A lot of people on the autistic spectrum struggle with something called ‘executive dysfunction’, which makes certain tasks of daily living very hard for them. It affects planning, organisation and self-care for a lot of people. People with ADD/ADHD might also be able to relate to this post, although I’m writing about it from an autistic perspective. Your experience may be different and I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.
For me, it manifests as being able to focus on one thing very strongly, with everything else falling by the wayside. I’ve been very busy over the past few years with school and work, and those things take priority, so my homework will get done and I’ll get tasks done at the office while my laundry sits there waiting to be taken care of, and I end up buying food out instead of making it myself, when I’d rather not be spending money on the expense that eating out entails. I spend more money than I’d like on food because I don’t always have the energy to cook, especially on those days when I just want to get home from class, flop into bed and listen to some calming audiobooks to destress and decompress.
My bedroom is atrocious. It’s not the worst it’s been right now, but it is still pretty bad. Like, really gross. I wish it looked better. I want more room there. I want to be able to set things up the way I’d like them, but I never have the energy to do it. I’ve had problems with keeping my room clean since I was a kid. And by ‘kid’, I mean ‘four years old’. I used to have pictures of my childhood bedroom, which was usually a disaster area. That hasn’t changed over the past two decades, and I wish it would. I’ve tried. Often I’ll manage to have it neat for a month or something, only for it to get worse. And I often feel that I don’t have the energy to do anything about it, since when I’m busy, I tend to simply crash and relax once I get back home.
I also have an extremely hard time keeping track of things like laundry, washing and other self-care issues. People sometimes notice it, and I feel horrible if they point it out, even if I know that they mean well. I know that half my clothes stink and the other ones are questionable. I know that I need to be more diligent with self care. I know I’ve got a patchy beard that I need to shave off. I’m extremely conscious of it. It’s not that I don’t notice, or don’t care. It’s the fact that I’m not certain what I can do about it long-term. Believe me, I hate it. I’m embarrassed.
The only time I’ve had passable self-care (and didn’t have anyone to make sure that these things were done) was when I was neither working nor studying. I’m not even exaggerating. It’s that hard right now, and I just don’t know how to fix it. My energy goes towards the dominant task in my life. I think it’s a sort of ‘monotropism’, or central focus. It’s not that I don’t care about the other things; it’s more that I have a limited amount of energy I can expend. It takes all my ‘spoons’.
Personal organisation is another problem area for me - if it involves something that can’t be electronically indexed. If it’s a piece of paper, I’m much more likely to lose it. This is one of the many reasons why I prefer to use electronic devices for note-taking. Reminders are synced between my Macbook and iPad. I usually take notes with my computer or use a stylus with my iPad. Taking notes by hand means I might lose them. Not so much a problem if I have things like syncing set up. I only wake up on time because my computer and iPad are blasting alarms at me every morning.
There are times when I go days (or sometimes over a week) without some of my medications because I have to pick them up at some out-of-the-way place, and I have to modify my routine in order to do it. Luckily, my survival doesn’t depend on them—but my sanity does, and I find myself getting incredibly agitated if I don’t have them. I don’t like the fact that I wait to do things until I have more energy, or when I’ve psyched myself up to do things outside my routine, but that’s how it’s been.
If I become overloaded somehow, everything gets harder, since my immediate impulse is ‘go down and rest immediately’.
If I had unlimited money, I’d just hire someone to do stuff like laundry FOR me. I’d actually like a personal care attendant at some point (to help with certain tasks of daily living), but I don’t know how to get one. I think that you need to be on disability or have a large amount of money to be able to pay for one, and I don’t think I’d ever be able to have that help. The fact that I can do some types of work probably disqualifies me for disability, and I don’t know if I’d do well with the enforced poverty that it creates. And I’m not certain if I’d end up making enough to allow me to hire a personal care attendant. Things get complicated because while I can do extremely well in one area of my life, everything else starts to suffer. (There’s a post that’s a bit similar to what I sometimes go through, but to a more extreme level, called ‘You Have It So Good’.)
I am not ‘mildly’ autistic because I can do well at certain non-daily-living tasks like school or work. I am not a ‘shiny Aspie’. Underneath that is a constant struggle with skills that most people take for granted. Executive dysfunction sucks and I wish I didn’t have it. I’m fine with being autistic, but I’m so tired of going through life with this executive dysfunction and not getting any support for it.