How to get out of autistic burnout permanently
Are you autistic and struggling with energy, motivation, and brain fog, to get through each day? Do you think it’s autistic burnout?
Here’s a grand overview of five areas to focus on, with skills and resources for each so you can gradually, step by step, recover and get your life back (an autism-friendly life you are excited to live).
This is a recording of a workshop hosted by Heather Cook of Autism Chrysalis on January 18th, 2023.
Want info on the next free workshop?
Sign up for the newsletter (about twice a month) for info on the next fee workshop, articles, and other free and paid offerings.
Here’s the full transcript
So welcome to everyone. I’m Heather from autism chrysalis. And this is recovering from autistic burnout, at least my take on it. Something that I have a lot of experience with. So yes, everyone who is registered will get an email with the link to the recording and an edited transcript. So don’t worry about that.
And during this, you’re welcome to have your camera off or on. I really honestly don’t mind either way. You’re welcome to interact with the via the chat or if you have a question to ask, you can use your voice. We do have quite a lot of information to get through. So I would ask if, if there’s something that’s really on topic, go ahead and ask your question at the moment, especially via the chat, I’m pretty good at keeping up with those. But if it’s something that’s off topic, if we can wait till the q&a at the end, that would be great. And you’re also welcome to just listen quietly. You’re welcome to move around during this to fidget, stimm, tic doodle to look away to move around, do whatever you’re doing. I don’t mind any of that. There are lots of ways to pay attention. And sitting still and focusing and staring at someone is not necessarily the best and only way to pay attention. And if you can keep your microphone on mute to reduce background noise that will be helpful. A lot of us here have auditory sensitivities.
So just a quick intro to our plan for today and give a little bit of intro about myself, talk a little bit about what autistic burnout is, how it’s different from other kinds of burnout, give you a little bit of background on my own story. And then I want to get into the actual skills for recovery, like what are the five areas that I think are necessary to, not just recover from this burnout, but break the cycle of burnout. And so we’ll go through some skills for each of those, kind of what resources you can have available to you, kind of what to expect, that sort of thing, and then end with a timeline of how recovery looks, as far as how long is it going to take and where to get started with that. If we have a little time at the end, we’ll get into some q&a.
I did get a lot of questions from people who, during the signup, since I offered that available. And that was very helpful for me, thank you. I built in a lot of the answers into the structure of the workshop. So hopefully a lot of those questions will be answered in there. And the ones that I couldn’t get to are great ideas for blog posts. So I will be writing about the other stuff. And if you’re on my newsletter, you’ll have those sent to you.
Alright, let’s get into it.
So I do want to be clear, I did promise this is not going to be a sales pitch. It’s really not this is genuinely an hour of good information. I do appreciate a little bit of feedback, just that I can make these workshops better. I do the free workshops a few times a year. So afterwards, if you can fill out a little feedback questionaire, just a couple of questions on how this one’s what would make it better, that would be great. Thank you very much. All right.
So a little bit about me. My name is Heather cook, I’m autistic. I’m ADHD, I have a variety of sensory processing differences, some of them kind of intense. I live with chronic pain from a condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. I have POTS and a variety of other labels alphabet soup. I have also faced a lot of other challenges in my life including disability, poverty, trauma and repeated cycles of burnout. But I’ve also found healing and friendship, compassion, energy and purpose in my life.
And the the work that I do now, as a life coach. I work with autistic adults and other neurodivergent humans to build a better life that works more for us. That is, at this point in my life, that is my mission, it’s, I went through all of this stuff, and my experience is not going to be the same as everyone else’s, but I’ve learned enough that my pattern recognition brain can see not just my own, but I’ve seen enough other people at this point that I can see kind of how it works. And again, everyone’s experiences are going to be different, but there are a lot of commonalities. And if you can see those commonalities, kind of, it’ll help to normalize the experience like this is not just you being broken. And that’s one of my big things that I would like to to get across. I’m kind of drifting into later stuff, I’m going to pull myself back.
I also want to remember that in order for me to talk to you today, from this place, where I live in work, many people lost their homes, their ways of life, their lives. So I want to remember the Omaha tribe, the Southern Ponca Tribe, the Ioway, Otoe, Missouri, Sauk and Fox tribes, who do and did live in this eastern Nebraska, where I am speaking to you from now. And I hope that what we’re doing here together is a step in the direction of dismantling the thought patterns that lead people to hurt and oppress each other in all ways.
So those types of thought patterns, the hurting and oppression that I’m talking about, are some of the things that lead to autistic burnout. So I want to talk for a moment about what burnout is, and how it’s different from other kinds of burnout.
So autistic burnout is basically a situation when you’ve done too much, for too long, with too little support. And your body, mind, spirit, is trying to protect you by shutting down so that you physically can’t do more, you can’t over exert any more on this harmful path. And the harmful path might be the things that you’re doing. But often it’s not so much that as it is the environment around you, the thought patterns, the the ways that we’ve been taught by society are the appropriate ways to live and work, the things that you’re supposed to do, the things that other people do to us. All of those kinds of pressures can build up over time, and they do for all of us. But when you’re autistic, the the pressures might be of a different sort. And I’ll get into that in just a moment.
So if we take this burnout as a warning sign, that there’s worse danger ahead, if you say, oh, what’s going on is I’m in a bad situation or on a bad track, that if I keep going in this direction, it’s going to get worse, so I’m going to make changes now that are life giving, that will feed me, then you can get out of it. And you can make your life so much better.
It might only take small tweaks, there might be a lot of those small tweaks, or I might, for some people take radical changes, I completely restructured my life over the last seven, eight years. And it is now very, very different from anything I ever, ever expected it would be but also feel so much better than I’ve ever felt in my life.
Some people will make those kinds of huge life changing changes, some people won’t, and it’s okay. Because some people don’t need to or can’t. But there are things that you can do, even without making large external changes, to make things better. And so I’m going to present some of those as well today.
And I’m actually at a point, I used to hate the whole burnout thing, but I’m at a point in my life, in my journey, that I’m actually grateful for it. I’m grateful for the burnouts because without them I’d have just kept pushing and kept forcing myself to achieve to meet so social standards to do the things that were really really hurtful to me.
And I said that I made major changes in my life and It is absolutely true. But there’s also a way in which some of the changes weren’t that huge. Like, what I mean is, I used to teach public school. Now I teach teenagers on Outschool, like I taught high school before I teach high school aged students now, but I’m doing it in a different way. It’s in a different environment. different pressures, different situations. So, yes, big change, but also not big change. Just as one example.
Okay. So how is autistic burnout different from other kinds of burnout, because lots of people experienced burnout who aren’t autistic. And I think that the whole idea of burnout that I was just describing as like, it’s a, it’s a warning sign of danger ahead, where your body’s saying, No, I’m going to shut down I’m going to protect, so that it doesn’t get worse. That’s kind of the same thing, but the causes of it, and hence the solutions are going to be different. Sorry, I got distracted by the chat for a moment. And my brain stopped working, okay.
So because the causes are different, what you need to change in order to make it better is going to be different. So for Autistics, it’s not just overwork, though that that may be a factor. It’s often a sensory overload, like you were working too hard at fending off the world around us. From all of the noise, the colors, the lights, all the different sensory experiences, smells, sounds, proprioception, interoception, like all of that can be too overwhelming, or too underwhelming, and we go into protective mode.
But that takes a great deal of energy. And if you’re doing that all day long, every day, that’s using a lot of energy that you could be using for other things.
Also, for us, social encounters, interpersonal relationships, can take a lot of energy, we can actually get really good at this. Some people do, some people not so much. But either way, it takes a lot of energy to think about what’s going on, how we navigate this, what is appropriate to say what is not appropriate to say, like how we’re coming across to people.
And also a lot of us go so far as to we learn to mask, to hide what’s really going on inside. And that takes a great deal of energy as well, it’s exhausting. And if you’re doing all of that to such an extent that you’re literally numbing the signals inside that something is doesn’t feel good, because in the past, when you’ve had that experience, people didn’t care, didn’t respond and didn’t know what to do, even if they did care. We often learn at a very early age to simply numb our experiences, to numb the perceptions of how bad it really is. Or we fight the signals and everything feels like you’re battling the world constantly, all the time. Either way, that also takes an extraordinary amount of energy. It’s exhausting. And so when you’re spending all of your energy, just fighting off the world, relating to people interacting, masking, fighting your own signals, or numbing your own signals all day long every day, of course you’re going to run out of energy.
I mean, that only makes sense to me at least. Does it make sense to you? Some of us run out of energy earlier, some of us can manage for a while longer, we run out of energy at different points. But at some point, a lot of us simply shut down because we can’t keep it up.
Our energy is not infinite. And we can’t keep draining it without replenishing it. But when the society doesn’t teach you how to replenish it in a way that works for our nervous systems, for our brains, then then we don’t know how to do that. We don’t know how to make it better. So I think that’s what’s really going on.
So the the goal at this point when you’ve either identified that you’re autistic or you’re coming to terms with it or just coming to new realizations with it. Once you’ve gotten to this point that you’re realizing what’s going on, oh, burnout is what’s going on, or oh, I’m autistic and I’m in burnout is what’s going on. When you get to that place, you can start figuring out better solutions, better ways of responding to your needs, even to noticing what your needs are, which a lot of us have to learn, kind of from scratch. Yeah, learning new vocabulary, figuring out what’s going on. And so a lot of what I do with my clients is is to figure out new ways of interacting in the world that work better for for their personal brain and nervous system. And just that makes huge differences. It’s really incredible how big of a difference it can be. And it doesn’t have to be huge changes. For some people it is, but it doesn’t have to be.
So all right, so my own story with burnout is, I burned out at the end of every school year growing up, my mom used to joke that she could set her watch by it, as soon as the school year ended. Like two days later, I would be out for a good week, I would just get sick. And it was like clockwork. As I got older, sometimes it got a little bit worse, in college, I pretty much crashed for the whole summer.
And after I started working, I managed about two and a half years. And my body started shutting down. And over the course of the next couple of months, it got worse and worse. And then it reached the point where it was like, No, we’re not doing this anymore, we are not functioning, we are not getting out of bed, we are not doing anything. And that lasted for several months, or last for about nine months. I basically was non functional, I slept through nine months, I was fortunate enough to have a mom who was supportive. I moved back in with her for a little while and slept and she would bring food to my bedside. And occasionally I would wake up and eat something and then go back to sleep. That was basically my life for nine months.
And at that point, I started having a little bit of energy doing a little bit more. And it took a few years for me to really recover. But it wasn’t a complete full recovery. Because as soon as I started getting a little bit of energy, I spent it, I didn’t know how not to do that.
And a couple of years later, I was working full time, I was teaching full time and right after the winter break, or during winter break of 2014-15 my body said no, we’re not going to do this again. It’s too much we can’t keep going. And I burned out again, took six weeks off work managed to go back to work with on a limited basis. They made a lot of accommodations for me, not enough, but eh, it was okay. And it took a few more months and I couldn’t go back to that job after that semester.
I had to really figure out my life, that was my real wake up call that something major had to change and it was shortly after that, that I figured out that I’m autistic and started using that as a way to, like, I knew what to research at that point is the basic takeaways. I figured out, Okay, so this is what’s been going on, I’m not broken after all, I’m not a failed human being I am not it’s not just a personal failing. It’s because my brain and nervous system work very differently.
So I knew what to start looking for and made little changes over time which built up to very major changes over the course of a few years. And I’m at a point now I have not burned out since 2015 and I am making more and more changes to my life to support that to be able to work, I’ve been working full time for almost three years now. And no signs of burnout coming. I am doing better now than I ever have in my life and I am doing more now than I ever have in my life, and it’s, it’s good, I’m liking this.
Okay. So it is possible to break the burnout cycle, to not keep going through these. It’s possible to develop a very different work ethics a different work style time, boundaries, etc. It’s it’s possible to develop different ways of communicating and being comfortable with people in different ways, ways that work for our autistic socialization.
It is also possible to develop over time, the ability to make daily decisions based on what feels good. And based upon your values. If I had told myself that seven years ago, I would have laughed in my face. And it’s true, I do this on a daily basis, it really is possible. And it’s possible to do more for the world, and for the people who are important to you than you’re doing now. It’s possible to use your strengths, because you’re wasting less energy on the tasks on work and relationships that you don’t want.
And I say it’s possible to do more for the people and the world than you’re doing now, I mean that both for people who aren’t doing anything, because you’re in a crash, and for the people who are still more or less functional, but you know, it’s not gonna last, but you’re doing an extraordinary amount already, you can do that, and you can do more, if you make the changes to how you’re doing it. That work better for you.
That’s a lot to promise. I know not everyone’s gonna believe me. And that’s okay. And how that looks like how that’s possible will be somewhat different for other for different people.
Okay, so, in order for this to happen, for the burnout, recovery, to break this cycle and to permanently stick. There’s a few skills that I think are applicable to everyone, no matter what your situation is.
One of them is a willingness to try new things. And that can be kind of scary for people like me, who like routines, and like things being the same all the time. But I love that quote from Einstein, that is something like, the thinking that got– getting out of a problem requires completely different thinking, than the thinking that got us into a problem. Okay, that’s a poor paraphrase, but it’s essentially what he said. In order to get out of burnout, we can’t just keep doing the things that we were doing before, but harder.
That’s not going to get us anywhere, but into another burnout, we have to do it differently. Which means we have to actually be willing to try doing something differently.
And I was finally willing to try that when it got bad enough. And that’s often the case. For you what is bad enough to try something different might be different from other people, we all have our point at which I can’t tolerate this anymore, I’m going to have to try something different. And when you lean into that, it comes with a lot of discomfort. I’m going to put that out there up front.
I like to think about getting comfortable with discomfort. Because as you’re trying these new different things, new ways of thinking, new ways of doing things, new ways of thinking about yourself, it’s going to be very unfamiliar, and simply by the fact that it’s unfamiliar, that’s going to be uncomfortable. That’s true for not just Autistics but humans.
So getting to being okay, like at just a basic level, like being comfortable with discomfort, like knowing that this is a thing that I need to go through in order to get to where I want where I will be comfortable again.
Alright, another skill that I think is invaluable is self attunement. Simply developing, and you can develop this, of what your internal state is in the moment of what your needs are, what your emotions are, what your desires are, because you can’t go towards something that you want if you don’t know what it is you want.
And that self attunement will also be helpful as you’re trying new things to figure out what’s working, what needs tweaking. How is this working for me, okay, I just tried something. It went okay?, like sort of, but this part could have been better. And this part went really well. But being able to figure out what went well, what didn’t, what you want to keep improving, that comes from knowing inside, how it felt. Not just the the external effects that you have on other people in the situation, but also how it affected you.
I know that can be difficult for a lot of us, especially people with a lot of trauma history, which is almost all of us, but some of us more intense trauma history. And it can develop very, very slowly, it can develop at the speed that you’re ready for it.
Okay, the last one I want to point out is adaptation. What I’m going to give you is a framework, but it’s not going to be specifically do this, then this, then this because that doesn’t work, what worked for me is not going to be the exact same thing that worked for you. And there are a lot of commonalities, there are the patterns of the kinds of things that work, that’s what I want to show you today.
But the details are going to be different for all of us. Because we’re different people, my personality is different, my background is different, my race is different, my gender is different, my environment is different, the people I’m with are different, my personality is different. All of these things, and more are going to affect simply who I am and who you are. And so the details are all going to be different. So please, adapt, modify. If someone makes a good suggestion, and you’re like, hey, that’s a great suggestion, I want to try that. Feel free to modify it, adapt it to your own situation, and change that as you go figure out what’s working well, what’s not working well, if you try something and it’s like, well, that was a disaster, try something else, feel free to just dump that idea and move on or tweak it or say, well, there was a part of it that worked, but not that part. So keep the part that worked. The ability to modify and adapt as you go is is critical to to figuring out what works for you.
Okay, so is this making sense so far? I don’t want to just blaze ahead. I’m getting a lot of feedback in the comments. We’ll get into more examples of modification soon. Gonna get into the details, the practicalities in a minute. Getting a lot of yeses. Example of the last point? I think I’m, I’m going to be giving more examples, practical ones in just a few minutes. Okay.
All right. So here’s the five areas that I want to talk about. And I will be giving examples, all of this stuff. So the five areas that I think are the key points that I’ve seen over and over and over in hundreds of autistic people that I’ve worked with so far, is the areas in which modification needs to take place in order to break the cycle of burnout, to recover in the moment, but also to not have to go through this again. And I think that combining these is going to give you the best chance of really breaking the cycle permanently.
So the biggest thing, at least in my opinion, is dissolving internalized ableism and other negative messaging. We’re gonna get into that in a minute.
Another big, big area is sensory friendly living, I was mentioning how a lot of us spend an extraordinary amount of energy just fighting off the world, from our sensory experiences. If you’re not fighting it off, then you have a lot of energy immediately freed up that you can use towards all sorts of other things. And sometimes those sensory tweaks are often really, really little, but they can free up huge amounts of energy.
Another big area is increasing our internal awareness. This is both knowing what the sensory things are that are affecting us how this plays into all of it, it’s plays into energy management, to that attunement that I was talking about before, to noticing how people affect you or how environments affect you noticing how your own thoughts affect you, just figuring out what’s going on inside.
Another big area is energy management. It’s learning to notice what are your energy drainers and what are your energy gainers, being able to use them in the moment to modify what you’re doing sometimes in really, really little ways that and have disproportionately large effects.
And the other big area that I want to bring out is unmasking. And I see unmasking as becoming whole, as in the the person I present to the world is more or less, with a social filter, the same as the person who is inside. Now, there’s a lot of caveats that I want to get into. Sometimes it’s not safe to unmask, physically, like you’re actually in a dangerous situation, that is not the time, use the energy for protecting yourself. And if you’re not in a actually dangerous or toxic situation, there are at least times when you can unmask a little bit.
I’m mentioning this one last because I honestly believe this is the last thing. It will happen more naturally as the other ones develop. Okay, I’m finding myself tempted. So this is internal awareness. I’m noticing inside that I’m tempted to explain all sorts of things that I want to about each of these. But we’re going to be talking about them in a minute. I’m just going to keep on task.
I also want to point out one thing here, notice what I’m not saying, I’m not saying that what it takes to get out of burnout is to have large chunks of supported rest. That was one of the biggest questions that I got during registration is some variant on, I’m in burnout, but I have this list of responsibilities I can’t let go of; I can’t quit my job, I can’t quit my kids, I can’t quit my situation, people around me are either not recognizing what’s going on or not supportive. I can’t just get rid of all of this stuff, so how do I do it? You don’t have to have that. I’m going like, all of the areas that I’m gonna talk about are going to be parts of what you can do even when you don’t have large chunks of support rest. I did mention that during my first major, major burnout, when in 2009, I moved in with my mom, and she just fed me and let me sleep for nine months. That was amazing. I know a lot of people, most people do not have that luxury, I didn’t have that luxury the second time, my second big major months long burnout, I didn’t have that. I still had to work through it, I still had to take care of my family, I still had to pay the bills. And I did make big changes, I took some time off of work, but I still had to go back to work, I still had to–you don’t have to.
And a lot of my clients don’t have that luxury, and they’re still making huge progress. So I just want to mention that that is also possible, we’re gonna be getting into more how to do that.
Alright, so these are the five areas that I see as the big, like overarching areas that need a lot of attention if you’re going to make those huge improvements and get out of the cycle.
Okay, just checking the chat. We’re good. And we will be getting into more of these questions shortly. All right.
So here’s the ideal, what you see on the screen right now those five areas, here’s what it looks like in reality. It’s not just a smooth, we’re gonna go around the cycle, we’re gonna do step one, and then step two, and then step three, no, it’s a mess. I’m sorry, but it just is. It’s going to be like, Oh, today I noticed this sensory thing, and then I’m going to do a little bit of unmasking. Oh, that didn’t work. I need to increase my internal awareness. Oh, there’s a little energy thing over here and Oh, back to the internalized ableism, I’m noticing that that’s a big thing. And you’re just gonna be bouncing around and noticing different things and it’s not a step by step thing. It’s not a step by step system for getting out of it. You’re going to notice as you go, it’s gonna be sloppy, it’s going to be messy. And I apologize in advance, there’s just no way around that. At least not that I’ve ever seen.
Because if you are trying to make it a step by step thing, if you’re trying to make it super concrete, that’s in some ways another version of internalized ableism, saying that you have to do it a certain way, that I should do it this way. And at some point that’s going to have to release in order to really get out of it. Sorry.
All right. So let’s get into each of these five areas. And that’s where I’m gonna spend more focus. So the first one I mentioned, is dissolving internalized ableism. So what is that?
Internalized ableism, as I see, it is a deeply ingrained way of thinking that creates unnecessary pain and distress by comparing your current reality with some fictional ideal of what people should be able to do. It’s that should thing that’s really the key.
So if you’re able to let go, and I’m not saying it just miraculously happens, there are techniques, but if you’re able to basically reframe what is going on in your life as not, I’m not able to work full time and raise kids, and have them home with me during the pandemic, and take care of my spouse, and maintain social relationships. If I’m not able to do all of that, and have energy left over and have a smile on my face the whole time, it does not mean that I’m a broken human being, it does not mean that I’m not good enough. It means that my nervous system reacts to the world in very different ways than other peoples do.
And that my nervous system needs different things than the standard that has developed in our modern world. And it needs different things than the highly traumatic world that we live in. We live in a world of trauma, it’s generational, it’s surrounding us, it’s in all of our systems, it’s in the way that we think, teach, parent, work, live.
I’m gonna leave it there because I want to get to other things. So if you’re interested in dissolving some of this internalized ableism, where I suggest a good place to start would be to notice those times when you think I should, or I have to, or he should or she should, or they should, or that person has to do this in order for whatever, like, notice those have to is in the shoulds the absolutes, and question why, like why should they? Why should I? What would happen if you don’t? What would happen if they don’t? And who benefits by you thinking that?
So a mindset shift that I think was helpful during this dissolving the ableism is to remind yourself that it’s okay for needs and abilities to differ from the perceived norm. To notice that my abilities and my productivity have nothing to do with my worth as a person. To separate moral judgments from actions that aren’t about morality; if you’re not harming someone, and there are other things, but like whether or not the dishes get done tonight does not make me a bad person. If my kids are sticky, I’m still a decent person. Like it does not make me a bad person. There’s there’s so much shoulding that we do, that society does on us.
So what is possible in here, the outcome that’s possible, is to let yourself off the hook for the things that right now might seem non negotiable. At least some of them. And to feel the relief, that I don’t have to be what other people think that I should be in order to be okay. It is possible to embrace your differences as your greatest source of power.
Okay. The fact that we do see things differently, that we’re not really in the mainstream, we’re kind of looking at it as an outsider, often, gives us the ability to see it from a different perspective than the people who are in it. Like we can see where the trauma is, we can see where the broken systems are better than a lot of people who are in it. And the fact that we can see that, if we can also develop another area of communicating. in better ways, and I’ll get to that later. But if we can both see what needs to happen, which is one of our strengths as a community, this is one of our biggest sources of power. And we can communicate that in ways that other people can respond to, we have the ability to change the world. And those of us who have more marginalized identities have even more power because you can see more of what needs to be fixed.
Okay, so a few tools here that I think are helpful, I highly recommend looking into The Work of Byron Katie, that’s what she calls it, is The Work. It’s a series of questions that help you notice the those shoulds those thoughts about the way it should be the way it has to be. I can’t do it like this, I can’t cope, I can’t– all of those, those negative thoughts, the the internalized ableism, and question it. Not to talk you out of it, but to simply get at it from a different perspective, to question with looking for the truth. And to see how those thoughts affect you to see how you affect others when you live into to those thoughts, and to see if there might be a way to turn it around that might actually be just as true or more true.
Another thing that I highly recommend is ACT tools, the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy developed by Steven Hayes. And if you’re looking into it, it’s also another great way to deal with negative thoughts, and to deal with anxiety and lower anxiety’s intensity, so that you can deal with the thing that’s actually underlying it that’s causing the anxiety, which is difficult to do when the intensity is really, really high.
If you’re looking for a form of therapy, I highly recommend the Internal Family Systems model. It’s not about dealing with your family outside, it’s about dealing with your family inside, it’s like that part of you that when I was six was bullied and deals with things this way or that part of me that is trying to protect me from this, like seeing the different parts of you inside as as worthy of compassion, of help, as like they’re trying to help you in the best way that they know how, but they often only have one tool to do so. Anyway, I’m not gonna get into that.
But another tool is a self compassionate inner voice. Being able to respond to yourself with compassion. Even when things go wrong, even when you make poor choices, even when it all goes kablooey.
An Autistic a coach or an Autistic therapist or a neurodiversity supportive therapist can be really helpful in this process. This is kind of my wheelhouse, it’s what I do is dissolving internalized ableism, I love this stuff.
Other things you can look at, books I highly recommend: Martha Beck’s The Way of integrity, the Wisdom of Anxiety by Cheryl Paul, Immunity to Change by Robert Keegan and the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Excellent, excellent books, all of them.
And I mentioned before, the most common question I got, which is, how do you make things better when you have all these responsibilities and or people are not supportive around you? This is it. Dissolving internalized ableism will free up the most amount of internal energy and freedom. And it will support you and your ability to do other things. If you can do this, and I’m not saying it’s easy, it’s actually the hardest of all of these things. But if you can do a little teeny bit at a time, moving at the speed of trust, just a teeny bit. And if you can do that, it will make the most difference out of all of these five areas.
Okay. All right, we’re gonna move on. And the second area is sensory friendly living. So this is about noticing what you personally need, your personal nervous system and brain and body need to feel good in the world at a physical level.
So many autistics have very different sensory experiences, or different intensities of experiences from the perceived norm, and we’re taught at a very young age in large and small ways, intentionally and not by the people around us to ignore those experiences, to numb them, to block them.
No, it’s not time for you to be interested in that, we need to go, like just put on those shoes, I don’t care how they feel, just get them on. Like in kindergarten, when you’re fidgeting, you’re supposed to sit still, it’s time for the circle, just sit still and look at the teacher. We’re taught to clamp down on our physical needs, just to get by so that we don’t get in trouble so that we don’t get yelled at so that we don’t make the people around us upset, in small ways and huge ways.
But when we do that, we learn to disregard our own physical sensations. So if you can start asking yourself questions, looking for clues, piece together the information to figure out what you actually need. As you do that in little little ways, you’ll gradually learn more about how your senses work. I suggest looking or asking questions like what makes me comfortable? What feels good, what feels bad, when, under what circumstances? By the way, the answers to those will change over time. So stay curious. The mindset here is that it’s okay to feel good. And my own comfort is valuable.
What’s possible here? How good can it get? It is possible to recover energy that you use to use fending off the world around you and to use that for other things. Like other aspects of burnout recovery. And it is possible to genuinely feel good in your own skin. And I know for some people that might seem ridiculous or impossible. It is possible.
At the very, very least, it’s possible to feel better, to make more comfort, and over time, little bits of more comfort will lead you to even more comfort.
Okay, so tools that you can use as you’re figuring this area out. Your own very powerful brain is going to be your greatest asset here. Your ability for pattern recognition, for tenacity for figuring yourself out. Conversations with other Autistics and other sensory different people. validate your experience. I’m seeing some of that going on in the chat as well. That’s awesome. Like, you’re not alone. You’re not the only one who feels that, you’re not the only one who’s weird in that particular way. And I use weird as like a reclaimed word; I love weird. I love being weird.
So here’s some books that are helpful, too loud, too bright, too fast, too tight what to do if you’re sensory defensive in an overstimulating world by Sharon Heller. That’s was the first one that I read in it’s still my favorite. Another one by Rachel Schneider is making sense a guide to sensory issues. And a classic in the area is the highly sensitive person by Elaine Aaron. And the last one I want to share and there’s a link to this. Let’s try and put put that in the chat, is I did a free workshop and how to start investigating your sensory differences. You can find that on my website. It’s I believe called How to start investigating or sensory differences; that’s available.
Yeah, and spiritual sensitivity can play into that to complain to all of these. Okay, we’ve got the link to that webinar in the chat. Thank you.
Okay, moving on. So increasing your return internal awareness is about having more accurate info about what’s going on inside, and what you want or need. And that allows you to make more appropriate tweaks in your life and get feedback on how these tweaks are affecting you, so that you can keep making them better.
So for example, if I need to talk to someone about something, and the thought of it makes my stomach knot up, simply noticing that allows me to ask myself questions like, what’s going on with that? Like, why is my stomach knotting up? Is it the topic? Is it the environment that I need to talk to them in? Is it the timing of the conversation isn’t my past that’s triggering me? What’s going on here? And when I know what’s going on, I can make more appropriate changes to the environment, or the timing or the topic, I can respond to the situation in a way that’s appropriate.
If I don’t know what’s going on, then then I don’t have enough information to make appropriate changes or reframing it, it does not actually have to always be a physical change. But if I don’t know what’s going on, it’s just, well, that situation sucks, so it must be me, is where we often default to. A lot of us do. I do. Or at least used to.
So places that I suggest starting, is to increase your interoception through noticing what’s going on physically in your body in small ways, through gradually increasing your emotional awareness over time. And I say that as someone who was diagnosed as alexithymic 10 years ago, and today, I am in close touch with my emotions, and I use them on a daily basis to make decisions in my life.
It is possible as you develop that internal awareness, and as your sensory system feels less intense, and you’re not spending as much energy numbing the sensations, your body will actually start sending you more signals and more refined signals as you notice them and respond to them in ways that your body feels good about.
I also recognize that there’s potentially a lot of trauma around noticing your body signals, if that’s the case for you, please deal with the trauma first, please be gentle with your nervous system as you’re doing this. And the help of a good therapist might be very helpful there, if that feels comfortable for you. But please, please, be gentle in this process. Again, we want to move at the speed of trust. And that’s internal trust in yourself as well as trust with the people around you. Don’t push too far, too fast. That just leads to reinforcing the fact that this doesn’t feel good.
We want to start with small small changes. And notice that oh, that can feel good. Like that really does feel okay, like, I can handle that. Okay, maybe I could try another really tiny increase of body awareness. Like, okay, that’s okay. Yeah, yeah, that really is feeling decent. All right, we can live with that. Okay. Okay, deep breath, we can live wit that…I’m narrating here, kind of what my body goes through, or, and went through and it’s still going through as I’m increasing my own internal awareness. Okay, and you can use that as it develops to make even more useful decisions about all aspects of your life.
Some tools here, I really appreciate the Self-Reg framework that Stuart Shanker has developed. And it’s not just any kind of self regulation, he has a particular way he goes about it that he calls Self-Reg. He has a book called Self-Reg. It’s one of the books on my list. Highly recommend. Kelly Mahler has some interoception activities and a workbook on increasing your interoception; that is your body’s internal awareness of what’s going on inside. And trauma sensitive mindfulness practices can be very helpful. And also, I would just add to that list, giving yourself the grace to take it slow, and to be okay. Be okay, taking it slow.
Alright, I’m noticing that I’m coming up to the one hour; I’m going to continue. For those of you who need to leave. I totally get that. I did try and cram a whole lot into this but there’ll be a recording if you can’t stay.
Alright, so moving on; energy management, when you borrow energy from your future self it collects at a very high interest rate. So if you can understand what is draining your energy, and what gives you energy, and you can manage what’s going on, you can use that information to avoid collapsing in overwhelm or pushing beyond your exhaustion to collapsing in that way as well. So we’re going to try and avoid collapse, and we’re going to try and avoid burnout or shutdowns.
There is another way you can manage your energy and activities skillfully in the moment. So for an example of how that might look, if you look at your giant To Do List, ask yourself, what things cost you energy, what things give it back, and how much can you expect either to get back or to use on anything? Can I tweak those tasks in order to minimize the drains? So areas that you might start are noticing how different types of tired feel. So there’s like the physical work tired, there’s the mental tired, there’s the blobbing in front of the television tired, or in a Twitter stream or a tick tock tired, like, there are different types of tired. So start asking yourself, what kind of tired is this that I’m feeling right now?
And over time, you’ll develop that awareness. And notice how much energy various tasks are costing you. And specifically, what about it uses the most energy? What can you do about that part of it, that is using the energy?
So the mindset here is that society, capitalism, white supremacy culture, patriarchy, etc, misogyny, all of these systems that are trauma based systems, they expect the impossible from us, they expect us to work full time, take care of kids, have good relationships, have a broad social network, change the world and do it all without breaking a sweat, and never complaining, and never noticing that you need anything ever. That’s not possible. It’s not realistic, it’s not possible for anyone, autistic or not. And when we feel things more intensely, you have to let yourself off the hook somewhere. Again, that moves back into the dissolving of the internalized ableism. And I would also say my the internalized capitalism, the internalized misogyny, the internalized patriarchy, the internalized white supremacy culture, all of it. That is, it’s just so steeped in our culture, that often we don’t even realize that it’s there.
Okay, so what’s possible here, it is possible to develop a sense of how much energy you have. And to know that in the moment, and to grow more choice in how you use your energy. And when you use your energy so that you don’t overdo it.
And it’s possible to grow an energy reserve for those times when everything seems to happen at once, and you need more energy, because those are going to happen. But you can have an energy reserve so that you can get through it and get back to your your normal after a while, however long that period takes sometime, this can be kind of long, anyway.
Alright, so tools that are helpful in energy management: interoception, because knowing what’s going on inside you will be information that you can use to figure out your energy levels and what drains your energy and what gives you energy etc. Also the innate human capacity for resilience, and for play. Those are going to be your friends in this. Improving health and communication skills, with, well with yourself, but also, I’m thinking specifically with the people around you, that is going to be key to getting yourself off the hook from others, to making other changes that you will start to want and you’ll start to think might actually be possible. That right now might not feel possible, but at some point in the future, you’ll want to make those changes, so getting better at communicating without heavily masking is going to be both possible and– I’m sorry, brain blank, that’s going to be useful to you.
Alright, so books that I recommend is how to keep house well drowning by KC Davis, this is about separating, like I mentioned earlier, separating morality from housework, like, doing the dishes does not make me a good person, and having a messy house doesn’t make me a terrible person. I also highly recommend the compassion book by Thom Bond. This is based on a year long course that he does, I’ve taken it twice and will continue to take it. It’s amazing. It’s, as it says on the tin, it’s about compassion. But it’s largely about self compassion. And what I highly recommend this for is not about compassion, but about, he lays out a framework to develop an understanding of what your needs are, and how to know what your needs are, and then how to respond to them. Also not a book, but I’m in the process of creating a course on energy management for Autistics. So if you’re interested, stay tuned for that.
Okay, last of the five areas of focus is unmasking. So what this is, we all have an essential self, our most authentic self, and we have a social self, like a filter that helps us translate what’s going on inside in healthy ways for the people around us. And having that social self is not a bad thing. It aids communication, and it’s like a lubricant to interactions. So that we don’t have as much friction.
Some of us also develop this masked self and that masked self actively hurts us for other people’s comfort. So doing things or saying or thinking or not doing things, because you think, accurate or not, that other people will respond badly to it, but that actively hurt you in the process, that is masking. Unmasking is unlearning the damaging ways that we’ve learned to be around people.
And by damaging, it’s usually internally damaging, it can also be damaging externally, because when we’re not presenting our real self, we don’t give the other people opportunities to actually get to know us. And so it’s like, we have to keep up the mask, because the mask is the thing that they like. So there’s this fear that, will they actually like me, because all we’ve ever known is the mask, they’re not really going to like me. And the sad truth is that sometimes that’s accurate, sometimes they are not going to, which means that that’s not a person that you actually want to be around. Or at least that is not healthy for you to be around in an unmasked state.
And there are people who can make the adjustment who will be okay with it, it’ll be a little bit of an adjustment period for them, or it might be a major adjustment period for them. But they’ll be able to adjust and they’ll be happy with the outcome, like they will actually like the real you.
But for all of us as we’re unmasking, and it’s a very long process, we’re going to find people who it’s not safe to unmask around, we’re going to find people who we unmask around. And it’s not necessarily physically dangerous or abusive, but they’re not going to be okay with our unmasked self and our unmasked self is not going to be okay with them. So we’re going to have to cull some relationships. And we’re going to find people who it’s actually a better relationship when we’re unmasked.
And we’re also going to find new relationships, once you’ve unmasked that are attracting the kinds of people that your unmasked self really resonates with and they resonate with you. And having those relationships in your life is going to make other things so much better.
So this is a gigantic topic, I’m not going to get into it much. But just one little example is an unmasked response to a request, what do you want for dinner? Or do you want this or that for dinner, you could say, potentially, being socially acceptable and not just forcing your desires on others, you could say I’m okay with either of those. But I’d prefer y. Like, I prefer this one. It’s allowing that social room and in some ways protecting yourself because you’re not just forcing your your preference, but it’s also actually saying what your preference is. Which might be scary to start it was terrifying for me to start that. And that’s just one tiny example.
So here’s Where I would suggest starting with unmasking, is simply notice when you’re doing it, notice what it costs you. And notice what you’re getting out of it. We developed this for a reason, like, it’s, it’s useful. So you don’t have to just let it all go. And that may not even be possible. For a lot of people, it’s genuinely not. It has to start, again, with small, small steps. Another place we can start is notice when you’re reacting to the past instead of the present. This is very common.
For those of us who have a more intense trauma history is that the way react we react to a particular situation is based upon how we’re used to reacting to that from from a protective mechanism. But it’s not actually the current situation. And simply noticing that is helpful.
And also, I would suggest, starting with that internalized ableism, like dissolving those negative thoughts, accepting that it’s impossible to always communicate perfectly, you can’t always get it right. Because people are going to respond to the exact same thing in different ways because they have their own histories, often trauma histories, and you’re not going to be able to always know that. And you can repair communications, at least in a non toxic relationship.
So the mindset here is that not all social expectations are good or healthy. And they’re not all unjust or damaging. But you get to decide which ones you spend your energy on. And you get to decide when you mask for your own safety and to what extent, and there are times when you might always need to mask, situations when it’s going to be the most appropriate and safe option. Especially for people who have a number of marginalized identities. Unfortunately, society has not yet evolved, or accepting enough that that’s always going to be okay.
Okay, what’s possible here, I would just put out that it is possible to feel safe around people. And it’s possible to gain skills to handle unfamiliar or disagreeable interactions.
Alright, how to do that: tools that will be useful in this part of your journey is to reframe your people history, like look back at your past and notice what happened when you had those events with people, the ones that go through your head over and over, especially the bad situations. Were poor communication skills modeled for you as a child? Were you left to figure out how to do it on your own? Or were you shamed for not getting it right but never taught how to not get it wrong?
So if you can reframe it as it’s not just that I’m bad at this peopling thing, it’s that I was never taught how to do it well. And as an autistic, we learn social communication through, we learn it more analytically, we’re less likely to just pick it up intuitively, but we can learn it, we can learn it very, very well. We can learn it to a high degree, but we learn it differently than neurotypicals do. And if we’re not actually taught how to do it, we’re left to figure it out on our own, and we can do that to some extent, but man, it’s hard to do it with every single possible social situation out there. Having cheat sheets and shortcuts and people telling you Oh, when this happens, this is what was meant by that. And this was what is expected of you. And you can choose how to respond to that. But just knowing what is going on there is really, really helpful.
So after I got my autism diagnosis, I learned, like the two years after that I learned more about socializing better then probably in the 35 years of my life before that. At least as much if not more, because all of a sudden I was able to reframe it as not, I’m bad at this people thing. And it was Instead, I wasn’t taught how to do this well, but now I know what I need to learn, and I know how to learn it. So I’m gonna go learn it my way. And that was so much better.
So some books that can help you in this process, Unmasking Autism, by Devin Price is an excellent book. I also recommend A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer, just about the whole developing your your inner world in alignment with your outer world. Marshall Rosenberg nonviolent communication, I don’t care for the, what he called it nonviolent communication. When I first encountered this, I thought, well, I don’t scream at people. I’m not violent in my communication. But he has a particular framework for that. But it’s really good communication skills essentially. Also Unfuck Your Boundaries by Faith, Harper is really good at just laying out the whole concept of boundaries, what it is and what it’s not, and how to do that, how to develop those skills.
Okay, so those are the five areas that I think are going to make the biggest difference in not just getting out of this current burnout, but breaking the cycle permanently, so that you never have to do it again.
As you’re doing it, you’re going to be doing it in small tweaks, but those small tweaks are going to add up. And as your brain, your nervous system, your body adjust and adapt to small things at a time, it will allow your system to take those on board and really, really accept it as a non threatening change. So it’s going to literally rewire your system, your neurology, your nervous system, your psychology, past history with trauma, all of that in ways that are non threatening, and therefore they will be integrated into your system and actually stick around, like they’re going to make positive improvements that will stay in the long run.
So as you tweak more and more things, your stress levels are will naturally lower your energy will naturally pick up and you’ll be able to use that to make more tweaks and more tweaks and more tweaks. And over time, it will add up to huge changes.
So what’s this timeline that we can look at? Burnout recovery takes longer than a weekend blob session, this is not just a vacation, you can make some improvement in the short run. But the longest gains are going to take time.
I would say that early wins can be had in days to weeks. But feeling better, like really better is going to take weeks or months. And sustainable recovery is going to take years of getting out of that loop. Getting your system really on board with this is the new way we’re doing things and it feels safe. That’s going to take, that’s going to take years. And yes, it’s nonlinear. Actually, this is more like what it’s going to look like.
It’s going to have its ups and downs, there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs, especially in the early stages of it, where it’s going to feel like you’re doing so much better. And then something’s going to happen and you’re going to crash. And we’ll probably have the thoughts of Oh, no, it’s not working. It’s all for nothing. Nothing’s okay. Like, it’s going to feel really, really awful. And then you’re going to build up again, and it’s going to feel better. And you’ll be like, Oh, okay, maybe that was just a blip. I can do things and then there’s going to be another blip and it’s going to go up and down.
But you’ll notice that over time, like there’s going to be big fluctuations for a while. But those fluctuations are going to start evening out and then there’ll be they’ll still be fluctuations but over time, they’re going to be smaller and smaller. And the goal is not to have no fluctuations in your energy level, in your ability to cope with things, that’s not human, that’s an idealistic perfectionist goal that, that humans living in a real world, that life, organisms living in anywhere is not achievable. But the fluctuations can be smaller so that even when big things happen, your fluctuations are still going to be smaller. Is that makeing sense?
Okay, so this was my last wrap up here, I’d like to end with the beginning, like where to start.
And that is that you’ve already started. Just recognizing that what’s going on for you is burnout is huge. You’re not struggling because of some personal failing, you’re not broken, and you’re not incompetent at being a human.
Your brain and nervous system are struggling to keep up with unreasonable demands, and have gone into a self protection mode. And if you can honor that, and give yourself the compassion of, oh, this is what’s happening. It’s not a bad me, it’s that there’s too much happening to me, and in me, that I don’t have the resources to deal with, but I can develop them.
And then beyond that reframing, simply start with whatever you’re interested in, if you’re interested in energy management, great, if you’re interested in sensory stuff, that’s a really common and easy place to start, you can have early wins there easily. But if internal awareness feels more interesting to you, or if the dissolving internalized, ableism feels more immediately pressing to you, or just interesting, or if unmasking is kind of where your thoughts are right now, go with all of that go with, like, whatever it is, that’s intriguing.
You, if you find some new thing, or someone makes a comment on Twitter, and you’re like, oh, that sparks my interest, go with that for a while, like be a goldfish and just swim around and have a three second memory and like, by that I mean, just like let yourself flit around to whatever is intriguing you at the moment, and it doesn’t have to be long term, it doesn’t have to be your new big thing. Allow yourself the freedom of it’s okay to, to jump around.
Do you remember that slide at the earlier with the the circle, and it’s messy. It’s a messy, messy situation. But wherever intrigues you, that’s the thing that you’re actually going to be willing to work on. And because you’re going to get something positive from any of this, go with the thing that’s interesting to you, the thing that you’ll actually do. Get some gains there, use that energy to go get some other gains somewhere else, then use that to go get some gains somewhere else.
So here’s my last thought, is that it’s okay to not know at the beginning where this journey is going to take you. In fact, if you did, you’d be restricting the possibilities based upon your mindset when you made the plan.
So I hope that this is going to give you a bit of a map to your own undiscovered country, not where you’re going to end up, but how to get there. If that makes sense.
So that’s where I’m going to leave you. I would appreciate some feedback on this workshop, we’re gonna put the feedback link in the chat, that would be great. And it’ll also go out in the email. This, the recording–if you want to contact me, here’s my contact information–the recording for this will be going out via email to everyone who registered if you’re stayed subscribed to the to the newsletter, list whatever thing. But it will also be on my website, probably by tomorrow and on YouTube so that you can look for that and rewatch it. I will also have the full transcript available.
we’ve already gone over time, so I don’t want to take more time. But thank you very much for joining me.
All right. I hope that this is helpful for you. And hope that you’re finding something here that’s been useful for you in your own recovery journey.
Well, thank you all very much for coming. I hope that you got something useful out of this. Alright, take care. Have a neurowonderful day.
Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you for this. Thank you so much. I think thank you so much. Thank you so much.