Fun Fact #1: I haven’t just been in a fair number of disasters. They tend to follow me. Think I’m kidding? At literally every job I’ve ever had, there has been a fire in the office within the first two months of my starting there. (I have never worked at a restaurant, a fireworks manufacturing plant, a glassblowing plant or any other job where there are multiple flammable things being exposed to high temperatures on a regular basis.) Luckily, none of these fires have ever caused more than some minor smoke damage and a day spent awkwardly wondering why I have yet to learn to bring a battery-powered phone charger the first few months on the job because the first one is always real and fire departments are reassuringly thorough in checking the place before letting folks back in. (I have never been the cause of any of these fires, as I’m sure some of you are rightly wondering.) Mostly they have been caused by the kinds of random chance events you’d expect from an irony magnet. This particular right-of-passage, though, was caused by human error, albeit not mine. Don’t daisy chain electrical outlets, kids. Thank you.
Fun Fact #2: The East Coast gets tornadoes now. Plural. It isn’t really a tornado until it touches down, so I can’t say I was directly in any of the nearby recent tornadoes. But, I was under a funnel cloud that didn’t quite have the oompf of its big brothers. The Northeast doesn’t have tornado sirens – which is probably something they should rectify since climate change means this is likely going to keep happening – but I have a weather alert system on my phone because I have the misfortune of spending time in the 9th Circle of Hell while being so ADHD oblivious to my surroundings (especially while upset, which I too often am while in Hell) that I can tune out a tornado passing by a couple of blocks away. I also have the legacy of growing up in Hell. Unless the tornado is directly on top of me, I’m likely to check the live radar, determine the hook echo/tornado vortex is far enough away, and do what I did during our recent tornado warnings. Go outside to take terrible pictures of the storm that I keep hoping will some day turn out brilliantly.
Being nonchalant about tornadoes earns a girl a certain amount of cool – or at least, “Hey, some of Lavender’s oddities make for good icebreakers at future offsite meetings instead of just being annoying” – points at a new office. They do not, unfortunately, spare my other quirks from being noticed. At my first unofficial check-in with my new boss, he praised my data savviness and politely mentioned that I have a tendency to be a bit oblivious to social cues and to talk over people. He praised me with an inevitable stinger, which seems to be the story of my life, but at least he delivered the inevitable stinger politely and genuinely seemed to want to figure out some sort of secret code for, “Lav, be quiet now before you lose the client with your technical talk” instead of screaming at me and threatening my job. That’s a big enough win compared to my old Bully-of-a-Boss that I do still feel I made the right choice to change jobs, even though the Bully-in-My-Brain’s tongue-lashing for still being me after I got home from that meeting was severe enough I still bawled for hours.
The problem with having a boss and coworkers who clearly still notice when I fail to mask – but who seem to fall all over themselves to point this out in the most polite, constructive way possible – and who don’t work until 11pm or continuously sound like they are all on the verge of nervous breakdowns is that it really reinforces that even outside of toxic work environments my neurodiversity will always be apparent. And, that inevitably leads to an entire weekend of self-loathing that even pretty thunderstorms and a couple of halfway decent photos of them can’t cheer up. Because any reminder of my failure to mask always reminds me that one legacy of growing up undiagnosed neurodiverse in the 9th Circle of Hell is trauma and self-loathing.
Another, though, is that I really do know my stuff when it comes to weather forecasting. I was on the weather forecasting team for my college. Not many people from states where tornadoes are mundane events ever move far enough from home to end up on a coastal college’s forecasting team. I was a pretty great ace in the hole and led us to regional acclaim. (But, realistically, there are colleges in tornado-producing areas, too, and I was not, singlehandedly, ever able to match entire teams of metereorologists-in-training who willingly attended Midwestern state schools not for their sports teams but for their dopplar radars.) If I tell you that we’re not in imminent tornadic danger, I know what I’m talking about. At the same time, if I tell you that a leaking roof during a week’s worth of supercell-associated rain is a serious threat, I know that too. I’d take a garden-variety tornado over being in the wrong place at the wrong time during a flash flood or losing a floor of my house to a collapsed roof any day. I’ve seen more real damage done by water from the sky than anything in Hell.
When the roof of our bulding sprung a leak during at least two week’s worth of projected rain, I did my best to impart the wisdom of Hell to my coworkers. I advised them to move all electronics several offices away and maybe take anything personal home until the building owner took things seriously enough to pay money to get someone out. One of the things I find most confusing about neurotypicals, though, is that they tend to overweight their own experiences above true expertise. The Northeast does not regularly get supercell thunderstorms that produce flash floods. Yet, after three days of flash flood warnings I, as a neurodiverse data-savy person, would be perfectly fine bowing to the expertise of a girl from a region that does and taking my stuff home even if I had grown up in the Northeast. I wouldn’t assume my single datum of lived experience that, “I grew up here, and it never rains hard enough for what you are describing” would continue to hold as the baseline climate variables themselves changed.
I respect the expertise of others in areas I haven’t studied, and I’m open to the idea that I’m not an expert on everything. Neurotypicals – even the most polite ones – I’ve noticed are, on average, more wedded to the idea that personal lived experience trumps dusty academic data than the majority of neurodiverse individuals I have known. And, they seem to be more invested in the idea that being wrong about a single fact – especially if that fact is questioned publicly – means that their entire accumulated body of knowledge is being questioned. Obviously, this is an overgeneralization, but it is one that I tend to be thoughtful about when telling others – especially superiors – that they have missed something. And, my caution in doing so has been warranted enough that it’s advice I’d give to other neurodiverse individuals for how to hold down a job if they have ever been accused of seeming “elitist” by pointing out anyone else’se mistake. Neurotypicals also, I’ve noticed, tend to value the nebulous currency of personal “trust” more highly than a lot of neurodiverse individuals will by default. They “trust” the office old-timer who insists it doesn’t get that bad over the new girl simply because he has accumulated more interpersonal time with them. I “trust” people more if they are proven to be honest than if they are liars, but I’ll admit that the idea that, once baseline honesty has been established, I’d take someone at their word simply because I have a good interpersonal relationship with them is…confusing to me. What does whether or not I have a long history with a person have to do with whether or not they know weather?
But, accumulated trust seems to matter to NTs. A lot. Past history (again, on average, because I’m not a total arsehole and I recognize that everyone is unique even as I desperately seek social rules of thumb to use to mask better with the generic “majority”) continues to predict future outcomes, and “truthiness” is earned through time served, not raw knowledge. And, they end up with damaged electronics and knick knacks because of it.
Because gut instincts are not data and supercell thunderstorms really are much more the domain of expertise of a girl from the 9th Circle of Hell than a born-and-bred Northeasterner, even if they do happen to spawn in the Northeast. My work laptop, LED candle for work grounding, pictures of my kitty and treasure trove of salty snacks survived the deluge just fine. I feel bad that that wasn’t case for all of my coworkers, but at least on such experiences will my own personal trust currency be banked with them for the future? Or something?
Neurodiversity is a big part of why I see connections and systems so differently that I routinely apply wisdom from entirely different fields to a project. I don’t get trapped into “inside the box thinking” if only because I never actually understood that “the box” wasn’t just the metaphorical representation of the mathematical “local maximum” until recently. “The box” is actually a well-worn thinking groove that people actually perceive their experiences as, and people tend to think of the same few things each time they hear the same few things. The “majority” don’t constantly have their minds spinning off in a thousand directions even they can barely follow? Who knew! (I mean, I did intellectually, but I’ve only ever perceived the world the way I perceive the world. So, it has been abstract knowledge I haven’t always been able to appropriately apply to, say, get coworkers to act in their own self-interest before stuff gets damaged.) “This way has always worked, so this way will always continue to work” is meaningful when your thought patterns are relatively predictable, it seems!
Fun Fact #3: Neurodiversity is also why I tend to be very all-or-none in my emotions. One weekend I’ll bawl my eyes out because people still notice I’m neurodiverse and I fundamentally hate myself for not being able to mask. The next weekend – after the Herculean effort it took to hold my tongue and not scream, “I told you so” at those coworkers who didn’t listen to me about the leaking roof – I’ll have smoke coming out of my ears because those very same implicit social norms and networks of trust-based-on-longevity that I tend to suck so much at are a large part of the reason why climate change is now producing tornadoes in the Northeast in the first place.
Thus, when my therapist equally gently broached the topic of whether I might want to actually formally disclose my neurodiversity at work to prevent more years of continuous fear that I’ll fail to mask and be fired for it (and also whether I might be more than one kind of neurodiverse), I took her advice…in the most supercelled way possible. Because, seriously, if lived experience is so valuable to neurotypicals, than why was my lived experience of Hell not (finally) worth something?
But, that’s a story for next week’s edition…
In the meantime, if weather safety is based on trust and personal reputation instead of meteorological savvy, don’t trust me. Trust JFK:
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out my Glossary of Terms