Monday, May 23, 2016

Workplace Bullying: Anxiety and Abuse

This is a topic that part of me thought I'd never write about on here. After all, it has to do with a company which, for the longest time, was my employer and source of income. As unhappy as I was with certain things, I also didn't want to shoot myself in the foot and blacklist myself from any possible career advancement. I am, of course, referring to my now-former job as a retail supervisor for a local telecommunications company in the town where I live. I've mentioned before how my regional manager was not my biggest fan, and how he bullied me for several years, but recently I've come face to face with just how much damage he did, and how much damage bullying can do to anyone who's subjected to it. Research into bullying shows that it results in permanent, negative changes to brain chemistry which causes things such as anxiety, depression and a propensity towards drug abuse. In essence, bullying changes the way your brain works, and the results can be felt every day. 

I recently started my new job in technical support at another local telecommunications company, and I've found it amazing just what an impact my former boss' abusive behaviour has had on me without my even realizing it. Take, for example, my new manager. She's a sweet lady who genuinely cares about all of us on the support staff, and I know that she only coaches with the intent of improving all of our performance at our jobs. Despite understanding this intellectually, however, I still find myself wincing and cringing in fear when I'm told I did something wrong. My former regional manager never provided me the proper training I needed to do my job properly, then would proceed to yell at and berate me when I didn't do what he expected me to do to begin with. It literally sent my brain for a loop when my new boss told me that there was no such thing as a stupid question. Again, I know this intellectually, but its a testament to the destructive power of bullying that even now, having escaped my former manager's clutches, I'm still struggling through the anxiety and wounded self esteem he gave me as a parting gift. 

I made the conscious choice not long ago to let go of the negativity I was carrying around from that old job, and the results have been very rewarding for me. I feel happier, more whole and more healthy emotionally than I have for a long time. Even still though, it often amazes me how much an effect abusive situations have on us. I still often have to remind myself that, when anxious feelings arise regarding my coworkers and managers, they are in fact in my head. Bullying negatively affects everyone, but we Aspies are prone to living in our own headspaces, and because of this it can often cause many difficulties. Ending bullying is each of our responsibilities, and we need to stop creating situations where bullying behaviour is excused and even encouraged. As an employee in a workplace, it is infinitely more difficult to stand up to an employer since they control whether you can put food on the table and pay bills. That is a dangerous amount of power for any bully to hold, but it happens every day.

Let's all work together to end bullying, both for our children, and for ourselves in the adult world.

As always yours in diversity,

Adam Michael

Friday, May 13, 2016

Depression and Aspergers: A Personal Journey

I had a humbling experience recently. As part of my writing process, both for this blog, and for my book, I took it upon myself to reach out to the psychiatrist who my parents saw for a second opinion on Aspergers as a kid…the one who eventually determined that in her opinion I have ADHD. Going in, I prepared myself for what it would be like, knowing that I’d have both an incredible source of wisdom and knowledge in her, and a window to an uncomfortable part of my past. Despite this, I still don’t think I was fully prepared for the things I learned about myself and my childhood in talking to her.

My former psychiatrist (we’ll call her ‘Dr. M’ for the purposes of this blog post) told me how getting a second opinion on the Aspergers diagnosis was not the only reason my parents took me to see her. Apparently, according to Dr. M., I was also going through a depressive episode at the time stemming from my feelings regarding my parents’ divorce, and was experiencing flashes of mood swings which were very intense. Such strong, volatile and quickly changing moods are all hallmarks of both ADHD and Aspergers’, and so I can’t say I found this all that surprising. No, for me, it was finding out about the depressive episode which really rocked me. Apparently, I had even mentioned thoughts of suicide at the time. I don’t remember any of this, but Dr. M. gave me the documentation to back it all up. Truthfully, I’ve had to take some time to process everything, which is why it’s taken me a while to write this blog post.

Having thought everything over in great detail, I’ve come to a few realizations. For one, I’ve had it driven home for me exactly why I’m the cheerful optimist that I am. I would of course go through another dark period years later in middle school and again stand on the razor’s edge. The fact that in both cases, I not only refused to jump off, but stood defiantly and chose life is proof of my brain’s choice of positivity over negativity any day, even if I didn’t realize at the time that I was even making it. Robin Williams said it right when he said that “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.” This screams of truth for me.

The second realization I came to is just how susceptible those of us on the Autism spectrum are to things like depression. I’ve mentioned before just how close to the surface the emotions of someone with ASD bubble, and this combined with something like a divorce situation was bound to wreak havoc on my young mind. Having all of these aggressive, angry, sad feelings and not having many healthy outlets made things difficult. Thank goodness my mom always let me rant. As someone with ADHD and Aspergers, I feel my emotions deeply and passionately, and react to things intensely since the volume on the whole world feels like it’s dialed up to 11. It’s only natural that I’d have hit such dark times.

In the end, I’m eternally grateful for the work Dr. M did with me as a child. While I disagree with her on a few things (she seemed to think I only had ADHD, while I definitely see both that and Aspergers in my makeup), she helped me work through a dark period in my history that I’d forgotten I even had, and in the process helped me learn a bit more about exactly who I am and how my brain works. I could tell as she and I spoke how proud she was to learn that I’d gone on to do well for myself in life, and I think my request for her help on the book flattered her to no end. Frankly, she deserved every bit of praise I gave her. Depression isn’t easy to work through when you’re a neurotypical adult; it’s even harder for a neurodivergent child. We need to give everyone living with it our unconditional support and love, not judgment and anger.

Thank you, Dr. M., both for your work with me as a child, and for teaching me just how far I’d come and how strong I have been my whole life. You rock!
As always, yours in diversity,

Adam Michael