Self care

I have had many conversations recently about the importance of self care. With friends struggling with their health, or who have had to support someone who is. With friends who have a demanding workload and are simply trying to find enough time to eat and sleep. Most of all with my mother and stepfather, who have been through a lot, taken on a lot, and still supported me a lot.

My life is about as full as it has ever been. I’ve got a job which, including the commute, keeps me out for 11 hours every weekday. I take Chinese evening classes on Thursdays. Choir on Saturdays. Gym, cooking, writing, and blogging when I have time. I’ve found a church where I belong, with a worship band I’m in once a month. Suffice it to say I’m very lucky indeed.

The thing is, though, it’s time consuming. Plus at work, however easier things are now, I still struggle with being an autistic person surrounded by neurotypicals. I also don’t get much time to either exercise or rest. In the limited amount of time I spend at home, I’m usually exhausted. And I’ve come to realise the importance of looking after my mind and body. Like so:

  • Earlier bedtimes. Despite feeling uncool next to people my age who thrive on long nights out, I’m stricter with myself about this. I’m a light sleeper, I hate being overtired at work, and I have a 7:30am bus to catch. Now I try to get into my pyjamas at 9:30pm, with minimal screen time or work for 30-60 minutes beforehand. It’s a small difference, yet I’m much less sleepy in the afternoons.
  • Healthier lunches. I’ve started having salad for 3 out of 5 work lunches, and at the risk of sounding like a snob, I genuinely enjoy it. I keep up the sandwiches and random snack lunches twice a week for the variety, but increasing my vegetable intake while reducing refined carbs and sugar does help me feel better in myself.
  • My work routine. I have at least 2-3 scheduled water breaks (not counting lunch) during the day, especially the afternoon. It keeps me moving as well as drinking, and helps me stay alert.
  • Emotional support. If I’m stressed or unhappy, I need a mix of alone time and emotional support. I keep a couple of hours to myself everyday regardless, and when I need to be heard, I’m lucky enough to be able to chat with my parents, or message a friend.
  • Finding something in each week to look forward to. This is hopefully about as cliched as I’m going to get. Once summer was over and I passed my probation, every day and week felt just like the last one. Before I even realised I was doing it, I began thinking about each upcoming week, and what made it even a little special. One week it was visiting family. Another, it was a new book coming out. Next week, it’ll be the first day of advent. Bring on the countdown to Christmas!

As much as I feel like an old lady, trying to go to bed at 9:30, self care is a key part of staying healthy. If you look after your body, heart, and mind, you can give so much more of yourself to the things you do and the people you know. So to conclude, may I ask what do you do in the way of self care?

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Autistic frustration

One of the many assumptions I’ve had people make about me is that I must be prone to anger outbursts. I don’t remember anyone saying it to my face, but I do remember Mum telling me about people who have thought that. Needless to say, this isn’t the case – Mum has always said if I was any less aggressive I’d go into a coma – but I realise it’s true for many people with Asperger’s and other forms of autism.

Outbursts are often listed as a symptom of autism, which, at first glance, makes sense. Plenty of children and adults experience this, whether due to frustration, sensory overload, stress, and many other things. But then I thought about some of the more basic signs and symptoms of autism in comparison, and I came to the conclusion that anger outbursts aren’t a direct symptom of autism. They’re an expression of built up frustration.

It sounds like the line between the two is very blurry. Put it like this: symptoms of autism are directly caused by differences in the brain. For example: overall high intelligence, but trouble reading faces and body language. Misinterpreting things people say. Different reactions to touch, and other sensory information. Fixation on topics of interest. I’ve reflected, rambled, and ranted about them often enough.

As I write this, I’m thinking about how it drives me mad when people see autism as a bad thing…while feeling fed up with it and wishing it wasn’t an issue. But in a way, that proves my point: autism doesn’t cause frustration. Having autism in a world full of – and made for – people who don’t does.

Autistic frustration is a range of issues in its own right. It comes from spending half your life having to explain yourself, and the other half needing people to explain themselves. It comes from having to work twice as hard just to keep up in social and academic settings made for neurotypical people. Having to grit your teeth when people talk down to you, or make assumptions about you, because you know they mean well, and you don’t want to hurt their feelings. Wanting to connect with your peers but lacking the know how. Then, just to top it all, not having the social skills to communicate all this.

Which, thinking about it, is partly why I blog: while my face-to-face people skills have improved, I still communicate more naturally through writing. It may feel like a chore at times, but it’s still what I do. Besides, it’s important to help people understand. I don’t expect miracles from other people, myself, or my writing. Accepting that sometimes things are different for me is what helps me be less self conscious. And if you can overcome self-consciousness, even if only a little way, you will find it easier to see beyond the negatives.