“Disability” and employment.

I’m in quite a difficult spot.

The Ideal.
On one hand I honestly believe that things like ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome, OCD, autism, schizophrenia and more are expressions of perfectly normal human instinct. Understanding them will allow us to understand the different ways that human minds can be naturally shaped. They have disadvantages, advantages (both measured relative to other people), and excesses that can become flaws unless a person develops control which can even make those excesses benefits.

The problem is when they don’t fit into a modern context or they reach an intense enough level to be a problem in a modern context. They are inherited but largely not genetic. Attempts to find genes end up finding hundreds and indicate the conditions likely represent mental systems, or a set of systems that are expressed a certain way for a particular type of human. The non-genetic inheritance likely stems from epigenetic programming by the environment and references to epigenetics and imprinting are all over the literature. I increasingly believe these conditions represent a place where one’s ancestors experiences and mode of life (things like warrior, craftsperson, politician…) are written into us as changes of gene expression.

I think that a person with one of these conditions needs to understand how their mind is shaped and learn to understand what that does for them and to them so they can figure out how to thrive in society on their own terms. Until almost six years ago I thought I was “just like everyone else” and lived my life as if that were true.

The Reality.
Society does not even come close to thinking in these terms. These conditions were first studied because of people suffering because that is what medicine does. As a result things like TS, ADHD and autism have a negative bias emotionally speaking. The advantages or finding good ways to express the excesses are not common knowledge and we are in the process of just getting people to admit that we are not all the same and treat one another fairly. As a result talking about any one of those conditions and many more is like a social minefield, and my social emotions are not the “normal” set.

We are going to have to deal with us as some point. I just listed more than 10% of the population. Sub-clinical people will spread out from there. around 25% of the population has a diagnosed mental condition. We are figuring out how to define normal and if we do not learn what normal looks like in all of it’s diversity, accept it and act like it’s true society will have problems.

I earned two bachelors degrees in Microbiology and Cellular & Molecular Biology with a minor in Biochemistry. I earned a masters degree in Cellular & Molecular Biology. I spent over ten years in laboratories from entomology to plant genetics. I worked in the lab of one of the big names in epigenetics research and that person supported me when I applied to and attended a good graduate school. My work was good quality. I was given administrative positions like safety, training, tracking and disposal person for radioactive and toxic materials in the laboratory. I did all of the things I was supposed to do and took to every goal with relentless determination. None of that prepared me for the things that were totally invisible to me because “I was just like everyone else” to myself and everyone else*.

TS, AHDH, hypothetical OCD and how I got to this place.

*While my work was of good quality, I was slower than most at getting my data and I had strange difficulties in different situations that on occasion had people saying “I just don’t understand how you could…”.  I have seen other people with these conditions complain of similar things. That led me to getting 12 hours of neurological testing done and receiving the ADHD and TS diagnoses. This was in 2009 when the economy was blowing up. The university was not supportive and I had no idea what to think about this and would not have been able to deal with an 80 hour a week post-doctoral position while figuring this out. I accepted a masters degree.

*I applied to jobs for about 6 months. I got one interview during this period and was not hired. I needed to do something so I decided to train to be a public school science teacher and worked as a substitute teacher in the American south for about 2 and 1/2 years. That experience left me with clinical depression and probably PTSD (not confirmed but my psychologist worked with veterans).  I got psychological help and while I am no longer positive for those conditions, recovery is more than just not being clinically positive.

*While getting therapy I spent some time teaching myself pharmacy technician. But I was resorting to that and I honestly loved working in science so with the encouragement of my psychologist and my wife I tried applying to science positions again. Two years later I have again only gotten one interview and did not get the job. I’m now trying to get hired to other things like sales person at nicotine vapor shops (it helps with the ADHD).

My current place.

I largely don’t have any real idea what I look like on paper because I can’t get anyone in a position to know how it looks and how I might fix it to talk to me. They seem to shut down when I mention the neurological conditions even when I’m not seeking a job with them. Even my attempts to talk to my former PI (laboratory primary investigator) about how ADHD and TS might have impacted my graduate work have become uncomfortable enough that I have stopped trying.

I think it looks bad. I have not had one science job since I graduated. They see that I spent roughly 3 years in public education since I graduated. They see 2 years of unemployment after that. I’m pretty sure that if working at a convenience store or a fast food place is added it will look even worse (I have nothing against those jobs but am trying to think about how they will see it). My references are still people I worked with at the university because as a substitute teacher you don’t get to know anyone well enough for them to say yes.

I have spent the last six years obsessively reading about TS and ADHD and OCD. I taught myself enough brain science to follow along with every paper that I have read.  I’ve been working to understand what I am so I can take my disadvantages and excesses into account functionally. This 10% of the population has a lot of advice on what can be done to make what we are a benefit instead of a liability in employment.

One current realization is that a life time of being a person with TS has made me a socially avoidant person. Looking back on my life I can say that I have only once tried to make friends with another person (it worked, but he ended up a bit of a jerk). All of the other friends were people that extended friendship to me. They all seem to honestly like me and since I’m an ambivert I mostly like a smaller number of closer friends that I am very passionate about (the link on ambiverts makes that make sense). But that strange repulsion from extending myself towards other people and other groups has really messed me up in a lot of ways. I effectively have no skills at networking. I did not realize it but I essentially completely neglected my ability to form professional social contacts. The mental filters were either not there or all associated with negative emotions.

What I need is information and a chance. What I need is a person working in government or industry or academia who makes hiring decisions to actually agree to talk to me about this and give me some ideas about how I look on paper and how I can fix it. What I need is someone who has experienced these sorts of issues with networking to give me some advice. I’m actively looking and trying to fix these issues myself but nothing beats a knowledgeable teacher and role-model. I’m sure that I can fix it.

So far I have only contacted one person about an informational interview to see why I might look bad on paper and how I might be able to deal with it. They responded and seemed positive about helping (they asked a couple of questions and for a copy of my resume). I responded with a reply that told them that I needed to make sure it was ok because it had to deal with mental conditions that might impact in ways I’m trying to understand, and did everything I could to word things so that it put as little pressure on them as possible.

I have not heard back. I may have to hide what I am and see if I can address it with euphemisms. This is dishonest, but that seems to be what society wants me to do right now.

*Just as a note, a common complaint among people who are mentally different is that they often run into people who say things like “that happens to everybody” or “me too”. This is not true, these things are a matter of something that is more or less intense, or present or absent, or altered in a persons mind. The same general category of mental feature exists in everyone but the specifics are different and important. This is why these diagnoses exist. I know that people are trying to make a connection but this way of doing it tends to make us invisible.



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