Many people with autism have low energy. It’s not part of the diagnostic criteria. But from what I’ve seen it’s very common. We don’t necessarily sleep more than other people do (although I crave my nine hours!) it’s that we take longer to move from one thing to the next. We take longer to process things. The best way to put it is that many of us can only do about 30% of what other people do in a day.
Take writing for example. Many full-time content writers post three articles a day as well as edit other people’s submissions. That’s inconceivable to me. I work in bursts: seven hours of working intensely on one specific project. Then I need the next day to relax.
When my boyfriend did data entry, he didn’t make any errors. He just couldn’t sustain that pace 40 hours a week every week. When he tried to work more than his natural tempo would allow, his boss told him he looked sick. And she fired him.
Many of us do have full-time jobs. But we can’t get up early, go to the gym, go to work, take a cooking class, read a difficult novel, and then go to sleep and then get up and do it the next day. It’s just not happening.
That isn’t laziness. It’s like an energy tank. Once your energy is depleted you’re just running on fumes. When I’m too overwhelmed to focus I wouldn’t say I feel tired, exactly. Just blank.
I often wonder what it would be like to be “on” all the time. Other people have fuller days, and by extension fuller lives, than I do. They don’t have to wait for the fog to clear. I make a to-do list every day. But I usually end up overshooting.
I’ve always been this way. I went to a bougie public high school where my classmates had a million extracurricular activities that I couldn’t muster enough energy for. During the most active year of my life I still didn’t get out as much as other people. It seemed like they went on road trips to other cities at least once a month. I just didn’t understand where they found all that extra time.
This is just the way we’re built. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Please don’t call yourself lazy. Our society looks down on people who don’t look like they’re doing “hard work.” But you have to keep in mind that you are working hard. Your 25-hour workweek might take the same effort as someone else’s 50-hour workweek. Figure out your speed and then proceed from there. If your energy comes in phases like mine does, that’s okay too. You might want to plan your work ahead while you’re “up.”
Other people might not understand this. You can either explain your difficulties to them or just let some people think you’re lazy and hang out with people who don’t see you that way. There are plenty of people who can enjoy your company without digging into your life like that.
There are things you can do to help yourself. Stimulants might work. I take Vyvanse on days that I really have to get shit done. I have friends with ADHD who take stimulants every morning before work. I don’t respond drastically to stimulants, but I still find that they make me want to get up and do things. And they help with my daytime sleepiness.
Exercise helps too. Working out boosts your natural testosterone. I feel a soft jolt moving through me for a few hours after I come back from the gym. When I sustain my workout routine, I find I’m more alert. Also, being strong and fit increases my self-esteem which makes me want to work harder anyway.
It’s a good idea to choose a job that doesn’t require much multitasking. Writing requires a lot of pitching stories and keeping in touch with trends. And a fair amount of networking. But I don’t actually have to go anywhere or do many different things within the course of a writing session. Just ideas and research.
Other autistic people find success in computer engineering, accounting, technical writing, taking care of animals, and academia. I’d systematically avoid anything that involves dealing with groups of people. Or anything where you have to wear many different hats. (Which means fashion designer, unfortunately for me.) I’m not saying NONE of us can do those things. Just that the typical aspie is going to get more exhausted than neurotypicals do from working those jobs.
Having energy problems will make your life different. Maybe even more than poor social skills do. Also, those of us with better social skills don’t necessarily have more energy. If anything, there’s an inverse connection. My boyfriend and I are two of the most socially skilled aspies I’ve met. And we both have very low energy. I’ve met autistic people with full-time jobs who can’t talk to a neurotypical for twenty minutes. I don’t know how they keep those jobs, but they do.
Sometimes I feel as if I have to choose between doing work and being aware of what’s going on around me. I guess I’ve subconsciously picked being a fairly empathetic, non-robotic person over having a 9 to 5. Not to be snarky, but sometimes we have to make difficult choices like that. I get frustrated because I don’t think most people have to do that to such an extreme degree. But for what can be an emotionally dulling disorder, having Asperger’s is a pretty extreme experience. Whether we like it or not.
If you want to read a far more articulate description of autism and energy problems, check out this post at aspectsofaspergers.com.