From Stress to Energy: Navigating Daily Life as an Autistic

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The spoon theory is one way to explain what it is like to live with limited energy. Like someone with Autism.

Have you heard of the spoon theory? Neither had I until it popped up in a Facebook forum. When I read about it, it reminded me of how someone once explained my energy levels. Isn’t it clear when explained this way?

Is your stresscup always full?

A few years back, someone likened my energy to an inverted cup. It might sound silly at first, but here’s how it goes. Imagine your energy as a cup that you fill up as you go about your day. For instance, a phone call might fill it up by 3 dl, a walk along the highway might add 0.5 dl when a tractor passes by. This goes on until suddenly, the cup overflows. What happens then when your energy runs out? Your mood suffers, your strength dwindles, and everything becomes a chore. The cup becomes full and overflows and therefore you are likely to have an outburst or a meltdown.

Both explanations are good at illustrating how we use our often limited energy in daily life. But I argue that both are wrong. The cup analogy is good, but you’re not filling up with energy, you’re filling up with stress. And it’s the stress that depletes your energy level. As an autistic individual, I’m often told I have lower energy levels. I don’t believe that for a second. My energy level is probably just as high as anyone else’s, but the question we should ask is how do we use our energy? Where do we channel our strength? When my Stress Cup overflows, I might still have plenty of energy, but it’s all consumed in managing the stress I’m facing.

Walking into a store can sometimes feel like playing a video game and suddenly getting hit by a plasma blast. Those who’ve done it know what happens to the health meter—it drops like a stone. Same with my energy level, it plummets instantly due to all the stressors greeting me at the entrance. Fluorescent lights buzzing above, scents from the hygiene aisle, advertisements vying for attention. The difference between my energy level and the store compared to the plasma blast in Doom is that my energy level almost fully restores when I leave the store. Sometimes, it even feels like I’ve gained more energy, having perhaps solved another problem that stressed me out.

Hence, I argue that one can liken daily life to a cup that hopefully starts quite empty. It gets filled up and sometimes drained during the day depending on the stressors faced. What’s important to know is how to handle it when it overflows. Sometimes you might not notice it yourself, but I promise you, the surroundings definitely do. “That grumpy person isn’t pleasant to be around.”

In conclusion, it’s crucial to understand how stress affects our energy levels and to have tools to manage it. By being aware of our Stress Cup and how we fill it, we can better manage our energy and avoid it running out when we need it the most. We should also learn to handle stressors and find ways to relieve the pressure when it becomes too much.


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