This week I had my first meltdown in a really long time.
The cause was poor communication from an organisation. It included unclear plans, a changing schedule, not being informed of those changes, and concluded in a social lie that is supposed to be an acceptable way of communicating, but is actually really painful.
There’s no need for details, but the social lie was – I believe – a way of letting me down gently. Instead of saying “Your services are no longer required”, it said, “We are hoping to organise a series of regional events next year and we were thinking that it would be great if you could come and speak at our event in [X Location which is as yet unorganised and has no theme] instead of at the event [you were invited to speak at over a year ago that is about inclusion]” (brackets contain my interpretation of each venue).
It is difficult for non-autistics to understand why this communication method is so difficult. It appears to be a kindness, a way to let you know that you’re not wanted, without telling you that you’re not wanted. Unfortunately, for me, it does the opposite. It combines rejection with uncertainty.
Reading back through it, at no point does it actually say that I’m not wanted for the current event anymore. Which leads to these thoughts; perhaps I’m mistaken; perhaps I’ve misunderstood; perhaps it’s a misinterpretation on my part. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve misunderstood someone else’s communications style. Unless people state things clearly, it can be really hard to decipher.
Analysis of meaning is complex. I have never met this person. I don’t know what type of communicator they are. They are probably lovely. I would probably like them. They’ve probably been landed with the task of offloading the speakers who’ve been asked by previous organisers. A year is a long time when organising something; teams change.
It was supposed to happen in May, then June, then September, and I hear on the grapevine it is now happening in early December. Even the most optimistic interpretation has to take into account the facts that no one has given me that information, and that all suggests I am not wanted.
All this analysis sounds like hard work, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. This is what I have to do to work out what you mean. This is my communication disorder revealing how I impose order on your chaos when you are not explicit.
I had waited patiently, I had chased at times, I had done the right things, but no matter what, I know I will not have communicated in a pattern you will have recognised. If I contacted you every time your lack of communication bothered me, you would feel pestered. If I leave it too long, you think I’ve lost interest.
The ideal is that I can trust that you will tell me when something has changed. You will tell me as soon as you know, and I can safely assume that unless I hear from you, all is as it was. This has not happened here. Most changes have been told to me last minute, and many not mentioned at all until I got in contact to ask. There is no trust in communication methods.
It was the social lie that was the tipping point between mild disappointment, and nagging confusion, a feeling of being manipulated and trapped into someone else’s social rules, and pain.
I ultimately decided to break the social rule and asked for some clear communication. I am aware that this will be interpreted as blunt and rude. I cannot always be responsible for the recipient’s reaction; after all, no one is taking responsibility for mine.
But I couldn’t stop the headache that built until my eyes wouldn’t focus properly; The thudding pressure between my eyes and at my temples.
My thoughts started swirling like a Jackson Pollock, and I kept finding myself stuck in loops of fragments of sentences. I started unconsciously tapping my forehead with the knuckles of my right hand, whilst my left firmly held the back of my neck.
I felt overwhelmed, and ashamed by that feeling. I felt lost and embarrassed. Thoughts were reduced to feelings (despite feelings being thoughts) I found it hard to do anything beyond feel pain.
It was an unintentional pain. No one meant to hurt me. Only a few days ago, I was stopped whilst getting on a train by someone who wanted to tell me how much I had helped them: The same organisation who caused my meltdown, was responsible for arranging the talk that I did that led to that reaction.
That’s why I speak. That’s why I share my experience, because it helps. Because it makes the world better for people like me.
Sometimes the consequences for me of arranging and planning those talks, are not good, which could make me want to stop; if only they weren’t always evidence of just how much these talks are needed.
The annoyance is that clarity and good communication is the cure for that pain. It was unnecessary. At no point did I have to feel that, whether needed or not. Being told what will happen in a timely and clear manner changes lives. It’s such a small thing.
The problem with large organisations is that the first thing you lose is accountability. If no one person is responsible for getting in touch, then everyone can hold up their hands and say, “Wasn’t me!”
Assigning this responsibility to individuals would give that accountability; there are always solutions for those who want them. Reasonable adjustments are all about being reasonable. A system of clear communication for all creates a culture of honesty and trust.
The irony that I have just been excluded from an event about Inclusion in Leadership, will one day amuse me enormously, but not today.
I may also raise a smile at my patience throughout a year of uncertainty and poor communication, and the fact that once the event was finally fixed and would suit me far better, it was assumed that I would be happy to change it back to an unfixed and uncertain future event, to lurk in the corner of my consciousness for another year.
No. The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. As much as I want to change the world, as great as this opportunity might be, it is not good if it does not respect who I am and how I work. It is not good if it damages me and makes me feel that shame that I feel when I cannot function and my differences become stark and problematic.
Today I am hunkering down and existing. Today is for battening down hatches and shoring up defences. Tomorrow I’ll go over the top.