Work today was surprisingly good. It was the first day of my new job, working in a university library (I won’t say which one and will have to be careful not to give away obvious clues). I’m contracted for two days a week for a month with the possibility of extending it for another two months, but I don’t think there’s any possibility of the job being extended beyond that as I got the impression that the person I’m covering for will be back after that.
I was incredibly nervous on the way in. As often happens, I felt like a child. It’s hard to actually function as an adult when part of my brain insists that I’m five years old and shouldn’t be doing anything difficult by myself. I was – and really still am – terrified that I can’t do anything right and that I’m bound to get fired.
The morning was largely taken up with induction stuff: seeing HR, getting my security pass made, setting up IT and email accounts and so on. Stuff that is important to go through, but which isn’t the main part of my job. I didn’t realise until I was alone in the staff room at lunchtime how overwhelmed I was by being in busy parts of the university, overwhelmed by the noise and the people. I don’t know if that’s autism per se or just introversion. I know I over-analyse feelings like that to try to pinpoint if they’re autism symptoms or not, when it might be impossible to tell. All I know is that sitting by myself in a quiet room, I felt sudden relief and a desire not to leave.
Actually, I noticed today just how much information I’m trying to process when I’m in with other people, particularly when I’m with a group. I was aware of what I was being told (i.e. what I was supposed to concentrate on), but also little things like the ticking of clocks and the posters on the walls as well as my constant internal monologue, often struggling with OCD thoughts or other ‘bad’ thoughts… It’s hard to tell what is responsible for this. Obviously the OCD thoughts are OCD, but I don’t know what causes the hyper-awareness. I know autism is often seen as, in part, an inability to filter out information, resulting in overload and difficulty finding and remembering correct information, but I’m not sure whether what I was experiencing really corresponded to how I have seen sensory overload described. I don’t know whether social anxiety could also contribute to this feeling of alertness and difficulty in filtering out irrelevant information. Once again, I run up against the problem of trying to compare my subjective experiences and feelings against other peoples subjective experiences and feelings as well as with supposedly more objective clinical criteria. It’s very hard.
In the afternoon my boss showed me some of the other team members in our department. The university employs about 350 people in the library (I don’t think they’re all librarians) over a number of different sites. I’ve never worked at an institution so big. It’s probably good for my career (something has to be good for my career) that I’ve worked in a variety of libraries: a one-person library (library with only one full-time staff member) in a small college, the library of a busy further education college and now a very big library in a very big higher education college. To be honest, they all had advantages and disadvantages, but I think higher education is probably a better fit for me than further education.
I was rather overwhelmed by all the people. I’m not good at names at the best of times and obviously being introduced to a couple of dozen people in different rooms inside a labyrinthine building, trying to take in names, jobs and locations is not easy. Everyone seems nice, especially my boss, but part of my brain was just thinking that that will only make it worse when I let her down and mess everything up.
This fear of messing everything up only worsened when I was introduced to the rare books. This will be a key part of my work over the next month. I was shown the rare books store and was taught how to handle old and fragile materials. I’m terrified that I’m going to damage something unique and priceless (I would give some examples, but obviously identifying anything rare or unique will make it easier to identify the institution) or that I will simply do something stupid like forget to lock one of the rooms (or lock someone in – I nearly locked someone in the staff room). When my boss and one of the conservators showed me how to handle the materials, it was difficult to focus on handling them correctly when I was trying really hard not to shake with anxiety (and of course, trying hard not to shake is likely to trigger shaking), more from the anxiety of being watched so intently as to fear of damaging something.
Still, it was interesting to deal with rare books, something that I haven’t had the chance to do for a long time and something that did attract me to librarianship. It was also interesting to be part of a library staff so big that I didn’t have to play any client-facing role. If my depression hadn’t started again when I was doing my librarianship MA in 2010, I think I could easily have ended up in a library like this, working as a cataloguer and/or with rare books. But the depression and the consequent damage to my career, both direct (I’m not well enough to work full-time, I’m impeded by social anxiety) and indirect (my cataloguing skills have atrophied somewhat from lack of use and my MA course, although accredited by CILIP, was not one of the best in the country, thanks to the depression making it impossible to go to my first choice university) means that I’m now trying to work out what kind of career I can make for myself.
So, that was my first day in my new job. It was probably the best day I’ve had at work in a long time, so it’s frustrating that I won’t be here for very long even if I don’t mess anything up. Plus, I just did a somewhat scary thing regarding fighting my kashrut OCD, so I guess it was a good day overall even if I do now have a headache and feel exhausted.
One last thing: I didn’t mention the other day that my GP is fine with referring me for another autism assessment. I’m not sure why he wanted to speak to me about it first. So that’s also good news, although the waiting list for autism assessments means that I probably won’t be seen for nearly a year.