I must, I must, I must I must adjust

So much value is lost when irregular shaped people have to try and fit into regular shaped holes. 'Organisation' is meant to be something that aids us, not something we use as a stick to beat ourselves with, and yet we (or I at least) seem to have a natural talent for fashioning it into a metaphorical broom handle. I get very angry when I see situations where someone I know has brilliance in them, and yet they haven't found whatever success means to them and their skills are being wasted.

I meet a lot of different people. I've worked some bizarre jobs in my time, too. Ten years late to the party all the grown ups were having; I could hear the bassline of Lionel Ritchie's 'All Night Long' through the floor as they all shared fondue and breathed red wine over each other and when I tiptoed down the first few stairs in my nightie and peered through the bannisters I could hear the raucous laughter and bad chat up lines and I just knew I wasn't ready for their world. 

At college for my second time around, a mildly sleazy tutor told me I'd 'grow out of my rebellion' and dress like everyone else if I wanted a good job. I was 22 then and I already felt my age was all wrong. I had become that guy who shows up to do pottery A Level just as a bit of a hobby and tries to come and hang out with you and your mates over lunch. He's wearing a zip-up fleece and Merrell walking boots even though college is all concrete and linoleum floors. Sometimes he'll wear a funky shirt and maybe his glasses are slightly quirky. He never really graduates, he just moves on to the next art history or glass-blowing course they'll let you on when you have O Levels instead of GCSEs.

Of course I didn't grow out of dressing like a teenager because emotionally I will always be a teenager, and I told him I wouldn't at the time - he scoffed at me in the same way I often find myself doing internally now when talking to my younger friends. He was a twat really. On a base level I find it much easier to talk to people in their twenties because I just identify with how they feel about life - that anticipatory sort of haze that makes things look a little twinkly (a bit like when you take ecstasy for the first time) where you're still just waiting to find out what actually happens in your life. Plenty of research shows that animals will press levers in study situations just in anticipation of reward, and that's a pretty accurate reflection of me. I've pressed the goddamn lever a million times. 

Today a friend asked me a question: Of all of my symptoms, which would be the three I'd get rid of if I had a magic wand? For some reason, even though this isn't really a 'symptom' in the usual sense, I said I'd want to be able to feel like I'd arrived. Not like I was always waiting for real life to start. Stop fucking around already and live now. I know everyone says they feel like that, but sometimes when I'm saying this to another person I can see a slight flicker of sympathy flicker across their face. There's usually a bit of a loaded silence, before I realise I've lost them completely. This happens most when I'm pretending to be corporate, because I don't have a 'professional self' - I don't even really understand what that concept means either. To me it makes no sense if honesty and integrity are so important when it comes to business. I have no capacity left to role play after basic functioning, and aside from that I just don't subscribe to what I think is a very outdated way of conducting oneself. I sort of just expect honesty rather than viewing it as a newfangled way of working and conducting oneself, as ground-breaking as that seems to be. 

I'm irregular in that I really believe that the only reason I've never been suicidal for very long is not just that I want to know what's coming next, but I don't want not to know. Sometimes I force myself to watch TV programmes I'm not enjoying just in case they get better and I miss it. Of course that doesn't explain why I tend towards staying home during all my free time with my comfortable routines, safe foods and soft feeling clothing (my hands are so dry that anything feels soft in comparison), wearing noise-cancelling headphones to shut out the sound of anything around me (it's only taken me 2 weeks to finish this post) and only venturing out to walk 5k around the same park or go to work, but my life is cyclical so it's probably going to change pretty soon, as least I hope so. I'm an irregular person.

For a while when I went back to work from maternity leave I tried to become a yummy mummy and wear the 'professional' uniform chosen for some reason to become the outward signifier of talent and commitment in offices across the globe, but it was so obviously false when I wore it. I felt like I was wearing another flesh suit over my body - I was playing the part of me. I want to work. I don't know why I want to work really, because work is also my nemesis - it becomes obsessive to the point when I realise I've only spent 6 hours of a week with my child when he's actually awake, because I feel I have to be seen to be at my desk to make sure I don't get overlooked for that promotion that may never come. I hate getting up in the morning in a fog of chronic pain and caffeine hangover from the day before. I have a set routine I must execute otherwise my whole day will be a write-off.

Some of the worst times of my life, and of my illness, were when I was unable to work; when all I had in my day was a trip to the local psychiatric unit to have 'slow release' medication injected into my gluteus maximus, before driving home with a dead leg to climb the walls for a couple of days until the effects wore off and the valium kicked in. Mouldy plates piled up in the sink whilst I stared out of the dirty windows at my view of a grey car park, and occasionally summoned the police to either tend to the elderly and belligerent alcoholic who'd fallen into the road again, or deal with the crackhead smashing up his own furniture and hurling it down the stairwell before assaulting his heavily pregnant girlfriend, all to the soundtrack of happy hardcore playing at top volume. If I was brave and awake long enough to venture out to top up the electricity meter, I might have a brief exchange with my neighbour who explained to me that every time he took out the rubbish, it seemed to need taking out again only a few days later. That's some high quality conversation right there. I had no shape, I had no reason for anything. Time was just sloping along with no form.

Working is my version of the armed forces I suppose - it gives me much needed structure and a reason not to wallow in my own filth and self-pity. Back in the days when I worked 13 hour shifts in a supermarket at 16, I was a great employee. I didn't need telling to be polite to each and every customer and not look bored even though at times I prayed for death as I sat behind the checkout, desperate for the loo and in constant fear that someone from my school would want serving some alcohol and I'd have to call over the supervisor. Time goes much more slowly when you're young, and 60 minutes split across 3 breaks isn't much. I didn't even have a phone to check, I just sat in the locker room on my own staring into my cup-a-soup and thinking of the £3.50 reward for every hour of joylessness. It wasn't until my mid-twenties when I began to realise that the structures of the working world just didn't seem to work for me - or I didn't work for them.

Before you even get to work we have the much overlooked (when it comes to including people with mental illnesses) job advert. There's this word that comes up in every job advert you'll find anywhere: 'experience', and I think it's safe to assume that they don't mean experience of the kind I'd been having. Everything people describe in an ad is geared towards the neurotypical. Those of us who've had periods of being unwell are penalised because we have to disclose our disability even before we've had a chance to prove we can do the job when we're asked why there's a 2 year gap in our CVs that wasn't filled with volunteering in Africa, or starting our own business.

Then there's the capability tests you do before you ever even meet anyone from the company you're applying to join. Here I am, with my 12 year old brain, and I've got to try and function like everyone else does - even though I'm heading tentatively down the side of a cognitive cliff face just as a nice complement to my immature emotional mechanisms. Navigating through a bizarre set of multiple choice questions, where I'm expected to demonstrate that I'm 'normal' isn't going to go well. And also, maths. 'Nuff said.

At work, this is where the Equality Act comes in - according to that, a long-term condition that affects my ability to function on a daily basis = a disability. Lots of people with mental health conditions object to that word, and I'll explore that in future posts (about 3 of which I've already started writing and then got stuck in the loop as I described the my last post), but for now let's just say that I welcome anything that underlines just how debilitating this disorder can be, and aims to prevent me from being punished for having it. The law says that because of my disability, employers have to make adjustments to enable me to work just as anyone else would. Right. Easy as that.

I'm aware that this next bit might invite some understandable criticism, but please take my word as someone who has worked in the field of disability advocacy for ten years that I'm fully aware of the issues people still face when getting society to do even the smallest thing to even accept disabled people and not bully them out, let alone support them. This is not about comparison of disabilities - it's about bringing mental health and disability together as a superpower of influence and making people understand that it's us now, but it could be them tomorrow. I'd like people with mental health conditions to ask for help instead of denying their health status because it's so stigmatising, and I'd like mental health activism to be part of disability activism. Intangible adjustments that would enable people like me to thrive instead of just survive can be just as vital for other disabilities so it's in everyone's best interests to get our act together. Of course I don't know what it's like to be blind, but it's just a fact that it's more straightforward to make adjustments involving physical stuff than it is to figure out how to adjust for someone's inability to concentrate for longer than 30 seconds. With the best will in the world, even if my employer asks me what I need (which is touted as best practise for obvious reasons), I don't have a clue. I don't know what would make things level - unless I ask for things that go against the very fabric of 'work' as we know it. 

I'll give you an example: 

Employers are busy knocking down walls, bringing people out of private offices and encouraging 'collaborative working', so how can I ask for a quiet space to work? I'm not important enough frankly. This is probably the biggest issue I have at work. I have a TV visible from the corner of my eye, who knows what it's there for because the sound's off so we're reliant on the dodgy auto-generated subtitles to get the news. The most hilarious mistakes seem to happen on the most serious news items, and laughing out loud (LOL) is frowned upon when the news is about tragedy and awfulness.

If you've ever wondered why your favourite brands are the ones that only bring out new products once in a blue moon, then look no further - I'll just tell you, right now. It's because the people working there HAVE TIME TO THINK OF THEM. Seriously - no bullshit. 
None. The old faithfuls churn out the same old claptrap of glorified, fanfared, built-up bollocks dressed up as 'cutting edge', but really only as dressed up as a sad-eyed chihuahua in the Playboy Mansion. The whole of the 'little guy' population in mainstream industry is just frantically scratching around for seconds and minutes of thinking time surrounded by the crumbs of an old vending machine and doing a half-arsed job of it all because we seem to be of the belief that we can do it aaaaaaall!.... *cough*.... but, we can't. 

My 'to-do' list is never done, and now I feel obligated to allocate time to every Tom, Dick and Harry that rocks up to my desk at 8.45am on a Monday morning with "some great news!". Well to them, I say HIGNFY! (non-UK readers - Google it) - and the news is that I may look like I'm saying yes, but actually, I'm not. And if you've managed to concentrate long enough to get to the end of this post then bravo. To those who, like me, have had to allow for several attempts, thank you. 'Work' needs you.


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