OpenSesame celebrates the diversity of all of our employees and fosters community through our Employee Resource Groups. Below, learn more about Peter Collier, Sales Operations Analyst, as he shares his story of growing up neurodivergent.
Where It All Began
Like many children, I had a lot of questions about the world. I was fortunate to have a family who humored this interest of mine.
At this time in my life, my family would often make trips to my grandparent’s cabin on the Washington coast. As we drove down highway 101 to Bay Center, my curiosity kicked into high gear. I inquired about everything I could see out the car window. (See Appendix: Photos)
What type of trees are those? Are they like the ones back home? What kind of cow is that? Do you think they also have goats on their farm? With each question asked, my mother would have an answer.
Then on one of these trips I had a question that at the time seemed harmless, but turned into much more than just a question. Pointing out the car window at a sign, I asked my mother “what does that blue sign mean?”. My mother, being my mother, told me the truth; it was a Tsunami Hazard Zone sign.
The line of questioning about tsunamis didn’t end for quite some time. I wanted to know everything I could about tsunamis. In particular, I was very interested in how to survive a tsunami.
Even though my family lived hundreds of miles away from the ocean – on the other side of the Cascade mountain range – my fear of tsunamis continued to grow once we got home. Eventually it became evident to my mother that not only was I a curious child, but one with anxiety as well.
Within a few weeks time, I was on a regular schedule seeing a therapist for my long list of “worries”. From my memory, this is the point in which I began my journey as a person who is neurodivergent.
What does it mean to be neurodivergent? Neurodivergence “describes someone who processes information in a different way” (Marc S. Lener, MD). A person who is neurodivergent often refers to person who experiences:
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Chronic mental health illnesses
- Other learning disabilities
Over the years of working with a therapist it became clear that I not only had anxiety, but also lived with other internal challenges. This includes depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Having a diagnosis that identifies you as different from the typical person can have the connotation that there may be something wrong with you. Being diagnosed as neurodivergent can be tough and can come with doubt of your ability.
While the way I process the world has created challenges for myself, it has also been an opportunity to learn and grow. It would be remiss of me if I did not acknowledge that this opportunity has been a result of the people I have in my life, especially those I get to work with.
At OpenSesame, I get to work with many amazing neurodivergent people and am supported every day by our Neurodiversity Employee Resource Group.
According to ADHD Aware, “between 30% and 40% of the population are thought to be neurodiverse”. This means it is more than likely that you are or you work with someone who can identify as neurodivergent.
As a neurodivergent person, there are a few lessons I have learned about how organizations can support neurodiverse people. These lessons include:
Encourage your employees to connect
As an employee, you should be reminded that you are not alone in this journey. There are many people in this world who also face similar challenges to you.
Every person should feel comfortable in their workplace with who they are, even with a diagnosis of being different. To feel comfortable, it requires an environment where employees feel safe to express who they are inside and out. This is easier said than done, but it is possible to cultivate.
Organizations can bridge the gap through cultural initiatives. For example you can establish employee resource groups, conduct workshops, train people managers on how to best support neurodivergent persons, and start the conversation around mental health and neurodiversity. By normalizing neurodiversity, employees will feel more supported and capable in their roles.
Facilitate learning new skill sets
Living with ADHD, depression, and anxiety has been a wild combination. I have to proactively remind myself that the thoughts of “I am not good enough” or “I could just be better if I was normal” are all wrong. Recognizing that my internal dialog can lie to me is a skill I have learned over time.
From access to mental health resources to courses on handling stress, there are endless possibilities for organizations to support their employees in learning skills to navigate being neurodivergent.
A benefit of working at OpenSesame is that I get access to various thought leaders. One such person is Wellness expert, Mike Veny. In his TEDxNormal presentation, he says that “if you choose to see mental illness as an asset, you open up a great opportunity to find happiness, more success, and serve the people in your life more effectively”. We can all agree that every organization desires each of these opportunities to become a reality. We can accomplish this by giving employees tools to overcome challenges and find their own success. For example, sharing ways to reframe one’s perceived weaknesses as strengths.
Fill yourself and others up
Balance is key to everyone’s success. You can’t do great work if you aren’t in a good place.
Just like being physically ill, facing the challenges of being neurodivergent can drain you as a person. That is why it is important to find ways to fill yourself up and recharge.
Recharging can be different for everyone. It could mean just a simple break in the day to get fresh air or taking time off to do something that you love. What matters most is figuring out what helps you recharge and do it enough to be your best self in and out of work.
I will be the first to admit that I am not always the best at taking time to recharge myself. However, when I do so I am reminded I can keep on going and there are many aspects of life to continue to look forward to.
As organizations we should celebrate when someone takes time for themselves. This is because it allows us to have the energy to do our best work in our best head space.
At the same time it is also important to fill others up in the process. When was the last time someone told you how much they appreciate you or that you are doing a good job? If you can’t recall the last time you heard something like that, there is a problem!
It is easy in the workplace to be transactional and forget to thank others for their work. However a moment of appreciation may help change the course for someone else who is having a terrible day.
To this day, I am still terrified of Tsunamis. But I have learned ways to navigate this aspect of who I am.
There have been many times in my life where I have wished I was not neurodivergent due to all the challenges that come with it. But in hindsight, being neurodivergent has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
I hope these lessons will help you and your organization find ways to embrace being neurodivergent. While we may process the world a little differently, we add a little bit of spice to life.