Thursday, February 13, 2014

It's Been A While - Part One

Welp, it's been over two years since my last post and I don't even know where to begin explaining all that's happened in that time.  I think I'll break it into a few parts so you're not reading a two year saga all at once.  I'm considerate like that.

When I last checked in, I was trying to get my asinine boss to recognize my right to reasonable accommodation.  I was an absolute wreck, eventually finding myself on anti-anxiety meds and seeing a new shrink to deal with the chaos.  It was in his office that I first heard the word reference to myself, anyway.  I didn't want to hear it.  I had too many things to worry about without dealing with a new diagnosis.

In May of 2012, I began having trouble breathing and landed in the hospital with a pulmonary embolism.  I missed a non-mandatory meeting while in the emergency room and my aforementioned asinine boss was PISSED.  Did I mention the meeting was not mandatory?  Ah, well...that was the beginning of the end.

Generally, when one has a pulmonary embolism, that person takes three months off work to recover.  I took three weeks and you'd have thought I had told my boss to go eff himself while I took a fun vacation. Nevertheless, I worked my ass off when I got back to work, just like always.  About a month after returning to work, I was called into the conference room with my boss, his boss and an representative from Human Resources.  The a-hole had finally found a way to legally get rid of me.

I suppose I could have tried to sue, but Florida is a "right to work" state and winning would have been nearly impossible.  I accepted my severance and packed up my things.  I said goodbye to people I had worked with for eleven years, while a man who treated me worse than any employer I've ever had got to feel like he won.  I, on the other hand, felt like a loser.

Well, that covers the first have of 2012.  I'll write up the second half soon.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Letter

Last week, I submitted my request for accommodation and a letter from my therapist.  So far, I haven't gotten a response.  I sent everything to corporate in addition to giving it to my manager.  I thought I'd post my letter here for posterity.  I'm proud of what I've written and that I chose to stand up for myself.

To whom it may concern:

I am writing this letter to request a job accommodation, under provisions established by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. I have tried to explain my disability, but I still feel that I am not being taken seriously, possibly because I have such difficulty expressing myself in conversation and my anxiety makes me timid. This is not about resisting change or my “comfort zone”. It is entirely about me being able to continue to do the excellent job I do for "----" and for my customers that I have done for so long. My Rheumatoid Arthritis may one day go into remission, but Autism Spectrum Disorders, such as Asperger’s Syndrome, don’t go away. Quiet and solitude are not “preferences” for me. They are necessities as much as a wheelchair is to a person who cannot walk. I can’t “get used” to living without something that is necessary for me to function, particularly when attempting to do so causes me so much anxiety.

I have been with "----" since May of 2001, first as a temp and later as a full time employee. My official hire date was January 27, 2003, at which time I was told that I would be listed as “inside sales” under payroll because there was “no other job code available”. Over the last ten years, my job has involved 3rd party rentals of portalets and scaffolding, but it is primarily research, reporting and billing. I bill (customer) an average of $116,637.61 a week, deal directly with the (customer's) finance department regarding the creation of detailed reports and changes to billing codes. I also follow up with accounts receivable and resubmit unpaid invoice lines on a 90 day cycle. Throughout the week, I receive many calls and emails from customers requesting reports related to billing, charge codes, equipment types, etc. In August and September, much of my time is spent on (customer’s) fiscal year end. This is an enormous task, for which I spend the entire year preparing. My job requires a great deal of focus and concentration. Because I have always had my own office here, with a door I can close, that has never been a problem.

My health has been in decline for the last several years, in which time I have struggled with Rheumatoid Arthritis, Aortic Valve Insufficiency, Depression, Asperger’s Syndrome and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (for which I am in treatment) caused primarily by the sensory sensitivities related to AS. Each of these brings its own unique challenges, often compounded by the medications I am required to take as part of my treatment. I have never made a formal request for special accommodation because I have previously been allowed the space and quiet I need to function.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: A type of chronic arthritis that typically occurs in joints on both sides of the body (such as hands, wrists, or knees). This symmetry helps distinguish rheumatoid arthritis from other types of arthritis. In addition to affecting the joints, rheumatoid arthritis may also affect the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, blood, and nerves.

Aortic Valve Insufficiency: Also known as Aortic Valve Regurgitation; a problem with the aortic valve in which the aortic valve does not close as it should. With each heartbeat, some of the blood leaks back (regurgitates) through the aortic valve into the left ventricle. The body does not get enough blood, so the heart has to work harder to make up for it.

Anxiety Disorder: Anxiety Disorders affect about 40 million American adults age 18 years and older (about 18%) in a given year, causing them to be filled with fearfulness and uncertainty. Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event (such as speaking in public or a first date), anxiety disorders last at least 6 months and can get worse if they are not treated. Anxiety disorders commonly occur along with other mental or physical illnesses.

Depression: According to the DSM-IV, a manual used to diagnose mental disorders, depression occurs when you have at least five of the following nine symptoms at the same time:

• A depressed mood during most of the day, particularly in the morning

• Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day

• Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day

• Impaired concentration, indecisiveness

• Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day

• Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day

• Recurring thoughts of death or suicide (not just fearing death)

• A sense of restlessness -- known as psychomotor agitation -- or being slowed down -- retardation

• Significant weight loss or gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month)

Asperger’s Syndrome: An Autism spectrum disorder; a neurological variation that occurs in about 1 in 150 people and is classified as a developmental disability. Symptoms include,

• Different sensory experiences. For example, heightened sensitivity to light, difficulty interpreting internal physical sensations, hearing loud sounds as soft and soft sounds as loud, or synesthesia.

• Non-standard ways of learning and approaching problem solving. For example, learning "difficult" tasks (e.g. calculus) before "simple" tasks (e.g. addition), difficulty with "executive functions," or being simultaneously gifted at tasks requiring fluid intelligence and intellectually disabled at tasks requiring verbal skills.

• Deeply focused thinking and passionate interests in specific subjects. "Narrow but deep," these "special interests" could be anything from mathematics to ballet, from doorknobs to physics, and from politics to bits of shiny paper.

• Atypical, sometimes repetitive, movement. This includes "stereotyped" and "self-stimulatory" behavior such as rocking or flapping, and also the difficulties with motor skills and motor planning associated with apraxia or dyspraxia.

• Need for consistency, routine, and order. For example, holidays may be experienced more with anxiety than pleasure, as they mean time off from school and the disruption of the usual order of things. People on the autistic spectrum may take great pleasure in organizing and arranging items.

• Difficulties in understanding and expressing language as used in typical communication, both verbal and non-verbal. This may manifest similarly to semantic-pragmatic language disorder. It's often because a young child does not seem to be developing language that a parent first seeks to have a child evaluated. As adults, people with an autism spectrum diagnosis often continue to struggle to use language to explain their emotions and internal state, and to articulate concepts (which is not to say they do not experience and understand these).

• Difficulties in understanding and expressing typical social interaction. For example, preferring parallel interaction, having delayed responses to social stimulus, or behaving in an "inappropriate" manner to the norms of a given social context (for example, not saying "hi" immediately after another person says "hi").

In some cases, ADHD medication may help patients with AS but, because of my Aortic Valve defect, I am unable to take those types of medications. My medications for RA cause my immune system to work less effectively, putting me at great risk for serious and sometimes life-threatening infections. I often must walk with the help of a cane, due to inflammation in my knees, hips, ankles and feet. My current office space is ideal, as I am close to the restroom and kitchen and away from distractions. I understand that it is the current management’s intent to move me from my office into the front area of the store. I was willing to compromise on a three walled cubicle and a binaural telephone headset that is rated to block out sound. When the headset that arrived only covered one ear, I had hoped that wearing an earplug in the other would make it workable. It did not. The headphone blocks NO noise from my ear and the combination of that AND having my door open makes the noise level and distractions unbearable. The one good thing I’ve found about the headset is that it aggravates my arthritis less when I have to answer the phone. I am grateful for this, as well as finally having a handicap parking space and a chair that does not exacerbate my joint pain, though I expressed that these items were not necessary, while accommodations for AS are. Without them, the stress compounds my anxiety and leaves my work and personal life severely limited. Both my depression and anxiety were showing improvement until the recent changes to my work accommodations. They have now both taken a sharp turn for the worse.

My situation can be accommodated with relative ease and little expense, meeting the definition of reasonable accommodation as required by law, without causing undue hardship, as I am already positioned in a small office with a closeable door and would only need to stay where I am and be allowed to keep the door closed as I have done before. Additionally, the "----" Employee Handbook lists “restructuring job duties” as a reasonable accommodation. As the job I actually do has never been that of an inside salesperson, the only restructuring necessary would be to allow me to continue to do the job I have done for so long in the manner that has always worked. Additionally, I have also offered to telecommute. Information about this from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is attached as are copies of the Accommodation and Compliance Series’ for Arthritis and Asperger’s Syndrome provided by the U.S. Department of Labor.

I am aware that I am often seen as unfriendly, though this is not the case. I have a great deal of fondness and respect for my co-workers. Sensitivity training for all staff would also be helpful, as it seems there is little to no understanding of my conditions. There have, in fact, been multiple situations in which jokes about my sensitivity to light, sound and need for personal space have been made. I am not without a sense of humor, but harassing a disabled employee is unacceptable.

I am and always have been a dedicated, hard-working member of the "----" team. I would like to resolve my situation and return to my previous performance level as soon as possible.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

And Now, A Letter To ME From My Entirely Fictional Alter Ego

I think you have to live life in 4 wheel drive.  Maybe things get rough and you can try to just take an easier path, but that’s just surviving, not living.  You have to go through things to call yourself a survivor.  It’s not easy and it’s not pretty, but you have to do it.  Maybe you’re scared.  Maybe you think you’ll never make it.  Maybe you think you’re a failure.  Maybe you’re wrong.

You’ve got a bully at work?  Deal with it.  No one is going to fix it for you.  Stand up and demand to be treated right.  You want to be walked on?  Fine.  Lie down and take it.  Don’t just bitch about it and expect it to get better.  Take some fucking action.  That bully will just keep on until someone makes him stop.  He thinks being a dick means he’s hard.  Bullshit.  He’s just a limp little man-child who never learned that the world doesn’t revolve around him.

Hate your life?  Well, fucking fix it then.  Take a stand and make some changes.  If doing what you’ve been doing gets you the same pathetic results, DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.  Everyone has shit to deal with.  You’re not the only one.  No one has a perfect life.  Get over it.  You’re miserable.  You don’t have to stay miserable.

Show the world you’re done being everyone’s bitch.  Tell them you’re not going to take it anymore.  You’re strong, you’re smart and you’re beautiful.  Own it.

Things I Am Not...Things I Am

Things I Am Not
I am not going through a phase.
I am not a “late bloomer”.
I am not anti-social.
I am not unfriendly.
I am not a snob.
I am not unfeeling.

Things I Am
I am on the Autism Spectrum.
I am exactly who I was meant to be.
I am a fiercely loyal friend.
I am funny as hell when you get to know me.
I am dangerously empathetic.
I am more like you than you think.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Aspie New Year 2012

January: I started the new year with one of my little Chickens (CT) at Sea World. It was my first big post diagnosis outing and quite a success. I learned a lot from it (like where the restaurant we always visit is) and I think CT did, too. Throughout the last year, she’s been like my shield. If we go somewhere crowded, she guides me through where she can and helps me escape it when it gets to be too much.

February: After about six weeks of one epic realization after another, I hit a bit of a wall. The awareness of just how affected I was by external stimuli had set in and I was in a near constant state of sensory overload. Why, at the age of 34, was I getting worse? Because I was burned out. Read this wonderful piece from Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg for a stellar description of what Autistic burnout is like.

March: The great earplug experiment began and changed my life. There are few things I enjoy more than the moment when my foam earplugs fully expand and block out so much of the noise that sets me on edge.

April: It seemed like therapy was finally getting me some results. I learned new techniques for coping and my anxiety was enormously reduced. I also made up my mind to get off my fat ass and start getting some serious exercise.

May: I got to play with dolphins on CT’s birthday. Yes, they are the assholes of the animal kingdom, but they’re so entertaining.

June: My morning walks were regular and exciting. I was proud of myself for sticking with something as challenging for me as walking every day.

July: POTTER!!! Yes, I’m a nerd. So what? My friends and I put on silly costumes and attended the midnight show of the final Harry Potter movie. As luck would have it, since we went to the Universal Citywalk theater, we also got to spend from 3 AM to 5 AM in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was crowded, it was chaotic and it was exhausting. I spent most of it sitting outside the owlery and people watching so I could stay out of the crowds. Unfortunately, I also got violently ill on the way home.

August: I had been feeling run down after the Potter experience and had stopped my morning walks. Then came the pain. My Rheumatoid Arthritis flared up after two years of being held at bay with vitamins. Back on all my many medications I went.

September: And then I was 35. I refuse to say more on the subject.

October: It was an eventful month. Steve Jobs died, I got some much needed closure, Ninja was faced with school bullies and I went to a wedding. On purpose. And I enjoyed myself! Yay me! Bigger yay for the Chicks for helping me through it and the happy couple who made sure we were at a table of awesome people.

November: On the roller coaster that this year has been, November was a Double Down Drop. (See for a definition.) First I met my new boss and he made a joke about my AS that made me very uncomfortable. Then he told me he was taking my office away. This was devastating news.

December: The fight for my ADA rights continues and I will have a letter for my boss next week. Christmas was rough because of the stress and anxiety at work. All I wanted was to stay home and sleep. I haven’t been this depressed in a very long time.


Well, who the hell knows? I want to have a kick ass year. I want to be at this point next year (provided the Mayans were wrong) raving about how EPIC 2012 was and how great my life is. Going into 2011, my theme song was Uncharted by Sara Bareilles, mainly because of the line “Each day I’m counting up the minutes ‘til I get alone, cause I can’t stay in the middle of it all.” For 2012, I’ve chosen The Good Life by Weezer. Aside from being from a male point-of-view, it sums up what I’ve been through and what I want for the new year very well.

When I look in the mirror, I can't believe what I see
Tell me, who's that funky dude, staring back at me?
Broken, beaten down can't even get around
Without an old-man cane, I fall and hit the ground
Shivering in the cold, I'm bitter and alone

Excuse the bitchin, I shouldn't complain
I should have no feeling, 'cause feeling is pain
As everything I need, is denied me
And everything I want, is taken away from me
But who do I got to blame? Nobody but me

…And I don't wanna be an old man anymore
It's been a year or two since I was out on the floor
Shakin' booty, makin' sweet love all the night
It's time I got back to the Good Life
It's time I got back, it's time I got back
And I don't even know how I got off the track
I wanna go back…Yeah!

Life is short, kids. We only get so much time, so why waste it being miserable? 2012 is my year to find my happy and fucking OWN it. You get out there and own yours, too.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Aspie Experience

The room is white with large doors on the left and right. Towards the back, there is a desk, a computer, a telephone and a chair. When you enter, you will sit at the desk and be given a series of tasks to complete.

The first is simple. Dial a phone number and carry on a ten minute conversation. What you discuss is not important. Talk about the weather, if you want to. Just pick up the phone and begin.

As soon as you begin your conversation, several people will enter the room from the left and right doors and they will begin to converse with one another around you. As many people do, they will move about and gesture within your line of sight as they talk amongst themselves. Because you are not an Aspie, you may be able to ignore them – to tune out their voices.

To ensure that you get the full Aspie experience, the people will make certain you can’t ignore them. They will ask you questions and poke you and invade your personal space as you attempt to complete your phone call. You may notice that is becoming progressively more difficult to listen to what the person on the other end of the line is saying. They may become impatient with you asking them to repeat what they’ve said several times.

Once the ten minute phone call is over, the exercise will be repeated. This time you will attempt to carry on a conversation with a person in front of you instead of on the phone. In addition to the multiple conversations around you, there will also be four televisions (one on each wall) turned up quite loud, each with a different program showing.

When this is over, you will be quizzed on the things discussed both in the phone and face to face conversation. It is likely that you will remember very little having been so distracted during both.

When this section is complete, we will move on to a different task. You will be given a series of basic puzzles to solve on the computer. Each has a time limit and will require intense focus to complete. Once the timer begins, you will experience the same distractions as before: loud conversations, questions, being touched, televisions, and so on.

The final test requires nothing from you but to remain calm and relaxed. The furniture will be removed from the room, but the other elements will remain. There will be additional people crowding the room and jostling you as they interact with one another. Music will be piped in over the voices and televisions and multi-colored strobe lights will go off intermittently. Other sounds, such as crying babies, cellphone ringers and barking dogs will add to the cacophony. Various smells will waft by – perfumes, cooking food, trash, etc. You will also be wearing an itchy sweater while the temperature in the room is increased. How long can you keep your cool?

I’ll be waiting for you on the other side. Maybe now you’ll have a little more empathy for me.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Welcome to Depressionland!

America’s newest theme park is open for business! Enjoy such classic carnival rides as: The Mood Swings, The Emotional Roller Coaster, The Self-Pity-Go-Round and the Tilt-A-Weep. While you’re here, visit the House of Neuroses, The Anxiety Slide and even play Whack-A-Phobia. Our delicious, carnival-style foods feature Corn Dogs, Funnel Cakes and Deep Fried Prozac. We’re open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Check out these rave reviews!

“Depressionland is like Disney World for my shriveled, black soul.” – Sylvia Plath

“Visit another theme park? Nevermore!” – Edgar Allan Poe

“Better than an opium and laudanum cocktail.” – Charles Baudelaire

Yes, I know depression is serious. That’s why I’m making jokes about it. That’s what I do when I’m dealing with something shitty. I’d love to just shrug it off and say “it could be worse” (because it could) and move on. I’m not wired that way. Depression isn’t some sweater you can take off when it gets too heavy. It’s just there. It weighs you down and makes you feel like you’ll never escape it.

J.K. Rowling created the best metaphor for depression I have ever encountered – Dementors. If you’re not familiar with the Harry Potter series and its characters, here’s a quote from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

"Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them... Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself...soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life."

That’s where I am now…in the presence of Dementors. Unfortunately for me, there’s no such thing as a Patronus charm, so for now, I’m stuck. If anyone needs me, I’ll be on the Self-Pity-Go-Round.