I am awoken by my alarm. As I slowly enter this world from my sleep I already feel exhausted. My sleep was exhausting. Vivid dreams that are relentless. Nightmares from everything I processed the day before. Bright colors, loud sounds, resulting in me kicking and clenching my teeth all night. I am not rested.
I get ready for work, mentally preparing myself for the tasks ahead. Getting into my car I start on my 50 minute commute. I have this commute so I can live in a more sensory friendly area outside the city. As I approach the city in the morning rush my anxiety becomes greater. Cars speeding in and out every direction. Me not having enough spatial relations to realize a car’s next move. I can hear every individual car’s tires on the ground as they speed by, including my own. I turn on the radio to drown it out. But I cannot process as well with the radio on, including remembering directions.
I get to work. I am met with large amounts of people bustling every which way. I smell every perfume as if I were wearing it myself. I hear the individual footsteps of every person even if they are feet behind me. It makes me nervous. How close behind me are they? Each set of footsteps sounds as if it is inches away from me when in reality it is a hallway away. I keep calm and walk fast.
I don’t see faces, I see a blur of light and sound. Bodies moving. Focused on my final destination. Wondering if the person who is waving is smiling and waving at me or looking at someone over my shoulder. Do I wave back and risk being incorrect, or not wave at all and risk appearing that I am ignoring them? Either option is always embarrassing. Luckily, I am well liked. If I mistakenly miss someone on my team they laugh it off. Call me focused. Which I am, very much so. They just don’t realize that what I am focused on is sensory.
I get to my cubicle. My cubicle is in an open floor plan with many other employees. But we all have privacy screens which is nice. I hear every person’s keyboard no matter how far away. I hear conversations at the other side of the room as if they were happening next to me. The buzzing of the fluorescent lights. I put on noise cancelling headphones. They help tremendously, but only drown out so much.
Throughout the day people take social breaks. They talk to each other at their cubes. I pass by wondering if it is okay for me to stop and enter the conversation, or if it is intrusion. If I do enter the conversation I wonder how long I am supposed to talk until the person needs to work again. I monitor what responses I should say. Many of my coworkers are older than me. I need to take that into account with my tone and type of responses too. At lunch, I have the same lunch buddies since day one. They are my work friends and I enjoy talking with them. The cafeteria is loud with blinding light. I cannot process what is going on and often find that I am in people’s way no matter where I stand.
Different groups socialize in different ways. When I am in a group of men with no women they start to socialize with each other differently. I am thrown. I don’t know these cues. I apply what I know and do my best.
Lunch is over, and I am in the home stretch. I know that I can be at peace without the anxiety of upcoming socialization for the remainder of the day. The anxiety of not always knowing these cues that are in many ways different. I have more at stake missing a cue in the workplace. My career. My reputation. There is much more pressure to get it right. But I must be doing something right because my coworkers like me. I think people can tell that you are genuine personality and are often protective of that.
There are moments I must multitask, which is difficult for my processing. Being pulled away to answer a question, training someone, a meeting. But I find my rhythm to still be good at all of these things. I divide them up into categories and focus on each separately while still accomplishing all. My hack to multitasking.
When I get a phone call I get nervous. Will I be able to understand what the person is saying? Will they have an accent that I can’t process? Will I be able to identify them quickly?
The day is over. I hear the zipping of everyone’s bags. Slowly people walking behind my cubicle as they pass begins to lessen. I have made it.
I drive home once again. Too tired to say yes to a social invitation. All of my energy already spent, with none left to face the sensory of the city I work in for a social outing. To figure out where I can park my car downtown and find my way. So I go home.
When I arrive home I feel relief. I decompress.
Imagine being in a loud and crowded amusement park all day with screaming kids in extreme heat. Long lines, bombarded at every turn. Loud music and parades throughout the day. At the end of the day you are worn out and you finally get to leave and relax in a quiet, private space. Did you have fun at the theme park? Sure. Are you exhausted? Absolutely. Would you do it again? Yes, overall you like being a part of that world. It’s nice every once in awhile.
Could you do it every day?