Hello everybody! A bit of a tonal shift towards positivity this week.
After re-reading my last three blogs, I was struck by how critical of myself I am during the process of a working week; any working week. I demand full productivity from myself, knowing that my day will have to consist of physical exercise, learning Japanese, reading the news (though I’m trying to limit that), cuddles with my partner and writing my daybook – even before I’ve written anything. I know this, yet it doesn’t feel that way.
Don’t get me wrong, I get things done, it just never seems enough. When I see other people talk about the books they’ve been reading, the cooking and gardening they’ve done and the projects they’ve got on the go; I always feel that life is passing me by. I spent years not getting enough done, I feel that I’m struggling to catch up. “I’m going to die soon!” I’ve been known to say, “it’ll be a blink of an eye before I’m 90.”
Dates matter to me. I’ve always been good at history, due to the stories and characters that intermingle and intercut. Actions have consequences†. I’ve also got an excellent memory for dates and years, always checking how old someone was when they died; though I’m not the kind of autistic who can tell you what day of the week the 18th of January 1783 was. I’d have to google that. When I was younger, I had specific ages by which I should have achieved certain things, specifically in comedy.
Time, therefore, is a real thing to me. I measure myself by it, as evident in today’s blog. I write checklists and keep to them, I write my journal to put the past day properly in the past. I can check my mental health by reading back how I was feeling in recent days.
My friend – who’s also autistic – uses time as a yardstick too. But they’re more concerned with sticking to (usually self-imposed) resolutions, achieving a so-called ‘perfect run’. For someone seriously uninterested in video games, I had to explain the concept. They believe that every month starts again and they have to fulfill certain criteria without fail. If they don’t, they press the f***-it button and stop doing whatever they were doing well, be that exercise, eating well and not overspending. This puts them on a constant tightrope walk, desperately trying to not mess up and therefore failing the entire month.
Their overall level of wellbeing therefore fluctuates with where in the month they are and how long it has been since the last time they messed up. They find it really difficult to get back on the wagon after messing up once. I used to be like that, before I started writing my daybook. It hasn’t solved my issues with not getting things done – it just means I forget less. On the days where I can’t, I just have to tell myself that I’ve had exhausted days before and that they’re not the end of the world.
I don’t think I’ve got ADHD. I struggle not with sticking to a task I’ve chosen, but with starting it. On top of being exhausted several days a week, I can feel huge anxiety around starting a task – even one I am desperate to begin. I do anything I can just to not get started with whatever I’ve set myself (remember me doing my taxes the other week? That.). §
Yesterday, we had another conversation. My friend was struggling with productivity and knowing how to quantify it. They’ve been trying to get stuff done on a creative project and found themselves getting distracted, setting themselves up to do 20 minutes of work but only managing 3 – if at all. This led to frustration, as there was no clear yardstick as to what they should be doing on a daily basis – what was enough. He wanted a clearly delineated amount of time that was the minimum for productivity each day. What amount is acceptable and what is them being “lazy”?
I felt massive recognition. Reading the last few blogs, you’ll know that I do. I struggle with having days where I’m productive and days where nothing comes out. Some days, I do tiny bits and some days I battle for hours and don’t get anything done. The hardest part? Truly feeling that this is ok.
The most difficult thing for both of us to accept is that – lockdown or no lockdown – whatever we produce is what we produce. Not because we shouldn’t produce the things we want, but to make ourselves more – rather than less – productive. Since I stopped writing creative and autistic-activist projects into my daybook before actually doing them, I feel less worried about even looking at it. If we don’t spend our days beating ourselves up, we have far more time to recover and actually get things done.
Yesterday, I woke up and felt vulnerable. My partner realised immediately and told me. I’d picked it up too, I was shaky. Therefore, I decided that today I’d just do a deep clean of the flat. In the end, I managed to do Japanese, some reading and made a few notes for the book. If I’d spend hours and hours staring at a screen and beating myself up, I would have gotten nothing done at all. Doing the physical work of cleaning the flat, it actually meant that my brain stabilised throughout the day. A lost day became a successful one.
A day later, I feel ready, full of energy and I’ve already done most of my checklist. It’s ironic, but the way to achieve what we want to achieve on a daily basis is to not focus on actual work but on creating the safety in our brains that allow us to focus on our special interests.
This is my current strategy:
– every morning, check in with yourself
– take your brain-temperature and decide whether today is a working day, a cleaning day or an Animal Crossing-day
– do not set yourself tasks ahead of time that you might not achieve
– note down achievements, not unticked boxes
– this strategy will lead to greater productivity and a more healthy relationship with yourself at the same time.
I’ll report back next week how this has gone, I’ll ask my friend to do the same. Let me know about how you’re doing in the comments below! Please share the
This week’s questions are:
1. How do you manage your sense of time? Do you think autistic people experience time differently to their neurotypical counterparts?
2. Are you easily distracted, struggle with starting tasks, both or – god forbid – neither? Let me know where you feel you are.
3. As lockdowns start to loosen across Europe and the US, how will you be changing your routines?
Lastly, I’ve been having wonderfully complex conversations about culture and society with an autistic friend, whose black-white thinking means they struggle with knowing how to respond to certain discussions around cultural products. We had a deep discussion that included ethics, social responsibility and ‘being good’. If you’d like me to discuss how I believe autistic people benefit from a greater understanding of philosophy, ethics, language and culture from an autistic perspective, please let me know. I can also discuss interpersonal support, radicalisation-prevention and gaining social nous without indoctrination.
† Or at least, that’s what it seems like. Actual history is often a mishmash of coincidences and people using unexpected events to their advantage. The narrative cohesion I liked in history probably had more to do with why I like fiction.
§ Please watch Asperger’s From The Inside’s video about Autism vs. ADHD, which is about the differences between autistic and ADHD brains – though he doesn’t cover the combination of the two in this video. Find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNgLrPkp2y4 My friend and many other autistic people I know have both. Let me know if you’d like me to research on this, I can put it in another blog!