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05 July 2016

Numbness at work. And fireworks.

I'm off work today because July 4th is a holiday. Yay. I'm a student hourly employee, so that means I'm not getting paid for today either. Boo. I'm also presently in a corner of a campus building doing my best to not be anywhere near fireworks and their associated bangs and flashes.

It's sort of funny, I remember I used to love going to see fireworks, until I realize that "going to see fireworks" was like many other things-- concerts, festivals, etc.-- usually associated with a few beers at the event, followed by at least a couple more after. There are in fact a lot of things I used to do, and a lot of things that I used to put up with, where I relied on some sort of medication to get through. Things in general are a lot easier to deal with, but a lot harder to fix, when you're numb.

I might have talked about this already in a different post, but I did get an email from the disability person in human resources at work, asking how my accommodations have been working out. My feedback was in general pretty positive, as they have actually been a huge help. The environment at work is still extremely noisy and distracting. There are still times, even with pretty decent noise canceling headphones and music on, that I have to :w and step outside for a minute (or five) and take a few sips of coffee and just sort of let myself settle down.

One of the things I said in my response to HR was that it's okay for my team lead (and my team lead's boss) to talk to me about the accommodations and or my disability. I meant it as an olive branch, a peace offering. Over the course of all of this accommodations request process, I have felt insulted a few times about the way things were handled and I've indicated so every time. So it's perhaps not a surprise that the response from HR was that anything involving my disability or accommodations would be forever routed only through HR-- but it's definitely the wrong approach.

It would be incorrect to say that I'm proud of my disability-- I don't wear it as a badge of honor. All things considered I'd rather not have PTSD. If there's a place to turn it back in to supply, I'll happily turn it back in, but I know there isn't such a place. It's a part of me, or maybe I'm a part of it. It's not a badge of honor to have PTSD, but I am proud that I get up every day and deal with it. I listen to it, hear what it has to say, and then I come up with a way to overcome it and carry my ass to work or class or wherever I need to be. I get shit done, and that's what I'm proud of.

One of the things that's been a constant at work with accommodations has been the noise canceling headphones. It's been the main topic during the entire process-- HR, my team lead, my team lead's boss, and that person's boss have all indicated how they'd be happy to order them for me. Noise canceling headphones are easy. Order them, they arrive, employee uses them, everyone's happy, right? No one has any objection to that, because it's easy, no changes to policy, no changes to procedure, nothing extra to deal with.

It's the other things-- task switching, and a reserved workstation with my back to the wall-- that they've fought against. These are the hard things, the ones where the person that does the schedule needs to know what's going on and a sign needs to be posted on a workstation indicating that it's reserved and management says so. I understand that these are the most visible things, but I don't understand why they're the difficult things. My argument (maybe point of view is better here) is that if there were an employee in a wheelchair, and a desk needed to be adjusted or furniture needed to be moved around, it would get done. So why is a disability that involves mental illness either more difficult or even any different?

I'll never get to sit down with my team lead, any of my student team leads, or anyone else and actually explain any of this. When my accommodations come up talking to coworkers, I've learned to explain that I have a disability that makes it very hard to concentrate in the office and in class. There have been those times when I've had to politely (and then less politely) tell people in the office that they're making too much noise and keeping me from getting work done, but that doesn't solve anything.

Maybe it's that I'm a veteran, and I'm used to the military where if you had a problem the first person you talked to was your supervisor. Personal problem, professional problem, whatever, you talked to your supervisor. The idea was to solve the problem at the lowest level possible. Want to know how to get promoted? He'll volunteer you for some stuff. Have a headache? The NCOIC probably has an industrial size bottle of ibuprofen in her desk. That's not working? Go to sick call. Just broke up with your girl? Fine, we'll talk and then the guys in the shop will take you to the strip club tonight and help you remember the good things about being single. Bug up your ass? Your supervisor will help you remove it.

I know, civilian life isn't like that-- I've been out long enough to realize it-- but at the same time, it's not much fun knowing that you have a fairly major obstacle to overcome every day you're at work that you really can't talk to anyone about. It's lonely, and isolating, and it shares a lot in common with feeling numb. Accommodations at work are exactly as advertised, they're changes that get made that make it possible for someone with a disability to still do a decent job. That accommodations are in place means that communication becomes more important, not less important. I don't expect my current supervisors to do everything my military supervisors did, but there needs to be a channel open. It's the same with any kind of relationship between humans, lack of communication leads to misunderstanding, which leads to all kinds of shit breaking down.

It's somewhat easy to avoid fireworks, and their associated flashes and bangs-- while there's some (actually a lot of) value in prolonged exposure therapy, fireworks on the 4th of July are actually an isolated event. In avoiding fireworks I'm making a conscious decision to do so. There's not much value I can see in making myself miserable listening to shit explode while I get drunk. Overall, avoiding this one thing is okay, although avoidance is one of the really negative things about PTSD. On this I'll give myself a pass provided I'm not also avoiding lots of other things (like, say, work) the other 364 days of the year.

An open dialog between me and the powers that be at work about my disability, and my need for accommodations, is something that I wish I'd had over the past few months-- not just for dealing with my current job, but in dealing my next one. If people are nervous, or even scared, about having someone with PTSD around,
knowledge overcomes ignorance every time. Let's stop avoiding the hard stuff and talk so you understand me, and so I understand you. Let's not be numb and pretend there are no problems or that accommodations are a game with winners and losers.

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