I am experimenting with some style choices in this post and I welcome feedback.
I don’t know what it is about my 30s that has freed me so much. Perhaps it’s just age and the passage of time. But I am learning things about myself and the world every day that I was never ready to receive, much less believe, at any other time in my life.
I grew up in a family that comedian Cameron Esposito would describe as “ethnically Catholic.” As a very young person I went to the church down the block from home with my parents every Sunday. By the time my second sibling was born, we were Christmas-only Catholics. Culturally, however, the faith endured—through the cliche themes of guilt, martyrdom, and nobility in suffering. It’s the way my parents grew up and it’s the way they raised me, intentionally or not, for better or for worse.
My mom used to refer my dad as “an unhappy person.” As in, that was his personality—he was incapable of being satisfied or feeling happy for very long; it was not his natural disposition. I am sure the emotional neglect he faced in childhood contributes greatly to my dad’s bleak view of the world (and himself). There was this pervasive view in my childhood home that happiness and good things were fleeting and always came with a catch. My father in particular always had to picture and relish in the worst-case scenario, the moment happiness would end, everything that could go wrong. My mom, on the other hand, dealt with her problems by running away—sometimes literally, such as when she abandoned the family when I was 10.
The way my dad was as a person transferred to the way he treated me. My dad had absolutely no confidence in my abilities or intelligence, from childhood to adulthood. When I got in to the honors program at my dream college right out of high school, my dad waited until the month before classes started to tell me that he did not believe I would graduate from college and would therefore not allow me to take out any student loans (at my age at the time, student loans could only be taken out with a cosigner, usually a parent). The blow to my self-confidence was crushing. What kind of parent has these views of their own child, much less expresses them in such a hurtful and future-limiting way? Unfortunately, because of my autism, I had the steadfast belief that my parents would never steer me wrong—that if they said or did something, it was in my best interest, because they could not possibly be as smart as they were and yet make decisions based on delusional emotions and habits. If Dad doesn’t believe I can finish college, I thought, it’s probably because I can’t.
Naturally, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Crushed by the lack of support from the most important adult in my life, I failed out of the local state college my second semester. (Ultimately, I did finish school, at the age of 29. I was old enough by then to take out student loans on my own, and that’s what I did. My graduation is the first time I remember my father saying he was proud of me. Afterwards, he offered to pay a portion of my student loans back, now that I had been successful. As grateful as I was to receive his help, it still stung.)
In the last couple of years, I have done a lot of difficult inner work. Part of that work was admitting to myself that I am autistic and that my parents knew early on, but instead of getting me the support I needed, they decided to ignore the problem. This put me at a significant social disadvantage the whole time I was growing up, and it led to my believing every negative thing ever said about me, because I believed everyone’s motivations were as “pure” as my own. That if someone believed something bad about me, it must be true.
Frankly, I am tired. I am tired of constantly doubting myself, of following up every daydream with something about how the things I want couldn’t work out because of my incompetence, my inability to stick with things, my lack of self-discipline. I am competent. I have the ability and desire to commit. I do demonstrate self-discipline. I’m tired of being lied to by “the voice in my head,” which I’ve apparently only recently come to accept is my father’s. My dad worked a job he hated his whole life. He never believed himself competent or worthy enough to pursue something else or go back to school, even after his second marriage when our household had two working adults. It’s as though he viewed his career as punishment for being who he fundamentally was, because who he was was somehow inherently “bad.”
I have worked in the field in which I received my Bachelor’s degree for four years now. I have come to loathe it. Sitting all day is hard on my back, and I am unspeakably bored with the subject matter. Coming from a career in social services, I am used to being active during the day. The health of my physical body deteriorated rapidly once I started working the desk job I so doggedly pursued for so long, believing I would enjoy the tedium of a corporate setting so much more than caring for other people.
I have noodled the idea of a career in Nursing around in my head for the better part of the last decade, after my mother died in a hospice home under the care of some of the most compassionate professionals I’ve ever met. I recently spoke with a longtime friend who has worked as a hospice nurse for most of the last ten years; she knows me well. I mentioned that I had noodled Nursing around as a potential career “if I could turn back time,” and my friend expressed her belief that I would make an excellent hospice nurse. She also said something so simple: “It’s never too late to start nursing school, you know.” I don’t know what it was about this off-the-cuff remark, but I suddenly felt like I had some kind of divine permission to start exploring a career change. I am starting prerequisites this summer, and should be eligible to start nursing school in the fall of next year. Self-doubt be damned.