I woke up this morning experiencing something that I can only describe as an ’emotional hangover’. I think all the emotions I experienced yesterday took more of a toll on me than I expected, and everything was just too much.
I tried to ignore that feeling of too much, until a really innocent comment on Facebook made me all teary. I knew on an intellectual level that the comment was not made with any ill intentions; in fact, it was a helpful one. But, emotionally, it was the thing that opened the floodgates.
So, I decided that Facebook probably wasn’t going to be good for me today. I switched off. I sat in silence for a bit… I wondered how I was going to tackle this week when everything just seems too much. It’s not really that I have a lot to do. It’s more that I simply can’t find the spoons needed to do them. It’s a horrible feeling – knowing what to do, wanting to do it, but just not being able to figure out how to start.
So, I sat quietly for a little bit more. I knew that I could probably have gone the entire day just sitting quietly but that wouldn’t help me tomorrow because I would wake up with the same feeling of overwhelm. I know that this feeling signals impending shut down. Sometimes, like today, I recognise it, and I can do something about it, but sometimes, I don’t realise and I shut down. Once that happens, it takes me a while to become fully functional again.
So, I made a list, and then I made another, and a few more. I wrote down everything that I needed to do this week under relevant sections. Then, I looked at my lists, and decided what I could realistically achieve today. I broke each thing down into the smaller steps that they involve (e.g., laundry – put clothes in machine, take clothes out of the machine, hang clothes up). Then, I ordered them so that I didn’t have to think about what was next. I could continue through my day crossing out items, and getting stuff done.
Why on earth am I sharing this with you? It’s because this is a common experience for autistic people – the desire to do, but being unable to. Autistic inertia. Every part of you wants to do the things that you know you need to do, but you just can’t. It’s frustrating and annoying, and it is really difficult to overcome that. Sometimes, lists like the one that I described work, but sometimes, they don’t, and that just creates more pressure to do without being able to. You get stuck in a cycle until it ends in a shut down or a meltdown. My list worked so shutdown has been averted – for today at least. I have my list ready for tomorrow. I can continue on auto pilot for a few days until my emotional hangover recedes.
So, I guess what I want to say is that if you know an autistic person and you see them going through this, don’t add to their pressure by forcing them to do things. Ask them if they need help figuring out what to do first, but don’t try and cajole them into doing something, or shame them for not getting anything done. Trust me: they’re just as frustrated with themselves as you might be.