Timing things

I haven’t had a single job where I haven’t at some point been disciplined for not arriving on time. Usually, the complaint takes the form of “You’re always late!” and that doesn’t mesh with my literal brain, so I’ll argue that I wasn’t late the past three days, or that I’ve only been 15 minutes late once in the last month and this was the reason, or something like that. Which then gives me a reputation for being intransigent and argumentative.

But aside from whether I’m actually “always” late or not, I do have a problem with timing things.

jablonec-stationWhen I have a specific appointment, I suffer from overbuffering. I’ll go, “Right… I’ll need to catch the 10:55 train, better be at the station at 10:50 so I don’t have to run… Hm, need to buy a ticket, never know how long the line’s going to be, better be there at 10:40… It takes me 5 minutes to get to the station… or is it 10 minutes? I’ve never actually timed it, better be on the safe side, leave the house at 10:25… That means I’d better have my coat on and my bag packed at 10:15, otherwise I’ll be rushing all over the place and panicking… OK, I’ll have to get ready at 10:00.” And the end result is usually that I’m at the station by 10:20, 35 minutes early. (Or, in even sadder cases, that I’m so stuck on the idea of leaving the house at 10:25, that I’ll be sitting on the sofa with my coat on for 15 minutes until it’s time to leave). Which is not really a problem, but it is a tad inefficient, and shows that I don’t really have a good grasp of how long things actually take me.

As soon as it’s a recurring appointment, though, I start getting careless. I remember that last time I twiddled my thumbs for 35 minutes, so I’ll just get myself an extra cup of tea and play on the laptop for a bit before leaving. And that’s when the real shit starts happening. Before I know it, it’s actually 10:45, and I have absolutely no chance of still making it to the station on time.

It’s even more complicated when it gets to work. I think in absolutes. The train leaves at 10:55, which is an absolute. One minute late and the train will have left. Even when I’m messing up how long things take, I still have a very clear end goal. With jobs, it’s not that easy. To my immense surprise, I learned last year that a 9:00am start time doesn’t actually mean the goal is to be there at 9. Because we’re dealing with people here, and their perceptions of me. The goal is that I should be seen to be WORKING at 9. So no getting coffee, no starting up my computer, no going through my schedule. I need to be AT WORK. And that doesn’t mean “present at the office”.

A complicating factor is that when I ask about starting times, I often get the answer of “oh, we’re not that particular about times, as long as you get the work done.” That is a lie. (And it has taken me nearly two decades to figure out it’s a lie). People get annoyed when I always get in later than they do, never mind that I’m also always the last to leave (usually by one or two hours). It doesn’t make sense. It’s all about messy human perceptions. It’s not about how much work I do, or how many hours I’m working. It’s only about how it makes people feel. And apparently, me getting in late makes them feel like I don’t really care about making an effort.

So, knowing all this, why is it still so incredibly hard for me to get anywhere on time?

Because I struggle. I struggle with timing, knowing how long things take me. I struggle with executive function, initiating the actions that will get me somewhere on time. I struggle with why it’s important, because to be honest, how it makes others feel is not a paramount motivation for me.

If there is a specific reason why I need to be at the office ahead of time (like manning the phone line that opens at 8:30, or having a website go live at 10:00), I can manage just fine. But simply keeping up appearances? Not logical. No motivation.

And I think the last part might be crucial. Because I’m hardly ever late for appointments with friends (although that’s also because the one-off schedule overbuffering kicks in there). But with people I’m not emotionally invested in? Not really. And maybe that’s why I get grief for being late for work. Not because it’s a rule not to be late, because others get away with being late on occasion, and I never get away with it. But because people can somehow tell that making them happy just by doing something completely illogical is not that important to me.

The problem is made up of so many unrelated but heavily interactive elements, that I have no idea where to start in fixing it. And I’m not even sure I want to fix it. Deep down, I just want to yell at employers to simply let me be. Let me do my job, because I do my job well and I put in all the hours and I always get things done on time. So why make my life miserable by focusing only on what time I get in? Is that really the most important thing about my job? Get a f***ing grip!

But this is the way people feel. Will I try changing them, or will I try to change myself?

Batteries and procrastination

Do you want to know what having executive function looks like?

Red bicycle light

It’s getting ready to go to the grocery store (on my bicycle, it’s a local store) and realising it’s dark out. It’s making the connection between “it’s dark out” and bicycle lights. It’s remembering that the last time I rode my bike, the batteries in the red light on the back were nearly dead. It’s walking back into the living room to get the spare batteries from the big fruit bowl, and putting them in the bicycle light. It’s putting the dead batteries in my coat pocket. It’s remembering the dead batteries are in my coat pocket as I enter the grocery store. It’s walking to the recycling bin and dropping the batteries in.

It’s not crisscrossing the grocery store trying to think of everything I need to buy, because I didn’t bother making a list. A little executive function fail there. But let’s go on.

It’s heading towards the checkout lane with a basket full of food, and stopping to pick up extra batteries. It’s putting the new batteries in the big fruit bowl when I get home. It’s throwing the old empty packaging in the bin.

It’s amazing.

All my life, I wondered why things that other people claimed were so simple, for me were so incredibly hard to do. I thought I was making a fuss over nothing. I thought I was being lazy. I thought I was procrastinating. But this little scenario? Can I honestly say that NOT doing all of this would have been procrastination? Laziness? Making a fuss over nothing?

Seriously. I can think of far more interesting things to procrastinate on. I can think of far more efficient ways to be gloriously lazy.

This little scenario. Most people probably wouldn’t understand why I’m even mentioning it. Because they don’t even think about it. It’s normal for them. It’s how they live their lives. But me? If you had told me a month ago that I’d be capable of doing this, I would have laughed at you. I had spent 37 years trying to learn how to do this, and I knew I’d failed. This was not something I was capable of.

And now I know why.

Executive function. And medication has fixed it.

White bicycle light

Detail oriented

While cleaning up a pile of paperwork (yay executive function! yay me!) I came across a time sheet from my previous job.

The close-up reads as follows (because I know you’ll want to know):

11:59 planning
12:00 smoke break/lunch
12:31 put phone call through
12:34 create new email address
12:37 put phone call through
12:38 figure out problem with content management system of client
12:42 create CWP [planning app] for client
12:47 add new image to website for client
13:00 figure out problem with CAV [car app] for client
13:13 put phone call through
13:18 put appointments in calendar
13:23 smoke break
13:29 discuss CAV [car app] with coworker
13:38 put phone call through
13:40 create Google Analytics for client
14:01 help coworker
14:04 help coworker

The reason the entries are struck through is because at the end of the day I added up the time spent on particular tasks, in order to enter them into the administrative system. Because that was counted in 15 minute increments. And as you can see from the detailed view, I logged everything minute by minute.

What do you mean, detail oriented? My employer wanted to know how much time I spent on separate tasks and on different clients. So I showed them. Every employer would love to have someone like me.

Lists are an autistic thing, but they’re not an impairment

So, after the success of my huge list of things that I think make me autistic, I figured I’d give it another go. My childhood interview was pretty much a fail (more about that later), so I knew I needed some way to show the diagnostic therapist the impact that the autistic stuff has on my life. Which goes against every instinct I have. Because I hide my vulnerabilities and I concentrate on my strengths. Which is a healthy thing to do. Except when a diagnosis is completely dependent on having a significant impairment. “Needing some acknowledgment and validation” is not a diagnostic criterion yet, unfortunately.

Writing this list took me countless drafts, different set-ups (Word or Excel document? Order by categories or severity?), innumerable tears, and 11 days. It was a really hard thing to do. But it was necessary. I also toyed with the idea of making it funnier by listing examples, but then decided against that because I need this to be as bleak and depressing as possible. I might have to cheer myself up with writing a list of things I’m awesome at. Anyway, without further ado, the list of things I suck at!

FINANCES

I have no overview of my bank account balance.
I don’t pay bills regularly.
I have no idea which bills have been paid and which haven’t.
I have difficulty prioritising payments.
I have no idea of the amount needed to cover my monthly expenses.
I have difficulty assigning budgets.
I sometimes buy things I can’t afford.
I’m unable to save up money for big expenses.
I forget to open letters and bills.
I have problems organising important documents.
I forget to do important things like apply for unemployment.
I forget to return important forms.
I have difficulty replying to important emails.
I have difficulty writing job application letters.
I get upset about making phone calls to companies and organisations.

PERSONAL CARE

I don’t take regular showers.
I don’t brush my teeth regularly.
I have difficulty remembering to put on deodorant.
I wear the same underwear for several days in a row.
I sometimes forget to shave my armpits even when I’m wearing something sleeveless.
I bite my nails and nail beds, sometimes until they bleed.
I pull out my hair.
I pick my nose even in public.
I sometimes forget to go to the toilet and end up wetting myself.
I forget to eat breakfast.
I usually have no energy to make dinner.
I postpone making appointments for the dentist, the doctor, and the hairdresser.

HOUSEHOLD

I don’t do my dishes regularly.
I don’t clean my kitchen work area regularly.
I don’t vacuum and clean my floors regularly.
I don’t clean my toilet and bathroom regularly.
I don’t do laundry regularly.
I don’t maintain my garden.
I don’t tidy up after myself.
I leave my dirty clothes in a pile on the floor.
I forget to throw food out when it’s gone bad.
I often use knives and plates from the day before.
I forget to bring empty bottles to the recycling bin.
I don’t change my sheets regularly.
I sometimes forget to take out the garbage.
I have problems keeping my clothes and shoes organised.
I forget to water my plants.
I don’t clean the cat’s litter box daily.
I have problems throwing away things I have no use for.

WORK

I’m often late.
I call in sick too often.
I don’t know how to pick my battles or agree on small things even when privately disagreeing.
I don’t know how to voice my opinion in an empathetic, non-confrontational way.
I get very upset when my own priority list gets changed by my manager.
I have difficulty handling criticism that I think is unfounded.
I don’t know how to handle tasks I have no knowledge of.
I have difficulty asking for help.
I try to postpone phone calls to customers as long as possible.
I have difficulty answering emails when I don’t have a real answer yet.
I always follow unimportant rules (like no private internet use at work, or wash up your own coffee cups).
I get upset when other people don’t follow those rules.
I get confused when there are implicit rules that nobody says out loud.
I have problems with lying to customers to protect the company’s interests.
I have difficulty handling unscheduled meetings.
I get upset when people are talking close by or when the radio is on while I’m trying to work.
I get upset when a ceiling light malfunctions.
I don’t like company outings that involve more than just having a couple of drinks.
I have difficulty joining coworkers for lunch unless explicitly invited.

FAMILY AND RELATIONSHIPS

I forget to congratulate people on their birthday.
I forget to plan a visit or send a card when someone has just had a baby.
I don’t often take initiative to meet up with family or friends.
I don’t call family or friends to ask how they are.
I forget to give small compliments.
I need to be explicitly told that information is private and not meant to be told to others.
I have difficulty not focusing on solutions when someone tells me about their problems.
I have problems in the early stages of a relationship because I get obsessed with the person.
I don’t know how to keep a conversation going when I’m not interested in the subject.
I rehearse conversations in advance.
I get upset when someone is late.
I don’t know how to talk to others about my own emotions.
I feel more connected to my cat and my books than to most people.
I often have trouble thinking about what someone else likes to do, unless they tell me.
I don’t know how to introduce myself to strangers.
I often say inappropriate things.
I often take things too seriously.
I have problems not interrupting people when I think of something interesting to say.
I get very upset when I think people are not listening to me.
I am too trusting of strangers.

FEELINGS

I have problems coping with changes in plans.
I always order the same things in fast food places.
I have irrational food dislikes that I disguise as allergies.
I get upset when I’m in a crowd.
I get very upset from loud or ongoing noise.
I get upset in brightly lit environments.
I don’t like having the TV on.
I have problems personalising my environment (like hanging up pictures).
I have problems disconnecting from dreams on waking up.
I have problems watching thriller or horror movies and knowing it’s not real.
I don’t get anything done when I’m sick or in pain.
I get angry when being complimented on something that I think is undeserved.
I get stuck on things needing to be perfect.
I hide in my bedroom for weeks when I feel unable to cope with things.
I hate myself when looking at this list.
I want to be perfect.
I don’t want to be normal.

Ch-ch-changes

A few years ago, when pizza delivery places here started preslicing pizzas more often, I was really annoyed because I wanted to determine the size of my own slices.

When my pizza arrived just now, it took me about 30 seconds of pulling on the edges to realise it wasn’t presliced. And then another 15 seconds or so to think of a solution (knife!). And then I felt so annoyed with the pizza delivery place for not preslicing my pizza.

Until I remembered that this was how I used to like it.

I’m pretty bad at handling small changes like that. I hadn’t even realised until now. It’s not that I get an emotional meltdown or get stuck and have no way out, but the annoyance is definitely there and it does take me somewhat longer to adapt.

And all because of pizza.

Shame

This article has been reprinted with permission on We Are Like Your Child.

I want to test a theory. The theory of shame going away when it’s out in the open.

I seem to have this thing. Which could or might possibly be related to decreased pain sensitivity. Or maybe executive function.

I don’t feel my bladder getting full. Usually the first signal that really gets me to pay attention is “bladder completely full cannot hold it need to find toilet within next 30 seconds!” Mad scramble for toilet ensues.

That or peeing myself.

© Bartlomiej Zyczynski – Fotolia.com

I’m 36 years old. I’m a pretty successful career woman (I can still bluff my way around the gaps in my resume). I have bought a house on my own (mortgaged of course, but still). I have a small but close circle of friends. I’m close with my family. I’m highly verbal. If I wanted, I could easily be seen as a shiny Aspie.

And the last time I peed myself in public was 6 weeks ago. And I don’t mean a few dribbles. I don’t mean “bit of incontinence, here’s some Depends”. I mean not being able to stop until my bladder is empty. Thank god this time the train platform was fairly dark and I was wearing a skirt so only my shoes got soaked. Made a nice squishy sound when I walked away from the puddle in the hopes that nobody would see.

Have I forgiven myself for not being able to feel my bladder until it’s bursting? Oh, years and years ago. It’s just a thing that happens. I can’t do anything about it except frequent toilet breaks even when I don’t feel like I have to go, and sometimes I simply forget to do that. It’s part of being me.

Do I still feel absolutely mortified when I pee myself in public? Does telling this story make me cringe? Did anyone here reading that story feel embarrassment on my behalf? Or even disgust?… Yeah, thought so.

But I’m glad you listened.

Edited to add some background:
When I wrote this, I was incredibly angry. Angry at the idea that shame was just some silly notion that would disappear as soon as it got examined. So I wanted to prove that there were some things that would not be less shameful when brought out in the open, because it wasn’t irrational to feel ashamed of them. That it was actually
normal to feel ashamed for wetting myself as an adult.

But now I feel pride. Pride that I had the courage to come out and admit that there are some things that will always be a problem for me. Pride that I was asked to publish my story on We Are Like Your Child, which is a blog full of articles by bloggers I very much admire. And pride that maybe, just maybe, someone else out there will read this and find some consolation and courage in here too. Bless you all. Wetters and non-wetters alike.

Guess that means I'm doomed ;-)

Guess that means I’m doomed *giggles*

Cleaning in progress

About a week ago, I aired out my dirty laundry for all to see. (Sorry, there are so many phrases and expressions involving clean and dirty, I’m having a field day! Yes, I love language).

I thought you might like to know that I’ve made some progress.

The picture of the kitchen cabinets isn’t so obvious (bad photography), but the drawers on the right are honestly downright grubby. The door on the left has already been cleaned. I’ve also unearthed the bedroom floor from the strata of accumulated laundry and crisp bags. Still need to vacuum but I’m getting there. Lastly, the attic, because that’s where all the dirty laundry from my bedroom ended up. At least I know what needs to be done there.

I’ve been using a couple of methods to get this far. One method I got off Snakedancing and is called productive procrastination. This doesn’t really work with executive function fail, but for dreaded chores it works wonders (for me anyway). Whenever I ran into something that made me feel anxious about doing it, I procrastinated by picking up some clothes and bringing them to the attic. I did have to remind myself to only do small bits of procrastination.

Some of the other methods are from the comments section on Procrastination or Executive Function Fail? on Musings of an Aspie, which is a recommended read by the way. But the comments contain some very interesting observations as well.

Kathryn:

I find little bursts of doing cleaning stuff works best, and I mean “little” like spraying the counters with a water-vinegar mix while I’m nuking my coffee. By the time I’ve had my coffee, the water’s had time to loosen any gunk, plus there’s visual reminders (the counter’s wet, the spray bottle is out). Then it feels logical or part of a pattern to wipe the counters clean, in an “if-then” way.

That’s how I managed to clean the kitchen cabinets today. And the fridge door yesterday, by the way. While waiting for the tea kettle to boil. This helped a lot with pacing myself, I identified ONE thing that I could do on the spot and stopped as soon as it was done.

Lucy:

can’t have anyone over syndrome (spells out c h a o s )

Quoted that one because it’s hilariously spot-on. 🙂

waggermama:

for anyone with an android phone, I can really recommend an app called Regularly. I set household tasks and rather than set a date I can say the task needs to be done weekly/fortnightly/monthly/yearly and then it *gently* reminds me to do it.

I immediately downloaded Regularly from the Google Play store and so far it looks really promising. I did have a fairly large anxiety attack on Sunday evening after I started to add all the chores that needed doing, because THE LIST WAS JUST SO INCREDIBLY LONG. Granted, I did add things like “brush teeth daily” because I tend to forget that sort of thing.


Where I got stuck at first is due date, which is always a problem for me, because I have this feeling everything was due yesterday. And then I panic. But as it turns out, in every task there’s also a thing called “Log”. And when you click that, you can say when (you think) you’ve done this task last. Which is far more convenient for me than to start guessing when I need to get it done. Based on the last time I did something, and how regularly I want to do it, the app gives a nice gradual colour scheme to each task. Which brings me to the second reason why I like this app: RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAINBOWS. I really like colours sorted by rainbow. 🙂

Edit: the default colour setting goes from red to green. To get the red to blue rainbow colours, go to Settings > Color Range > Extended.

I’ve been using Regularly for two days now, and it gives me good clues on what my top productive procrastination should be, and lets me tick off random items from my “little bursts” cleaning list. So all in all, it seems to be working.

In closing, Nattily’s blog has a really awesome article that offers an in-depth analysis of procrastination vs. executive dysfunction vs. ability to do things “that are duller than, I don’t know, dull things” (with photos and coloured highlighters!). And Neurodivergent K’s blog has some very useful tips on how to “autistify” your surroundings to make things like cleaning easier to remember and execute. Also with photos!