Why my anxiety levels rise when people come to do work in the house.

Over the past few weeks we have had to have quite a few jobs done around the house. As these are jobs we cant do ourselves this has meant having to have tradespeople around such as joiners,and electricians. You might think that having people in the house and the noise they make when working would be the worst part of this, and for some autistic people it might well be, but for myself – and I am sure for some other autistic people – the worst part by far is waiting for them to come. I don’t just mean waiting for a few hours for them to arrive on the day either. Let me explain what I mean.

In my mind when I make a plan it’s a set thing; if I have to be somewhere I want to know the day and the time I need to be there, and the chances are I will be early. If I can’t make it I will get in touch and give as much notice as I can. You might put that down to my autism and you may well be right, but I also think it’s just basic courtesy. If you are going around to someone’s house you should at least tell them when you plan to arrive! Yet this basic information is almost impossible to prise from most people who do come around; want someone to come around and do a basic job in the house? They will be with you some time early next week. Well what day is that? Monday, Tuesday at the latest? Unless they get busy with something else then it might be Wednesday. OK, and would that be morning or afternoon? Morning, unless they run late then, afternoon.

Ah, OK, cool, just let me put three days aside for a half hour job then. Due to my autism it is almost impossible for me to focus on doing anything if I know I have someone coming to the house. As strange as it might sound to non-autistic people on a day when I have workmen around even though I am doing nothing, and they are doing all the work just having them come around and do the job takes up all my energy for that day. The waiting in, the knowing I will have to have some level of social contact, the not knowing how long the work will go on for, the noise, the disruption of having people in my house and what that does to my routine. Having to set one day aside to deal with this is bad enough, but it must be done in order to get things done around the house. But if this goes on for three or four days as it will if people are not clear on when they are coming, then you can end up wasting half the week being sat round feeling anxious not knowing if someone is coming around or not!

I am not quite sure why people find it so hard to look at a diary and see what day they are free before making plans instead of putting aside big blocks of time where they may or may not come around if they feel like it. It means instead of the anxiety building up over one day, and then being able to get back in to the swing of my routine the next day, you end up having two or three days of build up and if you’re lucky then having someone come to do a job. Which brings me on to the next issue…..

If you commit to being somewhere at a set date and time and you can’t make it you have to get in touch and explain that right? I think we can all – autistic or not – agree on that. But if you just say you might be somewhere that seems to be some kind of get-out clause. If you said you might come around at six and you realise you can’t you don’t have to ring up and tell the people whose anxiety has been building up all day because you only said you might be there. Never mind the fact that they may well have changed plans for you, changed their routine, waited in and are going to be on edge for the evening in case you turn up. It takes a few seconds to send a text saying “Can’t make it, call tomorrow to rearrange.” And yet the amount of times someone has just not turned up without any form of contact is, for me at least, shocking. Again this is not just about the impact on my autism, though that can be huge. Waiting in all day unable to do anything only for the person not to turn up without any contact to let us know of this change of plans does add to my levels of stress and anxiety, but it also means the day ends with me knowing I have to do it all again. Not only do I have to do it all again, but when I do there will be even more anxiety because now who ever it is has a track-record of not turning up. So I will half expect them not to turn up again which just adds a whole new level to things. But as I say it’s not just that. Again it goes back to common place courtesy: make a plan, make it clear and then stick to it. If you can’t then have the decency to let who ever you made the plan with know.

And when I say make a plan I don’t mean text the night before and ask if you can come around and do a job. The answer will always be no. I need notice, not a few hours notice, but a few days notice at least. This should not be too hard to understand or to give. I do understand that for most non-autistic people this would not be as big a deal as it is for me, but still people have work or university; they do things with their lives’s so you would think that a few days notice would be important for most people. Again it comes back to the fact that making a real plan, showing that you will take the time to plan things out, and then stick to them is always better than doing things on the spur of the moment.

It is hard to get someone who is not autistic to fully understand how disruptive and stressful having someone come to the house to do jobs can be. The levels of anxiety and the change in routine make it very hard, but I honestly believe that if it were more clear and well arranged the stress would not be half what it is. If I knew someone was coming at seven on a Wednesday evening then yes it would still be hard to focus that day, yes I might still feel overloaded once they had gone, but at least it would then be over. A plan would have been made, I would have be able to make plans for that day knowing that work was going to be happening, and how that would make me feel and from the next morning I could be back to my routine.

But if I have to put aside two or three days in case someone comes around only for them not to come around, and then I have to go through the same act the next week just to get one small job done I can lose the best part of two weeks just for an hours work. As well as driving my stress levels up this makes it much harder to get the jobs done on the house that need doing. If it takes two weeks of stress to get one job done I want the next few weeks to catch up on work I missed due to the change in my routine, plus the last thing I want to think about is trying to make more plans to get jobs done. This means other jobs that need doing get left because I just can’t put up with another two or three weeks of messing around just to get someone to come round and do them.

I understand that not everyone knows about autism and even if they do they don’t know I am autistic, but again I think what I am saying should be true in most cases. No one wants to wait three days to find out if someone is coming only for them not to turn up, no one wants to be told someone will be there some time between ten and seven, and no one wants someone to cancel or change plans without notice. The difference is for most people it’s a minor irritation, but for myself and other autistic people it can be a massive disruption and cause of stress/anxiety; something that takes an already stressful event and makes it ten times harder than it needs to be. I can do work around dealing with the stress of knowing someone is coming, and I can try and get myself to a point where I can do other things instead of just wait. But it can’t all be me, at some point I need people to meet me half-way, and at least let me know what day it is I will have to prepare myself for!

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11 thoughts on “Why my anxiety levels rise when people come to do work in the house.

  1. A few weeks ago, I attend a weekend with a group of mountaineers, 20 altogether. The event has been initiated by an organization for alpine hiking tours. In former times I only joined much smaller and private groups. There I made the experience that the journey is organized well before the start and the guide insisted on having a driver days or even weeks ago. So I was quite surprised and felt very uncomfortable with the fact not to have a driver even 2 days before. Things developed rather slowly and the contacts were not so easily to be made,especially when you refuse to have phone contact as an autistic person. The other participants did not understand my reluctance. Phone is supposed to be faster than email. However I hate phone calls, especially unexpected ones and when I’m outside I’m often unable to call due to sensory issues. So in the end I experienced way too much stress ahead of the event and the degree of relaxing during the hike has been significantly reduced thereafter. Similar to your description it is the long waiting costing a lot of nerves, the same holds for the postman when he is supposed to come between 7 and 17 o’clock but I do not know exactly when. I do nothing the whole time and feel very stressed because I should and could do other things in between.

    1. I would have found that very hard to deal with to. Even worse as its meant to be something relaxing as you say. I also find with phone calls I get so stressed when someone calls me that I end up saying things with out thinking and realise once I am off the phone that what I said in haste was not right at all.
      Yes thats the other big part of it the feeling of stress knowing you could be doing something else but being unable to due to having to wait around for someone to come and not knowing when that will be.

  2. Brilliant piece, expresses how I feel in a way I find difficult to do. parts of my house are yet to be finished because of this reason, This is actually a relief to read.

    1. Thanks! I am glad you liked it and that it matched how you feel. My house is the same, some jobs have needed doing for well over a year. Jobs in my room get left the most because if someone has to work in there I have nowhere to run of to and hide when they are here.

  3. I can relate to this. Whenever I expect some one, I find myself lurking at my own front door. I get nothing done and I feel as if I am ready to chew my own limbs off ( figuratively) if I have to wait longer than an hour. I cannot imagine what kind of a state I would be in if I had to wait for days!

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