Picture by Jon Tyson from Unsplash.comCovid-19 has altered our relationship with how we work. And reconsidered it entirely

Whether this is because our employer has now adopted working from home as a general principle, or perhaps we’ve caught glimpse of another way to live and be. Maybe we were furloughed or made redundant. We’ve all had to adapt, irrespective of reason. March 2020 was the time the UK went into national lockdown, and many of us quickly accustomed to home working. It was an uncertain, anxiety-provoking time. And one which I genuinely thought was temporary. I remember the suddenness of it all, combined with the newness of it all. The novelty of the situation as we adapted to virtual meetings and sticking our washing on in the middle of the day. Other than the odd outdoor social to meet my team in the summer, and the occasional day back in the office in autumn 2020, I’ve spent this time working entirely from home. I must say, I liked it.

As a highly efficient worker, with fantastic focus, I was able to complete my work in just a fraction of the usual time, allowing me ample time to pursue other projects and interests. Or simply just to rest.

It was liberating. I was happier. I had a new way of being; one which I had already been dabbling with for several years now. However this time round, the world had caught on, and we were all in on it together. It was a working world where I wasn’t regimented and confined to a fixed office environment, all with people I had not chosen to spend time with.

This largely came to an end for me in September 2021. Fortunately, I’m not expected to be in the office all the time. So this is a huge winner in itself. For which I am very thankful. I’m in the office around three days a week with the other two worked from home. Being in the office is positive in that I get to fulfil my small quota for socialising and that I have a nice walk to work and a change in scenery. Nevertheless, returning to the office has been a huge change for me. I’ve had to spend a lot of time getting ready for the next day in terms of preparing my clothes and food. I have to forgo exercise routines in the morning that I enjoy and help me a great deal (I’d have to wake up too early to fit this in before work).

The shift back has certainly had an impact on my mental and physical health.

There’s a definite anxiety I feel about the days I’m in the office, and I’ve started getting more headaches and having gastro issues. I pick up bugs more easily, as my immune system is clearly thrown by all the office germs. Plus, my skin is harshly dry and my scalp itchy (it didn’t used to be).

As well as being confined to my set workspace for a specific number of hours, it’s also the office environment that I really struggle with. For starters, the lights are on all the time, because there’s not enough natural light coming in. This affects me so much. The temperature is either too warm or too cold, so I end up having to pack many layers to go to work with. There are unexpected noises, even from colleagues, who make me jump from time to time with their sudden changes in intonation.

There’s so much more to ‘feel’ too, in terms of peoples’ energies and how this changes so much. As an empath, I’m very susceptible to feeling these highs and lows from people, and this is very exhausting to take in all the time. And the air quality too. It affects me in the same way that jetlag used to. There’s something not quite right about the air that’s circulating – the lack of freshness to it. Also, I don’t know if it’s just the lockdown effect, but I have work colleagues coming up to talk ‘at’ me when I have not invited them to do so. So very one-sided conversations when all I want is to heat up my lunch. Which, by the way, is never as healthy and fulfilling as the ones I make in-person in my own kitchen.

Basically, all of this means I’m simply not as productive or happy coming into work.

Don’t get me wrong; I do acknowledge and feel it is important to go to the office to the extent that I would probably become very insular if I didn’t. I already feel like I don’t know much about popular culture, or about the things that affect more conventional people on a day-to-day level. So in a way this input from colleagues does ground me to society and the greater world. Though more often than not, I find these topics to be quite mundane, depressing and egotistical. Issues are turned into issues, when they simply aren’t problems to begin with. Or at least that’s how I see it. I do sincerely like my colleagues as human beings, and I care for them, so I do just want to add that in.

I feel I’m at a crossroads and I’m honestly not sure how long I will last working in an office for.

As I write this, I’m conscious of how pessimistic this blog may be coming across.  It doesn’t make sense to put myself through this ritual if I clearly don’t enjoy or benefit from it, yet it’s a big part of my life that connects me to humanity. But then what does that say about our society, the model of work imposed, and how we allocate our time and choose our work? I appreciate that’s another blog topic entirely, but actually, this is probably the crux of what this blog is all about. It’s about my sense of belonging in the world and how I go about doing this.

How do I anchor myself in a world that just isn’t working for me?

And why do I feel so alone in this process? It’s this constant feeling I’ve always experienced, and one I know that many autistic people struggle with and come up against. But what is the solution? Whatever it is, hybrid or otherwise, I don’t think that the office is the answer.

Mahlia Amatina

December 2021