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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

I’m Not Grumpy. I’m Just Operating Outside of My Autistic Needs

I woke up grumpy this morning. I was so grumpy that I decided to write a letter to life about how grumpy I am. As I walked my dog, I planned my letter in my head.

As my rattling thoughts poured out though, I realized this is not the issue at all. It’s not about me FEELING grumpy.

I feel the way I do for a reason. Today, my schedule is overpacked. I have five live meetings today, which is far more than the three I like to have. Furthermore, because my schedule is in transition, they are awkwardly spread throughout the day, making it difficult to accomplish anything between the meetings. On top of this, one of my meetings is first thing in the morning at 7:00 am. I’ve adjusted the rest of my schedule so that I don’t have meetings until 11am.

Autistic art therapist Jackie Schuld shares a watercolor illustration of Tommy Lee Jones as a grumpy troll
"Grumpy Tommy Lee Jones Troll" Watercolor Illustration by Jackie Schuld

These all may seem like trivial details, but to an Autistic ADHDer, they are monumental. My mind naturally thinks A LOT. It’s a good thing - my mind fills with ideas, solutions, and other concoctions.

I’ve learned though, there must be space for me to sort through and settle the things in my mind. I need time to clear the clutter and prioritize. To tell my mind, “Okay, those thoughts you can let go. Those other thoughts I just wrote down on my to do list. Those other thoughts I don’t have a solution, but don’t worry I’ve set a time for us to figure it out.” I do this process through thinking and writing.

When my schedule is packed, I don’t have the time to do that with my thoughts and it dramatically impacts me. It puts me in an uneasy, slightly panicked state. It’s an uncomfortable combination of: I’m going to forget everything, I’m slightly distracted, and yet I need a clear mind for the day.

This is why I need my mornings clear. I need the time to settle my mind.

Second, I need time for my special interests. Neurotypical culture would tell us that needing time for “hobbies” is just us being hedonistic, overly self-indulgent, or flat out illogical. The culture would explain that hobbies are a “desire” or a “want.”

For autistics, that isn’t the case. Neurotypical humans can self-regulate with other people. Autistics self-regulate with objects. That means we literally regulate our nervous systems by spending time with our special interests. It is a pivotal time for us to reground and recharge. Furthermore, autistics experience far more incoming information that leaves us energetically exhausted. We need more time to recharge.

For me, I’m so exhausted by the end of the day that I seldom have enough energy to engage in my favorite special interest: writing. So at night, I take things easy by doing art, watching shows, taking baths, or the like.

But in the morning, my energy is back and I want to use it to write and sort through all of the topics that interest me. This time dramatically impacts how I feel about my day. It’s hard to capture the feeling. It’s part uplifting. It’s also energizing that I wrote about something exciting. It’s clarifying, because often my essays are me writing my way to understanding. It’s part accomplishment that I got something done. It's invigorating because I want to share it with others. It’s also grounding, in that I feel I can then be present to the rest of my day.

I’m not saying every autistic needs THIS schedule, but it is the schedule I need. Every autistic will have different needs, energy fluctuations, interests, and the like that impact the ideal structure for a day.

Before I knew I was autistic, I was relentlessly critical of myself. When I’d wake up “grumpy,” I’d be angry at myself. Angry that I was being “moody” again. I was mad that there was something wrong with me.

There wasn’t. I just didn’t know myself well enough to know my needs. Now that I do, I understand that “grumpy” is a result of operating outside of them.


Thank you for reading. If you’d like to read more, sign up for my FUNletter. If you would like to explore your autistic identity with an autistic therapist, you can learn more about my therapy services here.


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