My Other Life

My Other  Life (published in ISTC newsletter March 2012)

Chatting online to victims of bullying, and taking someone with Asperger’s Syndrome out for lunch seems to bear no relation to writing manuals and bulletins for an engineering company. On the surface it seems as though my life outside work bears no relation to the work that I do during the day, and that the Third Sector is a million miles away from the engineering and manufacturing industry.

It was not until completing the Certificate in Technical Communication Skills with the ISTC, and however, that I realised, on closer inspection at the communication skills involved, that there is a great deal of overlap between the two facets of my life.

My full time job is as a Technical Author for a semiconductor fabrication equipment manufacturer. I am responsible for the distilling of bulletins and manuals for customers and internal support staff. Being relatively new to this line of work I rely on communicating with the SMEs (subject-matter experts) for content clarification.

In order to create manuals and bulletins we currently use Adobe Framemaker and Acrobat, with the graphics created by two in-house technical illustrators,  using Photoshop, IsoDraw, and CorelDraw. For online sharing of documents  we use Sharepoint.

I work in a team of 5 and our role as a Technical Publications department is to provide support not only to the customer but also to the internal customer support team and the customer support staff out in the field, as both customer and support staff are required to provide support and maintenance of the of the tool at the customer site. As a result, the intended audience is always forefront in my mind with any communication, and the content of relevant documentation amended accordingly.

In order to achieve the best possible results, the company were keen for myself and another Technical Author in the department to train with the ISTC, and we recently both passed the Certificate in Technical Communication Skills. As a result have enrolled on the second part of the course, the Diploma in Technical and Commercial Authorship, which we hope to complete in the next 12 months.

During our study we learnt about the six Cs of communication and how communication must be:

Clear, Concise, Constructive,  Correct, Courteous, Complete.

Other communication skills involved in my role include the understanding  of how people absorb information, and the ability to grasp complex issues and distil them into good operational instructions,  and having a consistent approach to all communication. A closer look at my work outside of Technical Authoring will highlight how transferable these communication skills are. Other than my job at SPTS Technologies, I work part time in the evenings for Bullies Out and volunteer on the weekends for The National Autistic Society.


Bullies Out

I started volunteering with this antibullying charity as on online mentor in 2008, and have since spent two evening shifts a week chatting to victims of bullying in the designated chat room. The issues that we as mentors are required to deal with often include talking online to children who are considering suicide or who are in hospital recovering from suicide attempts. When communicating with depressed or suicidal individuals it is imperative to be clear in what you say, and concise in your message. It is definitely essential to be courteous and constructive, as well as being correct, proving all the necessary information about further help that they could get and organisations they could contact.

Often we need to research police and social worker contact details, and various procedures such as how to report various domestic abuse claims, and this information has to be gathered and distilled quickly and accurately while the child is online. There are many rules about data protection  that have to be adhered to and ethical considerations, so the mentors must constantly think about what they are communicating and the different audiences, whether it be the child or their foster carer. Confidentiality  is also factor, which is also a consideration  for a lot of the documentation produced as a Technical Author, where other customers’ details are concerned.

As well as continuing to mentor, I have recently been appointed as the Online Mentor Manager, which involves managing the scheme as a whole and maintaining communication pathways between the mentors and the CEO of the charity. The main aspect of the role is to monitor the chat room, and each evening I request summaries of the session from each mentor who was online, collate this information, decide what is relevant to and produce a summary to circulate to the rest of the charity staff so that they can be kept up to date with what issues were discussed. This requires a concise and consistent approach, and to collate writing from all different styles into one concise summary. Another main part of the role involves writing procedures for new mentors to follow and compiling  case studies for training.

National Autistic Society

My other role for charity is as a befriender for the National Autistic Society, which involves meeting with a girl who has Aspergers every week and to help them with their social skills. Communicating with a person on the Autistic Spectrum requires clarity above anything else, and the aim is to be concise and not ambiguous. It is a good idea to use Simplified English where possible, and not to be overly verbose.

The girl I meet with struggles with long sentences and with sentences that include metaphors, similes or ambiguous words, or if the sentence goes off track at all.  She benefits from a consistent approach and courteous communication that is positive and constructive.

In order to help with my volunteer work I completed an Introduction to Counselling module with The Open University, and the overlaps between counselling and technical communicating are many. Above all, the communication must be clear and concise, with the communication tailored to the situation.

I hope that both aspects of my life will continue to assist the other, with constant reflection of the communication techniques required.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off To CBT I Go

At some point before the end of work today I have to call someone back to arrange an appointment.

The person I have to call back is a counsellor that my work have arranged for me to see, and the appointment is for some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I would quite happily keep all of this stigma-filled opinion-inducing information to myself, and embark on journey number ‘whoknows’ into the world of putting my brain back on track, but what is the point in passionately spouting off about how society needs to change and not silence people who are suffering with their heads, if I am going to actively avoid the subject myself?

What makes me think that anyone who may read this will care? Well, in reality, nothing. I just need to get braver, I need to accept that this is an ok thing to talk about, and I need to post something on this blog as it has been too long. So, combining those factors, here is a post about my head.

When I feel fine, I feel more than fine, and can rapidly end up feeling too fine.

Fine is when I can get up and go to work in the morning, and feel what is probably the normal amount of anticipation and frustration that every day tasks face us with. Things could be better, things could be worse, comme ci comme ca, and I drive to work thinking that things are looking up but don’t you dare get complacent and let your guard down and leave your jars of herbal calming products at home. This is ok, this is real life.

More than fine is one of those fines where there is a spring in the step, the glass is half full, the weather is bad but I don’t care, ‘does everyone feel like this every day?’, I think of all the people I am looking forward to seeing, I want to start the day, and I want to give friendship back to all of those who I deplete with my moods far more than I should. I can handle this, who couldn’t?

Too fine, well, I don’t know if I’m a good enough writer to evoke this. I adore this feeling when I first feel it. It’s like the love of your life walking back into your life after you beg for forgiveness for throwing them away. I want to harness it and bottle it and inhale it in intervals over the course of a week so that it doesn’t run out. But I can’t. I have to feel it full speed for as long as it decides to wash over me, and it can be exhausting. I sign up to a million clubs, courses, activities. I get qualifications I don’t need. I double and triple book myself with social events. I contact people and arrange too many things to do and have to cancel when I realise the implausibility of it, or when my brain takes a nose dive, whichever happens first. I take on the world like someone who has just been transplanted here for a month from some post-apocalyptic desert and is gorging on everything that there is to offer before they get taken away again into a bleak nothingness. Until I hit rock bottom in the debt department and sorted myself out, one of the worst side effects of these highs is the disregard that I used to have for money, when I am normally so reluctant to part with it. When the world is suddenly an ok place to be, caution tends to be chucked full force into the wind, and with it my wallet. I have a thirst for life that is heightened from the drought, and no amount of logic used to be able to stop me laissez-ing faire to my heart and the bartender’s content.

As exhausting as it can be, and as berated as I am by people who find it confusing and who mock me for the amount of hobbies I have, and courses I’ve done, thank goodness for this feeling, because it is only in these moments that I can start to put right some of the wrongs that are a side effects of the not so fine days, and I don’t know if I even want to put that feeling into words.

During the highest of the fines, I can visit friends, reply to messages, smile back to the people who try so hard to keep a smile on my face when they know I can’t manage it, finish work I started, book trips abroad, embark on courses, learn things, move my body, try new things, and just generally feel, enjoy, see and listen. I am awake and if I cram enough into these times then hopefully noone will notice, or at least forgive me for it, when I am numb, distant, distracted and asleep.

I’ve got quite far into this post without using the D word but I think it’s fairly obvious that I have been hinting at suffering from a spot of depression, that old faithful black dog. Over the years I have gone from denial (I don’t get depression because people think of me as the silly fun one), temporary acceptance of help (I’ve tried everything to shut others and myself up), and I’m slowly moving towards a more secure acceptance where maybe we can learn to live together and forge some sort of stable life around it.

The depression has definitely changed shape over the past few years and now I have come to realise that it is more an anxiety problem that I am struggling with at the moment. If I had to choose then I think I would choose A over D because, as anyone who has had it could tell you, D stops you wanting to do anything, it takes away your memories of nice things and nice people. There is nothing that you can do to remind yourself of why you should get up in the morning and there is no way that you can understand why it would be nice to spend time with your friends and family. Some evil substance has burrowed into your head, removed your memories and worse still, your desire. You are not resisting doing the things you used to love to do in some sort of cloud of self pity or laziness, you simply do not know what it even means to do them anymore. There is an emptiness in the pit of your stomach and the deepest recesses of your head, and you can’t see anything for the fog. Pain suddenly becomes more than a sensation. It becomes a tangible obstacle, made up of solid chunks, restricting you from living in any sense of the word. Anxiety, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily take away your desire to do the things you used to do, but it certainly tries it’s best to make it impossible for you to do them.

Anxiety is something that I knew very little about until not so long ago, whether from personal experience or education, but I have no qualms (or should I say Kalms) in making this statement: It’s really fucking horrible.

It’s one of most horrible things that I have experienced in my life. This cruel, powerful, and irrational affliction is the reason that I have small scars on my arms and stomach that come out to play in the summer when they wont tan like the rest of my skin, and the reason that I don’t feel comfortable going out without a pretty fast acting tablet upon my person to stop an anxiety attack in its tracks. It is the reason that when I am having a really overly fine day I force myself to find 5 minutes to write down how great I am feeling, in a sort of future note to myself, in the vain attempt that reading it when I’m in the black hole will jog my memories of wonderfulness and stop me begging my long suffering, ever devoted  (if a little bewildered) partner to let me end it all and reverse the absolute 100% certainty that that is what I want to do in those moments. These notes have never worked. I either have to get better at writing so that the notes hit home, cross my fingers that the next good feeling will last forever, or face facts and accept the therapy that I have been offered.

I have only ever tried CBT for 2 sessions before, and it was the only thing that helped but I couldn’t afford more at the time, and the NHS waiting list is so long. Other things I have tried are Neurolinguistic programming (ridiculously expensive and too ‘one solution fits all’ for me), psychoanalytical counselling (anyone who knows my mum knows that I probably WAS hugged enough as a child, thanks for asking, here’s £50), group talking therapies (um, please can this just be about me for a minute), self-help books (don’t want anyone finding them and thinking I’m a nutter so I don’t buy many), Prozac (flushed the last lot down the loo after a year of being a zombie on them), Valium (yes please, every day if I could, but there’s rules about stuff like that, and I’m rationing my last 8), and talking to my family (seeing my mother worry and upset makes me feel worse and I want to take responsibility myself).

So, all these things considered, I am going to make the call. I have to dash so I will talk about why CBT is so amazing another time. In a nutshell, it trains you how to think rationally, and rewires your broken negative thinking patterns through exercises, so that you don’t react in the usual messed up way to triggers. The wonderful thing about triggers, is triggers are wonderful things….

Hi Ho Hi Ho It’s off to CBT I go

At some point before 4pm today I have to call someone back to arrange an appointment. The person I have to call back is a counsellor that my work have arranged for me, and the appointment is for some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I would quite happily keep all of this stigma filled information to myself, and embark on journey number ‘whoknows’ into the world of putting my brain back on track, but what is the point in passionately spouting off about