The benefits of extreme difficulty

antique phoneQuick post for today, before I gear up for the four-day family reunion extravaganza.

And no, I don’t want to talk about it. I’m not looking forward to it at all. My family is overwhelming. My parents are both on the spectrum, and my mother is hyposensitive, which means everything has to be loud and over the top for her to perceive it. So, EVERYTHING IS LOUD AND OVER THE TOP.

Which is painful, to say the least.

But I digress. This post is really about how I’ve developed some pretty impressive telephone skills, over the past several years. My job has devolved from hands-on, direct involvement in What Gets Done, to sitting on the sidelines, watching everyone screw everything up, and then being helpless to change the course of things. All I can really do is observe and then report. Which is maddening for me. I need to be hands-on, not pushed to the side. Plus, when I see people making terrible mistakes with their choices, I can’t just sit by and watch. I need to do something. Say something. But my input gets pushed aside, so…

I’m looking for a new job.

One of the things I’ve done more, for the past 3 years, than I’ve probably ever done before, is talk on the phone. Now, mind you, I have auditory processing issues, and it’s really hard for me to do phone conversations. But for years (especially the past year), I’ve spent anywhere from 6-10 hours in a day… guess what … talking on the phone. Listening. Trying to follow. Having that be my only connection to my colleagues, who are halfway across the country.

Augh! It’s been horrible.

So painful.

On the other hand, it’s been very helpful in training me to do well on the phone.  I mean… really well.

Funny, how that goes. When I don’t get something, I really don’t get it. But once I figure it out, and I come up with my own system and techniques, I can be really, really good. As in, second to none.

As it turns out, working the phones is now that sort of thing for me.

Everyday, a new adventure…

Figuring out this work flow thing… eventually.

Picture of newspaper with crossword puzzle and glasses and pen lying on top
I need to discern patterns to live effectively. Sometimes it feels like it takes forever to figure it out.

Ha! I’ve finally figured a few things out. I’m a “late bloomer” in many ways, developing skills at a different rate than other non-autistic people — social skills, logistics skills, and just figuring things out at a different rate than other people seem to expect.

The crux of it all is that I’m a heavy-duty pattern-thinker, and it takes me a while to identify patterns — including exceptions to rules. It takes me years of observation, sometimes, before I get to a place where I’m feeling expert enough to predict what’s going to happen… where my anxiety is at a manageable level… and I can just relax and settle into my life.

I’m currently at this place, in terms of my day-to-day responsibilities. I’ve got a full roster of activities at work, and I’ve finally figured out that I don’t have to attend every single meeting on my calendar. Yeah, I know — you’d think that I’d get that, by now, but I can be extremely literal and rigid when it comes to my obligations. And frankly, my determination to keep every single commitment I make has worked in my favor many times, over the years.

But as I look at my calendar today, after 2 days off work and hundreds of emails to catch up on, I realize that some of that stuff is optional.

Plus — major development — I realize now that I don’t need to be fully engaged in every single meeting I attend. Many meetings I attend cover a variety of topics, and I don’t have anything to say about some of those topics. Or they have nothing to do with me. Or they’re informational only. So, I can actually be doing other things at those moments. Like catch up on emails. Like browse through Twitter. Like do a little web searching for subjects that fascinate me. Walk around. Get something to eat or drink. I’ve perfected my technique for calling in to conference calls with my mobile phone, while doing conferencing on my laptop.

Balance is good.

So is realizing that I don’t have to be 100% ON, 100% of the time.

That’s just exhausting, and I’m tired of being so exhausted every single waking moment.

Of course, this all takes time to work out. And sometimes I get so wiped out by the situation that I can’t continue long enough to really figure it out. I have to change jobs, because I’m in danger of failing so catastrophically that my “career” (as it were) could be derailed and I’d never be able to hold my head up in the field where I work. Those times are the worst — a horrible in-between place where I’ve gotten far enough down a path to partly understand my situation, but I’m not far enough to  really get it. And being so depleted and disoriented, that I’m incoherent in job interviews.

Ugh. So horrible.

But every now and then, like now, I get to a point where things “click” into place, and I actually have the sense that I understand my situation and I “have a feel” for it. And parts of the whole become second-nature to me.

Like right now… as I blog while half-listening to a conference call that doesn’t have 100% to do with me and my work.

All this “activity” makes me tired

It’s funny — I stepped away from national news and much social media, last week, needing to just take a break from it all. And when I came back, it turns out, not much has changed.

At all.

The same dramas are unfolding… and slowly, at that. The same concerns exist. The same people are fighting. The same problems are being “framed in narratives”, rather than being directly worked on by people unallied with any political agenda.

Life goes on.

I’m not sure how to feel about it.

One way I do know I feel, is tired. Very tired. And it’s a total distraction. I needed the distraction yesterday, my first day back at work in the office after a frenzied week last week, with all kinds of extra activities going on. And that was fine. I got a little bit of work done. Just enough to stay busy and sorta-kinda on track. But I also spent a fair amount of time frittering away my day chatting back and forth over stuff I don’t even remember all that well.

Maybe it helped. Maybe it didn’t. Dunno. All I do know is that life is much bigger than social media, and it’s much bigger than the news. There’s so much going on, right now, I can’t keep up, anyway. And of course I need to take care of myself.

And this is how I do it — take care of myself — by doing pretty much as I please, at the pace I choose. I basically do the bare minimum for me, which is “above and beyond” for everyone else. And then I take what extra time I need to recover and do what I wish.

I do feel guilty, sometimes, for slacking off. But nobody else is looking out for me, and my employer isn’t going to accommodate me, so I make my own provisions. And that’s fine

The rest of the world doesn’t bend itself to suit my needs. It doesn’t accommodate me or make special exceptions for me. I’m stuck in same churning mill that everyone else is, and since it takes a bigger toll on me, I need to make my own exceptions, carve out my own sanctuary, design my own life around my own needs.

I do the bare minimum for me… and that’s “above and beyond” for everyone else.

Hooray for low expectations! They rock. They’re my rock in a hard place. And believe you me, this world we inhabit together IS a hard place for me and others like me.

I guess the trick really is finding what works, and working with that. And not feeling guilty about taking care of myself, in the process. It’s been a few years, since I started really guarding my own interests… doing the bare minimum… not wiping myself out “for the cause”… and it’s taken a lot of getting used to. Because there’s a part of me that wants to wear myself out for the cause. There’s a part of me that believes that unless I’ve completely depleted myself, I haven’t done enough. And there’s a part of me that believes that I’m entitled to automatic equitable compensation in exchange for my sacrifice… that the universe provides for those who render good service.

Turns out, I’m pretty much wrong on most of those counts. All of my expectations really hinge on the presumption of Justice (capital “J”) but as it turns out, the vast majority of people are much too overwhelmed, themselves, and much too distracted to promote that thing called Justice, or even pay it much mind.

I’m on my own, if  I want equity and proper remuneration. I’ve got to pull the necessary strings, apply the necessary pressure, take the required steps, in order to get what I need.

And sometimes I have to take it.

Like I took a break last week from the news and social media. I’m probably going to cut out the news again, this week, because coming back to it is like taking up an old bad habit and remembering why you quit, in the first place. The world will continue apace without me. And by and large, there’s not a whole lot I can do about it. Except worry.

But that’s just tiring.

So, enough.

Picking and choosing and getting my priorities straight

dandelion with dried seeds
Oh, this is ridiculous.

What do you do, when your boss doesn’t have a strong personality, they have a lot of political conflicts, and they don’t handle criticism very well? And other people like to “pile on them” with criticisms and complaints, which they lose their sh*t over?

You end up like me.

And you definitely don’t want to be me, right now.

The stuff that’s imploding around me has been blown out of proportion by people who are all jockeying for position in a shifting, re-organizing company. Everybody’s jockeying for position, striking a pose, and up in their heads about every damn’ thing.

It’s a terrible time to be empathic.

Good thing I’m working from home, today.

You know, this job really wasn’t a good idea for me to take. I mean, it has helped me in a lot of ways, but it’s also taken a toll. My boss is a big part of it, as well as my alexithymia. It’s incredibly difficult to gauge how you’re really doing, if you can’t read other people or your own internal state. And when your boss keeps you at arm’s length for a year or two and won’t cut you in on basic information about how things work, it’s even more of a pain in the ass.

I know I shouldn’t get worked up over all this. I’m probably blowing things out of proportion, myself. And I’m in a position where I could literally take six months off and not have (too much) financial trouble. I could literally leave today and have the spring to myself.

Or, I can hang in there for another 8 weeks till I get my bonus payout, and then… sayonara! Yeah, I’ll stick around for another couple of months, collect my biweekly paycheck, and actively look for another job. Then, probably whether I have something lined up or not, I’ll make my exit. This is seriously not going to work for me. Seriously.

In the meantime, I guess I’d better get to work… This sh*t isn’t going to solve itself. And I don’t want to leave it hanging. I do have some standards left…

I just have to find a way to quit perseverating about the stuff I screwed up, and just strap in for the next little while. Turn off my head. Focus on some other interests. Screw it. Let it go. Quit worrying about it. Just live.

And get on with my life beyond this dumpster fire of an employer I’m stuck with.

It’s Sunday. I should write something.

winter snow on treesI’m about to go back to bed for a few hours. After days of racing to wrap up things at work and adjusting to organizational changes (my group got shuffled around a bit), it’s really caught up to me today.

Once upon a time, I used to go out for a walk, shortly before midday on Sunday. I’d take to the back roads and walk for an hour or so. Sometimes longer. Then I’d come back, take a shower, and have a long Sunday afternoon nap.

Today, there will be no walking outside. It’s cold and snowy and too bright. The roads are not wide enough to fit all of us comfortably, and I’m really tired, which jacks up my sensory issues and impedes my coordination. I don’t mind the cold — I actually really like it. I feel great when I am moving around outside in the bitter cold. The colder it is, the better I feel, in fact. But I’m really too tired to deal with much of anything.

And I have to go out later and do Christmas shopping (!)

My partner and I will be going later, after most of the regular crowds are gone. We’ve got our list, we’ve narrowed down the stores to the ones that are all in the same mini-mall, and we know exactly what order we’ll do things in.

Which is good. It helps to have a partner who’s a double-Virgo and extremely detail-oriented. She also has mobility issues, so she’s always looking for ways to streamline our activities to be the least stressful and least taxing.

Anyway, speaking of being tired, I need to eat my chicken soup, power down the laptop, take a shower, and get myself into bed. I’m really looking forward to that…

Yes, it’s Sunday. And I’ve written something. So, that’ll do for the day.

 

One of the unexpected ways that knowing I’m autistic has helped me…

door hanging in mid-air beside a dried up dead tree
It all seems so surreal, sometimes…

… is resetting my expectations for what I’m actually capable of doing.

For years I have acted as though I am just as capable as the next neurotypical person of negotiating job terms, salary, and all sorts of different details to go along with carving your space out of the world around you.

Now, though, I realize just how impaired I am in that respect.

I don’t know how to negotiate pay properly. I don’t know how to be proactive and put on a strong showing all the time. I don’t instinctively put my best foot forward and showcase my talents and abilities just like every-NT-body else. I don’t naturally blow my own trumpet, so to speak.

The funny thing is, those are not things I actually want to be good at. They seem vaccuous and foreign to me. Like a formal dress-up suit that’s 2 sizes too small — but unless I’m “dressed” in it, I won’t be allowed into the party, so to speak.

Thus, I am inherently at a disadvantage when it comes to salary, job negotiations, advancement, career ladder climbing, the whole shooting match.

And it has dragged me down terribly for so many years.

I can’t even begin to tell you how badly I have thought of myself because I couldn’t do the things that I thought I could.

If only I had simply known, from the start, and come to terms with those things…

If only I’d realized  I’m at a real disadvantage…

If I had simply realized just how foreign that whole world is to me, and that no amount of practicing and no amount of pep-talk and no amount of motivation is going to get me to gravitate to those patterns of behavior…

I could’ve just saved myself a whole lot of time and hassle. I could’ve saved myself the anguish of dealing with those job changes that were supposed to lift me up in the world, but just ended up a repeat performance of my impairments, albeit in a slightly different way.

I could’ve spared myself all of those goddamn interviews, all the fucking screenings, all the pathetic excuses for bids for advancement that I embarked on over the years.

I could’ve saved myself the hassle of updating my damn’ resume every other year and talking to recruiters – on the fucking phone – about crap positions they wanted to sell me.

I could’ve spared myself all of those lousy miserable sessions talking to smooth-talking head hunters who did a fantastic job of talking circles around me.

I could’ve saved myself the pain and dread and horror of seeing one attempt at advancement after another fail, fall flat on its face, or backfire on me, to the point where I wished that I’ve never even tried.

If I had only known just how impaired I am, I could have made peace with the fact that I’m not at the head of the pack of my generation in ways that the present mainstream values. Nor should I bother even trying to get there in the standard-issue way. The ways I have are foreign and often unwelcome to others, but they’re my way. And they work for me. I could have just settled into doing the things that do come naturally to me, that are in my “wheelhouse”… things I am extremely talented at… instead of chasing after the waste of time limitations imposed on me by everybody else’s version of success.

Good Lord, if I’d only come to terms with being autistic early on in my so-called career, I could actually have enjoyed myself, all these decades, instead of always pushing myself to some neurotypical ideal, and then beating myself up for not achieving it.

What a colossal waste of time it’s been. What a goddamn fucking waste of time. And I’m done. I’m just over it. I’ve been knocking around on Planet Earth for over half a century, and I’ve had it.

It’s time to just enjoy myself. Do what I do. Forget about the whole getting-ahead business. I couldn’t manage it, if I tried. And I’m sick of trying.

But behind my privacy screens… there’s a whole other world waiting.

One that loves me and makes room for me.

That door, please.

I’ll take that door.

I am SO enjoying my lack of career path

part of my collection of toy cars lined up in a row, science-inspired postcards, and figurines
Matchbox cars, science-y postcards, odd tech gear, and figurines – what could be better?

I had an interesting talk recently, with a 20-something Aspie woman, discussing jobs and job situations. She was kind of freaked out that she’s 26 years old, and in the last 4 years, she’s had something like seven different jobs. I told her that sounded familiar. I bounced around from job to job for years, never staying at any one of them for longer than a year. But eventually, I found my way, I connected deeply with something I explored on a whim, and now I love what I do. It’s awesome.

She was pretty torn up about being a “failure” so early in life. She’d been told that as long as she did well in school, she’d succeed in life. Nobody ever mentioned the whole social thing to her, and she blames her social ineptness for her inability to keep a job. She’s really upset about being on the spectrum, which I can relate to. It’s not easy, sometimes. The worst thing is, she seems to think it’s disabling her and keeping her from living her life… or that the neurotypical world is out to get her.

And I was really struck by the disparity between our perspectives. I didn’t worry very much at all about “not being able to keep a real job” for the first 10 years after I left school. I was in my early 30s before I found something that actually held my attention and made me want to stay. My parents worried, sure. The rest of the world worried, sure. Everybody said I was DOOMED if I didn’t stick with those shitty-ass jobs that were supposed to be so awesome. They sucked. I kept moving.

But I didn’t really give a damn. I was making rent. I was living my life. And I didn’t want to get tied down, anyway. I was too busy writing, living life, making art, just going about my own damn’ business. Plus, I was able to do a lot of super-fun stuff while I was drifting. Nowadays, people tell me how jealous they are that I “got to do” all that stuff before…

Moving to Germany for a few years, getting involved in a musicians collective out in California, exploring the US as my partner and I moved back and forth across the country in the 1990s. Doing a bunch of different jobs and being a “crazy artist” on my own time, living in a really cool apartment with the floors covered by refrigerator box cardboard that I was turning into ART. Writing poetry. Publishing my own work. People act like I was magically bestowed the opportunity to do all that, but each and every step of the way involved choices and costs and sacrifices that put me at odds with “real world” expectations. It doesn’t come for free. You have to make it happen yourself, sometimes at the expense of support and respect from others.

Anyway, I tried to put that young woman’s mind at ease, but she was pretty torn up about things, pretty focused on how f*cked she was by her job failures, how she was doomed by her neurology, and how she didn’t trust herself to move forward. She was afraid of failing. I told her that failure is just a form of information, and nothing more. If you stop completely and don’t use the information given to you, that’s failure. But hitting a dead-end a bunch of times isn’t failure at all.

I’m not sure if I helped her. Even if I did, she then drove home to her parents’ place, where she’s living, and I can’t imagine they’re going to sound anything like me. She said a bunch of stuff about what they think of her situation and what she should do about it that raised some flags for me, but I don’t feel comfortable conveying any more detail about it.

Long story short, I realize now — having been on the planet nearly twice as long as that young woman — that I’ve actually really enjoyed my “career path”, if you can call it that. The thing I’ve enjoyed most of all, is not having a career path at all. I have always looked for good-paying work that I could do very well, so that I could just live my life without fear of destitution. That involved temping for attorneys for a number of years — terrible work, but it payed well. It involved taking positions that were incredibly demeaning and taxing, which had sufficient benefits to keep my partner and me healthy. It involved taking whatever work was available, at the time, even if it was “beneath me”. If it paid and was respectable in the eyes of society, I did it.

I didn’t crave positions that were prestigious and established. I just wanted jobs that covered my expenses (which are considerable, actually). I needed something that would relieve me of existential anxiety, so I could write and make art and travel and do fun things. So I could live my own purpose, and get to enjoy myself in the process.

That’s always been my goal, from the start. I really don’t care about the whole “career” thing — getting hooked into a system that never asked me how it should be structured, or what the right approach should be to provide fulfillment and satisfaction to everyone who signs on. The established professional world really has nothing to do with me, to be honest. It’s foreign to me. And antagonistic. It’s all a framework for making rich people richer, consolidating power with a few choice individuals, and justifying all sorts of socio-political conflict and culture wars.

Devout “professionalism” is a waste of my time. Don’t get me wrong – I am a consummate professional at work. But that’s not my whole identity. It’s not where I get my sense of meaning and purpose. It’s fine for others who get something out of it, but it has nothing to do with me. It just seems like a way for some folks to cement their unimaginative places in the established order, amass power and influence to give them a sense of control over an indifferent and unpredictable world, and find to meaning and purpose in their lives that isn’t otherwise there.

It solves problems I don’t have. So why bother?

I’m at the point in my professional life now, that I have developed the social skills and interpersonal abilities that allow me to pass extremely well in the NT world. I don’t have to even care about interactions to succeed at them. I can feign interest (even enthusiasm!!!!) over things that I couldn’t care less about, and would never miss if they weren’t there. It’s all just part of the role I play — like a soap opera role — to get by in the world.

And at the end of each day / week, I can retreat to my own space and live my inner life to my heart’s content.

The bills get paid. I have a daily structure that keeps me on track. I have a position that other people are impressed by, in an industry that pays well. The last thing I’m interested in, is ambition to “take it to the next level”.

What I really want is my freedom — and within this structure, I have exactly that. I have money to eat and pay my bills. I have a position at a company that “places” me in a social context both within and without the corporation. I have flexibility, and I have the internet. I have my books that I can buy at very, very low cost from abebooks.com with the money I make. I can buy my partner flowers. We can go out to eat, now and then. We can take vacations… sometimes even beyond a few hours’ drive of our home. And all the while, I can observe my life and make sense of it, creating art from words and lines and shapes and colors.

I can enjoy myself. And I can do this all freely. Because my passions are not tied to a profession that’s at the mercy of a larger industry and invisible, impersonal forces that don’t care whether I live or die.  I can research and write books to my heart’s content, and publish them myself, without even so much as a fleeting care about being rejected or editors who try to mess with my words and meaning. I can draw and mix colors and designs without concern about critical approval. Who cares, if people like my stuff or not? I love it. And that’s all that matters. I can go for long walks in the woods, reading my work emails on my smartphone and dictating the responses, so I’m “still in the loop” (God help me, with that expression – I use it, but when I think about it, I get dizzy, feeling like I’m being spun around in a loop).

I can dive deep into my special interests to my heart’s content. And every now and then, I’ll find someone who shares my interests, and then we can geek out!! I can spend my early morning hours exercising, then follow that with some reading and writing and researching and fiddling around with ideas… all in the privacy of my own quiet study, surrounded by my collections of glee-inducing objects, with a delicious cool breeze wafting through the windows… listening to music I love, without interruption… stimming whenever I like without fear of being observed by someone who doesn’t get it… I can then go to a job surrounded by people who (mostly) respect me for what I do, and have a use for my abilities and are entertained by my exuberance over “the little things”… and I can do things I like to do with my partner, like go watch sunset on a nearby ridge after we’ve had a tasty dinner of stewed chicken and vegetables, and then watch a movie we both love… and at the end of it all, I can sleep in my own bed with the room at just the temperature I need.

All of this freedom to explore and experience my own passions is entirely without commercial pressure. I can pursue my love of medieval history, women mystics, science and  philosophy and assorted esoterica, without constant fear about displeasing someone, and ending up not being able to do what I love, the way I love, to my own heart’s content.

Yeah, I have a pretty swell life, actually. Sure, there’s a lot of stuff I could do without… work can be extremely challenging, confusing, and a constant sensory insult. I’m nowhere near financially secure. And I have intermittent struggles with certain physical ailments, not to mention a lot of social confusion. But I have this core, this base, this foundation of self-sufficiency and self-determination that precious few people have.

And I have Aspergers to thank for that. Autism. Neurodivergence. I’m well and truly set, in the areas I care most about. Thanks to being on a spectrum that never fails to keep things interesting.