This week, I went back to work. I negotiated a phased return so I’m only working Mon, Wed, and Fri for three weeks to see how my body responds. One week down, two to go.
So how has my first week been? Exhausting, and painful. Like, really painful. More than I was expecting. I have three different kinds of co-codamol, strong (30mg/500mg), medium (15mg/500mg) and weak (8mg/500mg). On Monday I took 2 medium tablets in the morning, 1 weak one at lunch time, then 4 strong ones in the evening. By Friday I was taking 2 medium in the morning, 2 weak at lunch time, 4 strong in the evening and chase with 2 more paracetamol. On Tuesday and Thursday I was scared to go back because of that pain that I knew would follow. But I did it, and will continue to do it, because my body won’t get used to it if I just stay home all the time. I bought a blood glucose monitor (to be arriving today) to help me monitor my levels and hopefully adjust my diet even more effectively. It’s something I’ve thought about before, but now it’s even more important that I get on top of my health as quickly as possible, and I’m a believer that the more data you have, the more power you have.
That’s how it has been physically. Emotionally, it has been nice seeing all the old faces, and being back in the lab where I belong. It’s frustrating, knowing that I can do things but not being able to do anything because of the strict rules they have around being officially trained before you’re allowed to touch anything. And the only people who are ‘trained to train’ are so busy with their own work that they’re struggling to find time to train me. That’ll happen over the next couple of weeks though, and I’ll get through the training quickly because I already know how to do it all.
I have noticed some interesting autistic things though that I wanted to mention though. Most predominantly, I have noticed how bad my auditory processing abilities are when there are background noises. In the lab we have several bio cabinets which have built in fans to create a constant airflow. These create a low hum, alongside the whooshing of air. There is also, always, a radio on playing music. The first few times someone tried to speak to me, and I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, I instinctually looked to their mouth and asked them to repeat themselves. When I’ve struggled to understand people before, I have found that watching their mouths form the words helps me to process what they are saying. Only now, of course, everyone is wearing a mask, so their mouths can’t be seen. I found that this tends to send me into a small panic, not knowing where I should look, and actually makes it even harder to understand what is being said to me. I’ve since decided to look at them when I ask them to repeat themselves, so they know they have my attention, then stare at the floor or wall with one ear turned in their direction. This seems to be the best way to internalise the information they are trying to give me. I have wondered what this must look like to people but, if it’s what I have to do, then so be it.
Another thing I wanted to address is masking. For those who don’t know, ‘masking’ is when an autistic person “pretends to be normal” in the presence of neurotypical people. It can be exhausting but is something that we are taught to do from a young age “to fit in”. Now, I always knew that socialising was tiring for me, and that I was always conscious of the things I said and did so as to not seem “weird”, but I never considered those things to be masking. I always thought that everybody did that, and maybe they do to some extent, but since going back out into the public after being free to be my uncensored self for over a year, I have noticed the physical restraint it takes for me to not do certain things. For example, sitting still and straight in my chair, in stead of spinning side to side or crouching in it. When I found myself alone in the lab, I started talking to myself and the equipment, then panicked when I heard someone come in, because I didn’t want to be caught doing that. And a couple of times I have almost done my vocal stim (a low, throaty, croaky, hum) while I was in the office. It took real force to stop that one coming out. So I guess masking was more ingrained in me than I thought, and now I’m out of practice.
The last thing is small talk. I hate small talk and am not really good at it. I’ve only been back for 3 days, and the amount of times I’ve had to answer the questions “How is it being back?” and “How was your wedding?” is overwhelming. Of course the simplest thing to do, would be to just answer the same way every time. Except I hate repeating myself, so I’m always trying to come up with new ways to say the same thing in stead. I’ve never understood how neurotypical people enjoy having these same conversations over and over again, and often they don’t actually mean what they say or say what they mean, they just choose from a list of prefabricated responses. It’s almost like watching two AI characters interact in a game. So, being the unique snowflake that I am, I avoid using the ‘correct response’ as much as possible (it actually makes me physically uncomfortable). But that means that I either end up staring blankly at the person, not knowing how to answer their question, or I say something honest which is often misinterpreted as rude.
A perfect example of this is “How are you?”. The expected response is “I’m fine, how are you?” but my brain always falters here. I know that this is used as a standard greeting and that the person asking doesn’t really want to know how you are, but then why ask the question in stead of just using a statement greeting like, “Hello” or “Good morning” or if you want to be interesting, how about “Howdy”? This is usually the blank stare part for me as I try to decide on a response. Then I’ll usually pick my most prominent feeling at the time (more often than not, ‘tired’ or some variation) and say that. I don’t frequently ask the question in return (which people often think is rude or self-centred) because I know I’ll most likely get another standard response or lie. Besides, if someone wants to talk about themselves then they will, even without an invitation.
One week down. Wish me luck for the upcoming weeks.