When we rest we often feel guilty. Society values effort, productivity and achievement above everything. But for me resting isn’t doing nothing, it’s an essential part of preparing to do something, and recovering afterwards. It’s how I survive.
1/ Picasso’s painting ‘Rest’ - abstract image of face res
At nursery #school #rest was factored in. We napped on camp beds with scratchy blankets after lunch. Even at primary school we were given the opportunity to lay our heads on our hands on our wooden desks while the teacher read to us. Short interludes in otherwise hectic days.
2/ Black and white photo of children sitting at wooden school d
The thing I remember most about secondary school is rushing. We were always hurrying from one place to another, at risk of being late, but not allowed to run. My only restful moments were in the art room, library and garden, or walking up to the playing fields to do sports.
Pressure on me out of school was increased by homework and exam revision. Half terms and holidays were welcome but insufficient breaks. From time to time I’d become unwell and need to take some time off school. I now realise the main reason for this was so that I could rest.
Having a day off school was a huge relief but I worried that I wasn’t unwell enough to justify it. Even though, instinctively, it felt essential. It meant time alone, time to rest, time to recover. What would happen now, I wonder, with attendance pressure, sanctions and fines?
I survived university partly because of what I studied. English Literature was taught through lectures and seminars, with very few timetabled hours. Most of my time was spent in solitude - reading, thinking and writing. A restful antidote to the demands of student social life.
My first job after I graduated involved living in. Quite apart from the challenges of residential work, not going home at the end of the day meant never really resting. It was only on weekends away that I could fully relax. Home has always been a sanctuary and a refuge for me.
My #career involved a whole series of challenges. It was like an oscillating curve. The demands on me would reach a peak then fall away for a while after I moved to a different job. But before long the next role would become just as demanding.
Looking back to a time in my 30s when I was back at University, on work placements, and parenting young children, I didn’t get any rest at all. Any solitude I had was used for studying. I would fall asleep over my work and wake up in a panic, realising how much time I’d lost.
The culture of a workplace determines how rest is seen. In some roles being contacted in the evenings, at weekends and on holiday is the norm. Since discovering I’m autistic I’ve taken a radically different career direction, trying to prioritise wellbeing, time off and rest.
It’s hard to change the habits of a lifetime and overwork is definitely one of mine. It’s only since realising I’m autistic that I’ve realised just how effortful work was and why. Inability to concentrate in open plan offices meant work was displaced to evenings and weekends.
Getting the balance right is difficult. Understimulation can be just as bad as overstimulation career wise. Building in time to rest is much easier now I only work part time. The additional demands of household tasks on top of full time work used to squeeze out any down time.
The amount of rest I need is proportionate to the energy I expend. I’ve finally admitted to myself that I can’t cope with busy, noisy, working environments. In order to compensate for social and sensory overwhelm I’d have to spend all of my time off in a quiet, darkened room.
I spent most of my career believing ‘a change is as good as a rest’. For a while it was, but constant change became exhausting. I want to be able to indulge my passion for sound, vision and texture when I’m not at work, not dial everything down and live in a sensory vacuum.
So here I am, between jobs, doing restful things like walking the fields, listening to music, watching stimmy lights, and losing track of time. It’s a privileged position to be in after decades of scurrying around. It took a complete #burnout to finally bring me to my senses.
There is freezing rain and it’s gloomy outside but this lamp is making the room glow. The colours are so intense they seem to have substance. Being bathed in coloured light relaxes me and lifts my mood in a way I’ve never been able to explain.
There’s a real problem in terms of work and rest for many autistic people. I can only relax a bit now because I overworked for 40 years. Being subject to the benefits system may also mean being deprived of rest; feeling harassed, worried and threatened, rather than supported.
Some people opt for self employment which may put significant demands on them individually. Collaborative business models increase complexity, but spread the load. People combining complementary skills can often do more that they’re good at, and less that they struggle with.
In an ideal world some form of Universal Basic Income would provide the basis for sustainable living. Paid employment, enterprise, education or volunteering would be optional extras. It would be possible simply to exist. This would allow people to escape the treadmill.
It’s not unusual after an adult #autism #diagnosis to review life and wonder how things might have been different. But even if I’d known why I got so tired and overwhelmed I might not have been able to get more rest. Invisible disabilities tend to be overlooked or downplayed.

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More from @NortherlyRose

14 Jan
Why I love learning.
Personal reflections from an #ActuallyAutistic perspective.
I realised I loved learning at nursery school. I pressed my painted palms onto sugar paper and slid smooth wooden beads on an abacus. I sat on a vintage tractor in the grounds and marvelled at its mechanics. To learn was to wonder.
I loved the fabric of the building. A small human sized door set in a large wooden gate. My coat peg with its sunflower motif. The canvas and metal camp beds we slept on after lunch. Collaborating with my cousin David, who helped do up my buttons, while I tied his shoe laces.
Read 17 tweets
12 Jan
#VirtualDogWalk This afternoon’s walk was like an allegorical version of my life. I went much further than I intended to, and I wasn’t properly equipped. The melted snow has made the fields very muddy and it gets even deeper, high up on the track.
There came a point when the thought of carrying on and going back were equally awful. I stood there for a bit, having a think and sinking deeper into the mud. Izzy seemed keen to press ahead, so onwards and upwards it was. This meant crossing a stream and walking the plank...
Spurred on by the thought of going back through all that terrible mud I inched my way across the plank. After a short uphill climb we reached a clearing and I looked up and realised how blue the sky was. At some point soon we needed to head downhill to get home before sunset.
Read 10 tweets
11 Jan
What you might notice if you communicate with me.
A #thread about how being #autistic affects #communication (I can’t speak for anyone other than me).
I’m quite likely to dive straight into the topic under discussion without any social niceties. I may try hard to remember something that’s going on for you, but hold back from mentioning it in case I’m wrong.
If we meet somewhere noisy or busy I’m likely to hop about a bit trying to work out the best place to sit, so I can see and hear you, without getting too close or the light in my eyes. If it’s a virtual meeting I’ll be fiddling with the camera angle in a dimly lit room.
Read 25 tweets
11 Jan
This is such a tricky thing. Even before the pandemic I always took health and safety at work really seriously. This had a lot to do with a sense of moral obligation to protect others, as well as a preference for following procedure.
It took me a very long time indeed to realise that following health and safety policies and procedures at work is not, in most cases, what you’re actually supposed to do. It was one of those confusing unwritten rules.
This unwritten rule was finally made explicit when I was told off for making an entry in an accident book. I was supposed to deal with the incident by having a word with my manager “off the record”. The policy hadn’t told me to do that, I was just supposed to know.
Read 7 tweets
10 Jan
Every day is Sunday for me at the moment. No going “out out”. Just immersed in being at home with occasional walks.
I thought it was Sunday most of yesterday. That’s how marginal the distinction has become.
When I was a child most shops were closed on Sundays. It was often a welcome break in an overwhelming week. A pause, a punctuation mark. There was a familiar and predictable routine. Church, Sunday School, roast dinner, homework, afternoon tea and TV. Essential downtime.
In the police I worked shifts which included Sundays. We’d often get called to check on elderly neighbours, catch up on paperwork, and visit unoccupied premises. Sunday was less intense than the rest of the week, a welcome lull after the uproar of Friday and Saturday nights.
Read 12 tweets
1 Jan
Something autistic people often get accused of is “over sharing”. This is a curious example of a positive characteristic (openness) being pathologised. “Over sharing” is generally presented as someone failing to understand and comply with appropriate communication boundaries.
The first time I remember being conscious of “over sharing” was when my periods started at the age of 13. My mother’s friend had called round for coffee, and I mentioned this, excitedly. Her reaction was embarrassment. Clearly this information was not supposed to be shared.
It was sad that something I saw as a cause for wonderment and celebration had to be concealed because it was connected with human biology. As #autistic people we learn that “over sharing” all kinds of things: insights, objections, facts, truths, can lead to us being shamed.
Read 11 tweets

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