Some days are bright and sunny in my brain. On those days, I feel almost invincible. Whatever I touch turns to gold, and I accomplish all of my goals.
Other days, I feel defeated and sunk. On those days, I’m a sunk person. Whatever I touch turns to stone, and life feels like treading mud.
That’s OK; everybody has days like that. It’s part of the human condition. (It’s “more OK” when my brain-sun is shining than it is when I’m feeling sunk, but that’s neither here nor there.)
I think, however, that people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum can be a little more prone to having those “sunk” days and feeling that way. Because our neurons are like guitar strings that are tuned to a different key – a key that isn’t readily recognized by our world. It’s kind of like a Westerner listening to music from India, which contains quarter-tones; those quarter-tones don’t exist on the Western music scale. We set out each morning to live our lives, thrusting the shovel into the ground to unearth what the day has in store for us and…instead of striking gold, we sometimes strike useless iron.
And I’ve also noticed that even though (I’m guessing that) neurotypical people have those days, too, but (I’m guessing again that) it’s not a (conventionally considered) “mundane” activity that did them in, that threw the final straw on the pile on their back.
I’m guessing that for those who aren’t on the spectrum, it wasn’t having to make a phone call that caused them to feel “done in”.
I’m guessing that for neurotypical people, that final straw didn’t come from having to make a quick stop at the grocery store and (eeek!) actually talk to the checkout clerk.
It probably wasn’t even a doctor’s appointment that sunk them. Or a small, short, and sweet staff meeting at work. Or a tense encounter that “only” lasted 15 minutes.
I’ll go out on a limb here and wager that it probably wasn’t even a trip to the post office that induced an overwhelming desire to get home ASAP and stay there…even if it was already one o’clock.
Sometimes it takes me a considerable amount of willpower just to convince myself to wash my hair or negotiate a time with myself at which I’ll brush my teeth. Deciding whether to wear something different or wear the same (clean enough) clothes today as I did yesterday is actually a thing. It doesn’t mean I’m a slob; it means, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” (That’s assuming it’s not “broke”, of course, a barometer of which I’ve realistically set.)
To the non-autistic world, this may sound very…unusual. It may even be baffling to many.
I spend an obscene amount of time observing the world, gazing with semi-fascination at the people scurrying around, going to the bank, the salon, a restaurant, and even (eeek! again) the mall.
Neurotypical people, through my admittedly-biased lens, live an incredibly cluttered life, and make it look effortless. They take their children to school, to after-school activities, to the fair, to the park, and so on.
They’re always electing to do other activities, like styling their hair or putting on makeup. They’re always running errands. Some of the hip, trendy exceptionally-extroverted among them even even go extra places, on a voluntary basis! Some of these places will even be crowded. And for some, the more crowded, the better, for they’re not going to those places for any other reason than it’s a hopping, trendy, A-list sort of place and they’re there to be seen! And by as many other people as possible! (This warrants a third “eeek!”)
I’m certainly not one of those people. I’m not the casual errand runner, nor the extra-active parent, nor the outgoing, extroverted hipster at the club.
After work, you’ll find me at home. I’m not cowering, and if I haven’t run out of spoons, I won’t have given up and let the world win. I haven’t thrown in the towel; I’ve just retreated. You’ll find me reading, creating, collecting, pondering, contemplating. Contemplating the mysteries of the macrocosm is probably my way of meditating.
I could probably do what those “other people” do. But that long a time spent outside my sanctuary, in a watery external environment way too salty for this freshwater fish, would at the very least make me a little cranky. It would overwhelm my system. I could put in a day like that, but it would cost me.
It might cost me my words. My ability to express myself, already on earthquake-prone ground, might slip away before it has a chance to tell me it’s leaving.
It might cost me some work time. I would need extra time to recover and recharge–time that has to come from somewhere. When I’m recovering from demanding too much of my system, it manifests for me as a lack of motivation, an inability to talk myself into doing something conventionally thought to be “constructive”, a tough time getting started. I find it hard to keep going and conjure up enough stamina to get through the day and accomplish a satisfactory amount of work. I simply can’t focus. I can’t talk my brain into doing something when it doesn’t feel like doing anything and it won’t budge, even if what’s on the agenda is particularly important.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter that I have a meeting coming up, or some other deadline approaching.
It costs me time at home, too. Time I could be taking to engage in more pleasurable and constructive activities. The kind that relax you, giving you extra juice, not just replenishing lost energy. The kind that enrich you. The kind that enlighten you. The kind that expand your horizons.
If I have overspent my energetic resources, the first priority becomes to recharge and reset. That has to come first, and it has to be complete before I can move on to other, more enjoyable activities. Even before I can begin to knock out less fun, but necessary tasks.
Recharging always comes first. It pulls rank.
It doesn’t matter if my laundry basket is full and I’ve run out of clean clothes.
It doesn’t matter if the bank account needs to be balanced and the statements verified.
It doesn’t matter if my computer is in need of updating (given, in rare instances, that I’ve actually agreed to do so).
It doesn’t matter if the house needs to be cleaned or there are (rinsed) dishes in the sink.
It doesn’t matter if I’ve begun to accumulate a little oil in my hair, a situation easily remedied by a good washing. But my hair is long, thick, coarse, and dry, and our water is very hard. My tresses are in themselves their own horror story. Washing it takes at least a half hour. Drying must be done by air, without appliances, which takes another four to eight hours. If I only have so much downtime before the evening or weekend is done, and I needed to take the first chunk off the top and devote it to recharging, do I really want to invest another big chunk of it doing my hair and enduring that ordeal, or can it go one more day?
You can imagine the conversations I have with myself in my head. There are a lot of potential justifications for putting it off just a little longer. There’s an endless supply of virtual get-out-of-jail-free cards. The brain can be extremely convincing.
My brain is heavy and a little obstinate. It throws its weight around for no real reason other than to show me who’s boss. It’s like a small mildly-defiant child in a sulky mood, with their arms crossed tightly, their lower lip jutting out, a frown on its face, and a refusal to budge. I have to coax it, negotiate with it, sweet-talk it, promise it rewards later.
Rewards like reading, blogging, or surfing around on social media. Rewards like exploring the deep recesses of Google Images for just the right digital art. Rewards like singing along to the songs my mental jukebox keeps playing on repeat.
But if I negotiate just right, then there are plenty of things “everybody else does” that I can do. I can summon the extra effort that it’s going to take. The scales can be tipped in the favor of the benefits, and the costs weigh less.
Other things, I don’t think I’ll ever quite be able to do no matter what. Like being outgoing, trend-setting, and witty; I can’t come up with more than about two witty comebacks in a row, even on a good day. Or things like having charisma; when the universe was handing out charisma, I was smelling the flowers with Ferdinand the bull or something; I was completely absent.
Sometimes I even notice times in which I can’t do things that I could do yesterday. It happens. That’s where the recharging becomes extra-important.
But I’ve noticed one thing: since realizing that I’m an Aspie/autistic person after all, I’ve stopped lamenting nearly so much about not being able to do (or finding it much more difficult to do) what seems to come effortlessly for “everyone else” (whoever they are). I’ve noticed that I’ve started accepting me for me, probably for the first time. And I’ve noticed that I’m much more comfortable that way. That doesn’t happen overnight (at least, not for me); it’s a process. I’ll keep working on it. But each day, I feel a little more solid, and a little less “sunk”.