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Not taking care of yourself

October 16, 2009

Seems like it’s the day for inspiration from old blog posts. I also ran across this last night, but some of the issues cropped up again today and reminded me of it. This is probably rough, because I’m very tired and in need of caffeine.

AnneC over at Existence is Wonderful wrote a good piece, as part of a series on dealing with everyday difficulties, On The Feeding of Quirky Mammals, Part 3. In it, she describes some eerily familiar “inertia and executive function keeping you unfed”* scenarios, with some workarounds:

So, say you’ve managed to figure out that a certain “weird” sensation in your head most likely means you are either hungry, thirsty, or both — or that (on the less optimistic side of things) you’ve once again found yourself practically falling over at your desk because somehow nine or more hours have managed to pass since that energy bar you had for breakfast.

At this point, figuring out why whatever unpleasant thing is happening to you is happening is only one part of the equation — the other is determining how to do something about it.

Some of the workarounds–especially the bit about minimizing transitions, to decrease opportunities for inertia to kick in–were helpful to me. The thing that really grabbed my attention, though, was one comment by the author:

And one more thing along similar lines…I think some of us actually can tend to have “too much” self-discipline or at least something that amounts to it — e.g., following a really messed up start to college (I attended a particular junior college at first that was not very good for me), I just sort of decided that I was “going to succeed [in getting my degree], no matter what” and devoted ALL my energy to that task for the most part until I actually did.

And…while I was successful in this goal, it did not come without a lot of things like, say, becoming quite dehydrated, eating very poorly, injuring myself inadvertently by bicycling with a too-heavy backpack on, and ending up sometimes just having what seemed to be “random” meltdowns that involved running out of classrooms, crying, loss of coherent speech, etc. In other words, during that period, my problem was not a lack of willpower, it was more related to a lack of knowing how to manage my time, take breaks, and communicate or even acknowledge certain needs, etc. I also developed somewhere along the way a pretty unhealthy attitude that “you don’t know if you’re trying hard enough unless it HURTS” — which meant that I was really operating a lot of the time at a level that was NOT sustainable, because the only indication I ever had that told me I was “doing enough” was that sense that I was somewhere on the edge of some kind of collapse. Learning to NOT operate that way is an ongoing exercise even to this day for someone who wants both to maintain high standards and not drive themselves into unhealthiness in the process!

Bingo. This is exactly what I keep doing to myself, down to a lot of the specifics. It’s what I’ve been describing as “pushing myself too hard” to the point of “running myself into the ground”. Even once you recognize what’s going on, it’s really hard to break out of.

When you’ve been been taught thoroughly enough that you’re Just Not Trying Hard Enough by people sufficiently different that they cannot tell when you are putting in insane amounts of effort, you may start believing it. You may have trouble telling what your own limits are, much less working out a more suitable way to approach things based on how your brain really works. You may feel like you’re Not Really Trying up to the point that you collapse.

This is exactly what got my mother (not on the Spectrum, but not neurotypical either) into the state she ended up in. She felt compelled to ignore any kind of limitation–including chronic pain from undiagnosed bone cancer–until she just collapsed. Between years of getting dismissed by doctors, and refusing to see that she had any limits whatsoever–which also helped keep her from getting the care she needed–she spent years with a very poor quality of life, then died at 60. That really opened my eyes to the fact that I was running breakneck down the same path, and it scared the hell out of me. Especially since I’ve got the same kind of high pain tolerance, and my reactions are similarly atypical.

Now I see that it’s a problem, but am still working hard on breaking out of that prisonlike pattern. With limited success. (In the second post, I forgot to mention that forgetting to eat–thanks to inertia and executive function problems–was the initial problem, which has been aggravated by weight concerns popping up again.)

Even after reading about this just last night, I let myself get dehydrated and forgot to eat for most of the day, in front of the computer. This is a worse problem since my blood sugar is out of control, and I have (a) very little energy, and (b) a greater tendency toward dehydration with flulike symptoms** complete with a feverish feeling, to the point that I thought I had more than a month’s worth of back-to-back flu until I figured it out a few days ago. That will really increase your energy levels, too. :/ Judging by previous experience, some B vitamin levels are probably getting low, too, just from the polyuria.

Right now, I’m in pretty bad physical shape, and very low on spoons (even purple sporks). It took seeing that my blood sugar was running 3x what it should, but I have been able to give myself permission not to push myself as hard doing physical stuff. My body is frequently reminding me, “Hey! My cells can’t use energy properly as it is, why are you increasing energy requirements with exercise?!”.

It does not help that, out of perfectionism, even if I give myself permission not to do some of the more physical tasks, I still feel like I have to be doing something. This has let me get in more work on writing, since I’ll let myself sit down long enough to do it. It’s also meant that I don’t go and get something to drink or eat while I’m “working”.

This ties into the “have to be strong” thing I mentioned in the last post’s endnotes, as well. I suspect it’s a slightly different version of the “must be independent” thing a lot of other people talk about. I’ve heard enough of that one at school, etc.–usually having to do with how my laziness and stupidity will impact this–but don’t think it’s motivating me as much as a less-than-sane version of the “not letting other people down” thing. I ran across a good post about independence, community, and disability from a slightly different perspective, over at cripchick’s weblog. I am experiencing slightly less mental conflict over being unable to work right now, but still fight feeling guilty over also not being able to “do my share” around the house. It’s a weird and harmful mishmash of two very different sets of attitudes.

It’s crazy, and I need to find some better ways to work around running myself into the ground–then too often feeling guilty about not having done more! That’ll probably take both figuring out some better ways to approach tasks, and figuring out (then admitting) when I need some help.

Just another area in which I need to find a better balance.


* Yes, a lot of us perceived as high functioning do run into these difficulties. Joel at NTs Are Weird describes nicely just how we can get into trouble with honest-to-goodness starving and not being able to keep our houses liveable. I have run up against both, and few people understand. This kind of thing may well get you called “mentally ill” and a danger to yourself, so that you get inappropriate medications rather than the practical help you need. I’m glad other people are talking about this set of challenges.

** As if we needed further evidence of this society’s weird and harmful obsession with body mass, guess what turns up in the sponsored “Who Can Help” section of that page on flulike symptoms in diabetes (including involuntary weight loss)? “How to Lose 30+lbs Guaranteed. Try it Free.” Erm, poorly controlled diabetes or maybe diabulimia? Bleh.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. bluerthanyou permalink
    October 16, 2009 6:10 pm

    great blog.

  2. October 18, 2009 6:38 am


    “Try differently, not harder” has become my motto.

    Also a new motto for me is “You are brave” and “You can do hard things”. I pinched it from Bon Dobbs.

    I wonder if you have been to the Daily Living Yahoo Group. Lots of people have recommended it, including Joel and Amanda Baggs.

    • urocyon permalink
      October 20, 2009 2:29 pm

      Sounds like a much saner set of things to tell yourself. I’ve been focusing on staying mindful of the crappy ones I keep parroting (see them for what they are, let them go away instead of starting into a loop), since the standard cognitive therapy approach of countering them just leads to arguments. 😉 But maybe purposely telling myself more helpful things at other times really will do some good.

      Yeah, I joined the group right after it was announced, but haven’t kept up. Then I almost forgot about it. Thanks for reminding me to check it out again. 🙂

  3. urocyon permalink
    October 20, 2009 2:43 pm

    It also just really hit me after I wrote this, that I can stop kicking myself over honestly not having been able to stay veggie before. That was during the same time period when I was under so much stress, and didn’t know how to cope, to the point that I crashed out of college and ended up on tons of psych meds. I had real problems obtaining and cooking food for myself, while living in an omni household. I kept trying, but had to resort to eating what other people were cooking. Not starving legitimately took precedence over other ethical concerns. This is another case in which I would not have faulted anyone else under similar circumstances.

    I’m the main one responsible for food now, with multiple special dietary needs (celiac, diabetic, near-veggie), and am having some problems keeping up with that ATM. Making sure to get more easily prepared frozen and canned stuff has helped a lot. I’m trying not to let perfectionism insist that I must go in search of fresh stuff frequently (on foot or by bus, when I’m having health problems and am more prone to overload), and save money by choosing more labor-intensive food also requiring more steps (like dried beans). It is an improvement.

    I’m also trying not to let the habit of perfectionism make me feel bad about being pescetarian right now, especially since eating sustainably caught wild fish and shellfish doesn’t even conflict with the way I’m looking at things these days. *shakes head* It’s also quick and easy to cook, a major reason we’ve been having fish a couple of times a week.


  1. Pain and sensory management through mindfulness, Part 1 « Urocyon's Meanderings

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