In the past month I have done three talks about my book. One at the launch for the book, and two more for other events where I talked about my book, and autism. Unlike a lot of people I enjoy doing public speaking, and I had fun doing the talks and selling my books afterwards. I knew even as I was doing them that it would take a lot of out me. But I have to admit I underestimated quite how long it would take me to recover. I had thought that a few days of rest might be OK, and that I could be back to normal after that, but the truth is it’s taken me about two weeks to feel like I can get back to any kind of normal routine. So why is this? And what kind of impact has it had on me?
Let me start by saying this. No one who is not autistic can understand sensory and emotional overload. People try, and they do mean well, but saying things like “I will be pretty tired too.” Or “You will just need to crash out in front of the telly tonight.” just show how little they do understand. When you have an overload sometimes you’re so worn out you can’t even rest. You can’t watch anything, you can’t read and you can’t even make a basic decision – sometimes for days on end. I love watching films, and when I can I watch a film a day. So when I can’t watch films that is a sign that I am overloaded, and need to give up on the idea of doing anything.
This was taken to something of an extreme with my last overload. Each year since I was around fourteen I have been to a horror film festival. For the first few years I only went to see a few films, but for the last five years or so I have gone to watch every film over the four days of the festival. It’s one of the few things in the year that I do look forward to doing, and one of the few time I can bring myself to go out four days on the run. Even though I always have a good time I always feel overloaded by the end, and need at least a week to relax, and do nothing after having been out and about so much.
Normally I would make sure I was not going out the week before the festival starts, but this year I decided to go and do a talk just two days before it was meant to start. I can’t say for sure why I thought this would be a good idea. I think I just got so caught up in the fun of doing talks, and selling books that I did not stop to think too much about the after-effect. But then on the day the festival was due to start the last thing I wanted to do was to go out. All I wanted to do was stay inside and do nothing. But I forced myself to go out for the first night, and watched three good films. Even though I enjoyed the films, I knew when I got home that I was feeling much more overloaded than I normally would at this point in the festival. And when I got up the next morning I knew that going back out would not be a good idea. I don’t want to make things sound over dramatic, and it’s not the worst thing in the world by any means – I missed watching a few films, that’s all. But the point is that I was unable to do something that I enjoy doing, and something that I actively make sure I do each year.
And this is where people not understanding overload comes in. How to explain to someone something you can’t fully understand, or find the words for yourself? How do you explain that going out and doing something you enjoy, something you would even find fun when you`re there, would in fact be bad for you?
When you`re overloaded, or at least when I am (I can’t speak for everyone with autism) it’s a case of not being able to do anything, and almost drifting around all day just waiting for time to pass so that the overload will fade, and I can get back on with my life. It might take me all day just to decide to watch a film then another hour to pick one to put on. And the likelihood is even if I did I would not be able to get in to it. It’s as if your mind stops working as it should; you can’t think clearly, or even decide anything for yourself. And as I say this can last for up to a week normally.
On top of that I felt angry at myself for not planning as I should have done. I ended up not going to the festival and staying at home over the weekend instead. This was the right thing to do, and I am glad that I decided to do it, but I still feel as if I should have known better than to end up in that situation. Doing a talk and then dealing with all the one-on-one interactions that come with selling books took a lot out of me. More than I thought it would do. And hopefully I can use the mistakes I made to learn more about myself, overload, and how to plan my work in future.
You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html
If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?
And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!) http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762