Posted Friday, May 5, 2023 - In the April Groundhog Day Resolutions Report I was concerned about my failure to execute plans, that perhaps I was delusional to think I could ever accomplish creative independence through making products that people actually liked. Attending my Uncle Tony's memorial service reminded me of what a vacuum of unfinished projects looks like; I could see my own history written in my uncle's final chapter. One of the things that Uncle Tony had going for him, though, was his community involvement and nearby family support. It occurred to me that my comfortable distance from society was actually a huge problem in the long term and connecting with people now was far more important than I thought. Before, I thought it would just be nice to have more people to talk as well as mitigating my executive function deficits through external motivation (always good for people with ADHD). But how???
This month I'm feeling a lot better about myself because I have an improved model of my cognitive limits due to combined autism and ADHD, which I am pretty confident of now having collected directly-reported lived experiences from people who are like me. This helps me understand how my neurodivergent brain processes the world differently from others with much greater confidence, and with confidence comes hope.
There are three related insights that I'll talk about below. The first section is a list of the Internet sources (mostly from TikTok) that gave me insight into how my behaviors fit a pattern shared with lots of other people.
1. UNDERSTANDING COMBINED AUTISM AND ADHD
I've been remembering cringeful events in my life that might be explained by Autism traits, such as the way I've constructed my work-life balance. As a freelancer, I have chosen the pursuit of personal truths over social integration. I also thought that I was annoying people with my intensity of interests as I rarely saw it returned.
One of my new end-of-day rituals has been training TikTok to show me more amusing videos. I've gotten the "For You" stream to show me people talking about things they think are cool and exciting, and it seems that such people tend to be neurodivergent and like sharing what that has been like for them. This is a list of short TikToks that I have found extremely relatable:
- The Thingamajig will save us all! - A skit about looking for a SOLUTION for a project, and then running out of energy after it arrives from Amazon. I do this ALL THE TIME. I didn't connect this with ADHD before.
- Advanced pattern recognition machines - A theory from
@anautisticguidethat autistic people are good at noticing patterns in human nature because we process the world through patterns. We're good at it, but when too much sensory input comes in, then overload state occurs. Stimming creates predictable soothing patterns.
- Autism Literal Thinking - An observation from
@shewearssocksthat interprets "autistic literal brains" not as misunderstanding spoken metaphor, but that it is just where our brain goes first. This is so relatable I could cry.
- Do I enjoy correcting people rephrased as "a need" -
@likelysaltyhypothesizes that our autistic brains are "information boxes" that we try to make as correct as possible, so there is a compulsion to ensure correctness. It is so strong it sometimes just comes out and annoys people (sometimes without noticing). THIS EXPLAINS A LOT.
- Relationships - On the relationships side of things,
@katastrophicashares an insight that she as an autistic person didn't understand: "You aren't meant to fancy someone 100% of the time." This had never occurred to me, and I think that it could apply to casual acquaintances to.
- Social Scripts Translated - This skit about asking a coworker about getting pizza from
@sarabstrangeexplained SO MUCH why I seemed to confuse people in the office place.
- Educational Material for Neurodivergent People - Software engineering instructional designer
@hackersaxoutlines the requirement for neurodivergent learners to be able to place each new concept in their system of understanding, and OMG this made so much sense to me.
- Difference Between Neurotypical and Neurodivergent Action - Neurotypical explaineer
@thejollyrajadescribes his perspective on how Neurotypicals do tasks compared to his neurodivergent friends. Nice to have confirmation.
- A Simplified Guide to Neurotypical Thinking - Autistic person
@erikaheidewaldtheorizes that neurotypical people instinctually ask "is this good for me or bad for me" in how they interact with each other. She also has a TikTok hypothesizing neurotypicals accept social constructs as a whole unit without having to think about it. By comparison, autistic people have to feel they understand something first.
- Positive Disintegration - One of several TiKToks from autistic clinical psychologist
@nd_psych, this is a description of the Theory of Positive Disintegration, a model of personality development from Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski. The gist is that a certain amount of trauma has to be experienced and consciously resolved for personal growth to be possible.
- Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) - Also from
@nd_psych, PDA is a form of emotional dysregulation that occurs with some neurodivergent people. It's associated with not wanting to do something as an extreme reaction.
My takeaway feeling was that I'm not alone in how I think and process senses because I now understand what so-called "neurotypical people" are communicating with their words, and knowing this I now can understand what they need to hear from me to feel comfortable with my presence. I can manage that. Even more important is that I no longer feel the need to be understood by everyone, because it was never going to happen given our different priorities in communication. I believe my anxiety about social interactions has started to lessen...a huge positive step. I AM a person who processes information much differently. I am comfortable saying that I am neurodivergent, with clear Autism mental processing traits that explain incidents going way back to my childhood. With this comfort comes a sense of hope.
2. ACCEPTANCE OF MY OWN LIMITS
Now that I've accepted myself as being neurodivergent, I am more confident in demanding that my working expectations are manageable with my type of brain. I still want to be as productive as possible, of course, but there are two main limits that I have to respect:
I have to admit that my energy reserves are quite limited compared to other people. I only have enough energy to do 2-4 hours of difficult work each day, and that can only happen when my mind is free of any thoughts related to other people. Overall I have to be very strict about what senses I allow into my head, so no email or social media allowed until after that first push of the day. After doing the "hard work", my brain is usually mush and I have to recharge with unstructured guilt-free goof-off time that lasts up to 10 hours.
Another limit is the number of task contexts I can manage before my brain is spent and needs a lengthy recharge. It's not just the amount of uncertainty/tedium in a task that deplete my energy reserves...it is the decision to switch tasks and act as well. The maximum number of these switches, empirically speaking, is as low as 2 and as high as 5.
I've written about these two ideas many times before, but this month is the first time I've really tried to create a daily structure to help manage that energy.
3. PROACTIVELY MANAGING MY ENERGY
My energy management schedule. Click here to open in new window.
I know that my energy starts HIGH in the morning and lasts for about 3-4 hours. I also know that certain tasks are more expensive if they involve any kind of uncertainty that prevents me from building a model of what I need to do and why.
The basic idea:
Protect the morning time from distracting sensory input (e.g. email, social media, physical errands) that originates from someone else to stay focused on my goals first, at least for the first half hour of the day. This is the time for HARD WORK that requires (1) developing complex understanding so (2) synthesis of original works is possible. It's just the way my brain works, and it's commonly reported by autistic people.
After I get that hard chunk of work out of the way, I can then look at email and social media as this type of "reactive work" requires less energy. Or I defer it until after lunch if I'm not expecting urgent emails.
By the time 3-4 hours has passed, my store of activation energy is pretty much gone. I try to do stuff that doesn't require new learning or decision-making like gathering/structuring information to read later in a convenient form. Since my focus energy is gone, I also don't hold myself to any particular task. This is UNSTRUCTURED time; stuff still happens, but what gets done is emergent and un-planned.
I set a hard stop time of 5PM, because I need the rest of the evening to rest and recharge so I can fall asleep at 10PM. But before I break for the day, I make sure to note where I left off in the days work so I don't have to remember what it was later (that burns energy!).
After 5PM, I am trying to maintain minimal-but-study amounts of eating, hydration, and brain stimulation. This is a delicate balance because I don't want to over-eat but also I don't want to under-stimulate. My energy is already really low, and if it dips below a certain point I will lose control of my actions as my brain is literally starving for sensory input+dopamine; I know I've screwed up if I find myself binge-eating or endlessly scrolling through social media or surfing the internet with NO PLEASURE whatsoever, tired but unable to fall asleep. If that happens, I just try to stay still to at least get some secondary rest.
I've been following this schedule for about a month now, and I think it feels more predictable. It works also because I have accepted my limits on mental processing as the cap on how fast I can work. It's obvious now that I can't finish a lot of things in a single dayThe first sign of this was doing my 2022 taxes myself for the first time in a decade, spacing out the work over 5 days by tackling it in the mornings. I'm now applying it to my other Groundhog Day Resolutions goals, and it feels sustainable in a way my previous working schedules have not. I'll continue to refine it over the rest of May when new freelance work begins. Will I be able to maintain this feeling of balance? . So long as I maintain the continuity of the work using work logs and what have you, I feel in control and can adapt what work I do based on my energy state.
My GHDR goals are unchanged from last month, though I have shifted their priorities.
Community Building - The insights from my uncle's memorial service has made create lasting connections the highest priority. While there were practical work-related reasons before, namely finding people to talk to and mitigating executive dysfunction, the emotional need for some kind of mutual support is something to reach for. And with the acknowledgement that I have a neurodivergent brain, the community+relationship building has to be made to work for both neurodivergent people like me AND neurotypical people who all share the same mission values"I want to be around positive-minded, self-empowered, curious, conscientious, competent, generous, and kind people.".
Online Product Business - This goal is more important because I'm getting old, and I need to have the creative product pipeline working to ensure some level of side income. Currently, I'm rebuilding my Shopify Store with 15 minutes of work every day so I can offer that available product in my basement. With those sales, I will be able to qualify for the Shopify Fulfillment Network and dump Amazon for good!
Software Ascendancy - This goal is also related to income so I can automate the production of customized printable products. In the immediate future I'll be starting development on the next phase of Net.Create, so this will give me the opportunity to think about both.
Writing Ascendancy - This goal is to increase the cadence of my blog posting as well as the quality. Included in this goal is prototyping new podcast, streaming, and video content to find more opportunities to collaborate and share what I'm doing with like-minded individuals. Progress on this goal is opportunistic based on how I feel, as my available slots for the day are already filled.
The Month Ahead
It's been a month of insight-driven changes to the methodologies I have been using to cope with the real world. I am feeling pretty good.