This will be the last weekly Thursday post. I will be switching to Sundays after this as I won’t have time to write on Thursdays once university starts.
I have a terrible habit of pushing myself beyond my limits. Since I will do far more than I have the energy for and eventually reach autistic burnout every few months. And I can’t stop it – especially since most of me doesn’t want to. There’s nothing I want to give up that I actually can. The list of things I have to do each week, added to the things I want to provides me with so little time left over. As an autistic person, this can cause me so many problems, including anxiety and stress.
Much time is taken up by things I must do as an adult, as is the case in most people’s lives. Things such as sleeping, cooking, eating and cleaning take up so many hours of each day. And while (two of) these things can be pleasant, they take time and often aren’t as efficiently planned as I’d like. In my busier weeks, sleep is often neglected which contributes to my lack of energy by the end of them. I also need to go food shopping at least once a week – something made even more difficult as I don’t have a car and have to carry the heavy bags back walking. These things must be done if I wish to survive, but they also drain so much time from my schedule.
The other big ‘must’ is university work. While theoretically I chose to go to university and am studying something I like, in practice the very addition of the word ‘must’ makes my brain categorise it as a chore – even the bits I should enjoy. As my main activity, university naturally takes up about 40 hours a week – or should. A huge part of my problems with keeping to schedule and not running out of time is procrastination. When I’m supposed to be studying I’ll be watching Netflix or playing games online. These are things I have zero time for but I do anyway because they’re enjoyable. In an ideal world, I’d have time for them, but this world is far from ideal.
Something that is very much optional, but also something I cannot bring myself to give up is committee work. I’m currently on four committees, and by the time I go to bed tonight I expect to be on another. I care deeply about every single one and I don’t want to quit. Some I’m on because they’re fun, some because I think they can help me make a difference. The Doctor Who, Sherlock and Science Fiction & Fantasy societies have all provided me with better friends than I ever thought I’d have and a place to go and have fun around other humans every week. I want to contribute to each of them and be a bigger part.
The fourth is the St Andrews University Students for Independence (STAUSFI) society. The fifth one I might be joining tonight is the the Young Scots for Independence Mid-Scotland and Fife Regional Association. Provided I win the election, of course. Politics is something that is important to me and important in general. By participating in political societies and political party events I hope to try and make a difference, and also show that autistic people can be involved in politics. I’ve tried giving this up before because it can be a source of stress, but it didn’t work for me – it made me feel like I was doing nothing important with my life. So the more politics, the better, as far as how I feel about my role in life is concerned.
After having all this to do, you would be forgiven for assuming I would make no further commitments to actually give myself some time to wind down. But you’d be wrong. I constantly add more things to the list of Things I Should Do every week. This blog is one of them; I’ve committed to posting weekly (I missed last week due to illness, said so on Twitter) which takes about 4 hours of writing, editing and thought time each week. This is why I’ll be switching from Thursday to Sunday after this post – when the summer ends and I go back to classes, I will not have that time available on Thursdays.
Other further commitments include: volunteering in a charity shop for two hours a week, German lessons (though I might be giving those up because of a lack of time, funnily enough) and meeting up with my friends on Friday and/or Saturday evenings. While that last one is not a commitment per se, it is something that I enjoy doing, and something that I do feel I need to participate in if I am to remain a full member of the friendship group, something I’ve found difficult all my life.
By my estimations (and bear in mind they are just that), Sleep + Adulting + University + Non-political Committees + Politics + Blog + Volunteering + (German) + Friendship + Travel = 56 + 23 + 40 + 6 + 5 + 4 + 2 + (3) + 10 + 3 = 150 out of a total of 168 hours a week, giving me spare time of a mere 18 hours a week. Well, at least it’s not a negative number. And there’s the problem. Because that is insufficient time to recover from the amount of socialising I do in the other hours.
While 8 hours of sleep a night is factored into the above equation, the standard adult sleep time is insufficient to counter all the exhaustion I face as an autistic adult in the world – especially since I’m masking for most of those activities, especially the committees. I can find things both enjoyable and exhausting at the same time, they are not mutually exclusive. So while the things that require masking are exhausting, I also don’t want to give them up. 18 hours a week (2.57 hours a day) is not enough downtime to relax and counter the negative effects of the other 93 waking hours.
Also bear in mind that this is a typical week – most weeks are like this. Some are worse. In some weeks I need to do 50 hours of university work; other weeks require 10 hours for politics, maybe more. Holidays are of course much better as the university hours aren’t there. This week is okay only because of no university. This week, politics is estimated to take 7 hours and travel 7. Tonight I’m travelling to Inverkeithing for the YSI event which due to connection times could be about 2 hours each way. If this week was term-time, it would be a problem.
Last week I didn’t post, because I had a cold. Even a little illness can completely stop me doing anything – I’m very sensitive to pain. I can go a whole week only doing Sleep + Partial Adulting if I’m ill. So I try and add all the missed hours to the following week. Which normally results in a spare time output of a large negative number. If illness wasn’t a thing, I could probably survive a whole semester on my tight schedule. But the minute I become ill, the effects carry over for weeks and weeks and weeks until the thin threads of my life start unravelling; I lose friends and fail exams and everything is ruined.
With no margin for error, and a world that is full of potential causes of error, this is a situation that can’t be allowed to continue. But the only thing on my current list that I’m willing to give up is the German lessons (3 hours a week – 2 for class and 1 for homework). So as things stand, I’m going to be pushing myself beyond my limits for the foreseeable future. And hoping beyond hope I don’t get ill or distracted.
For those who want a more detailed breakdown of how I calculated the standard week:
Sleep: 8 hours x 7 days = 56
Adulting: (2 hours cooking, eating & washing up) x (7 days) + (1 hour showering/brushing teeth/getting dressed) x (7 days) + 2 hours shopping = 23
University: 40 hours as the standard work hours, there’s a more specific calculation I could do but that would take time!
Non-political committees: 2 hours x 3 committees = 6
Politics: 5 is an estimate I remembered from an earlier calculation, I don’t have my breakdown for it with me right now
Blog: 4 hours, I timed myself as I wrote this and then added my estimate for how long editing & posting would take.
Volunteering: 2 hours is what I said I’d do
German: Class is 2 hours and we get homework which takes about 1
Friendship: 10 is an average, can be as little as 5 and as much as 14, usually 5 on Fri and another 5 on Sat. Can be 7 hours each, can be only 5 on one.
Travel: Since I live in a small town, travel time to a single location is always less than an hour, added together travel to all events over the week (about 26 individual journeys, possibly more) only sum to 3 hours usually.