Decades before I was diagnozed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I moved halfway across the country to Washington, D.C. to work in the federal government. I was 32 at the time, but I felt more like 12.
In the beginning, I was excited at seeing the sights of D.C. as if I was a child seeing the world for the first time. It was thrilling to visit places I had only seen in pictures or read about in history books. Then, at some point, it dawned on me I wasn’t a tourist. This was my new home and I was a stranger in a foreign land. Every part of my being ached for familiarity.
The tremendous change in routine was rocking my world. I had sleepless nights where my stomach felt as hard as stone. I remember one day when I was having to work on my car so it would be blessed by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s DMV, I looked up at the sky thinking, “What in the world was I thinking coming here?” If someone had offered me a Greyhound one-way ticket back to my hometown, I would have probably taken it.
I was also going through culture shock because even though Washington, D.C. was within the U.S. boundary, just like my home state of Texas, it didn’t feel like it to me. I was the new kid in town and I yearned for the “yesterday” when I was the native instead. Folks informed me right off the bat, for instance, that I had an accent. No one told me that back in Texas.
My first month was spent in training with other newbies. The class was a mix of support personnel. I was hired as a secretary. One of my classmates was a mail courier who had more life experience than I did. Being in the military and also a military wife, she had much more experience than I did of moving and changing jobs. I guess I was drawn to her because of her strength and confidence. Maybe, I thought, some of it might rub off on me. I think she sensed my anxiety and felt compelled to be like a big sister to me. After all, there was a time in her life when she moved for the first time.
One of the things I do to deal with anxiety, besides stemming, is praying. In my prayers, I was telling the Lord I thought I ought to go right back to where I came from. I thought He would agree with me and I’d have his blessing.
Three months after arriving in D.C., my anxiety was at an all-time high. I’d go home and cry and sometimes I’d be teary-eyed at work. I remember a day when I was contemplating turning in my resignation to escape back to where I originally came from. I was headed for lunch and as soon as I got off the elevator, I ran into the courier. She looked at me and read my face. She knew I needed a hug and she graciously gave me one.
I then offered up a good sob story giving her all the reasons why I should move back. Mostly for my family’s sake, I told her, instead of saying it was really about me and my fear. I thought she would echo what I said, but she didn’t. Instead, she told me what I did not want to hear.
She told me I needed to stay for my own sake. My parents, siblings, and their families had their own lives. I needed to go about living mine. I had some growing up to do and this was as good a time to start as any. She advised that as far as the stressful unfamiliar job, to take it one day at a time. One hour at time if I needed to. Instead of focusing on the days ahead, focus on the task at hand.
Her advice got me through the remainder of the day and in the days and weeks to come. I did not resign until 22 1/2 years later.
I strongly believe our encounter in the hallway that day was no coincidence. It was an answer to my prayer. I heard someone say that if you want the Lord to laugh, tell Him your plans. I take it on faith He wanted me to stay. I didn’t like the courier’s message at the time, but looking back at it over 25 years ago, I’m glad I took her advice.