Social exhaustion 

Today I am disjointed. I wanted to write about spoon theory and explain my day, but it slipped away from me.

I wanted to write about interviews and work, but the words wouldn’t come.

Today I am a disjointed person.

I have done too much. I have used up my spoons. I am flat and unimpressed by the world. Today is for coasting. For existing. For getting through the day with the bare minimum of everyone being clothed, fed, watered and sane.

As with all things, life is unpredictable. Times of running on empty often occur at times when more is needed from you.

After a month of visitors and events and duties, I am tired.

Normally when I plan things I will plan for down time. I will plan for times when I will not see people, I will not have to put my brain into overdrive. I will be comfortable and familiar.

But there wasn’t the time.

Some things were necessary for other people, other things were necessary for me. I chose not to miss out on the things I wanted to do, just because I’d be tired from the things I had to do.

I don’t want to miss out on living.

But that’s left me here.

Feeling empty and still. Like I’m lying on the bottom of a clear pond on my back, looking up at the world as it carries on. So near and so busy, but so far from the chill stillness of where I lie.

Tomorrow will be different. Today I will conserve, and tomorrow I will rebound.

I wish that there was more balance to autism. I wish there wasn’t a cost.

I love people. I love talking and putting the world to rights. I love interacting. I love laughing. But it exhausts me.

It sounds like such a cop out, doesn’t it? It exhausts me?

Last week I was in a room with four neurotypicals. We were watching a clip and working out the meaning. At the end of it someone said, “That was exhausting!” And they all agreed.

I agreed too. It had been.

But it was no more exhausting than any other interaction. I smiled to myself because for once I was sharing that experience with neurotypicals. We’d all done the same thing. We’d all felt the same exhaustion. It was fascinating.

The class is learning British Sign Language. It’s great, but we’re all beginners. The clip was a couple of minutes of a man describing changes to his home.

One woman mentioned how difficult it was to concentrate on his lips, his expression, his hand movements, and the position of his hands all at once. She moved her hands as she spoke, gesturing and emphasising, grimaced and smiled, furrowed her brows, her intonation moved about the place. Her eyes flicked from place to person.

We all agreed.

I smiled.

That’s interaction. That’s every interaction. Always. None of them know I’m autistic. I’m just another person in the class. They don’t know that the level of concentration I put into that clip, was the same level of concentration I use on them. They were exhausted after such a short time.

It left me feeling validated. Here were these neurotypicals struggling with communication and body language because it was foreign to them. Here we were all sharing my problem. Here we were, tired for the same reason.


Verbally I am an expert. But most communication isn’t verbal. I have to concentrate and try to decipher you.

If we share a sense of humour, have similar personalities, enjoy the same sort of language, it won’t be too arduous. I can use my personality to assume what you mean. I won’t always be right, but even if I’m not, you’ll tell me. I’ll enjoy talking to you.

There is one person I see quite regularly, who I know I’ll always try to avoid. I’ve just realised why. He’s a nice person. No different to many, but he has a deadpan humour combined with a very different world view to me, and a very different idea of what is funny. A perfect storm.

I cannot ever tell the difference between his jokes and his conversation. They’re identical to me. I’ll only find out when I’ve responded incorrectly.

I have no frame of reference for him. I don’t want to offend him. I have to concentrate particularly hard, and I don’t want to. It’s not fun. I’m not getting anything out of it. It’s just tiring me out.

Other people can work out when he’s joking, there must be some tell, some movement, some subtle expression. But all I have is the words and their context. If I don’t find it funny how can I know it’s a joke?

Today is the cost of yesterday. Today is the payment. Today is me paying my dues for my duty and my fun.

This week I learned that we’d all be exhausted if we had to concentrate to communicate. It was a good lesson.

There will be more duty. There will be more fun. But for now I’m just waving as the world passes, from the bottom of my pool.

19 thoughts on “Social exhaustion 

  1. Spoon theory is so good! I is a good way to show to “normal” people why there are days when I just have to say NO. No matter how much I want to say yes… I’m out of spoons before I’ve even gets out of my bed somedays.
    Tomorrow is a new day – may it be full of spoons. Take care!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Respecting your limits… Hmmm, I need some training there I belive. I’m not just a time optimist, I’m a “I can do that” optimist as well. To often anyway…

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Knowing it’s coming, and having the choice of doing the thing or not doing it, is really helpful. Sometimes it’s worth the price.

          Before a diagnosis I couldn’t understand why I was so exhausted by things when other people weren’t.

          It’s all a part of understanding yourself and making informed decisions 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post Rhi. Taught me something new about spoon theory. Had to google it. And for me personally it’s still difficult to understand because I’m like spoons are for desert and soup can’t see them for that metaphorical function. Oh the joys of different minds. Hope you have replenished your spoons! ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I like spoon theory too, but often have the wrong spoons!

    What’s often missed is that even really good social stuff needs recovery time, it’s not just the hard and more obviously anxiety-provoking things that require time to recalibrate. There’s an NT assumption that because something is enjoyable it won’t impact, that it will just leave us happy, but it’s not so simple for us.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely! The fun stuff can be just as exhausting, but of course, it’s fun too so worth it.

      Different people will cost different numbers of spoons in different scenarios. It’s all rather complex and multifaceted.

      And it’s certainly not as simple as anxiety-related. Something that causes anxiety will cost more, but even if anxiety is minimal, the effort of concentration involved when you have to decipher people manually is enormous.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I think you might be better off than me, because most of the time, I get exhausted just talking to people. My social anxiety is pretty bad, so that’s the main reason. Any tips on managing it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m with you on the social exhaustion just talking to people.

      Social anxiety is something that I’ve battled with a long time. I do everything I can to minimise the things I can control. Things like making sure I know where I’m going, practicing likely conversations, telling myself that I can leave if it’s too much, creating a plan for what will happen so that I’m as prepared as it’s possible to be.

      But I always know that no matter how much I will enjoy whatever it is I’m doing, that all that concentration and anxiety and effort, is going to mean I am exhausted afterwards. Often for days.

      Which then feeds the social anxiety (because you know it’ll make you feel bad), which makes you more anxious, which in turn makes the exhaustion worse. It’s a vicious circle.

      My most recent change has been to plan my downtime. I never used to.

      Instead of planning for it, I would tell myself I was useless for needing it, and push myself to carry on. Which of course made everything worse.

      Being exhausted is normal. You’re exhausted because of the huge amount of conscious processing and concentration you’re putting in. It’s a normal part of us. It’s how we’re built. So plan for it.

      Now when I want to do something, I make sure that the following day I write in some time to shut down. If possible, not to see people. If I have to see people, then I don’t engage on their level, I engage on mine (which won’t involve a lot of talking). I might read, watch TV, play computer games, whatever helps me to shut down.

      Once I stopped fearing the exhaustion, there was a real sense of control that came with accepting it and making time for it.

      I don’t know if any of that is any help to you 🙂 just know that you’re not alone!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I can relate to this on every level. If we could cancel any obligation any time via email, I would probably never do anything responsible ever again. It’s tempting to put a sign on my door that says, “I simply cannot people today. Nothing personal, but please go away.”


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