About ten years before getting diagnosed, I started working at a job that is very opposite of sensory friendly. Of course I was unaware at the time of the reason why the job was a bit harder on me mentally than others. The amount of noise, daily activities, people, you name it and it was around. The odd part was that by the time I left that job, I was really good at it and it was like I figured out how to “switch” on work mode and not let it get to me in the moment. After work was a different story, I was exhausted no matter how hard or easy the day was, kind of short tempered and it all just caught up after and on days off.
So I worked at the main hospital for the city I live in. It is located in the center of town and accepts all patients, insured or not. Needless to say, that leaves the type of clientele open to anyone from a CEO to the homeless. Being located where it is, a lot of patients are homeless and looking for free food and a bed. Not to say that was the only type of patient coming through the doors, we had it all. The hospital has a full locked-down psych unit and a very large Emergency department to go with it. The psych unit was a whole different animal than the rest of the emergency department.
In the psych unit, you are locked in with upwards of ten to twelve patients at a time, including patients that are drunk, suicidal, homicidal, violent, in police custody, on drugs…..anything out of the norm of just medical attention. Needless to say, the smells, noise and aggression levels in there are always high. The sensory overload just from being in there maxes out within the first five minutes after you walk in. On top of that, you have to monitor all the patients via CCTV and make log notes. There is a lot going on for a neurotypical individual to deal with, let alone someone on the spectrum. There was typically a fight every day inside the unit, which meant going hands on with someone that could be covered in their own urine or that wants to spit on you. It is definitely a task to be in there and I managed to do it for almost five years, not every day, but several times a week.
Out in the main entrance you have a metal detector that anyone coming into the emergency department must go through. That means consistently having people coming through, setting off the buzzer, searching through peoples belongings (some of the things are just astonishing that people carry on them at all times). To this day I still don’t understand how hard it is to understand that ANYTHING metal will set off the detector, including belts, and people just can’t figure it out. The buzzing each time they fail is beyond annoying. Then you have a waiting room full of people, talking, throwing up, crying….and kids just running around yelling and moving chairs around. It becomes a playground because the parent is “too sick” to pay attention to them and the noise levels increase. Yet another area of the hospital filled with sensory overload, with no way to escape because you are running the metal detector. This area was definitely the hardest for me because I would get angry with people going in and out, setting the alarm off, the noise in the room. I tried to avoid this spot as much as I could.
The rest of the hospital wasn’t as bad as the emergency department. I could walk around in a lot more space and options. There were still a good amount of people but more space in-between to move around and avoid. Fights and need for security response still occurred on the floors but not as frequently as the ED. The downfall to the floors was having to go into a patients room and lock up belongings, touching all their personal items, or having to go into a room with some sort of medical precaution. The risk of catching something was higher especially in the ICU. The entire hospital is a risk for catching some sort of infection, disease or sickness, no matter how much they clean. The revolving door of people that come through, coughing, spitting, dying, you can not ever clean it well enough to guarantee peoples wellness if they don’t wash hands and what not.
Basically what I’m getting at is this, I worked in a place that I feel any person on the spectrum would either fail or meltdown at some point, and I loved the job and was great at it. I do wonder now if I had known that I was on the spectrum and how all these different things affect me, would I have even applied to work there? I do my best now to avoid as much over stimulation as possible so that I can remain in a good mood and not trigger a meltdown. I kind of feel like not knowing back then allowed me to do more, didn’t change that I got exhausted or broke down, but I didn’t know why or what caused it so I masked and fit in with everyone else to do my job.
I learned a lot from that job, I learned how to create that switch that I had no control over and it just happened naturally. I learned to walk with my head up, being situationally aware to everything, and to be able to talk to people because I knew my job and did it to the best of my abilities and was confident in those abilities.
The stories I have from that job could fill a book and I have thought about it but never know if it would be worth it or if anyone would even be interested. So many people do not even scratch the surface of things that happen at a hospital let alone around the corner from their room. I love the memories from that place and to share them brings back that feeling of joy and accomplishment. I can say, one advantage I did have above other security officers in that job, was my monotone voice and ability to verbally deescalate someone because I refused to talk over people and I never yelled. I had the ability to remain calm and my logic allowed me to play out different scenarios of what can happen in the moment and be prepared for it. Maybe someday I will sit down and just write out some of the things that I experienced and let people sample it to see if it is worth writing more. Who know’s??????