This machine needs a tune-up.

Section from Charles Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2, one of the first automatic computing engines
A section from Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2

Right now, I’m struggling to overcome autistic inertia in order to write about my struggles with autistic inertia.

It hasn’t escaped the attention of some of my readers/followers/friends that I haven’t written or drawn anything for quite a while. Two whole months in fact. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to write things; I’ve had plenty of ideas for topics I’d love to write about. I’ve even heard the words of ready-written blog posts skittering through my head.

I simply haven’t been able to get my brain into a state where I’ve felt physically able to do it.

My last blog post was at the end of The Dreaded Month of April. I needed a month off in May – partly because of overwhelm and burnout from so much Awareness; partly because the rest of my life was also pretty hectic at that time. I also got a hefty whack of bad news early in that month, and then a whole load of work-specific stress, and then we got into June, and I still wasn’t anywhere near ready to write or draw again. And then more life stuff got in the way; I wasn’t ready, and anyway, I didn’t have time.

In some ways, I don’t actually feel ready even as I write this, but I’m desperately trying to break the ‘do nothing – feel awful about it – react to feeling awful by not wanting to do anything – do nothing – feel awful…’ cycle.

Currently my life is in a state of flux. Work-wise, I’ve passed from one state of uncertainty into another. I currently have very little structure to my working day, and I’m finding it harder and harder to contend with this as each day goes by. Having limited structure and routine, and fewer impending demands, actually makes me less resilient to sudden changes or disruptions than I would be if there were more going on. They seem starker somehow than they do when my brain’s computer already has the Responding to Stuff Quickly program already loaded, because I’m having so emphatically to switch my mode of being each time something – anything – happens.

I’m therefore easily startled, horribly irritable, even more fidgety than usual, and my blood pressure’s running a little too high.

I currently have lots of time. So why can’t I get started on the things I love, and that make me feel happy and fulfilled?

I need to be wound back up. Set in motion.

This post wasn’t intended to be a brilliant piece of writing. Apologies for that. I’m merely trying to pull this somewhat cranky machine out of the mud, clean it, oil its mechanisms and somehow get it moving again.

This post is written as much for me as it is for anyone reading. I do so desperately want to be writing again.

And I will.

I just needed to start somewhere.

[PS: I did, however, write an autism-themed blog post for work last week that I was actually very pleased with. I’m sharing it here in case anyone is interested.]


[Image credit: Lars Plougmann]

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#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation doodles ‘n’ scribbles, no. 29: My brain likes to sabotage my efforts. A lot.

Digital cartoon image. In the top right hand corner, a disembodied pink brain with a smiley face, eyes and little cartoon arms chatters away. In the bottom left hand corner, Mama Pineapple, a reddish-haired white femme-presenting person wearing a purple long-sleeved top, looks upward in despair, whilst shaking both fists. The background is grey, and the brain, and Mama P, are surrounded by lots of words and phrases denoting complete and total distraction from the task at hand (whatever that is. Probably something very important and difficult).

I love my brain for many reasons. It has brilliant ideas. It sees wonder everywhere. It’s good at learning stuff. It allows me to experience everything both in fine, nuanced detail, and on a grand, dramatic scale.

It’s also a bit of an arsehole, because it tends not to let me get on with stuff.


[Image descriptuon: Digital cartoon image. In the top right hand corner, a disembodied pink brain with a smiley face, eyes and little cartoon arms chatters away. In the bottom left hand corner, Mama Pineapple, a reddish-haired white femme-presenting person wearing a purple long-sleeved top, looks upward in despair, whilst shaking both fists. The background is grey, and the brain, and Mama P, are surrounded by lots of words and phrases denoting complete and total distraction from the task at hand (whatever that is. Probably something very important and difficult).]

#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation doodles ‘n’ scribbles, no. 19: Easily Distracted

Black and white felt tip drawing with two panels. PANEL 1 (left-hand side: two female-presenting people, walking along - one is talking to the other (“so anyway, she was all, like...?!”), who is distracted by something(“Oh look, a squirrel,”). PANEL 2 (right hand side): the same distracted person is at her computer, but is looking away from the screen (“Oh look, an idea!”).

The autism:ADHD interface.

I struggle to keep focused sometimes, unless I’m really engaged, interested, and enjoying what it is I’m doing. Sometimes it’s my surroundings that distract me; sometimes it’s my own thoughts. My brain never stops motoring.


[Image description: black and white felt tip comic scrip with two panels.

PANEL 1 (left-hand side: two female-presenting people, walking along – one is talking to the other (speech bubble: “so anyway, she was all, like…?!”), who is distracted by something(speech bubble:”Oh look, a squirrel,”).

PANEL 2 (right hand side): the same distracted person is at her computer, but is looking away from the screen (speech bubble: “Oh look, an idea!”).]

#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation Doodles ‘n’ Scribbles, no. 13: Being an Autistic Parent (PART 1)

A comic strip of four panels, laid out in portrait orientation, and drawn digitally in black and white. PANEL 1: IMAGE: A headshot of Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person with mid-length hair, sweating, shaking, and looking exasperated, with a tear running down her left cheek. TEXT: “Being an autistic parent can be really hard sometimes.” PANEL 2: IMAGE: Mama Pineapple with her hands over her ears, surrounded and overwhelmed by a whole range of loud noises including children’s voices, loud sudden sound effects, and the Danger Mouse TV series theme. TEXT: “The noise can be overwhelming...” PANEL 3: IMAGE: A messy floor covered in Duplo bricks, soft toys, books, drawings and half eaten biscuits. A child’s foot is just disappearing out of view to the right of the panel. A teddy bear is being flung into the scene. The bottom of a switched on TV screen is just in shot at the top right hand corner. TEXT: “...as can the visuals.” PANEL 4: IMAGE: Mama Pineapple looking unsure/worried, flicking the fingers of her right hand by the side of her face. TEXT: “Am I grown-up enough? I struggle to keep myself organised, let alone my small children.”

First attempt at a (sort of) comic. Part 2 (which takes a happier, more positive slant!) coming up tomorrow.


Text description:

A comic strip of four panels, laid out in portrait orientation, and drawn digitally in black and white.

PANEL 1:
IMAGE: A headshot of Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person with mid-length hair, sweating, shaking, and looking exasperated, with a tear running down her left cheek.
TEXT: “Being an autistic parent can be really hard sometimes.”

PANEL 2:
IMAGE: Mama Pineapple with her hands over her ears, surrounded and overwhelmed by a whole range of loud noises including children’s voices, loud sudden sound effects, and the Danger Mouse TV series theme.
TEXT: “The noise can be overwhelming…”

PANEL 3:
IMAGE: A messy floor covered in Duplo bricks, soft toys, books, drawings and half eaten biscuits. A child’s foot is just disappearing out of view to the right of the panel. A teddy bear is being flung into the scene. The bottom of a switched on TV screen is just in shot at the top right hand corner.
TEXT: “…as can the visuals.”

PANEL 4:
IMAGE: Mama Pineapple looking unsure/worried, flicking the fingers of her right hand by the side of her face.
TEXT: “Am I enough of a grown-up? I struggle to keep myself organised, let alone my small children.”

Why I “can’t possibly be Autistic”, Reason #3: I’m not THAT rigid, right?

Over a decade ago, when I was working as a low-level administrator in a university student support unit, I remember a student who was a regular and frequent visitor to our service. He came in virtually every day. He spoke in a staccato, “mechanical”-sounding voice. He always wore the same choice of clothing: blue outdoor coat; dark tracksuit bottoms; white polo shirt. In all the time he was studying at that university, I never remember him wearing anything different.

I was, and am, nothing like him, right?

My mum used to work with a boy who ate Chicken McNuggets every day for lunch. Always the same number of pieces, heated to the same exact temperature. The local McDonald’s staff knew him well, and understood what he wanted, and needed.

I was, and am, nothing like him, right?

Whatever I watched, heard, or read about autism, I couldn’t relate to. I was nothing like these men and boys.

As a child, I never had visual schedules. I enjoyed back then, as I do now, a wide variety of tastes, textures, and types of food. I didn’t wear the same thing everyday; nor did I want to. My days were not uniform. The same thing didn’t happen every day. Nowadays, I get easily bored of too much of the same.

People like me can’t be autistic, right? We’re not that rigid, right?

…right?

But the reality is far more complicated, more nuanced, than it first appears. 

I remember the time when my secondary school switched to a fortnightly rather than a weekly timetable. The fact that I had to remind myself which week I was on; the fact that I couldn’t neatly draw out my timetable in my planner without having to devise a “system” to neatly display both timetable variations – these things bothered me immensely. I could never quite escape the vague sense of unease about the inelegance of the arrangement.

Then there’s my extreme (internal. I keep it well hidden) perturbation whenever my regular fitness instructor isn’t working and someone else is covering the class. To the point where, at the moment, I’m not doing my favourite weekly Body Max session because I know the instructor is recovering from surgery. I’ll just do my own workouts until I spot her exercising in the gym between classes, and can find out for certain that she’s back in charge. 

And then there’s the fact that (and I’ve quote-unquoted my dad on this before) drawing was “the only time I was ever truly spontaneous”. Everything else in my life had to be rigorously planned. Prepared for. Structured.

That’s still the case today. It’s why I struggle with keeping momentum at work during university vacation time, and why I often experience sudden bouts of acute depression when I have too much time on my hands if I’m on holiday.

The routine isn’t there. There are too many individual, on-the-fly, ad hoc decisions to be made. There’s not enough structure, and so I struggle to keep the chaos of the world around me at bay.

There are countless other examples of my need for rigidity. It’s ingrained.

Right now, I’m going through a horrendously uncertain period at work. Nothing about me personally, but the details of which I’d rather not go into here. Partly because I, and those around me, don’t actually know anything. But it’s preventing us doing properly all the things we should be doing as part of our regular jobs. We’re hamstrung. Stymied. 

Not only is my anxiety heightened because of so much uncertainty, ambiguity and unpredictability; the regular structure of my daily and weekly work has been disturbed.

So I’ve imposed my own structure.

I’ve blocked out every day of every week with repeated, regular chunks of specific types or topics of activity. I’ve thought about what I work best on when, and organised a “timetable” accordingly. What I may be doing in each time-chunk may vary, but knowing, for example, that most Mondays and Fridays I won’t have any meetings, that I deal with anything to do with our Salesforce database on a Wednesday afternoon, and that Tuesday and Thursday mornings are my designated times for dealing with difficult email correspondence, certainly takes a load off my beleaguered mind.

My context-based Google task lists fit neatly with this structure, and I try and plan meetings to fit in too – recognising, of course, that sometimes I will need to switch things around. But even with the understanding that some flexibility is needed, I have, at the very least, a framework. Everything’s not quite so gapingly uncertain.

More recently, I’ve been having a go at bullet journalling. It’s early days, but so far I’m loving it, and this analogue, paper-based system integrates surprisingly well with my digital organisational tools, whilst also thankfully taking me away from so much screen time. I’m sure I’ll write more about it at some point…

A fellow autistic woman at work talked to me about how being organised is not a natural trait but a coping mechanism, and I’m certain this is true of me too. Many of us have to work really, really hard at organising our work, our lives, and our minds, simply to keep our heads above water and not drown in a sea of too-much-information.

But the initial effort of introducing some structure is something worth doing.

Amidst the chaos and uncertainty, a little rigidity can be lifesaving.


[Featured image shows a screenshot of the first result of a Google search for a definition of the word “rigid”]