Finding A Survival Job with a Processing Disorder
The floor manager brought me back to the office. I had been curled in a ball behind a line of food vats as my mind went a million miles an hour trying to make sense of…something. I mean, it’s not like I was in the middle of Iraq getting shot; I was in a food processing plant getting paid money to make spinach dip and macaroni salad in stainless steel mixers. Why couldn’t I just buck up, be a man, and do my job?
I had only been there 2 weeks and here I was curled up behind food bins whimpering uncontrollably.
Consequently the company quietly let me go. It was 2017. Despite having senior software developer positions in bold face on my resume I was completely broke at the time, taking any job willing to pay me money. When they let me go without talking to me directly about it I was pissed, but it’s not like I can blame them.
As a hyper-sensitive man, there’s a battle I constantly face. I’ve grown up instilled with a git-r-done work ethic…a work ethic I think is still noble and something others should seek in an era where millennials are labeled snowflakes. But I also do reach a breaking point earlier than other people. I’m the first to put on a jacket at the first sign of a chill. Persistent attention-seeking noise (even if it’s in the background) makes me want to run out of a room.
If you’re like me — easily overwhelmed, hyper-sensitive to input — then it’s not easy to look for work, especially if you’re unemployed or underemployed. Here are some things I’ve learned.
The Post-Industrial Age is Not Set Up For You
During my time unemployed I would scour Craigslist, seeing jobs like “⭐⭐⭐⭐ WAREHOUSE SEEKING IMMEDIATE EMPLOYEES!!!!! ⭐⭐⭐⭐” then hearken back to the food processing job with ever-present machine noise, or the housecleaning job with my supervisor telling me I wasn’t fast enough, or the stint as a driver helper, where I would try to bundle 4–5 deliveries to be more efficient, then mix them up and irritate the driver.
“The $15/hr though,” I think, “I mean…so tempting…I’m currently at $0/hr with just enough money to pay rent.”
But you’re brain’s not set up to…
- Be fast
- Be efficient
- Filter out all input and just focus on the job.
So then there are really only 2 options:
- Take a gamble, apply for the job, and hope that your output exceeds the rate you’re paid. This takes a toll on your mental health.
- Remain jobless until you find something you can do. The also takes a toll on your mental health.
I think it’s important to just be aware of the current situation. Because…
You Must Find Support that Understands You
As a man, there’s a code among other men regarding work: do it without complaint. I’m 100% on board with this in theory.
But each person is different. Each person has a different pain threshold and breaking point. I’ve found I’ve had to non-judgmentally accept mine and realize it’s below what others are able to do.
But this is often difficult to get across to other men. Because I often get overwhelmed in a crowded room doesn’t mean I’m weaker than someone else. It just means I have to be mindful about my energy level and I might duck out earlier than others.
I’ve had to pay attention to who listens to me. Often (especially as men, though I’m sure women experience it, too), whenever I mention my difficulty in noisy environments I run across gaslighting (“You’re making up symptoms that don’t exist”) or the call to “buck up” and be a man.
What I’ve had to do is focus my energy on connecting with men who don’t resort to these behaviors, but are open to understanding me as me. Some often have similar issues as me in working.
The older I get the more I realize it’s alright to live in my truth and live out my truth. My perspective is my perspective and I have a right to it.
Sometimes You Have to Push Through
Panic attacks aren’t a rarity by any means…a lot of people experience at least 1 in life. Mine are a bit different — oftentimes they last days, where I only get a small reprieve about every couple of hours.
During one season with panic attacks I was working retail.
And I needed the money.
And I was working the cash register.
Yup, that’s right. I was that weakling at the check-stand, hyperventilating while I was asking a woman, “You said this was 20% off, correct?”
What did I do? I simply explained I was having a panic attack and not to worry. Did I look like a fool? Probably. But I was making the best of the situation I could. I’m also surprised (and thankful) I wasn’t canned because of these attacks.
But the limit is really up to you. There were other times where I’d have a job ad for a warehouse job open, my cursor hovered over “Apply Now,” and I’d imagine myself in that environment, overwhelmed, in the throes of a panic attack, my coworkers rolling their eyes at yet another millennial snowflake who prefers his parents’ couch to hard work; and then, realizing I still wouldn’t have income, close the window and move on to the next.
You have to decide your own limit, kitten. I can’t do it for you.
The World Still Needs You
I wish I could tell you that everything’s gonna be alright. I wish I could give step-by-step instructions on how to work in a neuronormal world as a neuroatypical. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
I will say that the world needs you. The world needs your perspective, your tears, your gifts. So don’t give up. You might have to find your own path, and that’s okay. Your journey won’t look like your peers’.
Keep your head up, and keep moving forward!