There is no such thing as a lost cause
My second year at university set out to drill into students that employers wanted more than academics, they wanted ‘soft skills’. By this, they mean talking to people, group work and presentations. What I heard throughout my second year was the resounding beating of the words, ‘you will never work’. I heard them when I passed my exams. I heard them when I won a valedictory award. You will never work. None of this will matter.
I didn’t know at this point that I was autistic. I knew that pebbles on the ground to others, were my Mount Everest. I knew I missed a placement interview because I couldn’t walk into an open plan room. I knew that I sat my exams in a separate room because I couldn’t cope with the busy environment. All these experiences supported the countless people that were telling me that I would never be anything more than academics. In my second year of university, I lost to severe depression. I wanted to end my life and I nearly did just that. The pain of being a burden was too much, the fear of a failed future too great.
July 7th, 2017, I answered a phone call that changed everything. I walked to the window of my bedroom, looked out across the open grass and I heard the words ‘the Bank of America Merrill Lynch would like to offer you the job’.
That phone call started my journey to self-worth. The bank believed in me. Autistic people hold value. Anyone that had ever told me any different, was wrong.
Throughout the diagnostic process my weaknesses and struggles were magnified under a spotlight, to demonstrate neurodiversity. I saw flaw after flaw, reasons why I could never live alone, why I could never work. Have you ever heard the phrase ‘you see people’s highlights, not the behind the scenes?’. Meaning that people edit their life to show others what they want them to see, you don’t put the bad angles on Instagram. I now realise that autistic life is the opposite. When I experience sensory overload, people notice. When I break down because a plan changes, people notice. I cannot edit my ‘highlights’ as others do. My flaws are exposed for everyone to see.
Autistic people are conditioned by society to see our faults, to be ashamed of them. At the beginning of my time working for the bank I was hyper aware of every little thing that I couldn’t do, that my team members could. Not only do autistic people’s weaknesses get a spotlight but our strengths are often overlooked. They are deemed unconventional, immature, not helpful to society. What good was an incredible skill if it didn’t give something to society? The same society that has at large not welcomed me and often makes very little sense to me. Yet it gets to say where I hold value?
Work life looks different to an autistic person. After a fire alarm evacuation at work I walked back to my desk red faced and puffy eyed. My colleague knew what had happened. After the all clear to re-enter the office I had retreated to the bathroom. I had put in my headphones and cried, cried enough to ride out the overload. He looked at me and said that it was over now, it was all done, and I could choose how the rest of my day went. Yes, we are autistic, yes, sensory overload will happen, meltdowns, burnouts, frustration, you name it, we will feel it all at work. But that is okay. I could either hate myself for it or accept it and enjoy the rest of my day. We don’t choose to overload, but we can choose to not feel shame for it. I went on to have a great day with my colleague and then went home to rest and recover. Work life looks different to an autistic person and that is okay.
I realised through my time at the Bank, that for me to have self-worth I had to kick out the spotlight that society had placed on my weaknesses. I had to focus on my strengths and weaknesses as they really were. Autistic people need to create their own equilibrium for which we can be judged. Sensory overloads are not a character weakness, they are a factual part of being autistic that we cannot change, they should be accepted as default.
I work every day to unlearn the significance placed on my faults and reconnect with where I hold value, the driving forces of my character. I am logical, driven and loyal, these are far more deserving traits to be highlighted.
I no longer hear the words ‘you will never work’. I hear one resounding phrase. I hear the words: ‘There is no such thing as a lost cause’.
I am autistic and I hold value.
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