HOW I DEALT WITH AUTISTIC FATIGUE AND A BURNOUT
Recently during a story pitch meeting for an upcoming article that I pitched an idea that I thought wouldn’t affect me. The subject matter was confronting but I brushed it off and thought nothing of it.
It wasn’t until last Friday when it all hit me like a sledgehammer, and I knew that I was experiencing Autistic Fatigue which I honestly thought would lead to a shut down.
Being Autistic can make my fatigue and burnout more likely, due to the pressures of social situations and sensory overload. If you’re an Autistic person and have or are experiencing fatigue or burnout, managing your energy levels is essential.
Fatigue, and then subsequent burnout, can happen to anybody. Autistic people, however, can be more susceptible to both, due to the pressures of everyday life, having to navigate social situations and sensory overload.
Trying to cope with these pressures can lead to exhaustion (autistic fatigue) and over time this can lead to extreme exhaustion or autistic burnout.
For me as an Autistic person there are various ways that my Autistic fatigue and burnout have affected me. Autistic fatigue has often been described as exhaustion with additional difficulties such as:
Increased meltdowns and sensory sensitivity
Physical pain and headaches
Physically shutting down, including the loss of speech.
Autistic burnout affects all aspects of a person’s life, and this makes it different from professional burnout, which is related to work.
WHAT CAUSES AUTISTIC FATIGUE?
There are various things that can cause Autistic fatigue. Autistic adults suggest several causes, including:
Dealing with social situations
Masking or camouflaging their Autistic traits
A sense of not meeting other people’s/society’s expectations of them.
Changes in your routines or day-to-day life, such as a change of school or job, can increase anxiety and can be additional causes for Autistic fatigue and burnout.
For me I feel that I’m going to have to put in place some strategies around monitoring and managing my expectations and knowing the signs that I may need to step outside for 10-minutes to catch my breath or to have a stim, having that extra support with the support worker will put my mind at ease.
By going out and socialising I’m hoping to be able to show myself that my Autistic fatigue won’t hold me back and that I can go out with having any anxiety hanging over me holding me back.
Here then are three strategies on how to deal with a sensory overload.
STRATEGIES FOR HOW TO DEAL WITH SENSORY OVERLOAD
1) CREATING ROUTINES FOR STABILITY
Build upon routines and address changes within familiar routines or expectations before they happen.
2) IDENTIFY, DISCUSS, AND WORK ON POTENTIAL SENSORY TRIGGERS IN ADVANCE
Identify potential sensory triggers and discuss expectations for those situations as well as solutions that might be possible. For example, a noisy, crowded shopping mall could be a trigger – expectations could revolve around the time spent there, problem-solving could include negotiating stores differently or discussing an exit-plan.
3) CREATE A TOOLKIT
Prepare for a potentially difficult experience beforehand as much as possible.
Discussing an appropriate way to leave the situation/environment should it become too much.
Problem-solve potential triggers.
What is an Autistic Burnout?
“An Autistic Burnout is a state of physical and mental fatigue, heightened stress, and diminished capacity to manage life skills, sensory input, and/or social interactions, which comes from years of being severely overtaxed by the strain of trying to live up to demands that are out of sync with our needs.”
The signs were all their lack of motivation, not caring about goals, everyday life being overwhelming, loss of executive functioning abilities, decision making, organising myself, difficulty with self-care, exhausted, lethargic (my afternoon naps had gone from the standard hour to an hour and a half to two hours).
The next logical step was to do figure out what the causes of my burn out were, well I could pinpoint it back to this development project that I am currently working on.
But I think it was more than just that, I was doing too much, and it was causing me too much stress, I needed more down time and had less energy, I was having a lot more sensory overloads and becoming emotional and needing more time out for myself, I took to stepping away and allowing myself to cry outside, or go for a walk, do some exercise, do a word search in a puzzle book.
This plays into my strategies of how I was going to deal with this. I started by scheduling breaks, and then incorporating exercise into my day more, I also set myself reminders about taking a break and knowing who my supports were and that I could contact them with any concerns that I may have been having or issues that I needed to discuss with them.
I was also grateful that I had my routine in place and not having this project take up the whole day thus putting what I had in place moved aside to put all my energy into this one project. I concluded that I needed to better manage my time where this project was concerned, it didn’t have to be rushed as I had a whole week on which to work on it.
But I feel the most important lesson that I learnt here was that I needed to start paying attention to my body and actually listening when it’s telling me to take a break and that it’s ok to come back to it later on or even the next day. Why overwork myself and stress myself out when I didn’t have to?
The last question that I would be asking myself Is it possible to prevent burnout? And the answer to that is yes it can.
The key strategy for preventing burnout is self-knowledge which I am now armed with. I just like other Autistic people can learn over time which situations are most likely to trigger burnout for them.
While recovering from Autistic burnout, it is important to be patient with yourself. It can be frustrating to lose access to skills but remember that this is not your fault. During this time, it may help to schedule breaks throughout the day to relax. If you have a special interest or stim that calms you down, feel free to use those as much as you need to. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help as you are recovering.
If you feel that you would benefit from seeing a therapist to aid you in learning coping skills and then click here for a therapist in your area.
You can search for a psychologist here https://www.psychology.org.au/Find-a-Psychologist
Or you can see a physiatrist here https://www.yourhealthinmind.org/find-a-psychiatrist
Carry on the Conversation
What have you done to help you when you’ve had a burnout?
Did you recognise the triggers and how do you manage to prevent them from affecting you?
Can you pass on any hints and tips?
Let me know in the comments below.
Thank you for reading and I will see you next time for more thoughts from across the spectrum.