an upbeat approach to social media bounced in front of me. I took a deep breath and copious notes.
Two weeks later, I had a kick-ass plot outline. My synopsis is weaving together, and my character profiles are blooming. NaNoWriMo approaches, and I’m ready.
All I need to do now is nurture my patience, eat well, take my meds, keep up my PT exercises, help Mom garden, cook, and write. Or draw and paint, if that’s what I feel like doing. Oh — and get plenty of sleep.
At the moment, my choice is to write. So I write — because now I can.
*(I received an Autism diagnosis in 2018, at the age of 56.)
**(I experienced three TBIs in three years, 2016-2018. Car accidents caused the first two; the third happened when my head hit a cabinet corner at home.)