WHEN I’M A PETROL ENGINE AND YOU’RE DIESEL
A DIFFERENCE IN COMMUNICATION & PROCESSING SPEED ISN’T A LACK OF FEELING…
When was the last time you asked what, why, and when, to fully appreciate and listen to what another human being was saying?
When I was about seventeen years old I worked Front of House at a theatre. This meant that I took people’s tickets, sold ice-cream in the interval, and dealt with any issues customers had. The seating in the theatre was impermanent, and because the actual seats themselves were very old, a common issue to occur during the performance was a seat could collapse. When that happened, the customer wasn’t a happy bunny.
Somewhere during 1998, about fifteen minutes into a Tale of Two Cities, a huge guy stomped down the aisle towards me. I was sitting on a little pull down seat at the back of the auditorium. I stood up and smoothed the collar of my usherette uniform. I saw his silhouette. He wasn’t happy.I thought, oh shit.
You know a man isn’t happy because he’s landed on his arse in front of fifteen hundred other people, like you can imagine the discontent of an idling tiger that just got smacked in the face with a swing ball.
After receiving a series of infuriated facial creases and hushed anger from the man, I responded with my sincerest, compassionate, and still very much whispered apologies. I invited the man to sit on my pull down chair while I went to fetch new seat tickets. His wife and daughter were ok where they were, and I planned to reseat them altogether once I’d been to the theatre office.
I trekked up the stairs to see Charlie, the theatre manager. He would have some complimentary tickets held back, for seats to where I could move the family.
When I got upstairs I said: Charlie, a seat collapsed down stairs. I need to reseat a family.
Only, he apologised as his phone rang and, I had to wait.
There were some posters on the wall that caught my eye, and I started hyper-focussing on things of interest. When Charlie approached me after he put the phone down I’d almost forgotten what I’d come up stairs for.
Tell me about this party, said Charlie.
COMMUNICATION ERROR…CAN YOU FEEL ME?
How many for the party?
Now I was starting to feel anger’s vibration in my chest. What was all this talk of a party? What party?
No matter how hard I thought about it, I had no idea what Charlie meant. My brain couldn’t map the word to my query, and I’d completely lost track of what we were even doing. I should mention that I’m a literal thinker, and I experienced this question as utterly confusing and unspecific. At one point, I thought Charlie was being deliberately obtuse.
What do you mean Charlie? I don’t understand your question.
I didn’t know myself that well back then, and all I could feel was the disconnect in our communication because, to me, Charlie’s question was confusing. I also remember that Charlie looked visibly nervous by my frustration; this is never good for any relationship. I mean, this guy was my boss. I’m lucky in that instance I didn’t get fired. While I understand it was normal for me to feel frustrated, I would’ve preferred to have understood why we had communication differences. I would’ve liked to have known how to manage my irritation better during the disconnect.
Eventually Charlie reworded what he was saying.
How many people need reseating? he said, a little sheepishly.
THREE. I said, then I snatched the comps and barged back downstairs.
TOO LITTLE AND TOO MUCH DISPLAY OF EMPATHY
Empathy is such an interesting thing, isn’t it? Throw in the worry that you’re not good enough with a little miscommunication between both people and all of a sudden, there are fireworks. Or at least there’s a little sparkler, cracking and snapping, threatening to run down towards your gripping, fleshy hand.
I went home that night feeling bad about how I’d reacted to Charlie. He was a good guy. As an empath, I’d also picked up Charlie’s bad feeling and internalised it as though it was my own.
It must be me, I thought.
It would’ve been better for my mental health to see the situation as: something happened, and someone felt something—the end! Only I didn’t. The confusion continued, and my bad feeling about myself prevailed.
Charlie showed tremendous empathy towards me in terms of communication, when I failed to show it back in the moment. He did that for me in a way other bosses in my working life really haven’t.
LOSING YOURSELF AND YOUR COPING MECHANISMS TO FIT IN
During my IT career, with no clarity around my neuro-diversity, I spent many meetings utterly confused, clear only that I was to action something but what, I couldn’t have told you. During my time in that field, I was guilty of over-empathising and neglecting myself in a bid to be, in my own eyes, a better person. As a visual thinker, I would scribble down images in meetings to try and understand concepts or action points as they were spoken. I was good at my job, when I knew what I was doing.
It’s not appropriate to doodle. What’s with the pretty pictures? It’s not play school!
If you’re not clear, ask! said another boss.
No, there’s no time, that’s enough information now, said the same person a month later.
Instead of seeing the incongruence of others in this situation, I stayed afraid, and absorbed their projected frustration as I went crazy with confusion. I felt bad about my coping mechanisms, and despite my unconscious knowledge of what I needed, I abandoned all my positive strategies which meant my ability to function slipped even further.
For me personally, I feel a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Condition compels an employer, or a service provider, to listen, and compels us both to start a dialogue around what’s to be done and how we can best achieve the outcome together. I also feel that it’s sad we need these labels to compel us in the first place. By and large, it’s all bullshit. There are people. There is no standard brain. There are people with social, thinking, feeling and communication differences.
With a desire to understand where we’re all coming from in terms of feelings and needs, communication leads to amazing things.
Needless to say, I left that career for many reasons, but also because the environment wouldn’t change anytime soon and life is short. I went away and obtained some data on myself instead. I figured out how I like to work, what makes me tick, what brings me joy, and what I have to manage. I’ve had to accept stuff about myself. Communication issues still arise, but I have enough awareness to know it’s not my fault, because I’m not responsible for the entire interaction. I’ve also had to learn to face painful things about not feeling worthy enough, or smart enough. How can I, or anybody, not be enough? We’re all an expression of life, and working out what to do as that expression of life is the ticket. Mostly those feelings of unworthiness come from a) society’s demand for life control systems which don’t factor in individual needs, and b) other people’s judgements, or c) our belief that the story we’ve told ourselves about what the other person just said is completely true, which then become internalised self-judgements. Jeez, it’s no wonder we’re in mental prisons.
What’s your purpose? Do you feel worthy enough to live it? If not, why? What would it take for that to change?
“Lyndsey Pearce is a UK based writer. She lives with four male gerbils, but only knows the name of the albino because the other three are identical brown. She eases her guilt over this by singing the outro of “Humiliation” by The National to them all, badly. “
WRITING ABOUT BEING QUIETLY, INVISIBLY, DIFFERENT BUT SAME
Quiet misfits mulls over introversion, energy management, autism in females, highly sensitive people, managing loss, LGBT women, creativity, and being yourself.