Work, Energy, & Autistic Inertia

CW: some internalized ableism regarding productivity and energy levels.

I was (text) chatting with an Autistic friend a while back about how some of our abilities can make us appear to be far more functional to others than we actually are because we do some things that most people would find difficult to do, but we enjoy them and are good at doing them.

What we found in our discussion was that reducing those enjoyable energy-intensive activities that interest us in an effort to have more energy for other things doesn’t actually help us have more available energy.

Both of us had very similar experiences when we quit our jobs or schooling. Part of the reason we stopped was so that we could actually maybe function at home more easily.

The idea was that no job/school = less energy spent = more energy for house and parenting things.

But it didn’t actually work that way for either of us.

Instead, we both felt as though we should have more energy for house and parenting things, but in practice we didn’t really get any more done than we’d managed previously while either working or going to school pretty much full time.

This led to immense feelings.

On my part, I had feelings of inadequacy. I felt that I must just be lazy or worthless. Not only was I still failing to do what I needed to do at home, I was also not working and I’d gained a great deal of my identity and self-worth from being good at my job.

In both of our cases, our work and/or schooling was/is intricately tied to our focused interests. Going to work for me takes some energy, yes, but it also gives me a bit of energy and a great deal of purpose. I love what I do!

Having some sort of outside structure, even of the being-on-call variety, helps me get things done because I have set times that I can use as deadlines for various things. For example: If I don’t get dinner started before I need to go do something then it won’t get done so I’m more likely to do it sooner than if I’m staying at home and think I have plenty of time. In the latter case I may never begin in the first place until, oh look, it’s past bedtime and nobody has eaten dinner.

Too much structure gets overwhelming and I burn out quickly. No structure means I almost never have any motivation to start most things. My current job provides just enough motivation, most of the time, so I’m able to manage doing more things in the first place.

Different Abilities in Different Situations

Recently I went to a birth. It was a very long birth and I stayed very calm and professional and provided emotional support to the mom. I did all the things I needed to do, everything went well, etc.

Based on that, it would seem reasonable to expect me to be able to do the things I need to do and have everything go well at home. After all, home is more predictable than a birth. I do significantly less emotional support work at home than I do at a birth. The tasks at home are often much more straightforward and simple than at a birth. Etc.

And yet. No.

I’ve come to accept that it doesn’t matter how much or how little I work, housekeeping and parenting are still going to be struggles for me.

One reason I struggle so much with non-job-related things is that housework and children don’t have time limits. Labor ends eventually. Babies are born. I go home. I’m not working forever. I don’t have to be so intimately in tune with the birthing person’s needs indefinitely the way that I’m perhaps expected (and fail) to be with my spouse and children.

I’m very, very good at doing some things; but only if there’s a clear beginning and ending. Other things I’m bad at no matter what unless there’s some sort of outside force creating motivation.

Not working does not result in me having more energy or ability to use my extra time in ways that would be beneficial. I’m still tired just about as often, but feel less worthy of being tired because there’s no extra reason for it.

I know intellectually that tiredness and energy levels aren’t tied to productivity, nor should they be, but these irritating feelings often pop up despite what my brain knows.

So, needless to say, I’m very happy to be back at work part time. My energy needs and availability are apparently far more complicated than I thought they were before I quit my job previously. And having the ability to be an amazing worker at my job doesn’t particularly translate into any other areas of my life, which is okay.

2 thoughts on “Work, Energy, & Autistic Inertia

  1. Whoa. This makes so much sense but I’d never thought about it before. I’ve had very similar feelings of laziness when I’m home and SHOULD have energy but don’t, and it honestly never occurred to me that these things are linked the way you describe. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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