Welcome back, dear readers.
It has been well over a year since I last posted anything here, but don’t worry. I’m not about to make a bunch of excuses for why posting fell off abruptly in late 2018. I’m not going to make promises about being better in the future despite planning to try and improve. I’m just here to sum up the year and state my goals for heading into the new year and new decade.
I had the opportunity to return to a favorite company in late 2018, one I loved working for before and to which I was excited to return. Although I returned to the same position I’d had thirteen years prior, the job was very different, as one would expect after so long of a time. The company had undergone some restructuring, and my old position had been merged with the old receptionist's position.
It was still in the same building, some twenty-seven miles away in the nearest major metropolitan area. Same building, but they’d moved into a larger office suite within the building. Along with this new suite came a new, open office environment that just wasn’t possible in the other suite.
All this to say, instead of being tucked away in a teeny office, I was up front in a building with a facade of floor to ceiling windows. My desk sat in the middle of the main floor. I only had half height cubicle walls on two sides of the desk, and the communal printer sat a few feet behind my work station. (I promise this is pertinent and will make sense later.)
The first several months were great aside from daily headaches that would start at noon and build to migraine levels by mid afternoon. I blamed my years old glasses prescription. Then several weeks later, the “aphasia spells” I’d started experiencing six or seven years ago started becoming a daily thing. I stopped brushing them off as just an annoyance when I started having minutes, and later hours, where I was completely unable to speak deep into the holiday season.
By the start of 2019, I was beginning to feel like a toy with batteries that’d stopped holding a charge. The “customer service mask” necessary for the reception portion of my job became more and more difficult to maintain. The “odd” movements I would squash unless completely alone began breaking through. I started making more errors due to confusion of tone or taking jokes and figurative phrases literally.
C.L.’s teasing he thought I must be on the spectrum, which he had done for years, began to ring more and more true. I began to search for someone in the area who would test someone over the age of 16 to get some answers and build coping skills. The best I found was a psychologist who specializes in learning disorders, though she does not test for autism at all.
She was able to help a good deal with learning to manage the anxiety and depression I’d been struggling with since I was a tween. Yet, on the whole, I continued to deteriorate.
By the time June rolled around, the “customer service mask” was impossible to hold for more than a minute or two at a time. Leaving my room with its blackout curtains and solitude became a herculean feat I simply didn’t have the energy to attempt except to go to work. I took to wearing sunglasses indoors on the regular. Earplugs or headphones became a constant while in public to either block out or simplify auditory input. I began dodging away from touch, even from C.L. and the girls. What I had come to recognize as shutdowns and meltdowns became frequent occurrences I was barely able to hide by running off to the ladies’ room or a friend’s office when I felt one coming on.
Then one particularly bad day, I lost the ability to speak during the hour plus drive home from work, and it didn’t return for two days. When it did, I spoke with a severe stutter for most of the following week. Even then, I had occasional hours where attempting to speak would result in a searing headache or was simply impossible.
This was the incident that caused the psychologist I had been seeing to refer me to Vocational Rehabilitation Services, which as it turns out, is one of the few places in my state where an adult can be assessed for autism. C.L. called for me that same day, and I was able to get an appointment for an initial intake assessment around the middle of July.
Flash forward to September.
I had been asking to be transferred to the company’s other local office since around March, when I first began to connect my decline to the overwhelming amount of sensory information inherent in an open office. The other office was the older one the company had worked from since the late 70s, so it is relatively “broken up” into a number of offices and studios of varying size, making it several times quieter than the other office. It doesn’t have window walls, and the lighting isn’t nearly as bright. And both copiers at the other office were in their own rooms, so even if I didn’t merit an office, the chances of people milling around my desk would be nil.
I was asking for accommodations to deal with sensory processing disorder, which as it turns out, is a facet of how autism affects me. But, I did not have a diagnosis at the time, and without that, no leg to stand on. Plus, my job was now tied to that specific desk and office, and no other positions were open for which I could be considered. So, I began looking for work elsewhere while pursuing a diagnosis.
The job came first, or so I thought anyway. I gave my notice, but I offered to stay through the end of September due to some changes coming down from corporate. Long story short, we’d lost a key position several months earlier than corporate was able to take over the function from us, and I was the only employee who had the experience and training to step in.
My diagnosis came one week before my last day.
The day before I was slated to leave, my supervisor asked if I could stay for an extra two weeks while he was on vacation since they hadn’t found a replacement.
One company I was leaving to work for had been delayed in starting up, and I would just be entering training part-time for the second during that time. So I agreed on the condition I be able to do so from the other office, which happened to be six or seven miles from my house. They agreed.
As it turns out, I rely much more heavily on lip reading to assist poor auditory processing than I ever imagined. Because of this, I ended up failing as a part-time transcriptionist, and the start up still has not managed to get started. Thankfully, the company I had been working with since 2018 continued to have need of me part-time, and now that a space had been set up for me in the older office, my working from there wasn’t a hardship.
Still, what we were bringing in at the time wasn’t quite enough to cover our expenses, so C.L. and I both continued to look for other jobs. It was mid-December when I was given an offer to work full-time from my home office.
So, I finished working for the company that’d welcomed me back after so many years just before Christmas, and I start with this new job next week.
While I will not have time to write full-time, I hope to be able to return to it at least an hour a day. Working from home means I am in control of my sensory environment, which gives me hope of recovering from the autistic burnout that directly led to my diagnosis. And really, when you get right down to it, recovering from burnout is my one real goal for 2020. All of the quarterly goals I have are smaller goals toward that end.
So what are they? I’ll let you know in tomorrow’s post.
A. B. England is a small business owner, mom of two, novelist, all around geek, and avid crafter. She loves mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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