This phrase might be OLG’s tagline, but I totally love it, and is a great line to help scaffold coping strategies for my life. I see my ‘limit’ as my capacity and as various boundaries that must be maintained, and how intense I can ‘play’, as my stamina. As a person with ASD, I have learned that my capacity for processing environmental and emotional stimulation is smaller than most; therefore I need to be more cognizant of when my coping strategies fail and my shutdown begins. Life is dynamic and a teaching position I started this past September has forced me to further develop my abilities and discernment of novel situations. It has been a steep learning-curve and I thought university was hard! (it still is lol)
Over the past few months (or more), I have been silent on this blog because I felt I had nothing to offer on this topic; I also saw that I needed to hone my skills at coping more successfully before I could ever talk about it. Whether you disagree or not, I would like to further explain…
My world had become narrowly focused on teaching in the fall and I had little room for much else; my capacity for family, friends, sports, hobbies, and responsibilities decreased significantly. Almost all of my energy was devoted to starting my career off ‘on the right foot’ and it took an extreme amount of effort to pull it off. After I accepted the part-time position, I was quickly offered to expand my hours to full-time and so, I had plenty to ponder over the next couple of days.
Capacity came to mind because I tried to foresee the potential negative versus positive consequences of working full-time. Few positive outcomes arose from my brainstorming. In fact, there was only one – more money, and many negative outcomes came to mind. This process was a struggle because I mean, who doesn’t want ‘more money’ if given a choice?! However, if I was to make it until Christmas break and beyond, I would have to go with the safer choice and only work part-time. In hindsight, this was a fabulous limit I placed on myself because I did make it until Christmas, and will be back in the classroom on Monday!
Since that big decision, I have been continuously challenged with placing small, yet significant limits to my daily life at school. I use the word ‘challenge’ because its meaning conveys a struggle and that is exactly what it felt and still feels like today. Since the beginning of the school year, I have made a series of choices to limit my time at the school. I have a timetable, I follow it (mostly – hey, I’m not perfect, lol), and alter it as needed.
A few examples of the limits I’ve employed: 1) I try to leave by 2pm at the latest, 2) I do not attend staff meetings, 3) I avoid the staff room, especially if I feel my system will reach its capacity before I reach the end of my day, 4) I take breaks whenever I can.
I have to admit that doing these things have been difficult for me, especially as a first-year teacher, I’ve found that there’s “never enough time” to complete all my tasks and I know I’m not the only teacher to feel this way. What complicates my work life more, is that without these limits, I wouldn’t be able to do my job well or even at all. The tension between adhering to my limits and needing to get ‘stuff done’ as a teacher is a constant battle and there are moments where I have to let go of doing something excellently because I have run out of stamina. I have pushed myself beyond my limits when I felt my capacity would hold on, but there’s always a price to pay (either later that day or the next) and it sucks to regain my energy again.
As previously mentioned, I am not perfect nor do I always make wise choices and so, I would have most likely made more foolish choices if it weren’t for the number of people that keep me accountable to my limits. I didn’t just stumble upon a great group of people to help me, I intentionally sought them out and was picky with whom I shared information with. I disclosed my diagnosis of ASD to a couple of safe people at work and solicited their help; this was an intense moment, as I had never done this before (at work), but it was a risk worth taking and I’m glad I did. A few teachers plus the principal now know and I feel good about that; they’re supportive and encouraging. Perhaps I’ll submit another entry about ‘disclosing in the workplace’ later, as I feel there are differences to disclosing at university. To the colleagues that learned of my diagnosis, all of them were surprised to hear it and this just proves that daily living on the spectrum requires a lot of effort to maintain ‘a normal’ persona.
Work can be a stressful place and when the demands of my environment exceed my capacity, I become unable to cope, oftentimes I lose the ability to speak and/or move. This is a scary thing to happen in the workplace and having my colleagues as allies alleviates some of that stress; with their help, I can often avoid situations where I shutdown.
Play within it.
My capacity changes from moment to moment, so I don’t always know if I’ll be able to cope, but with built-in daily limits I am more likely to succeed in the long-term. Being a new teacher brings about a plethora of challenges, not to mention plenty of novel situations; new situations are hard for my brain to decipher. As far as I’m concerned, if I’ve never done it before, then I just don’t know if I can handle it. The downside is that I don’t generalize well, so I often have to learn things the hard way before my brain can make sense of a boundary (far from ideal, I know!), however the upside is that once I learn, I rarely forget and recalibrate my limits. Having autism isn’t static, and what I was able to handle yesterday, I might not be able to manage it today; it’s sneaky. I think it’ll take a lifetime to figure out all of my limits, but for now playing within them is the safest way for me to be most successful.