Gaslighting

This is a great post. I’ve experienced gaslighting by others, and by myself, to the extent that I ended up mistrusting myself completely. I’ve touched on it in my last couple of posts but didn’t have a name for it before I read this excellent blog by Rhi.

Autism and expectations

Being an undiagnosed autistic has many challenges.

When you compare your reactions to things with other people’s, you feel like you’re getting it wrong. When other people take things in their stride, and your brain feels like it’s expanding inside your skull to the point you can’t think, then you feel like you’re overreacting.

And then there’s the gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a useful term, named after an old film where Ingrid Bergman is psychologically abused. Her abuser tells her that her memories are false, he questions her experience of her environment, he denies that things she remembers happening, have happened.

The result is that she ends up questioning her own perception of reality. She doubts her own memory. She doubts her sanity. She cannot trust that what she thinks is her lived experience is true.

Being an undiagnosed autistic can feel like the whole world is gaslighting you. From being…

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Diagnosis and misdiagnosis – why you should trust your own instincts

It was 1999 in a psychiatrist’s office somewhere in the depths of Charing Cross Hospital, London.   I’d been sent to see him for a potential diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). The psychiatrist seemed bored or irritated. I was not sure what. I couldn’t, and can’t, read people.

I fumbled awkwardly through the reasons why I thought I had ADD. I told him of how I liked to daydream, not being able to organise or keep things tidy, I told him about the terrible meltdowns I had and how my friendships and relationships seemed confusing.

I was there because I’d self-diagnosed. It had started with a breakdown. One day I’d suddenly found I could not go on any more. I couldn’t get out of bed, put on my face and put on my mask, go to work and act normal. I just could not do it any more. I was very low, defeated and confused. Continue reading

Downward spiral

Reader beware. This is not going to be a cheerful post. It may have an unhealthy sprinkling of self-pity.

It looks like I’m going to have to leave my job. I’m in a job that is wrong for me. My mental health is suffering. I disclosed my autism and mental health to my boss and at first it seemed positive. I spoke to him again today. Didn’t manage it very well, I found it hard to get my words out. But the upshot was that, what i thought was positive, that I’d found some help at work (although I’m still waiting for the referral to come through) made him question my ability to do my job. He wondered why I’d need help to do my job.

And to be honest, I don’t think I can do my job to the standard he wants. My executive functioning is not up to it and probably my people skills aren’t either. It’s causing me anxiety. I wake in the middle of the night fretting about things I haven’t done.  And I told him this.

We’re going to review it after my week off next week but I suspect I know what the outcome will be.

Partially I’m relieved. I’ve hated the feeling of not doing well. I’ve spent a year dreading Monday morning.

However, overshadowing the relief is the stench of failure.

My career was the one thing that I thought I’d succeeded at. I haven’t managed to have a successful relationship or a family of my own. It’s been 10 years since I last had a relationship. I don’t own my home. In fact, although I’ve lived independently for most of my adult life, since I moved south last year I’ve been living with my mum. I’m desperately lonely but I’ve been doing better at losing friends recently rather than gaining them.  I can’t seem to connect with anyone.

Now I’m going to lose my job too. And it fucking sucks. I tried my best and my best wasn’t good enough.

This is the reality of autism for me at this point of time.  Rejection… loneliness… failure. I did warn you there was going to be self-pity.

I just feel so alone with it all though. I need support, but my referral hasn’t come through. I need a friend, but there’s no one to talk to, and even if there was, I’m finding it so hard to express myself that I’d probably just say I was “fine” because I can’t get the words out.

At the moment I feel like giving up. Getting drunk. Stopping trying.  What’s the bloody point in it all.

I’m stuck in a downward spiral.  Getting lower and more negative.

Oh I’ll pick myself up. I’ve found myself at rock bottom enough times in life to know I always find a way out. I can’t quite see it now but I’ll find my optimism wherever I’ve misplaced it.

Get through whatever happens with my job.

Maybe next time I’ll go for a job that plays to my strengths. I was just so desperate to get away from an open-plan office that I jumped in without thinking this time.  Maybe next time I won’t be so bloody stupid.  Maybe open-plan offices will go out of fashion. Maybe I’ll somehow overcome all the executive dysfunction that stops me from setting up a business.

But right now it just all feels too hard. To0 big a mountain to climb…

 

Fish climbing trees

fish-climbing-trees

Everyone is a genius but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid”.  (quote often incorrectly attributed to Albert Einstein).

Although my pen name may suggest otherwise, as an autistic person trying to fit into a neurotypical workplace, I am a fish trying to climb a tree.

I have spent my life as a fish trying to climb trees, being told I should be able to climb that tree, telling myself I should be able to climb that tree and beating myself up for not climbing the tree.

At school I desperately tried to climb the trees, I was told I needed to. Trees of organisation, neatness, paying attention in class, finishing homework, socialising with the other children, getting through a PE lesson without falling over.   Teachers despaired.

“Oh she’s so good at swimming”, they told my parents. “Why can’t she climb those trees?”

When I started work, I flitted from job to job, moving on before it became obvious I couldn’t actually climb trees. The job where I upset my colleagues. The job where I was called into the manager’s office and told the clothes I wore to work weren’t acceptable. The job where I so badly managed the office petty cash, I secretly made it up out of my own money. And the job where I was presented with a big pile of outstanding work on my first day and told to get on with it.  I never caught up in the nine months I was there.

Eventually after a lot of trial and error, I got lucky with a job which consisted more of swimming than tree-climbing. I became more confident. There was enough support to manage the tree-climbing I was expected to do and though not diagnosed with autism at the time, I did have support for my mental health at work.  I performed well, got a promotion and contributed to the organisation. I heartbroken when I was made redundant from that job.

My next job brought more trees to climb in the form of socialising. But my work mainly involved swimming and I was able to skirt around the trees (although I did suffer some ostracising as a result).

Which brings me to my current job.

This job was a step upwards. But it seemed an interesting challenge.  I knew there would be trees   I looked at all the trees I would be expected to climb and thought “No problem”.  Blithely ignoring my piscine nature, I told my manager I would climb the trees with ease.  I was not attempting to purposely deceive him. I genuinely thought that if I could swim as well as I do, I could climb trees too.

Yes, it may be hard at first but I would do a good job and make the tree-climbing a success.

And as the weeks and months progressed, I struggled. My attempts to climb the trees were met with repeated failure. My manager didn’t really notice as I was still hiding my scales and fins and when I got the chance to do what I was good at – swim – my work was good. But I was losing confidence in all my abilities as all my focus was in that I needed to climb the damn trees.

I sought advice on whether I should talk to my manager but was told, “no don’t worry, you’ll learn to climb the trees. You’re new in your job”.

I remained convinced that I would climb the trees. If I kept trying eventually I’d find a way. And I did try. I worked hard. I worked in the evenings. I didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want to let anyone down. But I was lost in a forest of trees flapping on the dry, dusty ground as I tried to gain traction to jump up.

I became anxious and depressed. I beat myself up and berated myself for not trying harder. The trees seemed to grow taller and taller and more and more impenetrable.  I felt as desperate as I used to in my 20s at work.

I ended up telling my manager I am a fish. My manager listened sympathetically then gave me three more trees to climb.  I wanted to prove that my being a fish wouldn’t negatively affect his business and attempted to climb the trees. More overtime, more stress.

Then I came across this excellent article, You can do more when you remember you’re disabled, on the Real Social Skills blog. They say:

“People with disabilities are often taught the anti-skill of pretending to ourselves and others that we have no disability-related limitations.

Most people (disabled or otherwise) have the related anti-skill of assuming that everyone present has pretty much the same physical and cognitive abilities. (Or, in other words, that no one present has a disability that significantly affects physical or cognitive functioning.) This often leads to the assumption that people who aren’t doing a task either haven’t been told what to do, or aren’t sufficiently motivated to do it.

These two anti-skills can make it very, very hard to solve problems when something goes wrong for disability-related reasons.

This kind of conversation tends to happen a lot:

  • Someone: You need to do the thing.
  • Disabled person: I’m having trouble with the thing.
  • Someone: “Can’t you just do the thing this way that sounds reasonable but is actually impossible for you?”
  • Disabled person: “You’re telling me it’s possible in tones of absolute conviction and are making me forget that I won’t be able to do it that way. Ok, I’ll do the thing from now on.”
  • The disabled person, predictably, fails to do the impossible thing.
  • Someone with an entirely reasonable need for the thing to get done: Why didn’t you do the thing?!
  • Disabled person: I don’t know. I’m sorry, I’ll try harder, I’ll do it from now on.
  • This, predictably, doesn’t work either.
  • The task doesn’t get done, because it’s impossible to do things that way.

In these situations, disability is neither acknowledged nor accommodated, and things end badly for everyone.

Read the whole article here.

A light bulb went on when I read that.  Oh yes I have that “anti-skill”.  I’m very anti-skilled.  I could anti-skill for England.

I’ve been told all my life I “should” be able to climb trees and so I believe it.

I assume that, because most people can do something, particularly things that require executive functioning or social skills, I can too.  I even have a picture in my head of me succeeding at it.  And when the reality turns out to be different, I get depressed and confused.

I blame myself for failure, instead of accepting that this is something I find hard because of autism.  I also downplay my successes and the things I’m good at.

Things have to change. I’ve got a referral to a team who may be able to help me. I’ve got a meeting with my manager next week and I’m going to tell him that because I’m a fish I need help to climb trees. I’ll also tell him I swim extremely well.

It may be that my manager wants a monkey rather than a fish. In which case I’ll need to consider my options.

Maybe I’ll just go and find Dory.

Stress and shutdown

I haven’t blogged for a while or been on Twitter. That’s because I crashed.

Broke down. Refused to work. Rebooting doesn’t help. Doesn’t make the error message go away and the operating system start.

It had been building for a while.

Work has been stressful for months. I’ve been taking on too much for myself and blaming myself for being inadequate. I’m a manager with few managerial skills and poor executive function so I find planning and big pictures difficult.  I am good at figuring things out, completing tasks, creating.

On top of it all there was the referendum and all the bad news that just goes on and on.

Things just built up and built up. I found myself becoming isolated. It was impossible to blog or tweet about it. I just didn’t have the words. I stopped trying to communicate online. I just kept battling on, hoping things would get better.

One day, I noticed the symptoms of an impending shutdown.  Talking was hard – it hurt to find words.  My executive functioning was worse than ever.  I found my morning routine hard to follow.  My spatial awareness was bad, I walked into people on the way to work. The world seemed louder than ever.  The label on the back of my top rubbed against my skin, itched and made me feel sick.  And on top of that my emotions were running high.  I had a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. But it wasn’t a day I could just closet myself in the corner and get on with work.  I had to attend meetings. Talk. Arrange things.

I somehow got through most of the day. Pushed everything inside me. Tried to stim unobtrusively in meetings. Fidgeted, trying to pull my shirt up so that the offending label didn’t touch my skin.

Then at the end of the day, when the meetings were over, I received an email that was the final straw and I had a meltdown.

Normally when I have a meltdown at work, I take it to the toilet where I’ll sit and rock and cry.  This time I couldn’t control myself. I am just relieved I didn’t have a full meltdown. The full blown angry, scary meltdown. I didn’t shout. I didn’t hit myself. I didn’t throw anything. I just cried. Loudly.  And I have nice colleagues. It just seemed like a stress reaction to them.  They comforted me, trying to help.

And then after the high emotion of the meltdown, I felt nothing. I thought I was OK. I felt no emotion. My lovely colleagues were solicitous, concerned about me, but I was fine.  I thought everything was OK again. The situation that had caused the meltdown was resolved.  The only clue I had that I was still feeling stressed was when I closed my eyes at night and my worries overwhelmed me.

It was only after last weekend when Sunday night came around and work loomed again that my mind said NO.  I am not doing it.  I was suddenly overwhelmed by a huge amount of anxiety and stress.  Could not go on.  Could not function. Could not prepare for work, could not go to work.  Couldn’t communicate.

Is it depression? Anxiety? Stress? Shutdown?

I think it’s all of the above. Feeding into each other.

I got anxious and stressed.

When I’m stressed my sensory problems, executive functioning, communication become impaired.

This leads to depression as I can’t do so much. I have difficulty communicating and have more arguments. I also find work gets harder and harder because I can’t cope with any noise and my already feeble organisational skills get worse.

Then if I can’t have a break, I become more anxious and stressed, the world gets even louder, communication even harder. I have meltdowns over the smallest thing, leaving the house is impossible. Functioning at all is difficult. I become more and more depressed, more anxious. And then a moment comes when I cannot go on at all. I just can’t function.

That’s what happened last week.

Total system failure.

I’ve had a week off now. I hid away and didn’t do much.  I’m feeling a little better now. The break seems to have helped a little which indicates that this time it’s a stress-related shutdown, not a full-blown depression. Time to pick myself up, dust myself down and go on. Quitting isn’t an option.  Not yet.

I now have to navigate new stresses. The awkwardness of returning after sickness. I hate being unreliable. I also don’t know how my boss will react to my having time off for stress at an inconvenient time for the business. I don’t know if it will put my job in jeopardy. How can I manage my work better so I don’t get so stressed again?  I am still terrified my mental health will get too bad and I won’t be able to manage work at all.  Been there before, don’t want to again.

All I can do is try and manage my stress. Don’t let work get on top of me. Try and ask for help. Get time alone.  Go to bed early. Exercise. Stim. Spend time on my interests. Look after myself.  Eat well.

I’m not sure it’s enough. I don’t know if more is needed to change to stop it from happening again.  But I also don’t know how to go about it.