This past week has felt like one of the longest weeks that I can remember in a long time. To be blunt, I have been sick for almost the entire week. And while I am feeling better, I acknowledge that my patience is almost at a breaking point.
Let me explain: I hate being sick. I do not personally know of any people that enjoy being sick, but I really hate being sick. And I am not talking about low-level and medium-level headaches. I get those frequently and usually work through them while only barely acknowledging them. I am talking about being sick to the point of altering my normal routine just to get through the day.
To compensate, when I am not sick, I try to take good care of myself, eating healthy foods, drinking lots of water, taking breaks, and relaxing when I need to. I am keenly aware that if I do not take care of myself, the things I cherish in my life will start to fall apart. One of those things that helps me take care of myself is to keep busy. I like to look back at the past week and know that I have accomplished something that I feel was useful. It is not out of fear that I have this work ethic, just a personal drive to effect positive change, even small change. Knowing that I have made a positive change, no matter how small, helps me find peace with myself and helps me to keep moving forward, despite whatever is thrown in my way.
At the start of last weekend, it looked like any other weekend with some small tasks around the house to take care of. One of those tasks was to remove some electrical outlets in our dining room. We were having some work done on the house scheduled for the following Wednesday, and the contractors needed some electrical outlets removed. After talking with my father-in-law (a licensed electrician) on Saturday, Sunday was reserved to work the plan that we made together. After two hours of solid work, the required changes were done. Working in a relatively hot attic, I was able to disconnect the required electrical circuits and leave them safe, all according to plan. I double checked with my father-in-law on what I did, gave him an “after action report” that he okayed, and everything was good. Knowing that my father-in-law signed off on my work, I started working on my PyMarkdown project that Sunday afternoon, and got a lot of work done.
But Monday was another story. It arrived rather slowly. I woke up with a headache that just would not go away, and a lethargy that I could not shake. I started writing my weekly article and got it mostly completed, but each paragraph that I put into that article seemed twice as hard to write as the one before it. By the time 4:00 PM rolled around, I just knew that I was going to miss my usual Monday 11:59 PM deadline. I will spare you the details of how things progressed except to say that it landed me in the local Emergency Room at 10:00 PM that evening. Being sent home after five hours, the only thing the doctor and I could figure out was that I had reacted badly to something in that attic. Whether it was the heat, or some old insulation did not matter, I just reacted to it in a bad way.
On Tuesday morning I called into work, letting them know what happened and that I needed an extra day to try and get better. Wednesday arrived and I completed my work for the day, but not without a decent nap in the middle of the day and another nap after work. Thursday was better in that I did not need the afternoon nap, but it was Friday before I needed no nap. But after completing work each day, I literally did not do any of the things that I would normally do in the evening. Today, Saturday, is the first day since Sunday that I have been able to do anything on the computer that was not work related. And it really has been taxing my patience.
You see, part of my Autism diagnosis is anxiety related. The best way to explain my anxiety disorder is that my mind starts to evaluate the different scenarios that can occur, taking up more and more bandwidth in my brain until I am overwhelmed. Depending on who and what is involved in any scenario, I can often prune some of those scenarios as being unrealistic or unlikely. With each branch of scenarios that I prune, a proportional amount of anxiety is released. But without a neurotypical person’s point of view, any pruning that is related to social circumstances or another person’s emotional states is severely limited. And that is where the anxiety builds more and more.
To help address my anxiety, I have found two patterns that usually work very well together: overcommunication and consistency. If I am working with you for anything more than an hour or so, I will probably tell you something like:
Hey, I have Autism and I tend to overcommunicate. If it gets to be too much, please work with me to help us find a good level of communication. I am also open, honest, and straight forward, so please let me know if I say something wrong, as it is probably an oversight on my part. I know I am probably going to miss something, and I hope you will work with me to get it out in the open, dealt with it, and move on!
For me, that is an example of overcommunication in a nutshell. The good news is that most of the time people ask any questions they have, and we proceed with a good conversation about communication. Sometimes those questions are asked right away and sometimes those questions are asked weeks later. From my point of view, the good news is that it helps people know that I am okay talking about it.
Consistency is the other part of my coping mechanism. I do not feel the need to be as rigid as others with Autism, but I still find that structure helps. I try and plan out the following day before I go to bed, just getting a high-level point of view on what I want to accomplish on the next day. For workdays, that usually means a block of “work” followed by walking our dog Bruce, taking a shower, relaxing for an hour watching something, making dinner, and then some work in the evening on a project. For a non-workday, that usually means some work on a project until noon, doing work around the house or spending time with my wife in the afternoon, and then following a similar evening pattern to a workday.
If that sounds obsessive, it is not meant to be. Based on the amount of analysis that my mind constantly does, that planning helps to quiet some of my analytics down. Unless there is a good reason not to, I know I am going to walk our dog Bruce every day. I do not need to analyze it that much. If anything, it relaxes me to know that it is a constant and that me and Bruce will have a good two mile walk together every day. I also have a good reason to expect that my wife and I will do the shopping for the week on a Saturday. It is not set in stone when we leave, but I do know that we almost always do the shopping on that day. And if we decide to move it around to another day, we just talk about it ahead of time.
While those were just two examples, there are many more. I have worked on learning to accept a certain amount of change within those groups of actions. If I have adequate time to adjust, I am okay with a couple of those actions occurring or being delayed to another day. But those kinds of adjustments took me years to learn, and the fewer the things that need adjusting the better.
And that is where my lack of patience and this week have collided with each other like two freight trains on a single track.
On the communication front, if everyone usually thinks with the bandwidth of a multi-lane highway, I was probably operating like I was down to only having one lane of that highway available, with construction being performed on that lane. On the consistency front, my entire schedule was destroyed and replaced with a “whatever I have the energy for” schedule.
Between my two primary coping mechanisms being effectively disabled, it was a nightmare. I wanted to be able to communicate to those around me with my normal level of communication, but it just was not there. As for the consistency in my schedule, I would have had more consistency rolling at set of dice to decide what I was going to do each day. With both coping mechanisms non-functional, the only good news was that I was too tired to care.
So yes, I was very grumpy for most of the week. Or so I thought. It turns out that while I still have the same low level of patience with myself that I always have, I have fostered more patience in others with respect to myself. I felt I was grumpy enough to warrant “the evil eye daggers” from my wife.1 And I felt like I had warranted at least a dozen of them.
But after I told my wife this, she looked at me with a quizzical look on her face. She went on to explain that when she is not feeling well, I give her extra space to account for her own form of grumpiness. She also talked to me about how we both are harder on ourselves than with other people. I was about to argue with her, but two things stopped me. First, she was right. Second, I was too tired to argue.
You see, the person that I trust to have a more accurate picture of myself just told me that it was okay. She knew that it was just a short-term behavior change and that I would be back to my normal self as soon as I could manage it. She had the patience to wait until that happened.
Being patient with yourself is not a skill that come to many of us naturally. Most people must practice it repeatedly to get close to inner peace, if not achieve it. Even more difficult is finding that patience within yourself despite trying personal circumstances. And when I say, “achieve peace”, I mean being able to find it with work, not that it just mystically appears.
While those statements are generally true of most people, it is magnified for many people with a disability. Regardless of how that disability affects your life, you know you must try harder than the people around you to get things done. Having your copying mechanisms temporarily disabled because you are sick is a trying personal circumstance in my mind.
But during those times, I am working towards my own understanding. The idea that while I may feel like a total mess on the inside, I am still capable of projecting the same patience to myself that I do to others. As an old friend once said:
The only way to convince someone that you are not all talk is to practice what you are preaching.
That is what I am working towards. Affording myself the same patience that I give to others. Letting myself know that it is okay to talk some time to recover from being sick. Allowing myself to get better, at whatever pace my body decides it wants to take. And with all that, the patience to know that I will probably not get it right on the first try, but it is taking those small steps forward that count.
If you are married or in a serious relationship, those daggers may take many forms, but you know when your significant other is giving you that “if it wasn’t for…” look. ↩
So what do you think? Did I miss something? Is any part unclear? Leave your comments below.