I’m all out of Spoons (I’m so lost without them)

(Title is meant to be read to the tune of “I’m all out of love”)

As many of you are already aware, I am on the autism spectrum. While I’ve mentioned this a of times, I don’t think I’ve really gone into detail of what that means specifically for me. Most of the time, it doesn’t mean much because I have low support needs (I have level 1 autism, which is the “mildest” form of autism) and for the most part, I self-regulate and manage my struggles without too much in terms of accommodations and allowances. But it does mean I have to be careful about how much I commit to and how I schedule big things in my life, as well as it means that I have to work a bit harder at mastering certain social things and I have to be very intentional and strict with myself about my time management. The reason I’m mentioning it now may seem obvious to some of you, and others not so much, but I think I might have flown a little too close to the sun these last few days. I’m finding myself now at a point where I have to be very careful, or else I may end up overwhelming myself. I’m hoping that this blog will serve as a bit of an explanation for how autism personally impacts my life and give a bit of context to some of the more weird choices I may make in the next few days.

Because I’m autistic sometimes I find that I need breaks at times when other people don’t; things that don’t make other people tired take a lot more out of me. Some of the big spoon thieves in my life (the things that take away my energy) are things like loud spaces, social interaction, presenting things, wearing uncomfortable clothes, and doing new things. In the last two days I’ve encountered all of these things. Because of that, I need a few days to build back up my spoon reserve (if you have no idea what this whole spoons thing means, I’m referring to spoon theory, which you can look up for more info, but basically its just a theory about how people with chronic illness or other conditions, such as autism, have to manage their energy levels and pick and choose what they do in order to prevent themselves from burning out). It’s hard being this busy and this social when I’m autistic because for the most part, people are unaware of my limitations unless I bring them up, and I tend to push myself right up to said limits because I hate the idea that I have them.

While the last week has been great, it’s been pushing at my limits. We didn’t get home from Storm Lake until fairly late last night, and we had a presentation at 9 this morning. Long hours of socializing, presenting and trying new things (Like leading a focus group) have worn away at me. The presentation this morning made me nervous. I am not fond of public speaking. It’s especially hard for me to not fidget (stim) when I talk, and I struggle with making the right amount of eye contact as well when addressing a group. But, thankfully these things are now over and, regardless of the struggles, both the Storm Lake visit and the presentation went over pretty well. It was nice being able to practice giving a presentation before our big serious ones later in the program.

So for the next few days I’m going to focus on recovering spoons. For me, this means a few things. First, I have to cut out all the things in my schedule that I don’t need to do. This means saying no to extra events like hanging out with my fellow interns, or going out for meals or to the movies. It means eating foods that I know won’t bother me. I jokingly call this my “toddler food”, because most of my safe foods are very basic and the kind of food that little kids enjoy (PB&J sandwiches, buttered noodles, chicken nuggets, you get the idea). It means choosing to eat my food at the office or in quiet places instead of going to the cafeteria which has lots of people and loud noises. It means forcing myself not to work after I get home from work, even though I do enjoy it. It means going to bed earlier than normal. And it means being kind to myself and not being mad that I need to take these steps for the sake of my mental health. The good news is that in VRAC I feel as if I can do these things. And what’s even better is the work for the next few days is perfect for this kind of recovery.

Now that the actual data collection is done (yay) its time to analyze it (also yay, but not as loudly). This means that we’ll be taking the answers gathered from our surveys as well as the transcripts from our focus groups and we will be reading and studying them until we figure out what we learned from them that are important. This probably sounds a little vague to some of you, but I’m not really sure how better to explain it. Basically, we gathered a lot of information in a few different forms, and we have to review it and tag it and find patterns, and document the themes and patterns we find. This is the perfect kind of work for when I’m getting to this point. Not only do I love reading and looking for patterns, but the somewhat monotonous solitary tasks are great for allowing me time to recuperate while also still maintaining productivity. Right now I am waiting for the audio file from my focus group to finish transcribing so that I can begin tagging some of the common themes that were touched upon by the students. I am excited to actually get to review what they said and I think it’ll be really fun to try and condense that into it’s most concentrated ideas.

Anyway, this was a bit of a longer blog but I think it’s important that I share a bit how having autism (and ADHD) can impact me, because the way that people learn about these things is through the people around them and I think it’s just nice when people understand a little bit more about how I act and why I do things the way I do. And I also think it’s good to share these things because I didn’t know I was autistic for a long time because I didn’t know that the struggles I faced were not things that everyone went through. It was through hearing about these struggles from other autistic people that I began to understand what was going on. Before then, I believed that these differences were personal flaws that were somehow my fault. I think explaining them and not being ashamed of how I am different is essential to the management of my differences, and explaining my needs helps me later if I do need to advocate for myself. If you actually read all the way through this, I’m impressed and I award you 47 awesome points. Congratulations, and thanks for listening.

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