03 June 2016

Get offa my lawn. ADA update.

If you landed here and haven't read any of my recent posts, you might want to read this post first:

So: ADA accommodations approved, including having a reserved workstation that's in the most isolated corner of the room possible. The part about the reserved workstation wasn't initially approved-- it was denied, with the reason given that "we can't promise a different student wouldn't sit there without drawing attention to your disability needs". I called bullshit on that, because it was a bullshit reason. My answer to this was: first, if I were in a wheelchair and there was only one workstation I could navigate to, that workstation would be reserved without hesitation. Second, workstations have been reserved in the past here for various teams at various times without ill effect. Finally, this was a really insulting response to a legitimate accommodations request. I'm not ashamed of my disability.

Now on the nights when I'm scheduled to work, there's a sign on a specific workstation that says "This station is reserved for the following dates and times-- blah blah blah-- Management."

It's not my desk, my workstation, or my computer.

It's simply a reserved place for me to sit at work where there's a wall to my left, a wall behind me, a half-cube wall and monitors in front of me, and only one desk next to me (on the right) that has open space past that. It is also not perfect. It's in a square of four workstations, and if there are people in the other three chairs it can get noisy here too.

Two of the three days so far this week, the workstation reservation hasn't been a problem. On those days (actually nights) I've been able to get a lot of coding work done. One day this week, there was a person sitting at that workstation, who I had to ask to move. He wasn't thrilled with the idea-- he didn't say anything, but that was just the impression I got. The 'Reserved" sign was pushed off to the side, not in the kind of place a person would have it as a reminder. Said person actually has his own area of the open office to work in, so I really didn't feel much in the way of sympathy.

Later the same night, the person next to me watched videos for a time, until I got triggered enough by catching the motion on the screen that I had to step outside for a few minutes. When I came back in, someone else was sitting at that desk talking about I don't care what. I said something about it, in more of a grumpy voice than I really wanted to, but I didn't feel much sympathy there either.  (Seeing motion on a screen is the same as seeing motion of people moving around. My brain wants has to process it to see if it's something that's a threat. It's especially bad if there's lots of flashes of color or contrast.)

I've written about this a little bit here and there-- if someone nearby is doing something that's distracting to me I usually don't immediately respond. I'll try to ignore it first. If that doesn't work, and I can feel the PTSD kicking in, and I think whatever's causing the problem will stop soon I'll go for a short walk, go get some coffee, etc. If I come back and the problem is still there, or if it's gotten worse, then I'll say something that usually sounds a lot like "GET OFF MY LAWN" to my younger co-workers.

The reason I don't say something right away is that I don't want to make the situation worse by throwing all of the emotion and adrenaline that go with being triggered directly into someone's face. Chances are that they didn't realize they had become a problem, and suddenly having someone in their face causes them to respond defensively. Creating a situation where things are prone to escalate really doesn't help. I'm pretty much an introvert anyway, and shouting at people isn't my thing. I want to get back to coding and be left alone, not pick a fight.

When I wake up, depending on how weird/scary I've been dreaming, I do what a lot of people do when they wake up-- start getting ready for work-- except that for me it feels like a transition period between whatever shit I've been dreaming about and work, where I'm sort of expected to be a normal person. So I have to spend some of that time getting my brain dialed into "hey it's time to be in the real world now". It's not an on-off switch.

There is the real environment at work, which is noisy and chaotic and triggering at times, and then there's also my perceived environment at work that PTSD creates for me-- which is all of those things and more. I have to be prepared, dammit, for whatever situation arises. If I can't get my reserved workstation, what then? If someone is sitting at my reserved workstation, what then? What if they won't move? What will I say? Who will I say it to? Will I need to put it in writing? Who do I send it to? What will they do with it? Will it be quiet enough that with earplugs and headphones I'll be able to concentrate? Will someone (knowingly or not) try to make me task switch? Who am I going to have to chase away?

Crazy, right?

The reality is probably that no one really gives a shit what I'm doing because I'm sitting in a corner all night alone typing into my laptop and not talking about basketball or hockey or Reddit or going out to drink at some bar later or what the fsck ever. I try to tell myself that, and some days it works and some days it doesn't. It's not the reality that matters inside my brain though-- it's the perception that the PTSD generates. I imagine the worst that can possibly happen.

It doesn't help that in a number of situations in my life, the worst that could possibly happen actually did happen.

Being able to get a lot done at work builds safety, because if I'm successful at work that means I'll get paid and have money. Money means I can pay my rent and my bills and buy food and not be homeless ever again. Getting a lot done at work means I'm getting to code, which aside from being something people pay me to do gives me inner peace like very few other things do.

PTSD magnifies all of that. If I can't find a quiet space to work here then I'm not going to get a job in California and I'll end up homeless again. That's the thought process that I fight through every day, and every day it changes-- every day I need a new battle plan. ADA accommodations are supposed to help bring order to things, make work a more productive place by making it a safer place.

I really don't expect other people, especially co-workers and managers, to understand any of this. They haven't been through what I've been through, and they don't see the world in the same way I do. I accept that, or at least, I try to accept that. I am aware of what some people know at work about my disability, based on what I've told people on my own as part of the process. I don't know what they think about it, or about me in general. If people have misconceptions, I don't know what wrong ideas people have. I know what I knew about things like PTSD when I was a college-aged person-- exactly nothing-- so I believe there are some and I try not to blame people for having them.

Then again, every one of the ADA accommodations I now have, I've had to fight for-- I've had to write formal requests approved, get documentation from my mental health care provider, and even with all of that people still try to find reasons why I shouldn't get the accommodations I asked for. If I hadn't initially stood up and screamed out an email declaring that I was filing a formal request for ADA accommodations I never would have received them. In particular if I hadn't had the courage to appeal the part of the decision about a reserved workstation it never would have happened.

So the accommodations are there. Here. Whatever.

Tomorrow (Friday) I'm promised that the noise canceling headphones that were ordered for me to use at work will arrive, and I'll get to talk (probably briefly) to my supervisor about some of the logistics-- I'm expecting something about where they'll be kept, which I'm going to suggest will be in my supervisor's office. Everyone that works phone support has a headset for that, so I suspect that if the noise canceling headphones that are for my use are left out in the open they'll disappear or be broken. I don't want to have to look for them when I get to work, or equally as important, have to worry about finding them.

They're not for general use, they're for my use. Which, admittedly, sounds a little selfish. I don't blame you for thinking the same thing, but again, I had to fight to get them. I had to do all the things-- two office visits to the VA Hospital included-- without which they'd have never been purchased. In the same way that I wasn't kissing anyone's anything at the VA for writing a letter for me, that took over a week and contacting the Patient Advocate to get, I'm not bowing down in gratitude because my ADA accommodations request was granted.

Quite honestly, I think everyone on my software development team should have good noise canceling headphones employer supplied. I don't see how anyone else can focus or concentrate on programming where I work. An unfortunate side effect of me having them will be that management can say "he only got them because he has a disability", and never have to get them for anyone else. Which, for the record, would be utter bullshit.

Going forward, at some point my supervisor and I are supposed to sit down and evaluate the good and bad of the ADA accommodations and how they're helping me, or not, at work. Maybe that discussion will start tomorrow with the arrival of and discussion about the noise canceling headphones, at which time I'll also mention my experiences this week at work.

I should also note that I'm not on psych meds for PTSD, or depression, or social anxiety even though I still have all three. This is probably why some of my emotions can run pretty high, and why I react so strongly when someone gets in the way of me getting work done.

That and I'm a hacker, I've always been a hacker, and I'm always going to be a hacker. Get in between me and hacking at your peril.

I look back at the time I was on the medications-- I was on several of them at once, for several years-- and I'm not sure that on the meds I'd have been able to stand up and make the ADA accommodations requests that I've made. The meds dulled a lot of things. That's what they're designed to do, and maybe for a time I needed things dulled while I learned the things that I know now about how to cope with all of this shit. I will in fact never know if that's true or not.


I have some other posts to write that actually don't involve the ADA that have been set aside while all of this is going on. It has also been a consequence of being off the medication that I've been able to look at the rest of my life and see what's working and what isn't.

There is actually a lot that isn't working, or might not be, and it's hard to tell which is which. I'm not the same person as I used to be. Being homeless, and the years after, and all of the things I've been doing as far as work and hackathons and hacking all add up to something and I'm not quite sure what that something is. I think I'm a better, stronger person. Certainly I'm a better programmer. The jury's still out on the rest.

I'm also going to move to California, which will bring its own unique set of challenges. I haven't bought the plane ticket yet, but it will be soon, and when I do it will be a one way ticket.

So I have a lot to write about.

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