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I am more than just "tired"...

Autistic burnout is so real. It's an all encompassing fatigue that cannot be described in words. I have been experiencing burnout the past couple of months leading to a desperate need to reset. Since the summer holidays began on the 21st July I have been pretty physically unwell. It's almost like my body was running on empty and as soon as I stopped everything just gave up. Not only was I physically exhausted but also mentally. The amount of sleep I have had must be a new record! I have known I am autisitc now for over 3 years yet admitting I am burntout and then dealing with it is something I still really rubbish at. I know that burnout is common especially within the neurodivergent community, something which we need to conciously think and do something about- I for one just try to ignore the ever growing warning signs and try bury my head in the sand.

This is something I am actively challenging and working hard on. As someone who prides myself on advocating for neurodivergent people and true inclusivity and diversity it is important to be open about the struggles we all have even when we are happy and proud of our autisitc identity.

I know I am making progress as I am now able to identify the signs I am heading into burnout. It is different for everyone but being able to identify the signs for yourself and then if you are able to share this with people you trust around you means you can help yourself put in place strategies to help yourself and prevent yourself going into a full burnout. For me the initial signs are not enjoying things I do as much, jobs I usually enjoy start to feel like a chore or something I have to do but don't want to. I then start to have less time for self-care or hobbies- normally this is noticed by others rather than myself, for example brushing my teeth isn't something I personally struggle with but as I start to head to burnout I get irrationally annoyed by the time taken to brush my teeth and also have little motivation to do these basic self care needs. I don't do any art or play my instruments and start just focusing on getting by day to day. A big red flag for me is being irritable, this is my biggest sign. I get irrationally angry over every little thing, am so easily annoyed and everything becomes a problem. As this point realistically I need to stop and take some time to reset and relax.

The feeling of burnout feels like a rising heat in my body, everything hurts and feels like it is on fire. Just the smallest things set me off, and I am often teary and have a very negative mindset. Often I may have been having lots of meltdown and shutdowns in the lead up. Meltdowns being a response to being overwhelmed which is more outwards (often viewed by others as a tantrum but this is far from the truth) and shutdowns being the same but more inwards. I usually start with shutdowns in the beginning then head to meltdowns before going back into a shutdown before full burnout kicks in. When in burnout the exhaustion is indescribable I can sleep for days on end unable to complete any 'normal' daily tasks. After the initial physical exhaustion passes I still have to be delicate to my mental health. Although I may be able to get up and stay awake I have to be careful to not undertake any mentally strenuous tasks and need to make sure I look after my sensory wellbeing- curtains closed, fairy lights and galaxy lamp on, music, ear defenders etc. Just like a physcial illness burnout needs recovery and time before you can get back to your 'normal' self.

Once in burnout the only real solution- in my case anyway- is reducing all demands and resting and resetting myself. This really does mean taking every demand away I can. But before full burnout I believe there are things we as neurodivergent people can do to keep ourselves healthy and happy. Understanding our neurodivergent brain and how it affects us. Not being embarassed or ashamed by our need to do things differently. Although I am really open about being autistic I definitely think my iniability to admit burnout is due to my want/need to fit in and be successful. These are things which society push upon us and it takes a long time to confidently be able to go against this grain.

I am on my own journey of trying to understand further my neurodivergent brain and the impact it has on me, developing strategies to look after myself better.

Here are some of the strategies I have tried and work for me in terms of every day ways to empty my bucket (I love the bucket theory of neurodivergence and how little things can add up and lead to our bucket over flowing) and keep my on a happy and healthy path. *Remember we are all different so while these may work for me they may not work for you- it takes time and trial and error to workout what works for you.

  • Keeping a diary of triggers and stresses and noting down what helps and what doesn't

  • Cold showers fully dressed- this is one of my favourites when I am in meltdown (especially as my body temperature raises)

  • Warm baths in the dark with calming music

  • Creating a comfy safe space with blankets, cushions and soft toys and turning on my Galaxy lamp with my earphones under my eardefenders.

  • Having at least one night a week where I don't have anything to do and simply completely relax

  • Having a time everyday where I can destimulate- not just leaving it until I really need it

  • Finding spaces where I can be totally unmasked and leave my tricky brain- for me singing or music is the perfect escapism

  • Spending time with my dog- he has such a calming influence

  • Having a dedicated space and time with my safe person (for me, my mum) where we can just chat and I know I can talk about anything worrying me- we usually go out for a coffee on a Saturday morning- this is something I really look forward to

  • Mindless scrolling- social media isn't always the best for my mental health but actually I find mindless scrolling actually gives my brain a break and allows me some time to just not really be present but also doesn't take much brain power

While there are definitely more, these are some of the strategies I am trying to implement in my daily life. It's such a fine balance as I often find these can become a demand in themselves which then means it's counterproductive and kind of works in the opposite way! Also I think it's important to note that even when you are doing everything you can, burnout can still occur- it's important to not blame ourselves as that is only going to make it worse. Burnout is unfortunately an inevitable part of being neurodivergent however understanding what it is, why it happens, our own triggers and stresses and what we can do to support ourselves means we can put ourselves in the best position to be able to identify and act as early as possible.

Take care of yourselves and REMEMBER TO RELAX <3 !!

Hannah xx


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