Like many other educators and school workers in the UK, I returned to work in September to a workplace and a job I no longer recognise. I have lost all context. My autism means I require structure to be able to function normally in my usual role of cover teacher. This structure is the only way I can manage the social jungle that is the workplace. Up until now (for the last ten years, that is) I have managed to weather the elements of educational workplaces that generally constitute anathema to autistic people (noise, constant change, lack of breaks, unexpected incidents etc.) but no longer… I often ask myself why I chose such a job. The answer is invariably the same: Because I can do it, and do it well. I should add that this would be my response, whatever the job I was doing, else I would not be doing it.
The truth is a little more complex, and will be familiar to many of you with Asperger’s… The truth is I didn’t want to do this job. The truth is that, in my 45 years undiagnosed, I cultivated such a deep self-loathing (due to my inability to ‘get anything right’ where relationships were concerned) I didn’t consider my own wishes when I made the decision. Nor have I, before or since. In a chaotic world, I would impose order, but my self-loathing would only allow me to impose order on myself, and what I was immediately responsible for. Healthy, no? On the upside – it made for a very capable, adaptable and hardworking employee. But such a volatile combination of drivers inevitably invites exploitation.
In the years since my diagnosis, I have educated myself about Asperger’s and all it’s associated co-morbidities, it’s psychology and personality and physiological/neurological characteristics. I have learned new language to help me understand the hidden aspects of the world I occupy, and I have seen truly remarkable progress in others just like me. But I remain. Rooted in no-man’s land. Exposed and unmoving – a target to some and an obstacle to others.
We have all struggled in some way or another during the pandemic, and I find it difficult not to see my own difficulties as ‘minor’ compared to what others have suffered. My job description was changed without my agreement to include 1:1 support with SEN students, as well as cover (a dangerous combination that might leave vulnerable students without support). My breaks were reduced, my work day lengthened and my previous responsibilities removed with no notice. I had to navigate new processes and procedures around Covid19 – one-way systems, more screeching bells as classes were staggered, chemical sanitisers, open doors and windows that allow air and the noise of hundreds of frustrated secondary school pupils to circulate freely. The list was endless, and I had no time to absorb, assimilate or process any of it. I communicated my concerns and they were ignored. Again. And again. But still, I stay. Although my sanity is fast declining, my bravado is intact and tosses around terms like ‘constructive dismissal’ and ‘looking at options’, but I know I am not brave enough to stand up for myself. Because, with all my wisdom and knowledge, I still doubt myself: ‘What if I’m wrong?’
There is something so incomprehensibly heavy holding me here, and the pull of my experience, knowledge and abilities, and the love and confidence of friends and family exert a wholly insignificant force in the face of its gravity. What if I call their bluff and they laugh in my face? It seems like such an inconsequential thing, but it seems I care only about what other people think. It is the opinions of others that has shaped my existence, so convinced was I of my own inadequacy. I am the product of 50 years of trying to fit in somewhere. The space I occupy is a lie, and spread out behind me is a shadow, intangible and inaccessible, of the life I should have led. Maybe it’s all the stress and anxiety. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s appalling and repeated ill-treatment of an employee with ASC. I cannot say, because I don’t have the courage of my convictions.
My rational self of course, leaps in to rescue me at this point, but only by berating my logic. It reminds me of how insignificant my concerns are, how small my contribution is, my impact – in the grand scheme of things. It really doesn’t require all this drama. Does it?