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08 May 2016

Noise Levels

I wish I had something positive to report about my ADA accommodations request at work, but right now I don't. Human Resources gave me a printed letter with the questions they need answered to approve my request, and I hand carried the letter to the mental health clinic at the VA hospital. The admin person at the desk looked up the provider I last saw and assured me that she'd do the right thing to get it to her to get filled out, signed, and faxed back to HR. That was earlier this week, and I haven't heard anything since.

My supervisors at work said I should let them know what I needed for noise canceling headphones to wear at work, and I submitted that information too. (Thank you, person who I won't name, for your suggestion.) I haven't heard anything about that either-- which is sort of bothersome. Maybe they're waiting for HR to actually approve the request, but they did say (paraphrasing) "let us know what you need and we'll order it".

One night this week, I had to be Red Foreman (if you've never seen That 70's Show, I apologize, just keep reading)-- a group of my co-workers formed not far from my desk (picture a hackysack circle with no hackysack) to talk about whatever they were talking about. Social, not work related. They were standing just on the edge of my peripheral vision, which to my brain meant they were a potential threat.

They were also loud, loud enough that I could hear them talking through foam earplugs, headphones, and music. It's the cocktail party effect-- more than one or two people want to talk, and so everyone speaks louder. Then no one can hear so everyone speaks even louder, and so on. Pretty soon people are damn near shouting at each other.

I took a walk outside for a few minutes, stood outside for a little while and took some sips of coffee. "Maybe," I thought, "they'll break it up and be done by the time I go back in and I can try to get back to work". When I went back in they hadn't, so I walked into the middle of the circle (literally) and explained that they were distracting as hell, their conversation was getting through foam, headphones, and music and would they please take the conversation somewhere else. It took a few minutes for the circle to break up. Had it taken any longer, I'd have said something again.

PTSD isn't an on/off condition. It's always there. Sometimes it's worse than other times but it's never gone. There is the reaction where something happens and you go from 0 to reacting in negative three seconds, but I've been learning that it's not always the trigger right here, right now that's the main issue.

First, there's knowing that work is a noisy environment and I had to quite literally bare my soul to get someone to listen when I said I needed accommodations. I had to raise my voice, so to speak, and I'm most comfortable being a quiet person. I don't yell unless there's a really good reason, in person or online. So I'm not that comfortable with this whole situation anyway. It's the feeling of fear that I'll have to bring up the issue at work, which feels quite the same as the feeling of fear I had when I was in the Desert and afraid of missiles with chemical weapons raining down on my head. (Advance fear is often worse than whatever you're afraid of.)

There's also knowing that right now nothing is happening with the accommodations request, which may or may not actually be true, but that's what it feels like. If nothing's happening with the request that means that people haven't been told about it, and the likelihood that someone will do something that interferes with me getting work done increases. I'm quite comfortable with the standing order being "if Opus has headphones on, leave him alone and stay out of his way unless the building is on fire", but if there's no approved accommodations request there's also no standing order.

Finally, there's knowing that these kinds of situations are going to come up because they've happened before and will continue to happen. It's not unusual that I have to ask someone to not be so loud, or to stop tapping the desk that's connected to mine in time with the music they're listening to, or to just plain shut the hell up.

This all an emotional response; it's not conscious, it's my brain looking for the worst possible thing that can happen, expecting it, and keeping me ready to react to it when it does happen. The anxiety builds up in layers. By the time get to work, I'm in full on defense mode.

And it's even more than that.

It's walking to work, trying desperately not to get hit by a car or truck or bike while crossing a street or walking down the bike path I take to get to work. It's seeing a car parked crooked, or a car in a parking lot that should be empty but isn't. It's seeing someone walking the opposite way on the street and getting that spidey sense tingling that something about that person just isn't right.  I've almost been hit by cars, trucks, and even one city bus while walking to work. I've actually been hit by a passing bike on the bike path. These aren't completely irrational fears.

Even before that there's the maintenance guy with the lawn mower that's mowing the tiny, tiny patch of grass in front of my apartment for the second time this week, and then the leaf blower down the street, and then the truck that's backing up two blocks away that I can still hear anyway. Mechanical noise, like lawn mowers and leaf blowers, is bad-- it's eerily similar to the constant sound the generators made in the Desert (and the generators ran 24/7 since they powered all of the equipment I worked on).

The point being, that by the time I get to work I'm already triggered just by the world around me. It's really, really, important that when I get to work I can shut out as much of the world as possible and not have work things add to the commotion and noise. Getting the ADA accommodations actually approved and in place will really help, but until then the whole process adds to the already high noise level in my head.

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