I used to think my boss’s term for work-life imbalance was something he made up. I don’t know why I thought this, other than that he always said it so confidently and without attribution. I’d never have had the confidence to pass off a saying that often without crediting the original source, so I just assumed. Thus, I figured I could never share it on my blog because it would be too personally identifying. I don’t know why I never just googled it. If I had, I’d have established long ago that the term isn’t something he came up with. He cribbed it from a Forbes article – or possibly Berkeley’s MBA program – and just takes it to illogical extremes.
Why should I have assumed, given that he liberally borrows his own employee’s work at conferences without remorse, that he’d somehow do otherwise with awful aphorisms? (Of course, the way he adds on that we should all be so grateful for our “fulfilling” job that we are willing to work many nights and weekends to hit our growth goals even as he screams at us might be considered ‘original!’)
There are two kinds of people who live permanently only in the “now” or the “not now.” Time blind ADHDers – and bully bosses. How does one tell the two apart? Well, in my experience, folks with ADHD will inevitably blame themselves for any missed deadlines or forgotten important project components – usually to the rejective sensitive extreme – while self-absorbed bosses will simply assign major deliverables with less than twenty-four hour notice to employees whenever they suddenly realize that they actually need something for a conference that they could have requested weeks ago if they cared at all about the “life” part of “work-life integration.”
The legacy of living the majority of my life with undiagnosed ADHD is that I got so used to taking longer to do the same tasks – and to being the one who felt compelled to work those nights and weekends just to “keep up” – that it took me a very long time to realize that the demands my boss places on his employees are unrealistic for everyone, including neurotypicals. It took me an even longer time to realize that my boss’s unrealistic timelines leave even those neurotypical employees who survived the Great Purge of 2018 crying in their office at 11pm sometimes.
Meanwhile, I’ve somehow become the one with the closest to true “work-life” integration of anyone left in the office. How did that happen?
Well, another fun fact about folks with ADHD: we’re quite good with doing ridiculous amounts of work at the last minute. We know how to write entire reports in one night that take NTs weeks when our panic is high enough. We may have first learned it in our unmedicated days, but even armed with two targeted medications, one passion planner, two linked Google calendars and about fifty million alarms to help us our manage time in the “now,” we still remember the tricks we learned to tame past foibles well enough to apply them to anticipating the inevitable failures to plan of our bully-of-a-boss.
My boss doesn’t have ADHD, but he does live in a permanent “I want it now” bubble of privilege that boggles the mind. Years of making up for unrecognized ADHD by burning the candle at both ends and the middle – forcing myself into levels of perfectionism that took a dangerous mental toll in other ways – have really paid off in his office.
I’ve mostly gotten to the point where I can predict what my boss will ask for in advance and can budget time from the comfort of my home office to do what I anticipate he’ll need within the timeframe a sane boss would allow for such work. As a result, I’ve had to back out on less of the “life” part of “work-life integration.” I’ve somehow become the lucky one on the conference line listening from home in fuzzy slippers with a cup of tea as my coworkers whimper on the verge of tears – or, worse, shout at each other about who most deserves the blame the boss will inevitably dish out while they’ve forgotten I’m muted on the line – from the office itself. Even when I do over-anticipate, I often find I can upcycle the extra work later anyway, and it isn’t really wasted time. I’ve somehow become the one who knows how to “manage expectations” with our bully-of-a-boss.
I did have a rare failure to anticipate this week, and I found myself working incredibly late a couple of days (and nights) this week. But, it is currently Easter Sunday and I am not working. To my understanding, others on my current project can’t say the same. Even though I failed to fully anticipate my boss’s most recent request, I at least had that “pull an all-nighter to manage the impossible on twenty-four-hour notice” ADHD skill as my last resort. My coworkers could not claim the same.
After a lifetime of feeling like the only one behind, it’s strange to realize that I’m probably having the most peaceful Easter of anyone involved in our office (other than the bully himself!) Since the bully-in-my-brain requires additional evidence that I’m competent, one of my former colleagues (a “good egg” who quit without another job lined up while I was on not-FMLA last year because she simply couldn’t take it anymore) recently told me over coffee that it took her months after leaving the office to “rebuild [her] self-esteem after [our boss] shredded it” and apply to other jobs again.
Those “good eggs” from the old regional office have pretty much all quit or been fired. My coworkers currently melting down at 11pm, screaming at each other – and working at minimum Easter Saturday, if not Easter Sunday as well – are mostly those who survived the office Purge through backstabbing, sycophancy or both. (The circumstances that led to my own survival were very unique. Most survived by selling something – be it soul or semblance of social life – instead.)
I have spent a lifetime feeling like I’m somehow the only one struggling. I think that feeling that I’m somehow the only one who is struggling to keep it all together in my (toxic) work environment is common among the neurodiverse. I think a lot of us still feel, on some level, that maybe if we masked better, were shrewder, were smarter or were just somehow generically better that we would feel less permanently overwhelmed and no longer find the concept of “work-life integration” so laughably out of reach.
It’s a bizarre realization that I’m potentially actually doing better than most at this whole “work-life integration” thing lately. I kind of wonder if that lesson will ever truly sink in.
While I’m oddly good at managing my boss’s unrealistic eggspectations, I’m still terrible at managing my expectations of myself. I still default to not feeling good enough, even as I celebrate that I, at least, am not working on Easter. And, I still panic that no one else will ever want me at another job that will let me get away from the current toxic one.
Yet – as toxic as my work environment has become – I have a lot to be proud of in the way I’ve handled it. I just need to find a way to believe that. I shouldn’t need those months of rebuilding self-esteem that my boss seems to inspire even in NTs after (and before!) he is done with them. I kept my job during the Great Purge without resorting to any of the underhanded tactics that so many of those currently cracking under pressure did. I did so while living with multiple chronic illnesses. And, I even did so while simultaneously fighting a statewide system that closed its eyes to substantiated abuses in my own personal Hell to boot. I doubt any of the others currently in the office would have been strong enough to pull that off.
Enjoying my Easter free of Sunday texts from my boss is a good reminder that being neurodiverse doesn’t make me a lesser employee. In some cases – especially those involving my boss’s failure to plan and to keep his own human mask from slipping – it makes me a better employee. I may have a harder time hiding my struggles sometimes, but I am far from the only one overwhelmed or feeling the strain of my boss’s management style. Neurotypicals struggle too.
Happy Easter to all who celebrate. Here’s wishing you a truly work-free couple of days off this week, whichever days of the week those are, and work-life int-egg-ration that actually favors the Easter egg component!
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.