Saturday, September 5, 2009

Too much?

Just to refresh your memory, in case you forgot, I work in a grocery store photo lab. Sometimes, I don't do anything for 2 or 3 hours straight. However, I sit under fluorescent lights with music playing in the background, which means that my sensory system does a whole heck of a lot, the whole time I'm there. No rest for the weary, eh?

For the past 6 weeks, I have been working 4 days a week in 4-hour shifts. That makes 16 hours. It was tough at first, and I struggled, but it was manageable. Just this past week, I started to realize that I could almost tolerate being away from home for those 4 hours. That's still a stretch, but as long as I did nothing else that day, as long as I didn't have to be social when I got home, I could do it. No, I haven't visited my friend Dee with her dogs in several week. No, my blood sugars aren't in any sort of decent control. No, I don't even stay on the same floor of the house, let alone the same room, as my parents in the evenings anymore. But I could do it. I was getting by, and slowly, I was adjusting.

Then I got scheduled for 20 hours this week, including an 8.5 hour shift today. I knew it would be rough. Did I mention that I had my bi-weekly psych appointment (with the only clinician in my life who seems to have the remotest understanding of autism, so I hate to break those appointments) this morning as well? Right. Well, I did. And did I mention that I've worked 4-hour shifts the past 3 days in a row and was therefore already worn out? Right. Well, I was. So I got up, and I went to my appointment, and I went to work.

I honestly don't know how I made it through. Well, prayer is how I made it through, because I wasn't going to. That music and those lights, they just get the best of me. My hands itch when I get stressed, and oh, I scratch them to pieces. I was scratching my hands, through trying so hard not to, stimming like crazy, and trying not to, spinning my chair, and trying to stay still. Nobody had better come up to the counter, because I can't guarantee that anything close to the right words will come out of my mouth. Get. Me. Out. Of. Here.

I can't contain my autism any longer.

You see, I can "pass for Asperger's" for very limited amounts of time. That's what I do at work. I pass. I force it all down as hard as I can and I get by for as long as I have to. I can do it for 4 hours. I can do it for 16 hours each week. But I can't do it for 8, and I can't do it for 20.

I need to talk to my boss and tell her that I can't do 8 hour shifts, only 4. I had the same problem with classes in college. As soon as I went over 16 credits, I started skipping classes so that I was only in class about 16 hours a week. Something about 16... it seems to be the magic number of what I can handle being out of the house. My boss is a really nice lady, I'm just scared to talk to her. I know that I can't be fired because I can't work an 8 hour shift (it would be discrimination, right?), but... but I'm scared.


  1. I really, really wish it could be so that you didn't have to. Maybe when you've been a bit longer in the job you can be more yourself.

    I wonder if your boss has read Donna Williams? Specifically the bit where Donna is in the university and she can't work in the flourescent lights, under similar hours to yours, and all the jobs that she has had. And we know that she was a long way from 'passing for Asperger's', as you put it.

    DJDialogue also talks about the breakdown that she had when she was a few years older than you are now.

    That's at least 2 senses stimulated, and almost violated at once.

    Why don't you send your boss some extracts from this blog (in print or online)? It might be better to talk about 'somebody else' hypothetically who has problems very much like yours, so that she doesn't have to deal with you.

    And, yes, yes, yes, read up on the law.

  2. Does your boss know about your autism? This work environment seems like torture for you.

    I am envisioning a wonderful new work environment for you, with quiet lights and calm. I worked in an art gallery when I was in college. It was so peaceful. Hardly anyone came in. Quiet, beautiful art all around.

    Maybe a library?

    BTW, since toning down our sensory life for Riley, I myself can barely tolerate drug stores anymore, let alone the nightmare of a Best Buy!

  3. My boss DOES know. In fact, she tries to be as helpful as she can. She always writes things down for me, because she knows that just telling me won't get either of us anywhere. Also, when new people come in (like, the guy that comes in once a month to check on the ink machine) that I will need to recognize, she asks them to introduce themselves when they come so that I know who they are, each and every time. Otherwise, I'd never recognize them. I have a hard time recognizing people... even my own mother, if I'm not familiar with what she's wearing that day. For some reason, I'm just really nervous to ask about changing my hours. I don't know how on earth I'm going to get through work today, though.

  4. Lydia, I jst found your blog and will continue to read when I shouldn't be sleeping.

    My mother is likely autistic, at least on the spectrum and is in her late 50's. She has many of the same sensory issues you speak of.

    Have you tried using ear plugs while at work? They don't completely block out noise, but might take the edge off.

    It is working for her to even be able to walk into our local (large) grocery store.

    Jenn B