‘Just do it!’ – all about procrastination

I was recently asked to give a webinar presentation for adult Auties about work ‘soft skills’ (think motivation, work ethic, time management etc). One of the topics I included some slides on was procrastination. I mentioned to my Branch Manager at work that I was doing this webinar and she said ‘Jeanette, I cant imagine that you have ever procrastinated about anything.’ While this was rather flattering it isn’t quite true. Yes, I am highly motivated, loyal and diligent in pretty much everything I do, but I have in the past had significant problems putting off things that I really don’t want to do. Procrastination is something that almost everybody does, but for people on the Autism spectrum it can become a significant problem and keep us from excelling in the workplace. Procrastination is bad enough if we work in an environment where there are supervisors and a chain of command. If you put off a task for too long and miss a deadline, you might get in trouble with your manager. However, if you are self-employed, procrastination can be extremely damaging and could even cost you your business. If it is something you have a problem with, procrastination is definitely something you want to address.

When I first joined the public service as a graduate way back in 2007, there was always something in my list of tasks that I put off. It was usually something I considered onerous and which wasn’t highly time-critical. It often involved filing or recording a list of things or people in a big spreadsheet. The funny thing about these tasks was that my anxiety about doing them and my need to put them off was more damaging and unpleasant than actually doing the task! It took me a while to realise this but eventually I arrived at a helpful conclusion. If, instead of stressing about a task, thinking about how awful it would make me feel and putting off until I absolutely HAD to do it, I simply looked at the task and thought ‘I need to do this, so I’ll do it now,’ I felt a lot better. The onerous task was done. I felt a sense of achievement and my manager was happy that Jeanette had done a task which nobody else wanted to do.

It took a little practice but after a while, whenever I was given a task I didn’t want to do – reading a long report, talking to someone who was a bit grouchy or the old favourite, filing – I would just get on with it. This had huge positive effects on a number of areas. Firstly I felt a great sense of achievement for continually doing unpleasant things, I was less stressed and my managers started to think I was some kind of super-worker. So my current Branch Manager was right in a way, I don’t procrastinate any more because I have learned that it is far easier to push through the discomfort and do the task.

I call it the ‘Nike’ philosophy (no, not the Nike that is a winged victory statue from the ancient world such as the Nike of Samothrace – the sneaker company whose motto is ‘just do it!’). This is probably not something that will come naturally. Like many of the ‘soft skills’ it is something you can learn and improve through practice. Remind yourself that the task will need to be done at some point. Putting it off just adds to the pain. And putting off an unpleasant task gives it a power over you that it really doesn’t deserve to have. You are the master (or mistress) of your life. You can choose to push through and avoid procrastination or not. You have the power, so use it!  IMG_0671

My Kitty, evidently putting off doing any work in favour of enjoying a sunny spot…

The crazy person’s guide to ordinary life

I have a mental illness. It has gone by a number of names in its lifetime – schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, depression, psychotic depression and even for a short while borderline personality disorder. Neither I nor my current psychiatrist choose to give it a name although I refer to it at times as ‘my illness’ or ‘the mental illness sampler’ as it gives me a little bit of all the various symptoms of most disorders. Needless to say it is a colossal pain in the butt and I really, really don’t like it.

As I have grown older I have discovered a few things about my illness. Hating it and wishing it would go away are not very useful sentiments. It is better to accept that it exists and try to work within the limitations it gives me. Which brings me to  my present problem.

I am rather unwell right now, this instant. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say it involves scary hallucinations, intrusive thoughts about death and violence – apparently originating from some place other than me – and an elevated mood (which doesn’t actually mean I am happy. it means that I am restless, sleepless and overly energised and that I find everything dissatisfying. Also that I am like some kind of extrovert-monster who needs to talk to humans constantly. Oh, and I really want to use my credit card. A lot. And fix things around the house which I don’t actually know how to fix.)

Now I have a few things coming up over the next few days which I do not want my illness to attend. The first, and most concerning, is my job. I need to go to work tomorrow morning and behave like a respectable public servant. I need to not irritate the hell out of my colleagues and managers or confuse people. I am quite adept at doing this. I do this most of the time. But I always doubt my ability. I will have to use the old trick of imagining that my illness can wait outside of the office building until I go home. I will also tell my colleagues and managers that I am a little unwell and apologise if I seem odd. I can do this. I’ve done it before.

The next issue its that I am performing at a mental health week event on Wednesday night. OK, I suppose nobody’s going to judge me harshly for being a bit unwell at that. And elevated tends to equal confidence, so that might actually be a plus. Finally, I am attending the TEDx Canberra conference on Saturday. This will essentially be a room full of people to talk to during breaks and I can tweet and Facebook constantly throughout the day.

So OK, I can get through this one. But for me – and others living with mental illness – life can be a constant struggle and doing things that others take for granted can be extremely challenging. I’m lucky in that I have a god dollop of insight and self-awareness, but not everyone does.  If you know someone with mental illness, try to imagine what they may need to do in order to live life successfully. And if you ARE someone with mental illness, keep going. You can do it.  You rock!

Photo on 2011-06-23 at 10.14

Jeanette – slightly altered…

The ‘self’ in self-advocate

I am somebody who falls broadly into the category of Autistic self-advocate. I have a lived experience of Autism and I promote the rights, strengths, needs, individuality, value and [power of both myself and others with Autism. Being a self-advocate was not soemthign I consciously chose – rather it happened incrementally over a number of years.

I was thinking about the idea of a self-advocate this afternoon. I was watching a TV program in which one of the characters was joking about a boy with Asperger’s. The intimation was the one so frequently aired on television and moves – people with Autism are nerds, socially inept, somehow less than human etc etc etc.

This got me to thinking about myself in relation to these attributes. When I was at school, I was constantly attacked by bullies for being ‘weird, nerdy, a geek, ‘unco’, stupid, retarded’ and many other cruel insults. After thirteen years of listening to these things, I believed them. I hated myself. Despite the fact that I have a high IQ, a high EQ and others measures of general intelligence, it only started to occur to me that I was not stupid when I was 29 and a psychiatrist suggested that I was very intelligent. I still have issues with liking and valuing myself and I suspect I am far from alone in this regard.

People on the Autism spectrum are  often insulted by bullies, excluded from activities, feel isolated and lonely, are patronised by people who should be assisting and empowering them and  given low expectations of their potential by seemingly everyone in their life.

When I was first diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder, I could not entertain the concept of belonging to the Autism world. To me, the diagnosis seemed a confirmation of all the negative things I had been told throughout my life. It took me seven years to be able to even entertain the thought that I had Autism. Shortly after that I wrote an autobiography which dealt with my experience of living with undiagnosed Autism. I was asked to speak at events and was almost unwillingly thrust into the role of a self-advocate.

That was ten years ago. Now I am comfortable to talk about Autism to all sorts of people. I disclose at work and instead of hating myself due to my ‘difference’ I embrace my uniqueness. When a self-advocate – or any Autistic person – embraces their own uniqueness, their own Autistic self, they are sending a message to all of those people who doubt us: the bullies, the people who believe us incapable of doing anything worthwhile, even the writers from TV shows that see us as a nerdy butt of jokes. For me, the day when I proudly stated that I am an Autistic adult who does good things and that I like myself, Autism and all, I started to accept and value myself. Everyone has the right to that sense of value and self-acceptance.

Remember, we are amazing. You are amazing.

TEdx pic 8

Me…advocating (at TEDx Canberra 2013)

Assertiveness: A work in progress

I was relatively old when I came across the term ‘assertiveness’, about 19 or so. As soon as I understood the concept, I realised that it was not something that I was good at. I have always had difficulties saying ‘no’ and taking people to task for poor behaviour.  I never had much sense of who I was and was very keen that everybody should like me. This was driven in part by experiences of bullying at school but I think may also have been impacted by my family’s curious inability to model or deal with any kind of conflict. In fat, I only saw my parents argue once during my childhood. I was terrified and thought the world would end. My mum told me that when I was little, one of the seemingly endless parade of psychiatrists I saw suggested that my parents should ‘pretend’ to argue.  I don;t recall this ever happening,

As a child not being assertive is bad enough, but when I moved out of home I felt as if I were prey to every scam artist and sleazeball in Australia! And worse still, I was promoted in my job as a fast food operative. I had to manage staff – teenage staff to be precise. A lot of the time I didn’t even try to delegate work to them, I simply did it myself.

When I was a little older,  I found myself with a mental illness diagnosis and a difficult lifestyle. I attended a live-in therapy program which was modelled around Dialectical Behaviour Therapy principles (and here’s a link if you don’t know what that is): –  http://www.dialecticalbehaviourtherapy.com/  One of the key skills in this course was assertiveness. I realised that I completely unable to be assertive. I tried but I couldn’t believe that assertiveness was a skill you could learn, like using the internet or riding a bike. I felt that people were either assertive or they weren’t. In my mind, you either had it or you didn’t.

That was fifteen years ago. I have changed my mind a little bit about my capacity to learn assertiveness. I know that I am much better in certain situations, such as in the workplace or when I’m defending the rights of others. When it comes to standing up to family or, for some reason, charities and telemarketers, my assertiveness sills are a little deficient. It has been something I can learn but it has taken a long time and there is still a way to go.

If you are not very assertive, try to be patient with yourself. It takes small steps but it will improve. I think a lot of people on the Autism spectrum struggle with assertiveness. We often catastrophise and worry that if we stand up to someone they will hate us forever, when in fact it could strengthen the relationship. Sometimes it’s a matter of ‘taking the plunge’ with family and friends. We may find it easier to stand up for another person or be assertive in a situation where there are clear boundaries around behaviour, such as the workplace.It is not really a ‘one size fits all’ skill. Keep trying. I am.