With the correct environment any living thing can flourish and that includes autistic people or people with autism.
The biggest take home last year was goals people were setting me were about me changing to be less autistic in order to get along with people. These goals were things like ‘socialise more’ ‘get more involved with team activities’
Last year I was on a continual circle or burnout, rest, recover, burnout. In the end it got so bad I had a really big burnout that caused dissociation and an inability to leave the house without severe anxiety. My anxiety was so bad it even affected the one thing I enjoy more than anything in the world and that is swimming.
I was put on medication to help and to be honest it does help me go about my day to day however, the point is why should I have to take medication to take the edge off life neurotypicals do not struggle with.
During this time I journaled everyday to help with recovery. The pattern I noticed when journaling was I was referring to ‘why does this keep happening?’ ‘Why am I failing?’ ‘Where am I going wrong?’ Then a lightbulb went on in my head and I realised it was not me that was failing and I was not in actual fact doing anything wrong, I was just allowing myself to try and flourish in an environment that was not right for me.
I realised at that moment I could not actually fix being autistic and that is exactly what I had been subconsciously trying to do all year for fear of being judged or maybe not being given opportunities in my career. So I was people pleasing. I was doing what was expected of me which, was integrating with the team, going on socials, not using accommodations such as working from home so I could be more of a presence in the office. I was basically trying my best to not be autistic and in doing so was falling into the same cycle I found myself in prior to a diagnosis.
I can’t change my working environment at present but what I can do is ensure I have the right accommodations that work for me and I can also say no a lot more and make sure I leave on time, start on time and take my allocated breaks.
See, sometimes I would start 30 minutes early and leave 60 minutes late. This was not expected by my employer, in fact my manager at the time made a point of working on this with me, however because I struggle with processing especially towards the end of the day, I wasn’t getting all my admin done to the standard I wanted. Therefore I was coming in early and staying late because the office is quiet then and this is how I work best.
What I have also learned to do is not ask others how they work. I try and do tasks that require more communication and social interaction at the start of the day when I am more energised and then the ones that can be broken up a bit more with admin at the end of the day.
When I work from home I work in silence and do not have any background noise on. It allows my brain to not be quiet, because it never is but it at least narrates the things I need to work on.
The other thing I have done and it does pain me to do this is, if I haven't done all of my work for the day, it gets done the next day. Since doing this my mental health has honestly never been better and my performance at work has only got better, along with that I would say my interactions with colleagues are better because I take a breath now and am more present in the situation and feel much more in control of myself.
With nights out I still go but will stay in one place and wait for people to come to me if they want to. This takes the pressure off me having to feel like I need to socialise or go with them. I am now creating my own environment I feel comfortable with.
I have come to the realisation that yes my job is important but my relationships, health and happiness are more important than anything money can offer me.
There is so much an employer can do to accommodate neurodiverse employees and change the environment ever so slightly. You may find these changes not only benefit neurodiverse employees but also neurotypical ones as well.
However, to any autistic people out there please know you are not alone and although setting boundaries is really hard it is well worth it in the end! Also having the right environment really is everything.