Early grave

My workplace has seen several crises in the last few months, all of which directly affect me. One of them was particularly bad, but I am unable to discuss with anyone outside the organization until the lawyers are done drafting the official statement to go public with.

I went in to the office today, to better deal with one of the other less serious problems that I discovered yesterday. I vented with my boss a bit — and then felt bad, because his load is much worse than mine, and I am unable to help him much, because he does not share much with me. Although I know he appreciates me as an employee, I suspect he does not actually like me personally and tries to avoid dealing with me as much as possible. So our relationship is very tense right now.

My bus home from downtown Seattle was almost empty and I was able to enjoy a podcast. I got off near a waterfront pub for an impromptu pint of cider. The pub is nice and quiet inside but there is plenty to see outside. A nice overcast day over Puget Sound.

It has been one of those days when I really question the wisdom of living a healthy lifestyle. An early grave seems like a pretty good idea, if you ask me.

Hence the cider. Cheers!

Friday and Saturday spoons

Given the choice, I would rather work a few hours on Saturday morning than work late on Friday. In fact, I do not like working much after 5pm any day of the week — but especially on Friday. Some of it is my need to protect my Friday night routine, but the spoon count is also an issue. Most days, I am down to my last spoon by 4pm (and even earlier on Friday). If I take a break, I can perhaps motivate myself to do some studying, but not paid work — unless I have a critical deadline.

Working on Saturday morning is something I rather enjoy. I give myself permission to work in my sleep clothes and I take regular breaks for coffee and second helpings of breakfast. My workplace network runs better with fewer people on it and I do not get disturbed by email notifications popping up every few minutes. And when I deploy some new feature, I can take my time testing it without worrying about disrupting someone’s work. Of course, I could be doing this work after business hours on a weekday — but I just do not have the energy. So, Saturday it is. And Saturday morning work does not seem to use up many spoons.

I am usually done by noon. And I reward myself with a nice long shower. Then I am really ready to enjoy my afternoon and the rest of my weekend.

Anniversaries

Here in the USA, March 11 was marked as the official anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. This month, I am also marking the first anniversary of my autism diagnosis.

March 2020 was a very strange month to be taken up with a diagnosis! I had a series of three appointments, one week apart. And I had quite a lengthy bus ride to get to them, involving my usual bus commute into downtown Seattle followed by a longer bus ride to Bellevue on the East Side; and then a thirty-minute walk to an office park that is not served by transit. But it was a very enjoyable walk.

The day of the first appointment, things were still almost normal. I got to my appointment far too early, because I had allowed myself plenty of time to miss a bus, a bus to be cancelled, or me to get completely lost — or all three! But there was a coffee shop where I was able to kill time with a latte and a donut while enjoying watching ducks on a pond. And when I got back into Seattle later on, I was able to go the library and check out a book that the psychologist had suggested.

The following week, there were far fewer people on each bus I rode. And the coffee shop was still open, but much quieter, and it had been rearranged a bit to encourage social distancing. The third week, I was one of only three people on the bus into Seattle, and the bus to Bellevue was equally quiet. At the office park, the coffee shop was closed, so I had to kill time taking a walk in the lovely spring weather. The office park was largely deserted and I was very gratified that my appointment had not been cancelled — as this was the day I was to get my diagnosis.

Riding back into Seattle, now officially confirmed as autistic, I realized how different the world was going to be from now on. If this appointment had been just a week earlier, I would have stopped at my favorite pub to mark the occasion with a pint of cider while reading my library book. But all such establishments had been shut down as of the previous Tuesday. The day after my diagnosis was a Friday. I went to work as usual — but I started WFH on Monday.

Today I went into the office. It was not the first time since last March. I went downtown back in August for a medical appointment and stopped by the office for a few hours. But it was the first time I revisited my old familiar routine. It was a lovely spring morning and the snow on the Olympic Mountains was tinged with pink in the morning sun. The bus ride to downtown seemed almost normal, other than the lack of a crowd. And although a lot of businesses downtown, especially restaurants, are closed down and some are even boarded up, the few blocks I walked from the bus to the office were not that different than I remembered. And when I got to my desk, I found it pretty much as I left it. When my boss came in, we had a long chat. There were not many people in, but it was really nice to chat in person after a year of Teams meetings and emails. I did not take any lunch with me, so in the early afternoon I ordered a latte and scone from a nearby Starbucks with the app and went out to pick it up. My commute home seemed almost normal too — other than the almost empty bus and the speed with which I got home with no traffic congestion to navigate. I think Metro drivers must be having to pay serious attention to avoid running too far ahead of schedule!

It all went far more easily than I expected — and part of me actually thinks I should resume going in, at least a couple of days a week. But I have come to rather love my WFH routine, with my cat and BBC Radio for company. I have just bought a portable monitor for a second screen, something I should have done months ago! And my boss said I could have a new laptop for home if I want.

But something has been niggling at me all day. And I have only just figured it out. My old routine, one I had been following for several years, ended abruptly with my autism diagnosis. My new WFH routine is part of my new life identifying as an autistic person. And I do not think I could just go back to my old routine. It no longer fits.

It is something for me to think about as things start to open up. Vaccinations have been going reasonably well in Seattle. The governor of Washington State has ordered schools to plan for reopening. And restrictions elsewhere are being relaxed. It would absolutely be possible for me to resume my old way of life later this summer.

But I do not think that is what I really want.

Out of spoons — and it’s only Thursday

Friday could be a challenge.

I once had a job where I had to lug large sacks of dog food and cat litter — up to 40 pounds each – dozens of times a day. So I do not understand the hardship and inconvenience of an extra mouse-click or page navigation in a work flow. I actually do not mind an extra mouse-click — because I am slow at processing information and the time involved in clicking a mouse and waiting for the next page to load gives my brain time to keep up. But I guess I must work with people whose brains go much faster than mine. 😕

Today I was wrangling something very difficult and maddening and was not in the mood to field requests about elimination mouse-clicks. So the system is not perfect, but it works well and I do not have time to tinker with it now. Sorry.

I wish I had some wine. My brain feels like a jelly fish that has suddenly turned solid. But the nearest place to buy wine is a forty-minute walk up a long hill and it is already dark. But the time I got home, it would be almost time for bed. I am also very hungry and am waiting on some brown rice to be cooked. Then I will pig out on rice and beans.

There will be wine tomorrow 🍷🙂

It’s time to set aside childish things

Twelve years ago I was feeling profound relief at not having been laid off after the holiday season. In September 2008, I started a job at a gift retailer, working in the warehouse, safely away from customers. For a week, I was happy as a clam. Then the financial crisis hit and sales plummeted. The boss started canceling or downsizing orders. And at the beginning of December, our hours were cut. You know it is bad when you work in retail and your hours are cut in December. I was pretty sure that once the holidays were over, I would be laid off — along with millions of other people. It was a very hard holiday season to enjoy.

But sales rallied in the last week before Christmas and the company did better than expected. I got to keep my job, albeit on reduced hours — but with some well-considered budgeting I realized I could manage on the smaller paycheck. By Inauguration Day of 2009, I realized I was going to survive.

It was a quiet Tuesday morning in the warehouse. The warehouse manager had news coverage streaming on his computer. He was grumbling, not because Obama was about to be sworn in as president, but because he was sure if the boss came in and caught him watching the new that he would be fired. But then another manager came by and announced that everyone was invited to the accounting office to watch the inauguration. So off we went — with the warehouse manager still grumbling that we would all be fired when the boss came in.

We assembled ourselves in the accounting office so that everyone could see the screen. And then we heard footsteps coming down the hallway — the boss! And the warehouse manager resumed his lament about being fired. Suddenly, a big plate of red-, white-, and blue-frosted donuts appeared in the doorway — with the face of the boss beaming across them at us.

“I got us inauguration donuts,” she happily announced.

It was a really nice occasion. My biggest takeaway from Obama’s speech was the following remark:

“It’s time to set aside childish things.”

When I returned to the warehouse, the first order I processed was a case of Obama nodding-head dolls.

But we did not get fired!

On the spot

Podcast hosts often wrap up an interview with a set of “Quick Fire” questions. I guess it is a convenient way to end the podcast with a sense of completeness, especially if it was an interview that was hard to keep on track. But listening to it makes me anxious.

What does it mean to be brave?

How anyone can come up with a quick answer to a question like that is beyond me! I would have to think about that for an entire day. Perhaps some podcast guests have to think about it for an entire day and then phone it in later.

I doubt I will ever be a podcast guest. But I have been put on the spot often at work. My workplace has Equity & Inclusion as a major point of the mission statement, so we have a lot of trainings and workshops. Under pandemic restrictions, there have been fewer trainings and the online format has been rather different. But in the past, we would sit in a circle in a room. And before starting, we would “go around the room” and introduce ourselves. Some leaders would also ask us to sum up our current state of mind in one word.

Oh dear. I was never able to fully listen to anyone’s introduction because I was too busy (a) trying to discern my current state of mind, and then (b) trying to decide on the one word that best described it. So I eventually just defaulted to “anxious”.

Then at the end of the session, we would go around the room and offer one word that summed up what we were taking away from the training. By the time it was my turn, most of the good (and acceptable) words had been taken. On one occasion, my word was “smooth”. Naturally, I got a lot of odd looks. I explained that it was the only word coming to mind right now.

I assume this is due to my various impairments with processing, especially with verbal information. Unfortunately, this is a such a common feature of training, once our training schedule picks up again, I might have to resort to preparing generic words ahead of time so that I have something to say in case I draw a complete blank.

Another thing that floors me is when we have to include some fun trivia with our introduction. Meetups on Zoom are often hosted by someone who asks us to share what we have been binge-watching on Netflix. I must be the only person in the modern world without a Netflix subscription. The only paid subscription I have is for Apple TV+, and if it was not for all the Ted Lasso fans out there, I would imagine myself to be the only person in the modern world with an Apple TV+ subscription (I signed up for it when I got a year of free access after buying a new phone and I will continue with it because it has great programming.) I also have access to PBS Passport and a big archive of old PBS programs. Other than that, I just have unpaid YouTube. So anything I mention is likely to be rather obscure. Instead of listening properly to other people introducing themselves, I am distracted as I try to think of something I have been watching that someone else might have heard of. But when my turn comes, the response is always blank stares and silence.

The one-word summaries at the end of a training strike me as nothing other than a gimmick — an easily deployed tool that gives everyone the feeling that something has been accomplished — except those of us who have spent the entire session thinking about our word instead of focusing on the actual training.

Just log out

Friday afternoons are often a source of anxiety. I try my best to wrap up my work week with no loose ends to have to chase after on Monday morning. I keep a daily journal of my work activities and after I complete my Friday entry, I refresh my “to do” list. It is a nice way to end the week. But I have coworkers (at all levels) who seem to enjoy brainstorming big ideas on Fridays — and then send me an email after 4pm, just as I am trying to wind down my thoughts.

Unfortunately, my usual reaction is to read the email and allow myself to panic as the magnitude of what is being suggested sinks in. And then I fire off a response while I am still in panic mode. Then I spend Friday evening, and often the whole weekend, worrying about the email I sent. And I kick myself for not just ignoring the email and waiting until Monday to read it properly.

Just before 5pm today, I got an email from a manager — not the one I report to — but a manager who has been incubating a vision for the program he oversees. And I am to be the developer who will realize that vision. As usual, it threw me into a panic as I contemplated the possible scope of the project I might have to build. But I had literally been about to log out when the email showed up. And I somehow found it within me to just log out anyway and shut down my laptop. I will look it at first thing next week.

After about ten minutes, I had calmed down and reassured myself that I probably am not being asked to build anything I am not capable of. And it might be a fun project that will keep me busy for a while and out of the way of more irritating work. It just took a while for all the parts of my brain to catch up with each other and form a coherent response. When I get around to answering the email next week, I will be able to strike a happy and positive note.

I am so proud of myself for letting it go! And I am resolved to do this again next time I get surprised by such an email at the end of the day — whatever day it is.

One of the worst…

I am a database analyst/developer at a nonprofit. Most of the time, the work is well suited to a person with autism. I have been working from home full time since mid-March and managing just fine. The main challenges I face are around explaining technical things to people who are not technically inclined. At least now that I am home and not in the office, I can get on my feet in between emails and stomp around my apartment — and even have a crying fit if I need!!

But in a previous position, at the same company but before I skilled up, I was assigned a task that still ranks near the top my list of most upsetting things I have been asked to do at work. I was an admin assistant — you know — a general office worker who wears many hats. I had to coordinate the flow of data, information, paperwork and general requests amongst approximately twenty other people working at sites all over the county. Not the most suitable job for someone with autism and poor executive function. (Words I hate: communicate, collaborate, coordinate. Any verb that begins with “c” and ends with “ate”.)

My manager (and her manager) thought it would be nice to recognize team members on their birthdays. And we had a very long meeting to discuss it. How best to do this? Take the person out to lunch? Arrange a lunch or birthday cake party at the site? Offer the person a paid day off?

Before I go any further I must confess that I find workplace birthday celebrations deeply disturbing. At one job, I upset several people at management level when I asked them to not do the cake and candles and Happy Birthday singing in the staff kitchen on my upcoming birthday. I think I was the first employee who ever had the nerve to ask to be excused.

Anyway, the outcome of the meeting was that we should send a letter to each team member asking them what kind of birthday observance they would prefer — and this task was assigned to me. I immediately insisted someone else write the letter. At the time I had no idea I had autism — but I did know that I am absolutely useless at stuff like this!! So my manager’s manager composed the letter. It was filled with language that made me cringe, such as “on your special day” — and I knew several people would probably lose all respect for me ever after. But I followed through and sent out the email.

To my relief, only one person responded. And she very nicely and graciously stated that it was not necessary that we celebrate her birthday at work — and that she would rather see the money put to some better use (the program serves a lot of people in need). I did not bother to follow up with anyone. At the next program meeting, I shared the one response I had received and suggested that the lack of response otherwise indicated an overall lack of interest. They were disappointed — but to my immense relief, I was not asked to pursue this any further. I did take the opportunity to express my discomfort at having been asked to do this in the first place — and tried to explain that I am just not very good at this kind of thing. “Well, I guess that’s good to know,” was the response, and I sensed they were not happy to hear it.

I will never let myself get roped into something like that again!