These are a collection of thoughts that occurred to me over the past few days and that might be useful. They are unedited, often unfocused and might appear in different contexts afterwards.
When I desperately need to get work done, my procrastination-instinct takes over. Though after years of working with an often flaky attention-span, I’ve learnt to deal with it. I switch between hyperfocus and no focus at all. Yesterday, I tried to get work done but my brain wasn’t playing ball. So, instead, I plugged in to podcasts and did physical work. I hoovered the flat and started small gardening projects. I was using my body and my brain got to recuperate. Result? I did over three hours of work on the foundational documents for the Autistic League.
I have strong a tendency for useful procrastination; if I can’t do a specific task, I do other useful things. They may not be the thing I want to do, but they’re necessary all the same. This is why I prefer not to put all my energy into one specific job, but to have a to-do list I can dip in and out of. This may lead to much useful work being done on this website and the League manifesto, but not directly on the book. Those are still victories to be rewarded with downtime and rest. Other good parts: the house is clean and there may be homegrown vegetables in a few weeks.
I work as a mentor for young people on the autism spectrum. During this lockdown, this specific young person often feels at a loss as to what to do. What I did was introduce a checklist, with two big jobs to focus their attention on. One was a special interest they would have done anyway but now in a quantifiable way, for three hours a day. The second was more academic, two hours a day. An hour a day of physical exercise and an hour and a half of social interaction with friends completes the day. Whether they actually manage to complete this checklist on a daily basis is not that important. The fact is that their brain works better within a system, so they are more productive than they would have been without one. And on bad days, they feel less guilty for not getting anything done.
What I’ve learnt over the past few years is that if I don’t tick every box on my daily checklist, I shouldn’t try to make up the next day. My priority is to get enough done, whilst taking appropriate care of my brain. I can’t be productive if I’m not healthy.
Working on the Autistic League foundational documents yesterday, I googled the phrases “autistic and good in a crisis”. At the time of writing, early April 2020, there were no results for that specific phrase (even better, “autistic and in charge” was a googlewhack). I know of a few autistic people who are struggling with the lockdown, especially those in complete isolation or living with housemates they wouldn’t have chosen of their own accord. But many of us are coping admirably well. We get work done, we are pro-active. We are able to get things done. Our houses are clean(-ish) and our admin tasks are in the out-pile.
At my day job, I’ve visibly struggled with anxiety and depression. This means that my colleagues see me as more vulnerable than others with regard to stressful situations. Yet over the past month, as COVID-19 threatened the stability of the organisation, I’ve been more reliable than most. I am not as affected by the general stress around the virus, getting things done and being able to jump in at the last moment. I find it more exhausting to be in spaces neurotypicals find relaxing such as busy pubs and restaurants. I find it difficult to be the only one in an anxious state while everyone else is relaxed. But when everyone is anxious, I am able to put my own anxieties aside and be the safe pair of hands that most didn’t believe I could be. This may look callous, but I’ve lived with anxiety my entire life. I know what it’s like to feel the ground disintegrating under my feet. Now everyone else feels that too, I feel less alone. I go into business-mode and get things done.
Therefore, I’m claiming the phrase “autistic and good in a crisis.” Welcome googlers. Now, what was it I was supposed to be doing?