I just woke up from a 3 1/2 hour nap. I lay down at 3:30 PM, expecting to sleep maybe an hour or so. I set my alarm for 6:30 PM, just in case I overslept. I still had some work to do from the day – I worked from home today, thanks to the supposedly monster snowstorm we were going to get (but fortunately never materialized) – and I wanted to just finish up a few things before calling it a day.
I must’ve had the volume turned down on my phone, though, because I apparently slept through the alarm and woke up shortly before 7:00 PM. As though rising rapidly from an underwater dive, I felt myself rising into consciousness… and it was a gentle rise, as though my lungs were still full of air, and I could take my time.
Looking at my phone, I was disoriented and confused. What time was it? What day was it? Where was I? Outside, it was starting to get dark, and for a moment I didn’t know if it was morning or evening. But when I got my bearings, and I realized it was nearly 7 PM and I was lying warm in my comfortable bed in my bedroom, without any more pressures of the week to deal with, a flood of relief washed over me.
I actually got some rest.
The executive function coach I see weekly is up on all the latest sleep research, and she cautions against taking naps during the day. She has two children and a husband and a very demanding career. She is on the go from morning till night, and not only does she have her own private practice, but she also teaches at one of the most prestigious medical schools on the planet, and she is on staff at one of the best hospitals in the nation. She has a lot going on, and it’s not uncommon for her to run late for just about everything she does in the course of each day.
She thinks I shouldn’t nap.
When I tell her about getting a blessed extra shot of sleep on my work-from-home days, she shakes her head and tut-tuts with a look down her nose – literally. She says it’s not good to get in the habit of napping during the day. She says it can disrupt my normal circadian rhythm. She says it’s not the sort of thing that should become a regular part of my routine, because it can keep me from feeling tired and getting to sleep. She knows that I have trouble getting to sleep some nights, and she knows that I often wake up before I should. This is not news to anyone who is on the autism spectrum. It’s common, and it’s vexing. And as a result, a nap is exactly what I need, sometimes.
In fact, if I don’t get a nap, some days I’m so tired, I can’t fall asleep. And I get into a self-perpetuating cycle that’s well nigh impossible to correct.
And her lectures about avoiding naps strike me as about the worst kind of advice you could give to anyone – especially an autistic person. She’s in a position of power, a position of influence. And her input will necessarily carry more weight than an article in a “health” magazine at the grocery store checkout line. I’m wired that way. I can certainly correct myself and train myself to have a healthy skepticism of authority figures who are (ahem) batshit, but that takes extra work. And I’m not sure I should even have to. I know, I know, I’m being naive and overly trusting, but you’d think that at least a modicum of humility — as well as attempting to understand the broader spectrum of human behavior — would be standard operating procedure. Ah, me… being such an Aspie again.
Anyway, we don’t really talk about my autism. If she hasn’t mentioned it by now, she’s never going to mention it. She specializes in assessing young boys, in any case, so I’m sure she’s got the standard-issue blind spots that typify mainstream autism “awareness”. I’m not sure she’d really believe me, if I did disclose “come out” to her, and I have better things to do with my time than try to convince non-believers.
In point of fact, so many of the neurotypical assumptions about what is normal and abnormal, what is acceptable and unacceptable, what is standard-issue and what is unique and noteworthy, well, they just don’t apply to people like me. That includes how we move through the world. How we interact. How we function at the most fundamental level. Lord knows, I – and so many other autistic folks – have tried to make the standards apply. We’ve crammed ourselves into tiny little boxes, tried to fit ourselves into narrow definitions of how we should be, and we’ve often punished ourselves intensely for not living up to others’ expectations. And like so many other areas of life, the official rules for sleeping and napping simply don’t apply, in my case.
See, what my counselor doesn’t know, apparently, is how hard it is to simply get through each day as the person I am – how much work it is, how draining it is, how many resources are required to think my way through, function with a modicum of expected levels of performance, and just to keep up with the regular routines that the rest of the world seems to think are good ideas. From the moment I wake up in the morning till the moment I lie down at night, I am in some sort of discomfort or pain. I am confused about something. I am trying to catch up with something. I am working overtime, just keeping the most boring and essential things going, like a regular eating schedule, regular exercise, dressing and cleaning myself and doing all the things that just go along with participating in life as a responsible adult. I have a full-time job, which I can often managed to “fudge”, simulating efficiencies and playing the part of a productive worker and shifting my hours to make it just barely bearable.
The downside of my proficiency is that it really kicks the crap out of me. I start each day with discomfort and pain. I roll my aching body out of bed, change into my day clothes in a cold room, standing on a hard floor, feeling the pain of cold air on my bare skin. The next thing I do is wobble down the hall to the bathroom where I wash my face in cold water, which is not comfortable at all. It hurts. It shocks. It’s usually not refreshing. I do it to wake myself up, because that’s part of my morning routine, and if I don’t, I’m going to be pretty much of a zombie for the rest of the morning. Some mornings it’s bracing, but it’s not the sort of thing a person does to feel comfortable. I do it for a specific purpose, and like so many other purpose-driven things in my life, there is discomfort and pain involved in doing exactly that. So, yeah, after day after day of that kind of experience, all of my normal resources are pretty much depleted by Wednesday afternoon, but Thursday and Friday still remain to get through, so there it is.
I’m not complaining. I’m not saying that my life is a horrible, brutal slog that drags me from one pain-filled moment to the next, in the course of every day. I’m not saying this to get sympathy or to make anyone feel badly for me or even show the world how challenging it is to be autistic. It’s simply a fact. And the fact of the matter is, after hours and hours of this sort of experience of the course of each day, the only thing I want – that I crave – by Friday afternoon is a good nap. Hell, the only thing I want by mid-afternoon on most days is a nap. Even just 20 minutes will do.
But, supposedly that is bad for me. Supposedly that is doing me more harm than good.
And to the people who say that I should not be napping when I am so bone tired and so depleted that you could wring me out and getting nothing but tears, I have this thought:
No matter what your research studies may say, no matter what your official standards may be, you do not have the right to deny me what comfort and what relief I can get in the course of a long and demanding day, or at the end of a depleting week. If you think for a moment that I can adequately get through the day without a nap in the afternoon, then you have no idea just how tired I really get, and you have no idea of the debilitating impact that has on my cognition, my functionality, my sense of self in the world, my ability to earn a living, as well as the extent of all my other responsibilities in this life. Anyone who denies me a nap is betraying their coarseness, their callowness, their insensitivity and their ignorance about exactly what it takes to get through life on the autism spectrum. And I categorically deny their right to tell me, one way or the other, how I should be taking care of my body, my mind, the whole of my life.
In short, you’re wrong. And I reserve the right to completely ignore your professional opinion, your mis-guided guidance.
I’m a stoic. I’ve been this way since I was a young girl. It suits me. And I frankly have no expectation that my life can continue apace without healthy dose of stoicism to get me by. But life isn’t all about using pain to build character. It’s not all about embracing occasional anguish for the sake of conditioning yourself against it in the future. It’s not just an exercise in inuring yourself against the unavoidable slings an arrows that life invariably throws at you. Yes, it’s important to do that. But sometimes, you’ve got to give yourself a break.
Sometimes, I just need a damn’ nap.