I secured my first job at age nineteen. My parents were so proud of me and I’m sure they were also relieved. I had a job. I was a productive member of society, working away in an institution/company along with a thousand other little workers, all being watched and dictated to and assessed. In my case, the assessments I received were poor. (No surprises there.)
There was one woman in particular who bullied me – I was very fearful of her and tried to hide from her, when I could. She worked in tandem with another awful woman with a very strange hair-cut. They both spoke to me like I was an imbecile with a hearing problem. They were very condescending, catty, loud and angry. I was sure that I would be fired, and the fact that I wasn’t fired just meant that this terrible twosome had no real power.
However, by staying employed, I remained at their mercy. The humiliation of being fired would have been painful, but I was actually worse off psychologically, staying under the influence of their abuse. I should have just left that job, although my parents would have been furious with me for giving up. It was their worst fear that I would be unemployed and unproductive. I suppose I must have been afraid of their judgement, too. I couldn’t just give up, so I endured the job and tried to hide my feelings of distress and depression.
Sadly, it seems that I was not successful in hiding my feelings. I remember once coming across a funny little cartoon drawing, pinned to an office cupboard. The drawing showed a succession of silly faces with various expressions. The cartoon was meant to be a lighthearted take on how stress could effect a person at work. There was a smiling face, a neutral face, a frowning face and so forth. The very last face appeared to be cringing in terror. There were beads of sweat dripping off the face and a wide grimace drawn for a mouth. Someone had written my name underneath this face. My full name.
I never found out who wrote down my name. I never asked for the offending cartoon to be removed. I might have laughed and then never looked at it again. But that picture and my name written down for everyone to see and laugh at really hurt me deeply. People could see my distress and yet they made fun of me. It was humiliating and baffling. I actually didn’t realize that people were so mean, until then.
I felt defeated. Why didn’t I leave? Fear. I was fearful being there and I was fearful of leaving and of trying something else. I wanted to prove people wrong by staying. I wanted to be a good employee, after everything. And I did try. Jesus, did I try.
I recall once being told off for laughing inappropriately at work. That was embarrassing. I didn’t know I had been laughing inappropriately – I was trying to be cheerful. I was also reprimanded for forgetting things and not being able to prioritize tasks. Once a senior staff member told me that she had received some concerning reports that I was ‘very vague’.
One time I caught some of my fellow junior staff members talking about me. That was totally weird and unexpected. They seemed baffled by me and couldn’t believe that I had done so well academically – I wonder in hindsight if they speculated that I had cheated on my exams or something? I only know that although I was intelligent and actually very good at processing information, I came across as I bit of an air-head. I always felt confused and uncomfortable and defective.
This was such a demoralizing time in my life. I wish someone had been able to take me under their wing and help me. I wish I had known where to go and what to do. I do wish I had left that job and gone off to university where I belonged. Where I could study things I was interested in, by myself and in peace. Where my type of intelligence was put to some kind of use. Where at least I would have had some self-esteem restored by getting high grades. But no. I stayed there. I didn’t have good instincts for self-preservation. I was trapped by my own disillusionment.
As time wore on, I did improve my job performance in increments. I slowly, slowly learned how I was supposed to act by watching others and by speaking like they did, and pretending to be interested in what they were interested in. I also developed a rebellious streak at this time. I worked out how to get as much as I could from the company (without doing anything illegal) while I was there. Looking back, I see that there really was not much to gained from that company! That job was completely without any perks. It was all suffering and despair, and had no redeeming features. I left there exhausted and depressed.
I often feel like writing an anonymous letter to my first place of employment, all these years later. I would take some satisfaction in detailing all the things that I suffered through there. But I’m sure no-one would read it. I sometimes wonder if those two revolting women who bullied me are dead yet? They would each have to be around eighty or more years of age, if they are still clinging to life, somewhere. Are they happy? Who knows?
Just this morning, I called the psychology clinic yet again, about getting a formal autism diagnosis. I left a message. I’ll just keep trying. If I ever do manage to get assessed, then I do believe that it will make my life easier in some ways. Just knowing that I really am different and that my struggles are not imagined would be so helpful and reassuring.