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So, has the bubble burst? Has my new-found validity run out of steam? Met its match? Died a death? The answer is most assuredly: No.

Indeed, I have put it to the test. I have thrown everything I can think of at it: There have been social events, stressful health issues, concerns about the educational future of my son (SATs and Secondary Schools), and the most potentially incendiary of all: A meeting with Senior Leadership at my school: (a second attempt at an abortive OH follow-up meeting that led to a very public meltdown...)

I had given it much thought, of course; (don't we always?) the reasons why this meeting ended so quickly and so disastrously... The unexpected venue of the large conference room next to the Principal's office... the equally unexpected attendance of my line manager and a representative of the School Federation's HR department, as well as the one person I had expected. As they began to go through the points raised in my OH report, I immediately began to feel defensive, hearing demands instead of questions, ultimatums instead of realities. I felt tears prickle at my eyes as the panic rose, and that was that. Less than 5 minutes and the rest of the day spent agonising about how annoyed everyone would be at me, that they had arranged this meeting and made the time... etc. etc.

Weeks passed, and so did the TA 101 part 2, (where my husband's TA Epiphany took place) and where validation was achieved, despair was mislaid... Then came the email: Would I like to meet up and try this follow-up meeting again?

Was I stricken with terror? Did I arrange to be absent? Did I refuse, saying it wouldn't be necessary? No. Not only did I agree, but, when the meeting details were sent - I asked for them to be changed: Could we meet somewhere less formal? Could it just be the two of us? Of course, this was accepted, because they are reasonable requests. I was very pleased with myself indeed.

When the meeting came around, the atmosphere was entirely different. I asked that we omit the blow-by-blow account on the OH report, in favour of an informal discussion about things I found difficult at work. I talked about the lack of interaction with my line manager, my difficulty with networking. I spoke confidently about what I have to offer, and my frustration at not being able to communicate it. I spoke about the shame I feel that I have to ask for explicit, verbal feedback because I cannot rely on picking it up through non-verbal cues common in the professional relationships most of the staff here share, (mainly because this is often misinterpreted as needy or egotistical.) As the conversation went on, the panic never materialised... I felt almost equal, justified, calm, articulate - my vocabulary did not desert me. I voiced my suggestions and they were not dismissed. There was no awkward end to the meeting. We were just two colleagues walking to our next appointments and casually finishing a conversation ignited by our discussion.

I realise the only thing that has changed is my attitude towards myself. My ability to understand non-verbal communication has not improved miraculously, I have not become more confident, more social, observant... No. And the hits keep coming. But I now know that other people can understand my world, and that gives me validity. Therefore my thoughts, words, feelings and actions must be valid: This upturn in my professional fortunes is merely the result of my analytical mind applying new knowledge to an existing situation.

But it changes everything.

In a different light: A full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun taken by SDO on March 30, 2010. False colors trace different gas temperatures. Reds are relatively cool (about 60,000 Kelvin, or 107,540 F); blues and greens are hotter (greater than 1 million Kelvin, or 1,799,540 F).


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Chris Russell
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