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  • Writer's pictureAshlea McKay

Quirk Monster #1: Autistic energy levels and recharge time

Strings of illuminated light bulbs hang suspended over an outdoor space
Strings of illuminated light bulbs hang suspended over an outdoor space.

Every Friday around noon, I close my work laptop and if I’m not already at home, I pack up and go. I put my phone in flight mode, I don’t see anyone or do anything other than hang out at home alone and relax. Sometimes I take a nap. Sometimes I mindlessly browse the internet while blasting my favourite songs and annoying the neighbours by singing along (I’ve heard windows slam). 

This is my recharge time. I switch my brain off.

I have a full time job and usually work between 38 and 43 hours per week across Monday to Friday lunchtime. By the time midday Friday rolls around, I’m usually feeling pretty mentally wasted. And no, it has nothing to do with working a 5+ day workload in 4.5 days — for me, work isn’t work. I work in UX — my job is pretty cool and doing what I do energises me. 

There are three things that are a major drain on my energy reserves: social interaction, masking and sensory processing. I plan to discuss all in depth in other Quirk Monster posts, but I’ll explain them quickly here as well. 

Social interaction is draining because it takes a lot of mental effort for me to focus on, follow and meaningfully participate in conversation. I don’t naturally interpret body language and social cues and have to rely on my intellect for that.

Masking occurs when I use said intellect to ‘pass’ as someone who is not autistic while also hiding my autistic traits and hoping no one notices how the noise from the air conditioner is distracting me — or how exhausting it is to essentially pretend to be another person for long periods of time. Sadly, there are still many people out there who expect autistic people to put on a mask and conform to social norms to make them feel comfortable and failure to comply can have devastating consequences.

Thirdly, sensory processing sucks up a lot of my brain power. Everything is bright, loud and itchy. I can hear everything — and not just the air conditioner. Conversations, furniture, door slamming, sighing, breathing, footsteps and much more. I can hear the friggin’ lights. 

My Friday afternoon isn’t time off work, it’s necessary time out from existing out in the world. I’m not being inflexible and it’s not something that I can give up ‘just this once’. If I’m given at least 3-4 days notice I can slow the battery drain by having a Wednesday or Thursday afternoon off — I usually do this for conferences — but Friday morning is too late. Try thinking of my Friday afternoon as 2am Sunday for you. Want to have a meeting at 2am on Sunday? Didn’t think so. 

My workplace is really supportive of my Friday afternoon recharge time because they understand that it’s what I need to perform and have a strong positive impact in my work and beyond every day of the week.

Author's note

This short article is a lived experience example shared from my life to help you understand a little bit more about what it’s like to be autistic. I am just one autistic person in a really big world. No two of us are exactly alike. I can only speak for myself and to my own experiences. If you want to know what other autistic people think — and you should — look them up, talk to them and read their work too. We all have our own voices and this is only mine. This article is part of a mini content series I publish to LinkedIn when I can. You can view the other articles in this series via my LinkedIn profile.


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