Self-care is a human need that gets overlooked and forgotten. I would venture to say that it’s a basic need, right up there with eating and sleeping. Self-care encompasses these activities, but with a greater awareness and a more focused mindset.
For example, everybody gets a certain amount of sleep. But how many of us get enough sleep? How many of us ensure that our surrounding environment is optimal for high-quality sleep? Conversely, how many of us (like myself) fall asleep in front of electronic screens, with too much city light coming in through the window? How many of us stay up a little too late or set our alarms to wake us up at a time that, although it may not be entirely our choice, is a little earlier than our bodies would have preferred? How many of us have to take medication in order to sleep properly, or to have enough energy when we wake up (caffeine could qualify for the latter)?
Self-care can be defined as:
“any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated.”
Well, that certainly narrows it down. (Not.)
Self-care is sort of an umbrella term that can take on any one of several meanings, used in any one of several contexts. Some use it reference to a healthcare continuum of sorts, in which self-care becomes the antithesis of depending on a healthcare provider for answers.
The most contemporary usage I’ve seen is within the realm of partaking in “little” “extra” activities that one can do in order to gain greater health, both mentally and physically. Typically, I’ve seen the concept and the term used alongside trendy “wellness” jargon (which I use myself and I’m not opposed to), such as “cultivating rituals”, “creating spaces”, “living with purpose/awareness”, and “mindfulness”.
This sits in stark contrast (to the point where it’s almost perceived as “granola”) to the conventional world in which most of us were raised, in which we were taught to get ahead by slaving to the grind and believing in a dog-eat-dog workplace.
At home, a typical household might eat dinner in front of the nightly news, watch an after-dinner prime-time show, or perhaps check email and surf social media websites, and go to bed, only to get up the next morning and do it all over again, complete with a latte to open our eyes enough to survive rush hour traffic.
On weekends, the conventional parameters allow for housework, yard work, shopping, and whatever else. But regardless, from start to finish, most people in general find themselves stuck on a hamster wheel, an unfortunate predicament known as The Rat Race.
Very little room for conscientious self-care there. In fact, it probably doesn’t cross the minds of very many people. That’s starting to change, little by little, but it’s slow in coming, and it’s mostly borne of necessity.
We still pretty much live in a society without an established value placed
Where has such neglect gotten us? Well, I won’t bore you with dismal statistics of chronic disease and psychiatric issues, but let’s just say they’re staggering. The developed-world human race is suffering. People laugh about “first world problems”, and the “problems” they’re referring to aren’t really all that catastrophic. The way I see it, there’s a much more serious “first world problem”: the lack of self-care, a shortage of mindfulness, and flimsy concept (at best) of wellness rituals and psychologically correct spaces.
This can’t be good. This runs completely contrary to how the human body was designed to function.
And everything I’ve said so far could be applied to anybody, regardless of their neurological orientation. The health effects of too much stress and too little stress relief begin to accumulate mind-body-soul debt.
Now, consider the Asperger’s/autistic neurological orientation. Complete with its sensory sensitivity, the enormous amount of energy it often takes in order to conduct daily life in a world that runs opposite of how we were wired, the lack of accommodation and understanding, and the processing of ourselves, our lives, and our world that demands so much of our available resources.
If our brains can’t prioritize the sensory information coming in and rank it according to importance, then we get deluged. If we’re having to expend–what? Three? Four? Five? times the energy of a neurotypical person to interact in our world (imagine a computer that has to run an emulator; everything slows down), then our energy mysteriously disappears fairly quickly. If we’re processing everything we see, hear, smell, touch, taste, think, and feel at full-on volume, and we’re carrying out this processing activity a lot more thoroughly than most (by systemizing, making associations, connecting past with present, and so on), then it’s going to take us longer.
And because our cells (brain and other) are built like everyone else’s with similar capabilities, requirements, and limitations, then, well, we just have to work harder—to do everything.
Self-care isn’t nearly as much of an option for the general populace as they might believe. (Just look at where the lack of self-care has gotten society in general.) Which means that it certainly isn’t an option for us–the people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. In fact, it’s doubly (if not triply) important for us.
A person’s health, in simple terms, can be subjectively and informally quantified by the amount of support we have coming in (physical, nutritional, emotional, relational, etc) minus that which is demanded of us (by work, school, family, significant others, friends, activities, our environment, sensory stimuli, stressors of various types, any other health issues, other obligations, etc). Whatever resilience and resources (on average) we have left over at the end of each day determines our health over the long term.
So, the first step to practicing effective self-care on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum is to identify that which drains us, costs us, spends us, or wears us down/out.
In addition to trying to help and support others, I’m also writing this out for myself as a little informal “worksheet” of sorts. In that spirit, my “drainers” can be:
- Certain types of people
- Certain activities, like venturing out, driving, talking, etc.
- Certain environments or stimuli, especially if excessive or the wrong type
- Being out and about for too long
- Being around too many people
- Being around any number of people for too long
- Having to interact, especially with less familiar people
- Masking and/or acting
- Excess stress
- Excess anxiety or worry
- Excess physical activity
- Excess mental activity
- Certain weather (heat, old, humidity, rain, clouds)
- Physical conditions (pain, cold/flu, allergies, constipation, etc)
- Other chronic health conditions (EDS, autoimmune disease, dental cavities, etc)
- Certain medications (blood pressure lowering, cholesterol lowering, insulin, etc)
- Diet (not enough protein, not enough fresh foods or too many processed foods, not enough water/fluid, too much sugar, low intake in general, etc)
Anything and everything can knock one’s equilibrium off balance and steal one’s energy, depleting one’s resources and thinning out one’s resilience.
The good news is, there’s a lot of room for improvement; it’s not like I’m already doing everything right and still having issues. This means there’s hope–I can take steps on my own to make life better.
And that’s the topic for the next post 🙂