Jonathan Stephens

Chrysalis \ 'kri-se-les \
a stage of being or growth;

A Record, Reflection, and Story of 2020

§ A Re-introduction

What was intended to be a "simple" sum of my 2020 has grown into something far more. As I write, even though it's veering from my original timeline, these essays have provided structure and pacing for my rhythm & flow of life. I look forward to what it becomes.

Chrysalis: Part 1 covered radical internal changes, as the external world took to the streets; both demanding radical change. At work, I was elected the Executive Committee Co-Chair of the Works Council at Booking.com. Apart from the "normal business" of the Works Council, we were preparing to begin the long process of restructuring. I also became engaged & just beginning to unravel the many threads that ADHD has woven, unwittingly influencing my life's journey.

Chrysalis: Part 2 covers the rapid progression of events that begin harshly, as I continued to discover my limits & needs. For any content that may trigger any feelings or memories that aren't needed or wanted right now, I've tried to set expectations with trigger warnings, placed beside each date with the section's content, with a link to skip that section.

Why: my experience of time has ceased to mean much of anything, this is my record of what happened. I need it for myself, to remember. It's my sort of "origin story;" putting words to something that I also want to share, in hopes someone, somewhere, could learn something interesting and useful along the way.

During these six months, I entered chrysalis;...
...after metaphorically running headfirst into a brickwall.

§ Chrysalis: Part 2

| TW: Panic attacks – Skip

Passing a threshold

The day after I realized I'm ADHD, the Works Council reached a significant, long fought milestone in our collaboration with the Business. We finalized legal negotiations on processes moving towards restructuring!

This was an achievement that I was extremely proud of; individually proud, but also inspired by the sheer amount of work and labor everyone put in to get to where we were. I wish we had the opportunity & moment for celebration—and breath—before moving forward. Yet, as pen hit paper, we were thrust into the first phase of the restructuring process, receiving the formal Request for Advice.

That evening, I received some personal advice—from someone of whom I will be eternally thankful for sharing her wisdom and experience through these sorts of situations.

The question isn’t:
'Is the work worth doing?'
The question is:
'At what cost?'

This was my catalyst for catharsis.


That night, I had my first panic attack.

The responsibility, possibilities, and lack of respite from one monumentally impactful task to another all came to a tipping point. It was a level of overwhelm that I’d never experienced before, and one I’d experience a few times more before the year was up. I never understood what a human wail was until I was in the midst of it: unable to control the tears, loud vocalizations, hitting pillows, clutching myself, going between sitting on the couch to a fetal position in its corner. Breathing shallow, time lost meaning, and I was in full meltdown.

The next day, I pulled myself together—enough to enter the Works Council's Weekly Chair meeting—to share just what was going on. The “pulling myself together” didn’t last the full meeting's hour, but luckily, the Works Council’s Chairs were—and still are—composed of compassionate & understanding humans. We decided, then and there, that we collectively needed a week for everyone to take a moment to breathe, make space, before moving forward with the next phase.

Serenity; Courage; Wisdom

We all took the time to read & digest the extensive documents provided, preparing to internally re-organize for the first resizing of Booking.com’s Dutch operations. As the final revisions of Roles & Responsibilities became more firm, I was in deep internal & external conflict. What was written on paper was in direct opposition to my own understandings and expectations for leadership. All the while, I was starting to grapple accepting ADHD as a disability, and what that meant. I've intentionally sought paths that lead toward my strengths; but these expectations would have me working against myself and my needs, every day, for at least six months.

Previously invisible challenges, ways of working, behaviors, & patterns were laid bare for the first time:

  • Executive Functioning
    Time blindness; trouble planning/prioritization with complex multi-step plans; trouble initiating things; trouble ending things; lower working memory—I have a great memory and horrible memory all at once. I can't remember things unless there's context, can't "pull it out of my head" so easily—impulsivity; self monitoring; attention shifting; forgetting words or my place in a sentence while I'm speaking; interrupting.
  • Internal Hyperactive & Associative Thinking
    Honestly, it had never occurred to me that each human can have different ways to internally process. Once I started to understand just how differently we make sense of our senses, I began to see my thought processes differently—divergently. There is a term commonly applied to how ADHD humans' brains tend to work: associative thinking! It’s this thing where, while neurotypical humans may directly connect A to C, my brain makes associated jumps that can go from A to Z to B to X to 3 to J to C. Doing things in a specific order at a specific time...it's really one I have to work against natural behaviours and continue to level-up.
  • Emotional: Depth, Frequency, and Dysregulation
    The most consistent piece of feedback I've had throughout my life & career is around my expression of emotions, needing to control them. I always knew they were a part of me, but it was frustrating & relieving to understand how deeply so. It's more difficult to not express emotions; harder to catch myself to pause. Feels can last seconds to months; returning at unexpected moments from the past or present. While they're high—especially held with high levels of stress, anxiety, fear, the whole gamut—other executive functions are less available to access. I mean, it really is #allthefeels #allthetime. Overwhelming emotions are one of those things that the current diagnostic criteria ignores, but has long been documented and a part of the ADHD experience.
  • Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD)
    When all those layers begin to stack, it piles up with a lot of criticism—perceived, received, internalized, or forgotten—that results in what the #adhdsquad collectively labels as RSD. When neurobiology is considered, my dopamine stores need constant tending or I can easily go into a downward spiral. When in negotiations or meetings, a reaction to a mis-perceived slight has, personally, caused more damage than good. It's something I need to continue learning and digging deeper to understand.

I kept asking myself, "How could I contribute in my role, if these are the expectations?"

I always come back to a version of the Serenity Prayer, to ground myself when I need to find direction:

Grant me the serenity to:
Accept things I cannot change;
Courage, to change the things I can; &
Wisdom, to know the difference.

I couldn’t change anything regarding the pandemic. I was processing a major life event inside layers of other major life events. Processing takes time. And that was in short supply to process the Request for Advice. I couldn’t keep working against myself. Whether I liked it or not, there was one thing that I did have the power to change.

I resigned as the Co-Chair of the Executive Committee of the Works Council, continuing to contribute as an elected representative.

Another Next Day: My ADHD Diagnosis

I was looking forward to this day since June; hoping for some external, medical, and professional validation of what I had started understanding of myself. Luckily, because Netherlands, setting up an appointment for diagnosis was much more easy to accomplish than I would have in many countries around the world, especially in the United States.

The seven-hour diagnosis day was divided into sessions with psychologists, psychiatrists, and computer testing, all specialized in ADHD diagnoses:

  1. Prep Work
    ADHD is a neuro-biological condition that exists throughout one’s life, consistently. There are lots of possibilities that someone doesn’t have ADHD, especially due to the amount of co-existing conditions that could contribute to like-symptoms. Part of preparation was to have people that know me well—my partner; my parents—fill out a long survey. Because the surveys demonstrated a high likelihood of ADHD, the morning was used to confirm or deny that was the case.

  2. 1hr — Intake session with a psychiatrist
    This was a Q&A session about what brought me to the conclusion of being ADHD and why I thought so: behaviors, patterns, medical history, etc. They also explained the day, what to expect throughout, and what would happen if I would be diagnosed.

  3. 1hr — Diagnostic Interview for ADHD in Adults with a psychologist
    A psychiatrist has one set of skills, psychologists an adjacent different set of skills. This was another round of Q&A but more focused on understanding my patterns of behavior, in my own words and not solely the surveys from my partner/parents.

  4. 30min — Computer Controlled QB-Test
    It’s this interesting computer-controlled test that objectively measures all three characteristics of ADHD: attention deficit, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. It was basically a computer game where I had to match shapes and colors with a reflective golf ball attached to my head that measured how much it moved throughout.

  5. 1hr — Internal Discussion
    After the morning’s tests, and while I had lunch, the team at the center discussed my results to come to a conclusion whether I was ADHD or not; and if so, what type.

  6. 45min — Diagnosis Delivery with initial psychiatrist
    We reviewed the results of the day so far: from the interviews, QB-Test, and discussions. With all the evidence combined, there was enough significant data to diagnose me as ADHD-C, Combined Type. I was given a base amount to see if medications work for me and, if so, how much. ADHD medication is an extremely well researched stimulant, with a plentitude of medications that can provide relief to ADHDers. Unluckily, while there’s plenty of medications and they don’t work for everyone.

  7. 1h30min — Let the medication take affect
    To see if the meds worked for me, I had to take them and give my body time to process. I basically went outside, mask on, and walked around the block a few times, enjoying the sunny August weather. Before I went back into the office, I already felt calm—in my mind and body.

  8. 30min — QB-Test: On medication
    I had my baseline set with the test in the morning. So, I reattached my reflective golf ball headset and started playing the shape & color game.

  9. 30min — Internal Discussion
    After I finished, the team got together again to review and discuss the results.

  10. 30min — Final Interview
    The day was almost over! I sat down with the “team lead” to review the day and discuss the outcome. The results of the medication were “textbook examples of ADHD.” To give some perspective, my head's micro-movements went from an equivalent of 27m/89ft in the golf-ball test—without medication—to 4m/13ft!

That was it! Normally, I would have also received the prescription for medication the same day. Unfortunately—and now I know why—I hadn’t actually had health insurance for the whole of 2020 because of a change of address issue with my insurer. But:

Diagnosis! This was a big day.

The room(s) where it happened

The next week, votes were cast and the Works Council had formally, temporarily, reorganized. I continued to be frought with conflict. I felt more prepared, capable, and able to contribute to this process, but unable to do so.

In the Netherlands, Works Councils have to be informed of all aspects of a downsizing: the logic, the economics, the shift of strategy, the impact on: the business, affected employees, and unaffected employees. To help understand how all the pieces fit together, the Restructuring RFA was broken into organizational and departamental chunks, detailing these aspects of why, what, and how.

I supported the Works Council members leading the areas I had the most knowledge and familiarity. We went through the RFA, line by line, role by role, number by number. We looked for inconsistencies in narrative, if the proposed impact truly did align with the strategy communicated.

If the communication, strategy, and execution shared with the Works Council—25 elected members from across the business' many departments—didn't make sense to us, how could it make sense when communicated to the broader employee base?

We collectively understood the responsibility we held to our colleagues, and the trust given by those same colleagues. We had to do the best we could do in the time we had, knowing this would dramatically impact their lives. The additional weight of being in the middle of a global pandemic—where the Travel Industry, especially, was taking a hard hit—was equally felt. From August to October, we held ourselves to these high standards, doing our due diligence using best of our abilities:

  • Asking questions for understanding and clarity;
  • Identifying gaps or misalignment between Departamental & Global strategies;
  • Proposing amendments where we saw it could be better;
  • Presenting publicly & regularly to our colleagues, keeping them informed as transparently as possible;
  • Interviewing employee's whose roles would be affected by the restructuring;
  • Interviewing the Leaders and the humans responsible for the creation, designation, & execution of the proposed changes;
  • Hiring and meeting with external subject matter experts to understand complexities we had to learn & provide feedback;
  • Proposing, critiquing, and creating a Voluntary Leave Scheme and Severance Packages for affected departments and roles;
  • Learning and constantly collaborating between ourselves, business representatives, and hired support;
  • Reviewing job descriptions, checking for accuracy & true representation of all role's responsibilities affected; and...
  • ...many, many more tasks, events, needs, etc.

We were thrown into a new level of corporate strategy of global business. It was emotionally exhausting for all: the pace grueling...and the fact we were advising on decisions that could impact the people we work alongside every day (and sometimes, even our own selves). We were regularly meeting with C-Suite Executives and their teams, at times, with extreme contention.

For me, I never expected to have this level of influence and be in such a position. After each work day, I reflected in amazement. Calls with lawyers, meetings with Board Members, questioning my boss's boss's boss's boss, adamantly and direct. The breadth and depth of the work was equally deep as it was broad. I feel I was learning an amount of material that Master's students take years to digest.

It was intense; yet my proudest contribution & achievement. It equally came at a deep personal cost to my own mental & physical health and well-being.

Medication Day

The time between my ADHD diagnosis and beginning medication was much longer lived than any calendar measure. It had been a big disappointment that I'd have to figure out what was wrong with my insurance, address that, wait for processing, and then find some relief & support. I paid my ADHD Tax with some hefty fines, re-registered for insurance, and had everything squared away. All that said:

It was here!

Others describe this moment like putting glasses on for the first time, finally able to clearly see, eyes unstrained from the overwork of focus. For me, the mental & physical stillness was more similar to days of sweating in a Dutch sauna: an intentional space of quiet, rest, and relaxation. Hopping between the extreme humidity to freezing water, resting, and back again, saunas were one of the few spaces where I was able to purposefully pursue the peace I needed, time and time again.

Stillness. Peace. Calm.

The medication elevated my mood, finding more emotional stability, the ability to direct my focus more easily, and more able to be predictably productive & deliver. While I was able to breathe, it was also very weird experience: to sit and not be overhwelmed.

While my brain understood what was happening, it took a while for my heart to catch up. They in no way "fix" or "cure" my neurobiology.

They create space. They help. The relief they provide has done wonders.

Voting Day


"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."

— Alexander Hamilton quoting Thomas Paine; Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton Mixtape; Valley Forge (Demo)

I've voted in all the Presidential elections since I turned of age, adding my voice via the ballot for Obama twice, and Clinton once. The first non-Presidential election I voted in was 2018, after finally understanding the impact local elections have on everyday life. This time, this vote: it was different.

I created my space for focus, giving this moment the respect, honor, and attention it deserved. Even better, I was now equipped to sustain & direct that attention.

Sitting down after lunch, I began my democratic due diligence, researching every candidate on the ballot, reserving the Big One for last.

For every Republican, Democract, and Independent, there was a simple process. Go to their website; read their platforms; do some search engine investigation; decide. The dog whistles blown by a certain group of candidates quickly weeded them out. I learned even more about all the local offices, researching their roles in the community, surprised at just how much local governments can do.

Looking over each candidate voted for, I was inspired. Over half of my ballot were for women and people of color. I grew excited about the future that could represent and create. Donated to quite a few before I sat down for: the final event.

I can't recall a time when a political activity resonated so spiritually, yet here I was. So much was riding on this election. After feeling violated by the last vote, and the horrors created by the 45th President & posse, I knew. Someone else had to be the 46th.

I set the space with Hamilton. Sitting, I listened to the musical, hearing all the parallels to the times we were living in. I reflected on how much the world has changed since I last sat with this paper.

I was in tears. There was so much pain, hurt, violations, mental load, anxiety, anger, and all sorts of emotions overwhelming. The words rapped around me, each line and stanza hitting in ways I couldn't, and still can't, put words to.

It wasn't just the hurt from the past. I was sobbing with depth of hope with what change could bring. I wasn't voting for the individual I had thought could be a great next President, she'd stepped out of the running months before. That was okay. This ticket meant more than one candidate. Much more.

After two hours of letting my emotions freely flow, it was time. I switched it up, chosing a new song from the Hamilton Mixtape: Valley Forge. After the first stanza, I knew that this it. So, I did.

Last time, I was warily confident. This time, overcome with hope. Everything was at stake. The song felt appropriate; time repeating itself.

I put pen to paper.

"Sixty tents full of dysentery, death, dying breaths
And dilettantes and deserters in the distance
Congress, I beg of you, justify your existence
Are you men, or just a bunch of indigenous infants?
Unite these states, give them stakes in our resistance
Do you have no influence at all, you fucking skinflints?"

—Alexander Hamilton; Hamilton Mixtape; Valley Forge (Demo)

Burnout Leave

The Works Council finalized solid Voluntary Leave & Severance Packages that would give affected employees a chance to make decisions and own their futures. They would have to worry less on economics of leave and more on themselves & their needs.

The day after signing, I took the day off. I was "at work" but couldn't handle any expectations of responsibility. Everything was being announced to the Dutch workforce.

After that, my head wouldn't face, let alone approach, anything related to work. It wouldn't touch it. When I tried, I'd soon be in tears, using the whole morning to recover. They were the days of continual sleepless nights after sleepless nights, unable to "turn off," unable to relax despite days of distance. My mind would hit an unpenetrable brick wall that, no matter how much I huffed and puffed, I couldn't get around.

I crossed the threshold of burnout.

I had been on burnout leave a couple years prior, working fewer days and seeing a therapist for support. I felt the root causes weren't addressed, but...this time was completely different. While I had a much better understanding of who I was, what was happening, and why certain things were the way they were: I couldn't keep it up.

For the first time in my life, I understood my needs, boundaries, and purpose. Recently equipped with my ADHD diagnosis, the loving support of my partner, family, & friends: I took action.

After talking with my manager, emailing the appropriate people, and closing my work laptop for what would be a long while: I went on burnout leave.

I am so incredibly lucky and privileged to be able to take the time. The Netherlands may not have everything right, but the ability and right to take paid medical leave for a long period is something I'll be eternally grateful for, and advocate in any workplace or environment I find myself in the future. This distance from what led me here—with prescribed space for rest, recovery, & reflection—should be accessible and standard anywhere, for any human.

Hello Freyja Shadowstorm!

For the longest time, I’ve wanted to get a dog. It's a responsiblity I've never taken lightly, knowing the amount of care and attention that life would need. I traveled too much; I couldn't depend on myself to take care of myself, let alone another being; I couldn't keep to routine, let alone one that the dog deserved.

After becoming engaged with a partner I appreciate, trust, and love; finally understanding my ADHD; beginning to feel “grown-up” for the first time; and—forcibly due to the pandemic—in one place for the longest period since leaving for University, I felt capable of having & sharing the responsibility.

This was the day we welcomed Freyja Shadowstorm, our Border Collie puppy, into our home!

Freyja, our new Border Collie puppy, sitting on the couch, eyes looking at the camera, with her head tilted, saying hello.

She has been a welcome addition. She teaches me, daily, on the frequency, depth, and breadth of my emotions: joy, frustration, patience, happiness, anger, patience, UGHHH, patience. Co-caring for her has been revelatory. This care and kindness I have for her, so should I extend to myself. Especially because burnout...but really, something to work into a normal practice.

American Election Week

There are moments in history that humans have a shared experience of. Those moments that you ask, "where were you when {thing} happened?" Since 2016, it was a barrage of moments that should have had that magnitude of collective impact, but there were too many to keep count, let alone aware or spend my energy on. It was a term of exhaustion.

My partner and I were on a video call with my parents, sitting on the floor, with the laptop perched on the coffee table in front of us. My sister texted the Family Group Chat with the news that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would be the next President and Vice President of the United States.

My parents and partner watched my overwhelm, unable to speak through the rapids of emotion.

We did it. It happened. Things can change. Things can get better.

Hope fulfilled; it'll soon be time to make that change count.

§  Chrysalis

I came into 2020 a caterpillar. I fed on an innate need to always be moving, doing, helping, serving. As time past, the layers of global & personal life-changing events surged, flooding with change. Despite how it felt at the time, what kept me grounded was its relativity. What a human calls rain, a caterpillar calls flood. Through my pursuit of perspective—and metaphorically running headfirst into a brick wall—I finally started to accept my needs. For the first time, I entered a focused time of rest; recovery; reflection.

When in chrysalis, everything that made that caterpillar a caterpillar has been breaking down into a sort of caterpillar goop. I can’t describe my state throughout this period of time as anything but being a big pile of Jonathan-goop. The pandemic had already warped my sense of time; taking time to pause for the first time since...I can’t recall when...was even more disorienting. I had to create something to help structure and gain perspective on my life while fulfilling my need to create.

This resulted in my typographic timelines—an intricate layered typographic curation of my work experience the past eight years—that I'd feel comfortable calling a form of art therapy. In one of my last sessions with my therapist, discussing how my understanding of my ADHD has evolved since I started working with them, a surprise joke of Truth came out of me: "Hah, the timelines are undiagnosed ADHD." We both laughed...paused...because; well, that's kind of accurate. These timelines can be found at jonathanstephens.us/timeline.

Describing myself as "caterpillar goop" has been an extremely helpful metaphor in working through my burnout. I’ve been learning to be kinder to myself, allowing myself rest, planning times for fun, wandering and discovering. I had planned to try and publish this on January 1st, and couldn’t make the deadline. Tried again with another deadline of the first two weeks of 2021. After, I accepted I needed the time, spoons, and capacity to be able to get this finished; but it would, with time.

The transfer of power to President Biden and Vice President Harris has brought surprisingly profound relief. It felt "right," like the best moment to make a transition myself. Slowly, limbs are starting to form from the Jonathan-goop. All the bits and pieces of caterpillar-Jonathan are mixing, colliding, and transforming to a different, new form.

So far, this time of chrysalis has provided perspective and naming of things I've sought and craved for my whole life. I don’t yet know when eclosion comes and I'll be ready to stretch my wings, flying forward. I'm starting to breach my burnout bubble with solidifying purpose, step by silly step. Whatever anyone considered "normal" before this pandemic...my "normal" wasn't one I will ever be going back to. After stretching, resting my wings in the sun, I'll be ready to take flight. When I do, I know it will be filled much more nourishment, magic, and light.

§  End of Chrysalis

Eclosion: 2021
Coming soon, to a screen near you

These essays are slowly catching up to real-time. It's taken a long while to get to a point where I'm able to find myself again. I've continued focusing on rest & recovery, while reflecting and discovering the rhythms of life that I need for fulfillment. Discovering one's self is relieving; acting on those discoveries is hard work that takes time. I am seeing a light at the end of this tunnel, sustained by growing knowledge of my own inner workings, propelled by hope & courage to be my whole self.

Safer and more secure, everything that made caterpillar-Jonathan's dissolved, now taking new shape & form.

Onwards; towards eclosion.


If you want to be notified when the next part is published, there are a few ways!

Thank you for reading.

Be safe; take care,
Jonathan