February 2, 2019

The power has been out at my house the past two days, for urgent electrical work. The heat is working, but none of the lights or outlets are.

This is stressful for typical reasons – food is spoiling in the fridge, I can only use my computer at a coffee shop, and evening activities are limited to what can be done by flashlight or firelight.

However, I also find it stressful for particularly autistic reasons. If you know someone who’s autistic, maybe this will give you a peek into why they find certain circumstances hard to handle.

  1. INCONSISTENCY – Because my routine has been disrupted, everything I do is taking twice as much mental energy. Fewer decisions are automatic, and more decisions require thought. Even digesting food feels harder, since I’m eating differently than I’m used to.
  2. UNSETTLED – I’ve spent more time outside the house than I usually do on a weekend, since it seemed like a good opportunity to run some errands. That was a terrible idea. I always need solitude to recover after a work week, in a place that’s calm and familiar. When circumstances are flipping my days upside down, I need it even more.
  3. UNPREDICTABLE – The things on my to-do list that require a computer are more urgent than the things that don’t. So, since the power could come back on at any moment, I’m constantly on edge, ready for a transition. It isn’t that the individual tasks are hard, but switching between them is, particularly since I don’t know when the switch is coming. It makes it very hard to plan my day.
  4. INACCESSIBLE – On top of all that, my laptop has a very weak battery, so I haven’t been able to use it freely at home. The lists and notes that I keep on it are an extension of my brain, a coping strategy for the complexity of my thoughts. Losing access makes my head feel cloudy, like losing a part of myself. This generalizes more broadly to the stress of losing any coping mechanism – my computer just happens to be one of my most useful ones.

I feel discouraged, overwhelmed, and stretched to the limit. Well, slightly less so after writing about it – on my phone, in the dark, by my fire. But if it helps you to understand yourself, or someone you love, and maybe even to prevent a meltdown before it happens, it will all be worth it.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.