It has taken me a long time to accept I can’t live independently. All kinds of people manage it. I’m educated, literate, numerate and intelligent — I hate false modesty — with no physical disabilities. So it ought to be easy, right?
I wish! Don’t get me wrong; I can function for days, even weeks at a time with no visible problems. Until things catch up with me. But when they do catch up with me — and they always do — I find I’ve ended up in this big pit of trouble. Again.
Two things let me down. First is my woeful lack of organizational ability, classic executive dysfunction which means I find it so difficult to plan, to track what I have done and to respond to changing circumstances. Second is my poor social skills which mean I don’t have the people around me to provide support when I need it.
What does this mean in practical terms? Taking executive dysfunction first, it means:
- I don’t get around to tasks like laundry, cleaning or paying bills. I might be in the middle of something else when I remember about them, but can’t task-switch. By the time I’ve finished whatever I was doing I’ve forgotten again and they don’t get done.
- When I do get around to them the backlog can be so large as to be intimidating. I perseverate and procrastinate as I attempt to force my mind to encompass the whole of the job in front of me instead of tackling it piecemeal and making some progress.
- I pay bills twice or not at all because I can’t remember whether I did it already this month.
I know I have these problems. I would like to find ways to cope with and work around my deficits. Because recognizing that a problem exists is only the first step. To do something about it requires support, and that’s where I get bitten by the social communication deficits.
- I’m generally OK, around level 1 according to DSM V. But this doesn’t mean that I don’t have problems, that I can manage without any help.
- I can feel comfortable in the company of a number of people I know socially. But I don’t form strong connexions. If I needed, say, somewhere to stay the night, I wouldn’t have anybody I feel close enough to that I could ask.
- I don’t feel comfortable asking for help. No, it’s more than that: asking for help involves being open, demonstrating vulnerability — even weakness. I fear the consequences: I catastrophize. I’ve been bullied in the past and that has created deep inhibitions. Without feeling a strong connexion to a person there is no way I can feel safe enough, trusting enough, to approach them.
I have lived on my own three times: when I went away to university, when I moved away from home to start my first job, and after the breakup of my first marriage. Each time I ran into the same problems: mounting debts because I mismanaged my finances; dirty, untidy living quarters because I didn’t manage to keep up with cleaning; decline in personal hygiene and dress because I didn’t manage to do my laundry regularly; decline in health and fitness because of poor diet when I relied on take out food too often.
These past 12 years with my wife have been a welcome escape from my struggles. In a number of ways she has been my carer as well as my spouse and I have come to depend on her to organize my life. But I have come to depend on her to organize my life. We both know that she is becoming less able to manage these days; her health is declining and she is becoming infirm. So we are starting now to develop coping strategies for me so I will become more independent. I don’t know if full independence is an achievable goal but it’s something to aim for. At the very least it will show the areas where I really do need support.