Executive function is…

Sometimes I wonder why it takes me so long to get anything done. And then I remember…

Executive function is opening the jar before poking the spoon at the jam.

Executive function is boiling the kettle before trying to pour water onto the coffee grounds.

Executive function is pants, socks, shorts and running shoes … in that order.

Executive function is what lets you make dinner on the fly, without arranging all the ingredients first in order of use, neatly lined up across the countertop. Executive function is what saves 15 minutes for the oven to heat up; what gets dinner to the table on time. Executive function is being able to decide what to eat of an evening without having a plan in advance.

Executive function is being able to start a new task without rehearsing it over and over in your mind beforehand.

Executive function is stripping the bed before starting the wash into which the bedclothes were supposed to go!

Reduced executive function is why autistics need time to plan ahead for new activities.

Reduced executive function is why we can shy away from commitments or, despite our best intentions, may fail to follow through.

Reduced executive function is why we need to know miles beforehand about even the smallest changes in routine.

Reduced executive function is why so many struggle without the proper support to make it through school; to hold down a job; to manage our own homes and lives.

Reduced executive function is one of the main things that holds us back from achieving our potential.

Despite reduced executive function, thanks to careful planning, I am enjoying a unexpected flurry of wintertime productivity at work.

Despite reduced executive function, I have signed up for a frightening number of non-routine seasonal activities, artfully placed for maximum disruption to eating routines – and so far am on track to follow through on all of them!

Despite reduced executive function, with cards sent and presents waiting only to be wrapped, I am almost ready for Christmas.

With foreknowledge, we can achieve. Given control, our differences are strengths.

Happy Christmas everyone!

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Disconnect

Someone at work today asked how I was coping with the long nights. People are aware of my SAD. Offhand, I said I’d been OK up until about the last week or so, but I was getting a bit tired now. No big deal.

Then I thought for a minute about when time got away from me. Maybe it was a bit more than a week. Maybe two. Perhaps three.

I no longer have a sense of time.

I remember the moment I first felt panic that the minutes were slipping away. It was in the middle of a Saturday morning, on my way to the shops, when that afternoon I had somewhere to be. There was that horrible sinking feeling in my gut, chasing the hours that slid through my fingers, realising how completely I’d misjudged. I panicked. Rushed my shopping, called a taxi. Lost the taxi. Found the taxi moments before it pulled away, a breath away from being just one more no-show. Deep breaths, shaking, as we crawled through traffic on the interminable journey home.

I made my afternoon appointment, overloaded, but invisible. No one saw it: not for a moment; not the merest flicker. I passed, exquisitely. I paid with the Sunday. It wasn’t enough.

Three weeks ago.

In winter, I cannot cope with overload. In winter, I do not have the capacity to recover myself. There is not enough daylight, and not enough time. I cannot expose myself to the risk of uncertainty; I cannot allow myself to panic. I must be slow, quiet, centred. I must be calm.

On that Monday morning I went into survival mode. The plan had already lost the non-essentials several weeks before. But this was the morning when I drew a breath, and relaxed. I forced myself to slow down, to breathe. Not to stop, but to keep moving, no matter how slow. Don’t fight it; just be. It didn’t matter if I was late. It didn’t matter if I didn’t show. Nothing mattered, but to be calm. To keep moving. One step at a time.

It’s a curious feeling, to be centred in the eye of the storm. I am slow, while the world spins. I am quiet, while the world screams. I am; and somehow, strangely, the world is not. Steadily, methodically, I move through this madness without feeling. I am calm. I do not connect. Displaced from reality, I am serene.

I do not want. I do not feel. I am not hungry or thirsty. At night I wait passively for sleep that takes hours to come. The choice to begin each day is one I no longer allow myself to make; for if I allowed myself that choice, then I would choose wrong. I know this, without feeling sadness. I feel only the weight of my self as I sleepwalk, dreamlike, through the wild cold winter. I still know that the winter will end. I still remember what it was like to live.

I do not stop. I must not stop. Until it ends.

One step at a time.