This is Part II of a two-part post on the first month of my new job. For Part I, please click here.
I hear voices in my head
I start the day walking along the road, subjecting my senses to immediate assault by the fast moving cars and inhaling the heavily polluted air. And for the rest of the day, I have to deal with the incessant sounds of phone calls, door bells, paper shredder, photocopier and scan machines, desktop towers, people walking past and occasionally bumped into my cubicle (which I found funny because I used to knock onto stuff and then found out this is an autistic thing, but of course, it is not just the autistics who bump into things), different conversations taking place at once, people chatting and bursting into laughter, and the creaking sound from the meeting room. I notice all of them at the same time and these sounds become ingrained in my head and replayed every night in my mind as I go to sleep. I wonder if this is why the dreams I’ve been having lately are noisy.
Add to the sensory challenges which I’ve been trying to suppress, are the cognitive and social demands but 3 incidents in the last week of September sent me into a panic mode.
It is not just the right to pay but to be paid on time
Since I was made jobless in May, I have used up my savings in the previous months. This new job came timely as I was relying on it to pay my bills. I started on September 1 but did not receive the contract until September 21, and then it took another week for the university (I’m still working under the university) to confirm my letter of acceptance, upon which I realised I wasn’t going to be paid on time for the first month. I got mad because it is not just about an employee’s right to pay but to be paid on time too. Besides, something is wrong with the management if it has to take the human resource nearly a month to process a contract and now what, I am supposed to pay for their ineptitude? I flustered because I won’t be able to pay my rent and bills on time. I panicked at the thought of having to call and deal with the people in the finance office who are known to be difficult. It didn’t help that my emotions were already overcharged with my sensory issues, a part of me just wanted to cry and plead “help me, I can’t pay my rent, please help me!” but another part of me told me to stay calm and hold myself together for not all is lost. I went to the colleague responsible for administrative matters for help and was given the standard reply I expected, “if you haven’t been paid today, you’ll have to wait till the next scheduled pay day which would be the end of next month, that’s the policy.” But I persisted and asked the colleague to help contact the finance office, if not, I’ll be willing to talk to them myself. First of all, it wasn’t my fault they took a long time with the contract. Second, there are always exceptions to the rule, they just don’t tell you what the exceptions are unless you persisted. In the end, the matter was resolved and I got my pay few days later. I just hate it that they have to put me through so much agony to resolve it. Talk about being a first-class institution!
I’m not lazy, I’m sensory overload
Twice in the week, I was given last minute notice, first, to attend a meeting and second, to complete a task, both required working overtime. Both times, my heart grieves at the thought of coming home late. I know this wouldn’t be the last time I have to do things at the last minute or attend to something after work but wherever possible, I’m the kind of employee who would leave the office at 6pm (the official working hours is 9am to 6pm). I did this in one of my previous jobs, before I knew I was autistic, and the reason I I always left at 6pm at that time was because I was in a hurry to catch the executive bus home for if I waited any longer, the bus would be full and I didn’t want to catch the public bus which would be really crowded. That was 12 years ago and commute was already a challenge back then. But what’s my excuse now? I’m not in a hurry to catch the bus and I’m just 25 minute walk away from home. I used to think it was laziness and poor work ethic. With the benefit of hindsight, I now realise the reason I was in a hurry to catch the executive bus, to avoid the crowded public buses aside, was because I wanted to get home as soon as possible, to be back to a place where I can truly be comfortable in my own shell. Going further back down the memory lane, when I was at school, I hated detention and team assignments, I even skipped compulsory extra-curricular activities. I wasn’t a bad student but all I wanted at the end of school was to be back home. And so it seems that my whole life, I’m always in a rush to be home. It doesn’t matter now that my workplace is near home, I’d still be in a hurry to get back home the soonest possible. I’m not lazy, I would finish whatever needs to be done for that day before leaving. I’m not lazy, if I’m given advanced notice that I have to work overtime, I will be better prepared to do so. I’m not lazy, I don’t mind working over time particularly if I’m allowed to do it from home, although I don’t quite get the logic behind the fact that we are not allowed to work from home during office hours but its ok to work overtime from home? I’m not lazy, I am one of the earlier ones who arrive at work around 8:30am and start punctually at 9am or even before and I don’t take more than an hour to go for lunch. I like to arrive early because I prefer to walk into a quiet office and prepare myself for the impending hustle and bustle. I’m not lazy, I’m sensory overwhelmed and I’m in a hurry to be home because this is where I can let my senses rest and detox (subject to the cooperation of my neighbours). I don’t go for a drink in the bar, I don’t need a luxury spa nor pampering massage, I just need to be in a soothing quiet sensory-friendly environment and that is home.
Would you just let me work in peace?
On the same week, I heard a news that sent me over the edge and put me in a difficult position. The office is planning a hiking trip in October which will be held during a weekday, which means instead of going to work, we are going for a hike. I think they are calling it a company retreat. Wait a minute, why is this a bad thing? Don’t you like hiking? Yes, I love being in the nature and hiking but not in a group and certainly not when I have to socialise. It is essentially a social activity. I look forward to solitude in nature, not socialising in nature. If I have to choose between hiking in a group and working alone in the office, I’d choose the latter. Socialising aside, I am anxious at the prospect of having to endure a long and crowded commute. I still don’t know the details such as where are we hiking, what time does it start, how long will it take, what else is being planned, what time does it end? While I can’t control nature but when I hike alone, certain things are within my control, I know where I’m going and I know how fast I can go. Most importantly, when it comes to commute, I plan it to avoid certain routes and times. I have none of these information at the moment other than the routes that have been suggested which would all involve a potentially long commute and I have no control over their speed and time. This makes me super anxious.
I want to do my job well but these sensory and social challenges are a distraction and preventing me from doing so. I want to cry out and shout,
“IF I CAN’T REST IN PEACE, CAN’T I AT LEAST WORK IN PEACE?”
Stop putting me in a social dilemma
I admit that ever since I knew I was autistic, I cared less about being or appearing social. It also has to do with one growing older and choosing to stay true to oneself. I remembered a conversation with a friend in the university during my first year of degree. We had been going out together with a group of friends and I told her I love being part of the group but at the same time I was tired of being out so often and I couldn’t decide if I should turn up at the next gathering or just say no. No matter how social I tried to be in the past, I always ended up needing more time to myself. I can’t believe that more than a decade later, I’m still asking myself the same question: should I make an effort to socialise or should I say no? The thing is I may mock (secretly) at people for their social neediness and I may be a misanthrope but I’m neither a sociopath nor even a rude person. When people ask me out, I appreciate their well-intentions but they are actually creating a social dilemma for me. Even though I’ve learned to say ‘no’, it doesn’t come without a tinge of guilt, after all, it is not a nice feeling to reject a well-intention invite from a friend. I know there are those who like to be asked and invited even if chances are they will decline. Not me, I don’t actually want to be invited to social gatherings or any events that essentially involves a group of people mingling around getting to know each other or to any place which is likely to be crowded or where you have no control over the crowd. Stop putting me in a social dilemma. If you know such events are going to make me uncomfortable, I’d rather not be asked and I would not be offended or feel left out because it is based on a mutual respect and understanding.
The meme above reads: “I need more friends who understand that I still want to be invited, but I’m not going.” I say, don’t worry about inviting me. Don’t put me in a situation where I have to say no.
Can you help make my dream comes true?
On the one hand, I do like the nature and field of work I’m currently doing right now. On the other hand, I dread going to work every morning for the reasons mentioned above and in the previous post. It also comes down to the question of where can this job take me? Bearing in mind that ultimately, I want to get out of this country, and if not now, when? Can this job help further my dream? When I see my co-workers engaged in areas of their research interests, I wish I could do the same. I know I’m being impatient, it took them years to get to this stage but I don’t know if I have the time and patience. I need more than an employer, I need a mentor, someone who can guide me through my career path but I guess I lack the social skills and talent to attract anyone’s attention. After all, I’m neither high functioning nor low functioning, I’m just an average autistic.
Things were better this week because we had 2 days of public holidays. With a full working week coming ahead and further meetings etc., I am just hoping I can hold everything together in place and if it does get too much, I might have to make some important decisions soon.