Emotional labour, neurodiversity & disability

Emotional labor is often talked about in relation to employees at work or wives with their husbands. More recently, it’s also discussed in relation to race and ethnicity.

Rarely do I ever see it associated with

So this post is about that.

This post is either going to be organized or super unorganized, depending on your preferences. I don’t have the energy required to put in the effort to organize everything because that, in and of itself, requires emotional labor and autistic burnout has me fatigued.

selfie soft pink shirt hand on back of head shirt hair looking away, it's like an uninterested "oh" face or something; shirt says "you had me at meow" with a paw print; the lettering is fading off

What is emotional labor?

Emotional labor is the mental and emotional work performed to

  • educate people about that which makes us unique
  • maintain relationships (platonic, intimate, acquaintances, etc.)
  • advocate & care for ourselves + living environment
  • manage our emotions and expressions

It looks like calculating how much energy one has to deal with other things throughout the day — whether that’s spoons, forks, sporks or just a freaking battery.

Emotional labor is unpaid work that requires energy. Delivering too much emotional labour in a short period of time leads to something called compassion fatigue.

Examples of emotional labor

People from marginalized groups, and women, are expected to provide emotional labor most often. In hetero marriages, wives often have to manage the home and remind their husbands of things that their husbands don’t think about because society doesn’t expect them to.

Emotional labor is exhausting, though not always. I perform emotional labor when I write blog posts educating people about my disabilities or neurodivergence, which often leaves me feeling like a broken record because I have to repeat myself so much.

I think the worst part is when allistics and autistic people who consider themselves superior because they’re “not that autistic” comment with their criticisms on those posts.

Or when people completely misunderstand the posts.

When in person, non-autistic people often try to psychoanalyze me and ask me questions with the expectation that I explain everything to them thoroughly so they will understand. This is emotional labor.

I’ve walked away from people mid-sentence because I ran out of energy to explain the why, what, how, etc. about something pertaining to me that I was tired of explaining to people. The issue isn’t always a matter of that specific person I was talking to at the time; it’s more that, again, I have to repeat myself over and over.

I think this is one of the reasons I love blogging so much — instead of reiterating, I can just…link to that post. I often wish I could link people to posts offline. I’ve tried telling them before, by messaging them links, to no avail.

I don’t want to read it. I want you to tell me face to face.

When people tell me this, it leaves us at an impasse. I don’t have the energy to go over everything all over again. I’ve already explained it too many times. I don’t care, and I don’t care much for people who don’t care to meet me where I am.

I’m much too tired from all this emotional work.

Emotional labor includes problem-solving

Allistic people often expect autistic people to solve every problem themselves. Able-bodied people expect this, too, of disabled people.

Okay, so if that’s an issue, then what’s the solution?

I don’t know, Calliope — how about you form a team of autistic and non-autistic people to help figure that out? And pay them?

As soon as I share about a systemic issue, people start coming to me for the solutions, causing me to feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. Expressing my boundary that is me not trying to save everyone in favor of caring for myself — because my job is to keep myself alive, not to save the world — returns isht like, “Then why are you saying it’s a problem if you’re not going to offer up a solution?”

Able-bodied people will legit say crap like, “Don’t complain about anything you’re not willing to change,” and then get upset when disabled people ask for accommodations.

What even is complaining anymore? Because from my point of view, expressing my needs is perceived as complaining. Asking for accommodations is considered complaining. Stating my disability or saying I can’t do something is automatically labelled complaining.

When a disabled or neurodivergent person is perceived as “complaining”, they’re actually perceived as being “unwilling” to do something.

It’s just another form of ableism.

And I’m too tired to perform the emotional labor required to explain all of that — especially when, too often, people continue to perceive the literal labor of emotional work as a form of complaining.

Too many people want the free emotional labor without whatever change it brings.

An allistic once told me that, because I’m autistic, my job is to educate people on autism. “If you want people to listen to you, then you need to teach them. Otherwise, what’s the point of your autism?”

Um…I’m autistic because I’m autistic. Why do I have to make it my passion, too?

It’s all a bloody circle that goes around and around and around.

Emotional labor is exhausting AF

Constantly having to communicate my needs is so exhausting that I often choose to instead manage the discomfort of not having them. People who don’t have the same needs as me are quick to label my needs as “stupid”, “lazy” or “a waste of time” — or worse: they choose to challenge them instead.

There is also the connotation that, if I’m capable of advocating for my own specific needs/accommodations, then how disabled am I really?

Disabled people aren’t only having to communicate their needs — they’re having to educate people on why they need those accommodations in the first place…only to be told that they need third parties to argue their case.

Able-bodied people are so hung up on ableism that they think disabled people are attempting to take away their rights or feel entitled to “more” rights.

I know I’m an afterthought. I know people hate providing trigger warnings and think flash warnings are “dumb” and that flashing lights are “not that big of a deal”. Managing my emotions about is requires emotional labor.

“Then just don’t watch it” is often a response to me commenting on someone’s vertical video (like a Reel or TikTok) or ad about how they should have provided a trigger warning or chosen a different effect — like I had the ability to not scroll onto that video or see that ad.

As much as I love her, Taylor Swift’s era tour documentary trailer has a lot of flashing, a reminder to me that I can’t go to her concerts or see her doc in theaters because there might be flashing lights that I won’t be able to escape safely.

Something like that, someone might recommend finding or asking for accommodations.

Same with accommodations at the workplace — like it’s as simple as saying you need accommodations.

It’s not.

Not asking for accommodations is often much, much easier and sucks away less energy.

I’m not exhausted because I’m depressed. I’m exhausted due to the toll of emotional labor.

Wanting emotional labor for free

Lately, I comment,

“This is ableist. Maybe someone else who has the energy to perform the emotional labor for free will come explain it to you. Otherwise, you can google [term] to find out why.”

to which people respond,

“Then why comment at all?”

to which I reply,

“Because I gave them the term to search and educate themselves. If they can’t, then they don’t care. πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ If you don’t care or understand, look up emotional labor.”

Again, broken record — too many issues/things/situations are things myself and many other autistic/disabled people have explained time and time AGAIN.

It’s soooo exhausting.

And everyone wants it for free!

This dude on Facebook wanted me to message him and maybe even video chat so we could “have a discussion” πŸ™„ where he asked me questions about allistic privilege and I answered them. I sent him a message to my Ko-Fi and said that I’d be available to do that at $25/hr.

He replied,

“WTF? I’m not going to pay you just to talk to you. People like you are exactly what’s wrong with your generation. You can’t have a civilized discussion without wanting to get paid for…what? Sitting around and having a chat?”

I guess I’m just tired of the entitlement.

I’m tired of answering questions and educating people. However, I can’t not educate people about my neurodivergence or disabilities, because sharing my story and talking about my experiences helps people who don’t relate develop empathy.

For that reason, I am leaning heavily towards introducing ads to my blog eventually. I don’t want to create e-products pertaining to the topics that require emotional work long-term.

(This post has been long coming and isn’t directly related to anything that has happened on my blog, but rather on social media channels and the general goings-on of everyday life, as well as what I want when I ponder it.)

(I just thought it would be a good time to mention it.)

Because, yeah, I have a tip jar. That doesn’t really pay the bills, however. It barely covers my groceries. πŸ˜…

And, weirdly, people tend to take issue with this concept as well: bloggers/content creators finding ways to make money and “earn a living” (hate that term with a passion) by doing what they do — that people love so much, no less — because it’s perceived as “too easy”.

I digress for now, as I think that topic alone is deserving of its own post. πŸ€”πŸ‘€

Anyway, now that this post exists, I can link to it. πŸ˜…

πŸ₯± Now to finish my laundry so I can take a nap. I’m recovering from a low-grade fever, after all.

P.S. Emotional labor isn’t 100% bad. As with everything, there is always nuance. Ada Hoffman articulates more things about this topic. I kinda just skimmed the surface of this topic to share my experience.

If I’d realized someone else had already covered emotional labor in relation to autism, I wouldn’t have done so myself. My experience specifically ties to people feeling entitled to me educating them about autism for free, then getting upset when I do get paid or charge for it (like article writing, IG posts, etc.)

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Comments on this post

Hi Jane. I’m reading this just now. And since as an HSP I can sympathize, here’s my one-word comment for you:

*HUGS* ♥

– Lu

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