T is for Tired
Tired, a state that is always the case, just in varying degrees of intensity.
Of course, the irony is that whilst many autistic people are perpetually tired, it is also common for us to have difficulties with sleep too.
But that’s not why we’re tired all the time, well I suppose it has a contribution but I don’t think it is the main reason. I think the main reason is a lot more to do with the requirements of making our way in a world that is not designed for us. Making social interaction in situations we don’t understand the rules, remembering the rules of how to act in places, remembering the rules about what to say and what not to say.
That’s just the start. There is so much more that contributes to it.
Virtually all things we involve accommodating ourselves to a neurotypical and allistic way of acting, being, listening, speaking, working etc..
Just walking my daughter to school involves this. We live very close to the school so thankfully on the occasion I need to do this it is only a short experience. However, it involves sharing a footpath with many others parents and children, walking through a crowded and busy school ground with many people walking and kids running around and playing.
If you are a neurotypical person reading that you probably think, yeah ok so what, no big deal about that. That’s just an ordinary everyday thing to do.
If you are an autistic person reading you are possibly nodding your head with an understanding of what is involved in this ordinary day to day thing to do.
Faced with encountering a crowded footpath, involves a constant inner dialogue of assessing, analysing and deciding which people are the ones that I should greet and which ones shouldn’t I. Is that facial expression a friendly one that seeks a response? I am not sure. Coupled with this is dealing with the how to negotiate the space, which way do I dodge and weave as I pass this person, oh-oh, that person is stopping to have a chat with that other person, what do I do, do I just go around, do I say excuse me?
Then the school yard, people going in all directions, words flying, kids playing, it’s a bit of a nightmare, with working out your bodily space, again who do I interact with, was that person wanting to interact or not? Was that greeting just a social greeting that I return and keep going or was it perhaps a signal of wanting further interaction.
This small ordinary everyday task is difficult, it is a task that takes up significant emotional, sensory and intellectual resources. It contributes to the state of being tired.
I confess, I avoid this task as often as possible, and thankfully my family members are generally able to do it for me.
I used to be a primary school teacher, I did this for a few years. It was a major contributor to a state of perpetual tiredness. A day of interacting with 20 plus young children, negotiating all the social interactions of that. Often meetings at the end of the day with other staff.
Actually, I was pretty good with the kids side of things, but the doing stuff with another staff was somewhat of a disaster for me. When it came to reading all the unwritten rules of the workplace, understanding when the boss asked for opinions on an issue for example, well the difficulty there was trying to work out the times they really meant that or when they just wanted it to look like they were consulting with staff. I pretty much always got that wrong.
Then there were the times where staff complained about things, so thinking you were doing the right thing you raise it at a meeting only to be left there as the only person speaking up.
This is a situation of just being like an alien in exile, not understanding which rules applied in which situation. It contributed greatly to perpetual exhaustion.
What I am saying in this, is that just living as an autistic in a neurotypical world is an exhaustion creating reality. One could easily interpret it all as just complaining about how life is, and I suppose some will always consider that that is what is occurring. However, to those I would say, try to imagine your life, as though you walk around seeing everything through a translucent or opaque reality and every moment you have, every interaction you have is an academic, emotional exercise in assessing what the rules of this interaction will be and select from your known rules the best one. And that’s before the interaction actually happens.
I can only truly speak for myself in this, but I imagine it is similar for other autistic people too. None of those interactions come naturally or automatically. They just don’t. And they don’t, not because they can’t but because society has taught that our natural response is not different but the wrong one.
Our so called diverse and open society and its rules are in fact very narrow and quite closed. Ostracising occurs pretty darn quickly when you get them wrong.
T is for Tired…
There is a sense, well that’s how it seems anyway, that we autistics can just learn to be typical. And to a point there is some legitimacy in that, however, from my point of view, that way of acting and being will always be an act, a persona, a costume put on. It is not natural and it is tiring and exhausting. And there is a catch, and, I think it is a big catch.
The catch is that as we teach autistics and neurodivergent people so-called social skills, interaction rules, workplace rules, conversation skills, whatever you want to call them, we build up the plethora of information to be sorted through and analysed in every situation before being applied.
The catch is that as more resources like this are provided, using those resources contributes more to the level of tiredness and exhaustion we experience.
The catch is that to use these resources is like going in and out of a mental filing cabinet for every interaction and finding the right file, then the right document in that file and then, hoping against hope we have made the correct decision and we are not about to commit a social faux par.
All of this makes me incredibly tired. Exhausted, in fact, and sometimes it gets all too much and all that I can do is retreat into my cave. To kind of shut down and just recharge with doing pretty much nothing.
T is for Tired…