Looking back on Neurodiversity Celebration Week

Hello, my name is Birgit. I am one of the pharmacists at UHP and have been working together with the Oncology and Haematology team since 2005.

I like to learn and I am always keen to understand how new drug therapies are incorporated into treatment pathways. I have a Masters in Oncology and I am a non-medical prescriber. Over the years I have tried to understand more about the treatment of various malignant diseases. Then in 2021 I was diagnosed with early breast cancer myself which was like a wakeup call to live my life to its best possible potential, to be grateful for all the people, pets, and things which I have in my life and never to take anything for granted.

In this blog, I would like to explain further what Neurodiversity Celebration Week, which took place from the 13 to 19 March 2023, meant for me.

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term for various conditions like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and Tourette’s syndrome to name a few. It is estimated that app 15 to 20 percent of the population are neurodivergent – which can lead to different ways of thinking, communication and processing of information.

Neurodiversity Celebration Week is about recognising those differences, giving neurodivergent people a voice and celebrating their contributions to life and the workplace.

I would like to emphasise that it is still important to be yourself and not have too many labels attached although labels can be helpful with identity.   

I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) in 2016 in my early forties after suffering from a burnout. (World Autism Acceptance Week is from 27 March to 2 April 2023) I now know that it is quite common for people with ASC to have mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. The world can be a scary place and I often have a sense of not quite fitting in with the crowd or feeling a bit lonely or lost. Learning new things can sometimes become all-consuming for me to the point that it makes me very tired.

Over recent years I have learnt to be more self-aware, to focus on my wellbeing and I am getting better in setting boundaries. This hopefully helps me to stay physically and mentally well. I also started a yoga teacher training course with the Devon School of Yoga in Exeter and I am hoping that one day I can combine my work as a cancer services pharmacist with teaching yoga. I have a few ideas such as running classes for women who are recovering after breast cancer surgery or are on endocrine therapy since this treatment can cause various side effects like fatigue and joint pain.  

I have many interests and hobbies. Many of my friends I have made by practicing yoga, open water swimming, or going on kayak trips with a local kayak club. Social things can be challenging for me especially if I don’t know the people very well or if there are large crowds. Sometimes I notice that I have difficulties to regulate my emotions or I find emotions overwhelming.

At work my strengths are certainly attention to detail, being focussed and goal orientated, being curious and wanting to learn, retaining information, being a logical thinker and applying knowledge in a clinical context for individual patients. All of these can contribute to keeping patients safe. I function best if I have some routine and know what is going to happen each day or is expected of me. When I am given the opportunity to contribute with my knowledge and experience then I can be very useful for other healthcare professionals.

One of the consultant’s used to say that I am saving her bacon. I am still looking for this bacon. I know that I take things very literally. Idioms can be a challenge for me as I am German. The British sense of humour may create some confusion, although I have been told that even I have a sense of humour which is very kind of people to say.

I have some sensory issues predominately with background noise but also touch. I don’t like fans since the wind creates too much sensation on my skin. Our large office in pharmacy can often feel like a busy noisy train station to me. According to the equality act the workplace must make reasonable adjustments for neurodivergent people so I am grateful that I can start work an hour earlier than most of my colleagues, so I have some quiet time. I also don’t need to carry a bleep all the time.

I wish that in future more use can be made of my strong interest to learn and to apply my knowledge which will give me a purpose and focus and equally help to improve patient care.   

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