Mental Health

My Personal History of Navigating the Neurotypical-Centric Workplace… | by The Neuroaffirming Parent | Jan, 2024

My experience with the Neurotypical Centric Workplace

It was 2014. I hated my job of being a personal trainer. I saw that it was a scam. I wanted out. I applied to college. I got in. I applied to a huge corporate insurance company. I got the job.

On Facebook I looked like a success. I was 22, I was in college full time and working full time. I had my own apartment. I had a boyfriend. I had two cats. I owned my car.

The truth is I was heading towards burnout like a high speed train. The trainwreck was just about to happen.

I was depressed, I was anxious, and I was unhappy. I saw through my professors. They wanted my free labor to be used to prop up and validate their own work. I saw through my supervisors at work. They were manipulating data, numbers, and padding spreadsheets. They told me they cared about productivity. I knew they only cared if my productivity started to affect their paycheck.

At the end of 2014 my boss at my job told me my numbers were suffering. I am told I need to make a decision between work and school. I knew school possibly gave me the chance to get an opportunity outside of the dead end job. The problem was school didn’t pay my bills. The job was paying my bills. So I quit school.

In 2015 I married my boyfriend. I had to fight just to request a few days off work in order to get married. I started to see the cracks in this facade. I noticed lots of my coworkers could call out and not have an issue. One day at lunch people were openly talking about FMLA and how they paid $30 for their doctor to fill out paperwork. This way they got a few days out of the month to call off work and stay home due to anxiety.

The supervisors knew about this. There was a company wide memo that warned employees about using and abusing the system. I started to think to myself… Who is using who?

Then one day it finally happened. The polar vortex. I had been at work for 8 hours. The weather had made our call volume sky rocket. They asked people to stay over to help because people from other shifts called out and couldn’t come into work. Some people got offered hotel rooms to stay in.

I started to think, “is this my future”? A natural disaster happens and I have to stay glued to a desk to answer calls to most people who are calling in only to find out their situation may or may not be covered?

The truth is the job had trained me to become desensitized. I got no accommodations or modifications or any therapy for dealing with irate customers. I witnessed a coworker collapse to the floor one time because the stress from a phone call affected her asthma.

It finally happened to me. I couldn’t go through. I couldn’t “girl boss” my way out of this spiral. I called out of work. I went to my doctor. I knew if I had a doctor’s note I could be excused out of work for at least three days until it affected my numbers.

I went to my doctor and they immediately just prescribed me Zoloft and Xanax. They said if I felt drunk they would cut the pill in half. I went home. I tried one pill. I didn’t feel good. I started to get warm. I felt nauseous. I was having to run to the bathroom. I remembered my sister as a teenager getting prescribed Zoloft and her finding out she was allergic somehow.

I looked it up. I found out it’s called Serotonin syndrome, more aptly named serotonin toxicity, is a potentially fatal drug-induced condition caused by too much serotonin in synapses in the brain. I stopped taking the pills immediately.

Thankfully my coworkers were right. I paid the $30 and I got FMLA paperwork. My doctor gave me 20 days to use in-between 6 months.

I would just call up my job and say, “I’m taking an FMLA day”. This became so common that my job started to track every employee that called in for an FMLA day. It wasn’t openly talked about yet you felt the eyes on you if you chose to use an FMLA day.

Eventually my days ran out. With no medications to help me, and I couldn’t afford therapy, I eventually hit a wall.

It was that time my job selected me to get extra training for a mobile application they were rolling out. This meant less phone calls. I said yes. I also knew training was almost like the only break you could get.

In training, everyone is relaxed. You feel special to be chosen. You feel safe because the company chose to invest in you as an employee. The bathroom breaks were always available and not monitored. Most people learned to ask questions to stretch out the time needed for training. Sometimes you got lucky and the company provided lunch. It’s always pizza.

So I was saved, or so I thought. I didn’t mind the mobile training. I didn’t mind the silence. It did start to bother me at how much time I had to be staring at the screen. What I started to miss was that when I was waiting for an incoming phone call I could close my eyes or take a break. With the mobile application I had to constantly refresh the screen and click an assignment as it came in.

I started to notice around my cubicle how I was clicking the majority of the assignments. Some supervisors would track this and tell certain employees to take a break. Other supervisors didn’t care. I noticed one day how certain people were getting caught being on their phones. It felt like I was back in highschool. I was an overachieving student and if I took one look at my phone … I was the problem.

I heard rumors of our previous supervisors finally getting caught for “fluffing” their numbers, and I waited to see if anyone would be held accountable.

Nothing happened. In the corporate world they don’t care about cheating when it helps make a profit. It made me wonder why I was trying so hard? Why was I stressing myself out?

The truth is I was being exploited. I was struggling silently and it didn’t help anyone but the company itself. I was a body in a chair clicking assignments and being productive. They didn’t care that I was depressed. They didn’t care that my eyes hurt from staring at a screen that makes humans blink less. They didn’t care that my back hurts from the cheap chairs they purchased every few months knowing they’d break.

It took me a while but I finally saved up money to quit. I quit with no back up plan. I did everything in the fiber of my being that had groomed me not to do it. I quit without another job lined up.

I took six months off and then I found a job at a 911 center. It was still stressful but it was different.

I’m not telling you this story to explain that I’m the perfect blueprint to follow. I’m not a wonderful mentor. What I am is honest.

In the fast-paced and demanding world of work, neurodivergent individuals often find themselves navigating a landscape that is predominantly neurotypical-centric.

This reality poses unique challenges, as the system tends to overlook our distinctive needs.

While some people saw me as an individual who managed to achieve success, it’s crucial to understand that I was an unidentified and unsupported Neurodivergent adult. I did not have a supportive system. I don’t want praise for being resilient.

I want to see fundamental change so that my kids won’t inevitably be burnt out on a job in their 20’s too.

The problem I see with a neurotypical-centric world is that the standard norms and expectations are failing to accommodate the diverse needs of neurodivergent individuals. From communication styles to work environments, the system favors neurotypical characteristics, inadvertently sidelining neurodivergent talents.

When neurodivergent individuals succeed within this framework, it’s essential to understand that our accomplishments are not necessarily a reflection of the system working as intended.

Instead, our success highlights the extraordinary resilience, executive functioning skills, and interpersonal skills required implicitly of us in order to navigate a system that lacks proper accommodation and understanding.

Neurodivergent individuals frequently bear the burden of being both self-starters and team players. In a workplace that may not prioritize inclusivity, they often find themselves adapting to an environment that expects conformity to neurotypical norms. This double expectation places additional stress on neurodivergent individuals, who must constantly navigate a system that may not fully appreciate their unique strengths.

I understand that people expect a Neurodivergent person to develop self advocacy skills, yet even the most well versed self advocacy can be deemed a red flag or threaten a Neurotypical Centric workplace that views accommodations and modifications as “giving in” to an unruly or annoying associate. If a system is not built to support Neurodivergent people and requires Neurotypical people to be open to inclusion, then that system will never support any outlier.

I believe that I witnessed first hand how the neurotypical-centric system can unintentionally and intentionally exploit neurodivergent individuals. The burden of adaptation and the lack of accommodation may lead to situations where neurodivergent talents are underutilized or misunderstood. This exploitation reflects systemic discrimination against neurodivergent individuals, perpetuating a cycle of exclusion.

To create a truly inclusive workplace, it’s crucial to recognize and address the unique needs of neurodivergent individuals. Implementing policies and practices that promote accommodation, understanding, and diversity can pave the way for a more supportive environment for everyone.

This responsibility is a collective one. If a Neurotypical person does not care about inclusion, then it will never happen. As long as the goal of exclusion is present, then inclusion is an unattainable reality.

In conclusion, while some neurodivergent individuals may achieve success within a neurotypical-centric system, it’s vital to view their accomplishments through their own lived experience. Neurodivergent people are not a monolith and one experience should not become an endorsement of the current system.

The path to inclusivity involves acknowledging and dismantling the barriers that prevent neurodivergent individuals from thriving in the workplace.

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