How many times have I used the word stress? How many blogs have covered the aspie need to avoid stress? How often have I said that aspies should take any measures necessary to make their lives as stress-free as possible? The answer is: a lot.
So why is it, when stress is such an enormous issue, that people with aspergers bring more stress on themselves by not doing things when they need to be done? Putting things off, important, essential things, as well as smaller, less vital tasks, creates stress and worry. The stress and worry caused by putting things off impacts on the aspie's state of mind and emotions, making them feel worse. They become even less likely to do the necessary tasks and the cycle of stress escalates.
Mad, isn't it? Why would someone do that to themselves?!
A small example. A reply to a letter needs to be written and there is a time limit for writing it. There it sits, on the desk, waiting to be done. It's a necessary task, a little job that only I can do.
I think about doing it. I plan writing it. I can see the finished article and how it will read. There are envelopes in the drawer, so the imagined finished letter has somewhere to go once it's done. All of this is fine.
Still it sits there. It develops a personality, a whiny voice that nags to be done. It grows in importance as the deadline approaches. It's always there.
At night, in bed, I plan to do the letter the next day. I almost (but not quite) get up and do it right then. The next day comes and I forget all about the letter. I do something much better instead (it's reached the stage where anything is better than the letter). I come back and find the letter. I remember promising myself I would do it today and guilt sets in.
I look at the letter and, with a heavy heart, start to re-read it, as if I haven't pictured the reply many times. When I've finished, I will probably just break up the task by doing something else first. Eventually, I might write the reply.
Written and with a triumph of accomplishment, my letter is put into an envelope and set on the side. The feeling of victory is often enough for me to forget it all over again. If it's lucky, it will make it to my bag.
At some stage, I'll find the envelope in my bag and possibly put a stamp on it. Eventually, when someone else finds the letter, it will be posted. Just occasionally, by happy accident, I'll be next to the Tesco postbox with my hand in my bag and see the letter, complete with stamp. Then the sad little item will be dragged out of my bag, pulled as straight as I can make it and finally, blessedly, dropped in the post box.
And this is only a reply to a letter. So, imagine what lengths I can reach to avoid something more complicated and important?
I'm frustrated with myself on a daily basis. I really am. You probably felt frustrated by the time you finished reading about my letter. A simple thing, a simple solution and a person with the capacity to solve it for themselves. Who wouldn't be frustrated?
The number of times I have scolded myself, nagged myself, made detailed lists and plans on how to get things done. This ranges from needing to get my tax return in on time to remembering to set the washing machine off so we'll all have clothes (including underwear) on Monday morning.
Anything and everything that is a task can be delayed, for no good reason at all. The only real reason I can give you, reader, is that when I think about actually doing something, I get the muddy-stomach feeling, that drag in the pit of me that makes me feel bad. Why? I'm not sure, but I think it's tied in to the old self-esteem issues again, as well as the fear of failure: and those two are really one and the same thing.
The planning to do things is rather nice, it holds out promise and hope for the future. There is nothing so satisfying as a to-do list. I love lists! When I sit and focus, I can make the best lists and I won't forget a thing. Quite the opposite; my list will grow and grow, as ever increasing jobs are added to it. If I could only do all of these things on my list, I would be a real person!
When it comes to finally achieving one of the jobs on the list, do I feel as satisfied? No. If it's a smaller job or I didn't put it off as long, I feel pretty good that it's done. If it's a big job, like the tax return, of course I feel relief, but it's actually more like lancing a boil than a happy release.
I always know, whatever jobs I do, there will always be more. So any accomplishment is temporary.
And I do, honestly and without self-delusion, forget to do things. I'll often remember them at the wrong moments, when it's impossible for me to act on it. When I'm in the right place, something else will have my attention and away it goes again.
Still, the main reason for my endless prevarication and procrastonation - and the difficulties I create for myself - is my reluctance to do the job in the first place. Putting if off is a happy little feeling. It means that I'm planning to do the job, which is good, but I don't have to do it right now, which is even better.
I would like to tell you that I've resolved this issue and have the magic formula for change. I don't. I am improved and there are some things which help.
I want to mention two other sites just now. For the smaller jobs (and smaller ones lead to bigger ones), I've found it very useful to follow Pam Young of Make it Fun and the FlyLady Both of these saintly, funny and genuinely caring women have created systems to help people organise themselves. They have non-judgmental advice for the organisationally impaired
While neither of their systems is aimed specifically at people with aspergers, the way they break it down and make it all possible is very aspie-friendly and I'd recommend you take a look. Make it Fun is more about you organising yourself (yay, lists!), whereas Flylady has a reminder-based system by email.
For myself, what has helped is setting deadlines on my phone. It's such a small thing but it really helps. Again, I'll be honest: most of the time I ignore the reminders. Yes, I do. Annoying, aren't I? But I'll keep re-setting them and, eventually, I'll do as I'm told and get the job done.
The other thing I do is firmly remind myself of how much better it was when I did the job on time. This helped with big things like the tax return. After about three years running where I filed it on the last day - the evening of the last day, just like Homer Simpson, jumping through the doors of the post office - I was determined not to suffer again. I've done it a little earlier each year, always reminding myself of the sickening panic I felt when it was almost too late.
For the little jobs, this works in its own way. I do forget the little things more but by still using the reminders, I forget less of them than I used to. It does feel like the phone is nagging me sometimes, but it also keeps the thing in the forefront of my mind and, by having an external reminder, there's more chance of being reminded at the right place and time - like finding the letter in my bag when I'm next to the post box.
Having other people remind you can also help, but is as likely to cause arguments. It's a bit like the phone reminding you, except the phone has an off switch. Other people tend to want an answer as to whether you've done the thing and, if not, when you intend to do it. The phone is friendlier; it's more like, here is the thing, just telling ya!
After all this, I feel I have laid out the problem for you without offering a complete solution. Is it helpful to know I'm part of the way there? I hope so. I've been more able to cope with these things as I've started to feel better about myself, so the clue is most likely in improving self-esteem This won't offer all the answers but it will stop that muddy feeling sloshing up as often.
I'm not saying aspies won't carry on forgetting to do things, but if they feel more confident in themselves, then when the task is remembered, it is more likely to get done.
If all else fails and it's a serious problem, it really is worth having someone close be the 'secretary'. Let someone trusted be the overseer of important and necessary jobs. By this, I do not mean housework and food shopping! If the aspie is starving and sitting naked on the floor, by all means, take over these two areas. Otherwise, only step in and help if there is serious danger of an impact on the aspie's life, mental well-being and safety. Or if they ask you to.
Be prepared for a backlash - the guilt of not managing and not facing up to things nearly always triggers an angry reaction. We're angry with ourselves and, if you must know, pretty angry with you too, for being able to manage these things without batting an eyelid. We're also on the lookout for your judgment, so do keep it in check. And even if you don't feel or act judgmental, we'll suspect you of it. Sorry!
So there we are. Prevarications, procrastinations and the fact it's unlikely to go away. Yippee for the aspie who has someone who is the natural do-er of deeds. For the rest of us, boo-hoo, because, unfortunately, those deeds will still have to be done, no matter how often or how long we delay them. This is an unwelcome truth.
Sadly, when it comes to getting things done the only way to get them done is to do them.
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