I start a new job tomorrow.
I am equal parts excited, terrified, and devastated.
I’m excited because this is the first step in pursuing campaigning as a sustainable career, and I’ll be working on campaigns involving one of my favourite things – dogs.
I’m terrified because this is something completely different; people I haven’t met before, a role I haven’t worked in before, a whole whirlwind of uncertainties.
And I’m devastated because taking this step has meant saying goodbye to the organisation I have worked for, and loved, for almost two years.
Even though it provided an opportunity to shamelessly include musical theatre lyrics in the title of this post, the goodbye was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Even though I knew that this was the right move for me, personally and professionally, making the decision to walk away was heartbreaking. I love the people that I have worked with, I have come out of myself, and discovered my true strength under the tutelage and support of a wonderful team. I am the person I am today – the person who was able to step out of my comfort zone and embark on this new adventure – because of my two years here.
Having barely slept for a few weeks, stepping into the office on my final day was emotionally exhausting. Every step I took was like a record of last times – the last time I turn the lights on in the morning, the last time I use my staff card, the last time I open the main gates, the last time I say ‘good morning!’ to each person – being etched into my memory. I could feel the tap tap tap of sharp chisel on rock as each moment slid by. It took every inch of my energy to keep my seams pulled together.
My team had decorated my desk. There were balloons behind the main reception, ‘good luck’ banners taped to the computers, and glittery star confetti scattered across every inch of surface. Stepping behind my ‘console’ as I called it (the main reception reminded me of the bridge of a space ship) was like stepping into a warm embrace.
As the day progressed, the love continued to pour, each signal of affection plucking at the seam of my composure. Sending the team my handover, a three piece document detailing every task and detail of the reception environment I had built, was the moment when my throat began to throb uncomfortably. I willed the phone not to ring, for fear that I would lose control in the face of whatever the outside world had to offer. Begging with the universe has never particularly been my forte – the calls kept coming and, somehow, I was able to maintain my professional veneer.
And then the traditional ‘cake and stare’ took place.
The floor was absolutely rammed, with people from all teams – people I greeted every day in my role, people I had worked with on various projects, people who had given me opportunities to talk about my autism in ways that could have a real impact on other people’s lives. As the space began to fill, so did my eyes.
I began to sob as my manager spoke. I sobbed as I delivered my speech, hiccuping my way through the words; that I was a different person now, that I had been changed for the better, that everyone was amazing and they needed to keep working because they were each making the world a better place in their own small way. It was so cliche, I might as well have broken into a teary rendition of ‘For Good’ from the musical Wicked. But it was all true.
The thing that really got me was the card. It was a massive card, covered in pictures of dogs and filled with messages from so many different people that my mind began to swim as I tried to read it.
You see, I’m not accustomed to being liked by large numbers of people. This just isn’t the way that my life has panned out. I am the one who would spend birthdays on my own because people wouldn’t remember them; I am the one who was always on the outskirts, watching from the corner; I am the one who was lucky to have the few friends I had, and had learned to live with the fact that most people really didn’t like me all that much.
So seeing all these people, these people who I admired so completely, coming together on my behalf, to say goodbye to me, to tell me how I had affected them, sent me into a tailspin of emotion.
The rest of the evening was a blur of people and faces, old and new, of laughing and sadness and hellos and goodbyes. I hugged people I have never hugged before; I wanted to cry out with appreciation as they waited with no pressure for me to initiate the hugs, and it just made me want to hug them more. I talked with people I had never talked to deeply before, learning and revealing things that had never come out in the work environment. I felt surrounded by love and affection. I felt appreciated. By the very nature of my role ,as a first-point-of-contact customer service worker, I didn’t always feel that way. But I was wrong. I was appreciated. More than appreciated. People liked me. People didn’t want me to go. People cared.
It was sad. But I also felt amazing.
I felt deserving. I felt loved. I felt like a fudging superhero.
I still do.
As today continues, as tomorrow looms large and the butterflies continue their tap-dancing in my stomach, I keep casting glances at that card. I open it. I read it. I look at the presents I was given. At the things that are so indescribably me. At the things people spend time looking for, knowing me well enough to know what to get. I also look at the other cards. The ones from my front desk volunteers. The two cards that whole individual teams got for me. I let the messages wash over me, making me smile and laugh and weep in equal measure.
They make me feel that I’ll be okay. They make me feel like I am good at what I do. They make me feel that I am appreciated by people I admire. They make me feel that I can do anything I put my mind to.
Even as I embark on this brand new chapter, I haven’t fully closed the book on the old one. I am autistic. Autism will always be a part of me. Even if I am not working professionally within an autism-related role, I live autism with every breath, every blink, every thought. I will continue to write. I will continue to speak. I will continue to campaign. Those people I hugged goodbye on Friday night? They know full well they haven’t seen the last of me.
I’m just trying something new. Extending my arms to drink in everything I possibly can. Working to be the most rounded person I can conceivably be.
I will grow.
I will change.
And I will continue to do so in my own, fabulous, unique, queerly-autistic sort of way.