When I started this adult autism blog I made three promises to myself:
- Don’t be preachy – I’m no autism guru, there are plenty of those out there. I’m aiming to just inform people about what it’s like to be autistic and how it’s affected me. I’m not aiming to dish out advice.
- Don’t bang on about depression – See above. I’ve got depression and anxiety, and it is related to my autism, but it’s just one aspect of it. I’ve written a post covering that off already.
- Don’t be too downbeat – I want this blog to be positive for me, as well as being a fantastic read that will lead to people thinking I’m amazing! I don’t want it to be just me whining about how shite things.
I’m having a really crappy time at the minute with my depression. Earlier this week I drafted a post in which I preached about depression and was really downbeat about it. I’m NOT going to be posting that article today, as I don’t want to break the promises I made myself – who knows, I might release it as some kind of bonus post for Christmas or a special personal post for my millionth visitor!
Instead, I’m going to try and approach my current situation by looking at the issue of autistic burnout. I’ve previously touched upon the issue of autistic adults suffering from burnout and that leading to depression, but given as that’s what I’m experiencing at present, it seems like a good time to go more in-depth on the topic…
What causes my burnout?
Masking – I talked about this in my last post. The effort involved in being ‘normal’ is draining. Suppressing the things my brain wants me to do is tough.
Stress – As adults, we have far more responsibility than children. Bills, maintaining a home, having a career et al are all constant issues. There’s always something going on to occupy the mind and that can lead to an overload.
Ageing – To compound the above issue is the sad fact that as we get older we have less energy. We need more downtime to function effectively. Perversely, the older you get the less downtime you seem to have.
Changes in life – You know, stuff like discovering you’re probably an autistic adult and going through the whole diagnosis process. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it somewhere. Yes, I am trying to see it as a positive, but it’s a lot to take in and is a massive change in my life.
It’s worth mentioning here that the above is what causes MY burnout. There are a few other causes that impact upon on autistic adults – illness, sleep deprivation, sensory overload.
How does my burnout manifest?
Easily overwhelmed – Everything seems overwhelming and ‘too much’ for my brain or body to cope with.
Easily agitated – I’m not a big shouter and I’m certainly not violent, but when I’m burnt out I get put on edge at the drop of a hat. Even the smallest, insignificant issue can cause me to lose the ability to think straight or make decisions. I regularly ‘meltdown’ and regress.
My masking skills diminish – I pick my fingers more, I find it harder to concentrate or pretend I’m interested in something. I don’t have the energy to put my mask on.
Lack of motivation – I know that doing the things I enjoy is beneficial to my well-being, but I find it hard to muster the enthusiasm or desire to do them.
In short, I’m not very happy and I’m not much fun to be around.
Other manifestations that I don’t suffer from include – loss of speech, loss of memory, digestive issues and lack of self-care.
How do I cope?
Exercise – I sometimes jog. I’m no gym rat, and I’ve no aspiration to be a fitness freak. For a start the gym is largely non-competitive; if I’m exerting myself I want to beat someone. I play for a local rounders team (!) and it’s really good fun, but more importantly, I’m pretty competent at it and there’s a competitive element to it.
I do go for a run 2 or 3 times a week, and I make it less tedious by listening to music or a podcast or book. It helps me ‘escape’ and take my mind off the fact that I’m running around for no competitive purpose! But I can’t claim that I enjoy running.
I prefer long walks. Aside from the audio benefits, I can enjoy the scenery and give myself a bigger window to relax. I recently did a 13-mile charity walk, it’s not exactly Bear Grylls stuff, although it was very hilly and had about 50 stiles, so feel free to call me Bear! It gave me a sense of accomplishment and made me feel good. I’m definitely going to do more of that later in the year.
Similarly, I had a lovely day out at a park with my wife and daughter at the weekend. The venue was beautiful, we had a picnic, got lost in a maze and generally had a really good time. For a while, I could forget my troubles.
I need a lot of ‘me time’ when I’m feeling down. A time when nothing of consequence matters and I can at least try and switch my brain off. It doesn’t solve a thing, but it does at least give me a break.
I do like to ‘Netflix and chill’. Or even Amazon Prime and chill or ‘other’ streaming methods and chill! But while I do watch plenty of shows I enjoy, I find it hard to find a series I can completely ‘lose myself in. Previously I’ve got obsessed with series like The Wire, Veronica Mars and Harper’s Island (I don’t know anybody who’s watched Harper’s Island. It’s probably the most enjoyable trash whodunnit I’ve ever watched). I love a good mystery, especially if it’s a series-long arc. I am open to recommendations by the way. The Cricket World Cup is on at present, and while I’m not losing myself in it as much as I’d like (it’s not quite enabling me to switch my brain off completely) it is providing some downtime for my brain.
I have a similar view of books. I love immersing myself in a good mystery, but often find it hard to find a really good one. I’ve recently read a load of books by a US writer called Chris Carter. They’re quite good (6-7/10), but not mind-blowing or the sort of thing I’d drop everything to read. I am open to recommendations by the way.
Time off work is something I find necessary and beneficial. I have previously tried to avoid it even when others have told me I need it. I feel bad that unlike most other ‘time off work’ illnesses, mental health issues take longer. But there comes a time when presenteeism is just no good to anyone and ends of making me feel a lot worse. Some people have multiple months off work after burnout, some have to quit their jobs. I don’t want to do any of those things, I want to go back and thrive and contribute positively.
Trying to concentrate on the niche interests that make me happy and I can get passionate about is my best coping strategy. At the minute, writing this blog is a great positive. Perversely, even though I’m writing about a largely negative situation, it’s making me feel more positive.
Again there are other strategies that autistic adults can deploy such as massages or diets. As with everything in this blog, I’m just talking about me. All autistic people are different.
So there you go, hopefully that wasn’t too downbeat. It certainly hasn’t made me feel any more downbeat. It’s good to write about these things and share my experiences. Hopefully, it’s improving your understanding of what it means to be an autistic adult and how that impacts people’s lives. Promise!