Autistic Energy Management

Blue solid foreground with text "Autistic Energy Management."
How do you make positive changes in your life when you have no energy left? In this workshop recording, I share my philosophy of the situation and lots of practical tips.

When energy is too low to make the better life you want

Are you tired all the time? Everything drains your energy? None left to make the positive changes you want to make in your life?

This will be an overview of how to figure out what’s draining your energy, what gives you energy back, and how to tweak things to recover energy and keep it when you’re struggling day to day.

This workshop is geared toward Autistics and is inclusive. The presenter is likewise AuDHD.

This is a recording of a workshop hosted by Heather Cook of Autism Chrysalis on 17 October, 2023.

The recording

Autistic Energy Management

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    Here’s the full transcript

    Okay, welcome to everyone. This is autistic energy management, and I’m Heather Cook with Autism Chrysalis and today is October 27th*, 2023. *(I misspoke, it was the 17th.) Let’s go ahead and get started.

    So just a few housekeeping details. During this you are welcome to participate with your camera off or on. It’s totally fine to have it off, I do not mind. You’re welcome to move around, fidget, stim, tic, doodle, take notes, look away (even if your camera’s on). I don’t mind if you aren’t looking. There’s lots of ways to pay attention, and please do what works for you.

    You’ll notice I’ll have a fidget in my hands every once in a while, I’ve got a weighted blanket on my lap. That helps my nervous system feel regulated.

    There are a few Zoom options that you can adjust to your own comfort and desires. You can turn the chat on and off, so that you can see it or not. Totally fine if the chat wants to be its own conversation but, if you’re not interested in that, you don’t have to have that visible. You can turn the closed captions on and off. And if you don’t like watching the little picture of yourself: If you scroll over that or tap on it in the upper right corner, there’s three dots, you can click that and click “Hide Self View” if you do not want to see it.

    I would ask during the workshop, if you aren’t intending to talk to the group, to please leave your microphone off, to have it on mute. That way we just reduce background noise because a lot of us have audio sensitivities. If you do want to talk to the group, go ahead and turn that on.

    Okay. Alright.

    So the plan for today is: I’m gonna do a short intro, probably about two minutes or so, and then we’re going to talk about energy management. What the problem is, and then the basic fundamental idea of how to get out of it.

    We’re going to be talking about short term strategies, that’s going to be the most bulk of the time, and then my philosophy on how you break out of that cycle long term. To really get out of that cycle of always having too little energy to do… either anything, or enough, or what you really want to do. Then, at the end, there’ll hopefully be a little time for Q & A. It might run over and we’ll have about an hour of infodumping honestly, and then we’ll have a little Q & A time afterwards for those who are able and willing to stay.

    Okay, I do want to reassure you that this is not a disguised sales pitch. I’m not trying to pitch my services here. This is just genuinely good information that I want to get out. I do appreciate feedback so that I can make these workshops better. I do these a few times a year, the free ones, and the link to that feedback form is there. It’ll also be at the end of the workshop. And I appreciate you sharing the recording if you find it useful.

    Okay, so, a little bit about me. I am Heather Cook, I’m autistic, I’m ADHD, I have a variety of sensory processing differences, I live with chronic pain from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. And I’ve faced a lot of challenges in my life, including disability, poverty, trauma and repeated burnouts.

    I’ve also worked through enough of the things that have been holding me back, and my internalized adherence to the status quo, that I’ve been able to find different ways to do things in my life. Things that work for my autistic brain and information processing systems. That make my ADHD happy, that make my sensory systems happy, and that allow me to work and to build positive relationships with other people.

    Now I work as an autistic life coach, and I help other people to get to that point as well. Not the way that I did it, but the way that works for you, so that you can build your autism positive life.

    And I want to acknowledge that… I bring up this land acknowledgement every time because it’s important to remember what’s happened in the past, because what happened, especially in this country (though, in different ways throughout the world), is a really egregious example of how the misuse of power and the abuse of systems has detrimentally impacted and permanently altered many ways of life for the worse.

    In the context of energy: There are groups, and individuals, and systems, and people who will try and drain your energy intentionally, but the fact that they’re targeting us is proof that we have power. Otherwise, it wouldn’t matter. They would be like, “It’s a fly on the wall. Why would I bother with that?”

    We have power and we can pull it back.

    So my ability to talk to you today from where I live and work is because many people lost their homes, their culture and their lives. And in this area, it’s specifically the Omaha tribes, the Ponca, the Ioway, Otoe, Missouri, Sauk, and Fox tribes.

    Alright. So, onto the content portion. The ironic thing, the kind of sad note before we get into the the good stuff, is that you actually have to have a little bit of energy to do the things that will help you get more energy.

    I tried to create this graph. It’s five bars, looks kind of like a musical staff, and the bottom line is when your amount of energy is so low that rest is the only option. You can’t do anything else. That’s in the depths of burnout, or maybe at the end of a really, really hard day. It doesn’t even have to be a long term burnout-type thing, but it could just be you did a lot of physical work that day and you’re drained. At that point, rest is the only option, you can’t do anything else.

    Then a little bit higher than that, when you have just a little bit of energy. You have the minimum viable amount of energy that you need in order to be able to do the things that will get you more energy.

    Then you get a little bit more energy and you’re up to a point where I would call yourself reasonably functional. You can do the things that are necessary, but it’s kind of hard, but you can manage. It’s not great, you definitely don’t want to be like that as a goal, but you’ve got something to work with.

    Then a little bit higher than that, you can do a little bit more active types of restoration. Things that might take some energy to do, but you’re likely to get more energy back from the process.

    And then the goal, the top line, is when you have energy and you have reserves, so that when something happens you can deal with it and not be completely wiped out. You might be tired, but not down to baseline again.

    You’re going to be going up and down between these different zones of energy, and that’s normal. That’s the process of rebuilding it. It’s not just a straight line. It’s going to be going up and down, and up and down, and then something will happen and it’ll pop way down, but you’ll be able to work your way up again.

    Is this making sense?

    Someone wrote in the chat, “The top line sounds so alien to me right now.” I get that. I really get that. And, for right now, that might not be the goal that you’re working towards. You might be working towards a lower goal of just being reasonably functional, or having just a minimum viable energy.

    Someone wrote, “It’s not linear, but always moving forward.” Yes.

    Okay, so where’s your energy going?

    I just want to mention a few different categories of energy lows that are very common for Autistics. There’s the burnout category. The shutdown or post meltdown lows. When you have a long term illness, or even a short term illness, that’s an energy drain. Other kinds of chronic conditions that aren’t necessarily illnesses, but it’s just something that you have to deal with long term. Those all take energy from you.

    Also simply being neurodivergent in a world that’s set up for neurotypical, capitalist, and colonized standards. That’s itself a type of energy drain, it’s a big category. Identifying and working through internalized ableism and internalized capitalism, that’s going to be a big part of getting your energy back. We’ll talk about that more in a few minutes.

    Okay, so here’s how I see the situation. One of the biggest ways that our energy gets drained is the disparity between the demands of our current system (that neurotypical, capitalist, colonized, white supremacist system) and our real needs. Most of us have been told over, and over, and over throughout our entire lives that what we need is not relevant. It’s not appropriate. It’s not actually what we need. And we take that in, and we learn to deny it ourselves.

    We say, “Oh, well, no one else needs this. So, it must be just me,” or “it’s not okay for me to have needs,” or “if anyone else has a need, then I have to override mine, because that’s how I function. That’s how I find safety.” And that disparity, that cognitive dissonance, is itself an energy drain. When we believe one thing, but internally we genuinely know something else to be true, that disconnect is itself a major energy drain.

    Wondering if that’s resonating for you all?

    Seeing lots of yeses, yeah.

    I would argue that one of the easiest… I wouldn’t say one of the easiest ways, but one of the least expensive and least time consuming ways to get energy back is by recognizing that disparity and acknowledging it. Giving it credence and saying, “Yeah, this is the situation. Here’s what’s actually happening, and it sucks.”

    Whether or not you can do anything about it. Simply acknowledging that and acknowledging this is true, “Here’s what’s true in my life.” That can give you some of your energy back. Hopefully at that point you can also do something about it (even if it’s tiny, tiny things), but even if you can’t, knowing what’s true can bring back some energy.

    Alright, so, I mentioned we’ve learned to override our needs. We can each do that for so long before those effects of overriding our needs become unignorable. For some of us, this is simply not an option from birth. These are people who aren’t able to mask, who generally have higher support needs, their experience of the world is so very different from the middle of the bell curve that it’s so obvious they’ve got different needs and they can’t just ignore it very much. I would argue that they’re still probably doing some of that but not nearly as much as those of us who are more able to mask, but we all can do it to some extent.

    So maybe you started burning out. In high school, maybe in college, maybe after college, maybe you were able to keep a job, or a few jobs, or a series of jobs for a while, but at some point, the demands of the system and the corporate environment, and all that, is just too much and you burnout. It’s going to get to a point where stimulants, and sugar, and pushing through, and digging deep, and all of that stuff, just doesn’t work anymore.

    Your body can’t respond to it because it’s got nothing left to give. You can’t… Yeah, so at that point, once you’ve reached that, things get more intense. This is where you notice that you’re autistic and all of a sudden everything gets more annoying. It bothers you more. Even though it hasn’t changed. That’s what’s happening here, you’re simply not able to ignore it. So what you do is recalibrate to what your real needs are, and accept that you may never meet those cultural ideals, but you get a whole lot more done than you would in burnout or an illness.

    It’s going to look very different. And so at that point, once you’ve you’ve gotten to that point of either burnout, or chronic illness, or depression, or whatever it is for you, however that shows up in your life. It can show up in a few different ways, those are common ways, unexplained chronic illnesses are another way that that can show up. Major Depression, etc.

    So once you got to that point, you can’t really go back. You can’t go back to pretending it was all okay, or at least not long term. You might be able to take some time off, or go to the doctor, they can give you some stuff that can help for a while. Maybe you feel like you’re getting a little bit better for a while, you managed to go back to work, get a new job, whatever it takes. You work a little bit and then you’re just back in burnout again.

    Once you’ve hit that, it’s just going to be a cycle of constantly going back to burnout, or back to illness, or back to depression, or back to whatever. The only way out of that cycle is by actually changing the circumstances of what’s going on.

    So there’s no way back, but there is a way forward.

    There’s a way to… Basically my premise here is that the way out of that is not going back to your old self (the pre-burnout self, the one who had energy, and could do all of the things, and be a workaholic, or change the world, or whatever it was), you can’t just go back to that version of yourself. That version of yourself wasn’t living in a healthy way, it was ignoring your own needs. So you just have to start paying attention to what your needs are.

    We don’t have a lot of models for people who do this, of breaking the ties to social normative standards, but people are doing it every day. This is what I’ve been doing for the last eight years of my life and lots of other people are doing it as well.

    So what I’m going to be moving into next is practical strategies. How you actually do this. And there’s two versions, there’s the short term and the long term stuff. Ideally, you’ll be able to toggle between the two because you need all the short term stuff and the long term stuff in order for it to not just be a quick fix (that doesn’t really fix it but it looks like it fixes it, and then you’re just back in burnout again because it didn’t really fix the underlying situation).

    As you’re doing those short term things, if you start to incorporate these long term, deconstructing the standard model cognitive paths, and the ways that you’ve been taught to hurt yourself and that other people are hurting you and reconstructing in new ways. Doing both of those at the same time is going to be building your better life. A life that works for the way that your brain and nervous system process things, for what you actually need.

    Okay, so that’s my premise. How was this landing with people?

    From here on out, it’s going to be just practical stuff. Tips and tricks, strategies, that stuff. Getting a lot of “Makes sense.”, “Yes.”, “Rings true.”

    “This is great.” Thank you.



    Here’s the basic idea of my short term strategies, and I’m going to get into each one of these points more. So the basic idea is to find your energy drainers. Find the things that are draining your energy and minimize them where possible.

    Give yourself permission to not live up to other people’s standards.

    To cast off the things that you don’t absolutely have to do, there’s probably more of them than you’d think.

    Let yourself rest. If it helps, think of it as an act of defiance, because it is. Our PDA can be happy about that.

    When resting, disengaged from thinking about all the things that you should be doing and feeling guilty about it, because that’s not really resting.

    Then find your energy gainers, the things that bring you energy and maximize those where possible.

    Okay, so let’s look at each one of those individually.

    Okay, so here are a bunch of things that are common energy drainers for people in general, but especially for Autistics. I’ve got two slides of these. This slide is the biological and environmental stuff.

    So some medications can… Oh, I do want to put a disclaimer on this. I’m not actually saying that any of these things are bad, or that you shouldn’t use them, I’m simply saying that they tend to drain energy. You may choose to keep them as part of your life because you need them for something else that is a higher priority for you, or because you don’t have a way to get rid of it, but just putting it out there that these are things that drain energy.

    Okay, so some medications like anti-anxiety medications, pain meds, anti-psychotics, a fair amount of those also tend to drain energy. Not all of them, but you can see the common side effects for the ones that you might be taking to see if that’s where some of it’s coming from.

    Exposure to allergens. When your body is fighting off allergy reactions from the outside world, it simply takes energy to do that. It’s good that we fight off things that our body is interpreting as a danger, that’s a system in our body that we want to have available. Sometimes it’s a little bit over enthusiastic. But anyway, it does take energy.

    Having medical conditions or chronic pain. Those, again, take energy for your body to deal with. My own chronic pain is a big source of my energy drain.

    Fending off sensory input. So when our sensory environment is something that our body has to actively regulate against… Fighting off the world around you, that takes energy. So if there’s a lot of unneeded noises, minimizing those would be useful, or putting on noise cancelling headphones, or ear defenders, or ear plugs. That’s one way to minimize it.

    Just as an example, dealing with audio input that is unpleasant, or just too much, or too many things going on: It simply takes energy to deal with that.

    Fluorescent lighting. That’s one sensory thing that I wanted to point out specifically because it is so ubiquitous, especially in public buildings and workplaces. Stores, shopping centers, government buildings, all those kinds of places. It is so ubiquitous, and so underrated in how much it affects people, but it affects people so much that it’s worth pointing out.

    When I go out into public buildings I have some red fluorescent light filtering glasses that helps. It looks weird, but I don’t care anymore because I can leave without a migraine.

    Okay foods with low nutritional value. It might fill up your stomach, but it might not be giving you much nutrition for your body to be able to draw upon to give you energy. Also stimulants (such as caffeine, alcohol and sugars), they can mask your true energy levels so that you think that you have more than you actually do, but it’s not a nutritious kind of energy. Also alcohol, weed, things that just depress your nervous system reactivity, those can draw energy.

    I do want to mention with the alcohol, caffeine, weed… There are reasons that we use those and those might be higher priorities in your life. Some people use them specifically because they depress nervous system reactivity, so that the sensory world isn’t as intense. I’m not saying, “Don’t do it.” I’m just saying recognize that as an energy drainer.


    Here’s some more energy drainers. These are more of the cognitive, social and emotional energy drainers.

    Conflicting expectations. I mentioned that a little bit. I want to clarify here, or make it more specific, narrow it down to conflicting expectations. Like one person wants you to do one thing, but someone else wants you to do another thing, and you’re kind of accountable to both of them. That tension is going to cause an energy drain.

    Unhealed trauma in your life is a source of energy draining.

    Unacknowledged physical or emotional pain. I talked earlier about chronic pain, physical pain causing an energy drain. Unacknowledged physical pain, or also unacknowledged emotional pain, is another huge source of energy draining.

    Toxic relationships or abusive relationships where someone is unpredictable, even after you’ve gotten to know them, or they’re demanding inappropriate things of you, or there’s constant emotional assaults. All sorts of different ways that people can be toxic or abusive.

    You’re constantly on edge, having to try and navigate an impossible situation like, “How do I not set this person off?” When there’s no right answer to that because it changes constantly. Or what they’re expecting of you, you cannot physically do, or you do it and they’re still not happy. That’s an impossible situation and that is an energy drain.

    Dissociating. This often starts as a reaction to trauma and as a way to get through a traumatic situation (either a specific one or a long term traumatic environment). And that is a healthy, useful reaction in those kinds of situations. When it becomes your everyday experience, even after the traumatic situation or environment has long ended: It’s no longer a useful, healthy thing in your life, but turns into an energy drain.

    There are ways to heal that. With a good therapist, who’s a good match for you, that can be healed and integrated. Not saying that you’re ready for that, or want that, just saying that dissociation is a source of energy drain.

    On that note, I want to mention maladaptive daydreaming (what people call “maladaptive”. I’m not sure I love that. I don’t really love that term, but whatever.) I have engaged in that since I was young, and it wasn’t until I’ve been in this healing journey (the last eight years or so) that I was actually able to notice that was an energy drain.

    Because it’s just been such a part of my life that I never had a real comparison. A before and after, with or without, comparison. I still do it some. It’s a whole lot less than it used to be, it used to be a large chunk of my life, but now it’s just a little bit here and there when my pain flares up or I’m extra stressed out about something. But now because it is much less common, it’s not a big part of my life, I noticed that when I do it: My energy just drops, it plummets.

    That was really interesting for me to notice. I’ve never thought about that before. I’m not sure if that’s a usual experience, I just wanted to put that out there.

    Also all or nothing thinking is a big energy drain, because it’s basically putting yourself between a rock and a hard place. It’s either this or that. There’s no other options. There’s no other possibilities. There’s no… not just gray areas, but there’s no other paths at all. And that can be very difficult because those two options may not be viable options for you.

    Unfamiliarity or unpredictable situations. It’s an energy drain. Going to a new place, or meeting someone new and you’re not sure what to expect, or trying a new healing technique, or whatnot. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s simply an energy drain.

    And I will mention that in the course of building your autism-positive life, leaving behind things that you’re familiar with, that are comfortable (even if you don’t like them, but you’re used to them), that brings up a lot of feelings of, “I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know what to expect. This is unfamiliar. I just don’t like that.” And they’re not necessarily bad things, but recognize that is going to take a little bit of extra energy. You might want to plan to do those kinds of healing things at times when you have a little energy to manage.

    Also large amounts of screen time. Completely apart from the content, it’s like staring directly at a light bulb for hours. Your phone actually emits a lot of light. You can notice it more at night, when you’re watching someone else and you can see the light from their phone in the dark bathing them in light, but you don’t notice that yourself. You don’t notice so much during the day because there’s so much ambient light, but it is still staring at a light bulb.

    Also news or social media content that increases anxiety, fear or negativity. All of those drain energy. I’m not saying anything about whether you should or shouldn’t watch news, I’m just saying it drains energy.

    Okay, those were the things that I wanted to mention, there was a question about ADHD meds. Let me read this… What about stimulants used as ADHD meds in relation to the medicine energy drain? So any kind of stimulant is going to artificially mask your true energy levels. Now things that give you those kinds of energy, whether it’s ADHD stimulants, or steroids, or sugars, or whatever it is that gives you energy, those are short term boosts but they take other kinds of energy out of your body in order to perform whatever it is you’re doing.

    You might feel like you have energy, but doing the thing that you’re doing, getting up and going to exercise, or raking the leaves, or whatever it is that you’re doing requires your entire body to use nutrients to do that. You are using nutrients, water, all sorts of things. All the things that it takes your body to to perform.

    So, not saying that the ADHD meds are bad. They are very helpful for a lot of people in terms of being able to focus, or to get through the day, or whatnot. I’m simply saying that, look at whichever one you’re taking… They’re not all the same, and I don’t know all the details about all of them. I don’t want to pretend that I do… But one of the factors that you might want to consider is what it’s doing to your energy levels. Also people are gonna respond differently. So test it on yourself with and without the meds. How do you feel?

    Alright, so moving on. Another short term strategy is to give yourself permission to not live up to other people’s standards. Those are family standards, social conventions, common expectations around college, marriage, career, kids, that kinds of things. What types of work are possible, how to do them.

    Some standards are useful and good, some of them became that way because they’re useful, they work. But some of them are social conventions that don’t really necessarily mean much. And you get to choose which ones you want to stick with or not.

    Just because people… At least in our modern educated, Western, weird world, you’re supposed to go to school, then go to college, then have a career, get married, have kids. You don’t have to do all of that. And you don’t have to do it in the same ways or in the same orders.

    It’s not a personal failing if you don’t have kids, or if you don’t get married, or if you don’t get married in the ways or to the people that society has proclaimed as appropriate. But spend some time picking apart what expectations other people have of you, or that society has drilled into you, which one of those do you want to have in your life? Which ones don’t you?

    Just as an example of a family expectations and appropriate expectation, one might be spending time with them. An inappropriate expectation would be spending all of your time with them.

    It’s okay to flaunt social conventions, especially when it doesn’t hurt other people. Some social conventions like “thou shalt not murder” are useful. Social conventions like “thou shalt use a fork to eat”, well, so what?

    There’s a difference between those but some people treat them as… This, again, is all or nothing thinking, “You have to follow all of the social rules, or otherwise you’re a bad person.” Sometimes, you just… you don’t. It’s not that big of a deal.

    Forks are useful if it’s spaghetti, but if it’s fish sticks, you can use fingers. If you don’t like the sound of silverware on plates, because that’s a sensory thing for some people (it is for me), use plastic forks, or bamboo, or… There are alternatives. My point is that you don’t have to take all social norms as law. Okay, I could rant on that for hours, I’m not going to.

    Another practical tip is to find the things that you don’t actually have to do and let them go. If you go through your to do list, and it might feel like every single thing on there is absolutely essential, and there might be times in your life where that’s absolutely true, but I’ll bet you that most of the time there are some of those things that feel more needed than they actually are. You might be able to let some of those go.

    Even if you can let go of a few of the little ones, that can free up a little bit of energy. One idea is to go through your to do list and question every single item, and you can ask yourself, “What would happen if I didn’t do this?” And, “Am I willing to live with that?” There might be consequences to it, but you might be more willing to live with it than to do it.

    Or, “Could someone else do this instead?” And if they’re not just straight up willing to do it for you, could you maybe trade with someone else? Do a job for them that they don’t like but you don’t mind, and they do this job for you that they don’t mind but you don’t like.

    In my household, my mom and I live together and she does most of the in person shopping, because she doesn’t mind that, she kind of likes it. I absolutely hate it. Absolutely cannot stand it. But I do almost all of the online shopping because she doesn’t like that, but I don’t mind it. That works. I’ll do her online shopping even when it’s stuff that I don’t need to do because she goes grocery shopping for me.

    Another thing you can ask yourself about items on your to do list is, is there a way that you can do it that would make it a little bit more pleasant? Or a little bit less draining? Even if you have to do it. But can you just set it up in a way that it’s a little bit less sucky?

    Can you make yourself more comfortable in the process? Can you listen to music while you’re doing it? Listen to an audio book? Can you get a more comfortable chair if it’s something that is sitting stationary? Can you put out some essential oils so that the room smells nice? Something that you like. Can you do while taking care of something else? Just make the experience a little bit nicer. It’ll drain a little bit less energy.

    Alright, another strategy is to let yourself rest. If it helps, think of resting as an act of defiance, against the system, or “the man”, or whatever. Because it is! Our capitalist culture tells us that we’re supposed to be working constantly, and that you’re not allowed to rest. You need to push through, you need to power through, whatever. But you don’t.

    Not most of the time anyway. There’s times in life where that’s true, but most of the time you can carve out some amount of rest. But resting is more than just not working. It’s also not fretting, not worrying, not engaging in replays of painful interactions over and over on loop in your head, not engaging an anxious thoughts, not allowing in other energy drainers. If you replace one energy drainer with just another one, it doesn’t really… That’s not really the point.

    If you’re just sitting there and trying to rest, but you’re just going on and on in your mind about all the things that you should be doing, and you’re feeling super guilty about not getting stuff done, or about looking like you’re not being productive, or what if someone catches you sitting, or whatever it is. Those are just my things.

    Some techniques for disengaging from those thoughts are from The Work of Byron Katie. I really love hers. “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy ACT Tools” which are by Steven Hayes and some of the mindfulness approaches, some aren’t relevant to this, but some are great. Also working with a good therapist or a coach who specializes in this kind of thing (this is kind of my wheelhouse) can help you, because I know it’s not just as simple as just not thinking about that stuff. But these are some ways that you can disengage from those thoughts.

    Also, acknowledging that rest will simply take longer for us than social norms expect. For many Autistics and AuDHDers, we need a lot more rest for our nervous systems to process, to downregulate, to actually feel rested, but there’s nothing wrong with that and there’s nothing wrong with you. That’s simply normal for us.

    Planning that into your schedule doesn’t create later situations where you’ve overscheduled something because you’re not acknowledging how much how much rest time it’ll actually take you to recuperate from something, and then you’re backing yourself into a corner with some other commitments that you’ve made down the line.

    So plan it in. When I was starting this, I literally put on my schedule recuperation time, which was planned into my schedule for an hour to three hours depending on the thing, or for the rest of the day, after every single appointment. It was useful for me to have it on my schedule, because it was like permission to myself to be able to do that.

    When you can’t, there are times in life and situations where you’re simply not going to be able to carve out actual rest time. So during those times what you can do is focus on relieving that cognitive dissonance, or painful thoughts, or anxiety, because those won’t take any extra time in your day. I mean, learning the techniques might take a little bit but it’s very, very small compared to large amounts of dedicated rest time. But once you’ve learned a few techniques, you can use them as you’re going about things. It doesn’t take any extra time.

    Also loosening all or nothing thinking same thing with what I just said.

    You can focus on attaching meaning to physical sensations and emotions, I’m going to get into that in a few minutes. You can focus on making the experience of the things that you do have to do slightly better, as I just mentioned, improving your sensory experiences and increasing selfcompassion.

    Self compassion can be as simple as acknowledging, “Yeah, this really does take me more than it takes other people, and that’s not a problem with me. That’s simply how I work. It’s an acknowledgement of how crappy the system is and what it expects of us, but I’m okay with who I am.”

    Those are things that you can do that don’t really take hardly any extra time and they don’t take large chunks of dedicated time at all. And most of those don’t take any expenses either.

    Okay, and then the last point I want to talk about with these short term strategies is some examples of energy gainers. So again, I’ve got two slides here. These are the biological and environmental energy gainers.

    They include lessening your environmental stressors so that you don’t have to waste energy fighting off the world around you.

    Increasing physical movement that doesn’t cause pain or injury. For those of us who deal with a lot of chronic pain or who injure very easily, be careful about it.

    But if it’s simply just like moving your fingers a little bit, or moving an arm, or wiggling your toes, your capillary system in your body doesn’t pump… Let me start that over… Your arteries push the blood out and pull it out. Pull it back to your heart, but the capillary system in your body works by the muscle contractions of the muscles around the capillaries. The blood goes in and out of the capillary system by your muscles moving and not otherwise.

    In order to oxygenate all of the different parts of your body, all the different parts of your body need to move because that oxygen is carried in the blood and that is only pumped to all the different parts through physical movement. When you move more, it will oxygenate more of your body and you will feel better physically, and that will give you energy.

    Okay, another source of energy gain is wanted physical contact with other people. Not all physical contact, but when you enjoy it, when you like it, when you want it.

    Breathing from your belly, as opposed to your chest. Chest breathing… There’s nothing wrong with it but it does less to oxygenate your blood than your belly breathing. So it’s another way to get more oxygenated blood throughout your entire body. If you do breathe primarily or only into your chest as your your default, I would be curious if you also happen to have a trauma history or a stress history because it’s a very common response to that. Not the only reason, but I’d be curious.

    Vitamins and supplements can add more nutrients into your diet than is possible to get through our food systems. Our food systems have far less nutrient density nowadays than they ever have in history.

    Engaging with animals. For a lot of people that’s a great energy boosts, it brings up oxytocin, it feels good.

    Any kind of nature connection, either being in a natural setting, physically in it, or looking at it through windows, having houseplants. Even fake plants, or pictures of videos, or of landscapes, or animals feels good. It releases feel-good hormones and that gives you natural energy, and naps, even short naps in the middle of the day. 15 to 20 minutes can help you recover so that you’re not just struggling for the rest of the day. I’m a big fan of naps.

    I’m noticing that we are up to the hour that I mentioned. I am through most of this but if you do need to leave, totally fine. The rest will be available in the recording.

    Okay, other common energy gainers. These are the more cognitive social and emotional ones. Creativity, play, art, engaging in special interests, things that you enjoy doing. Those are all great sources of energy gains because they engage your right side of the brain more fully and it lowers the anxiety, it lowers painful thoughts, it decreases all or nothing thinking. It opens up possibilities and using both sides of your brain is a way to increase energy because you’re all working together better.

    Curiosity is one way that you can engage that very easily. Even, interestingly, in the face of pain and things that you hate. If you can think, “That’s interesting. I wonder why that is that way? That system really, really sucks. It is totally damaging. I wonder how it got to be like that?” Without the judgment but just like genuine curiosity. “Why is it like that?”

    “Wow, he said something really hurtful. I wonder where he’s coming from? I wonder what thought process would have made that a logical thing for him to say?” You don’t have to agree with it. Just having curiosity about it, can open up different ways of responding that might be less energy draining.

    It also works with pain, interestingly. My hip is hurting a lot right now, I’m just like, “Huh. That’s interesting. What kind of pain is that? What’s the quality of the pain? Is it burning, pulsing, rubbing, stinging? This is more like a solid, steady pain. Where is it specifically? It’s in that spot. Okay. It could move that a little bit.” I did that just a couple minutes ago, I moved my position and it felt a little bit better.

    Okay, establishing positive connections with others. Just engaging in positive ways with other people is a source of energy.

    Relieving cognitive dissonance, I talked about this earlier. That is a major source of energy gain. One of the biggest ones in my experience.

    Naming emotional experiences, developing emotional granularity. So if you can name an emotional experience, not just “it was bad,” or “it was awful,” or “I’m upset.” But what kind of upset are you? Are you ‘this website won’t let me log in’ kind of upset or ‘the dog went on the carpet’ kind of upset? What is the actual quality of your emotional experience? Can you name it? Can you label it?

    Being able to do that actually gives you energy because it pulls you out of being so wrapped up in it that you have to become sort of an observer to it, at least partially, and be able to process it and that pulling away from it disengages some of it, but without disassociating. It’s simply observing yourself in a situation in a healthy way and that can give you energy.

    Healing old emotional wounds or old traumas is a huge source of energy gain. All admitted that one also does take some energy to get there. It may not be… well it’s definitely not going to be comfortable, but the comfort comes later because you feel better later. That one’s hard, I’ll admit that, but it does give a lot of energy back.

    Or simply understanding what’s going on in a situation or figuring out a solution to the problem. I always love it when I can figure out a solution to a problem. It’s like “Yes! I figured that out! Got that!” I get this little boost of energy. I love it.

    Alright. So I want to talk a couple more… I forgot about this… a couple more short term strategies. In the signups a lot of people are asking, “How do I get out of situations? How do I get out of socialization or how do I explain to other people what are going on?” So I want to talk a little bit about that.

    How do you explain what’s going on when other people just don’t get it? And our modern ableist and capitalist narratives around productivity and worth are so strong and many people have so internalized them that they don’t understand why you can’t just push through.

    Especially, that’s true when they have an agenda, like the school needs to get through a curriculum. The teacher has 30 kids in the room and they all have different needs, and she just needs everyone to be quiet and get to work. Or your work has goals that they want you to do, and they don’t really care about how you feel about it, they just want you to do the job.

    Or family and friends, this can be an issue, especially if they recharge in different ways than you do. They want to go out and do things, and be active on the weekends and you’re like, “I just want to sit here alone and read, and doing nothing. Could you go in a different room now please, I don’t want you around. I love you but I don’t want you here.” And you really want to say that but you can’t or you don’t want to.

    Okay, here’s the general formula. Rule of thumb is to explain what the difficulty is, what the impact of that difficulty is, and then, if possible, make it relevant to the other person. People will tend to be more on board with things if you can, more or less follow this. And I’ve got a bunch of examples.

    So examples in family situations. I will add the caveat before I read these out that this is how I talk, I genuinely talk like this. People around me are used to it so they don’t think it’s weird, but if this is not how you talk (it’s probably not), you can use this as a model. As a guide, or as ideas for things that could be said, but say it in your own way. You have full permission and encouragement to tweak this as much as you like. Hopefully, it’ll just give you some ideas.

    Okay, so in family situations, you might say something like, “The pandemic made me realize how much I’ve been ignoring my real needs for years. I want to put the important things first, like health and us, and that may look different than what it’s been before, but please believe that I care about you.”

    “I don’t have all this…” autism stuff, this burnout, unmasking, personal journey, whatever you’re calling it, “I don’t have it all figured out yet. And I know that that’s scary or uncomfortable. I’m scared/uncomfortable too, what if we work together to figure it out?”

    Another example is, “I’ve worked really hard for a really long time to not be bothered by” (whatever it is you’re bothered by) “because I thought that everyone felt like I did it and I just had to put up with it. But it’s taken a lot out of me, and the truth is that it really does hurt. Can we find some alternatives that have energy left for us? Or have energy left to be less grumpy” Or whatever the benefit is to them.

    And one more is you might say, “I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, or pushing too hard, or overdoing it for so long. It’s catching up to me and I get wiped out so easily now. I just need some time”, and then whatever the relevance is to them.

    Someone asked to see the last slide again for a moment…

    Okay, so those are some ideas. Some ideas of how you might explain this to family members.

    Okay, so for work situations. You might say, “I realized that I can’t keep pushing myself so hard without paying for it. So I need to pull back a little, or take some time off to restore, or compensate for that now, so that I can keep working because I want to be here long term.”

    Or, “I’ve been going through a lot lately. I don’t want to get into the details. But I want to reassure you that I want to keep working, but I might need a little flexibility. Can we talk about some options?” Or, “I’m the kind of person who gets distracted very easily and needs a fidget to be able to pay attention to you.” Notice you’re putting in that relevance to them ‘to be able to pay attention to you’. Or, “I’m the kind of person who will get more done and do it better when I’m left to work alone. Can we talk about ways to make that happen?” Or, “I’m the kind of person who has a hard time tuning out things going on around me. Can we talk some more quieter so that I can focus on our meeting?”

    Hoping this is giving some ideas. Alright, and then one more set of examples. These are for school things. And you can make this either for yourself, if you’re the one in school, or for your kid if you’re advocating for someone else.

    “We were surprised that when we tried” (this thing) “it really helped my kid to take in the material and retain it much better. How can we integrate that without creating much more work for you?” In this, I’m imagining talking to the teacher. Or, “The pandemic made it more clear how differently my kid learns they do much better when” (whatever it is) “happens. Can we talk about ways to make that possible here?” Here as in the school.

    Or, “I or my kid is the kind of person who needs to move to focus. When I’m fidgeting, I’m not distracted. I’m listening better.” So explaining what’s going on, ‘I’m not distracted, I’m listening better’. That helps them to not make assumptions that are wrong and damaging. Or, “I’m the kind of person who reacts more intensely to common things, like other kids talking, the toilet flushing, bright lights, and they need more time to settle down again. They’re not trying to be difficult. They’re just struggling or they’re having a hard time.”

    Okay, so I hope that those will help. One more bit on the examples of things to say. This is how to get out of socializing without coming across as rude, hopefully. It’s only hopefully because everyone’s gonna respond to things differently and you can never completely predict, absolutely, how someone is going to see it.

    …Okay, so when asked to see the family slide again. Here you go. These will also be available in the recording you can look back through it…

    Alright, my general advice on the socializing thing is to give some general explanations in advance when you have the energy so that in the moment it doesn’t look like you’re making excuses, and the other person doesn’t make false assumptions. They’re interpreting it as rude when it’s just you don’t have energy, or they’re interpreting it as disinterest when you really are interested but you just don’t have energy.

    In advance of them inviting you to something, you might say something like, “I really do want to spend time with you, but right now everything seems to take more energy than I have. I’m gonna pass this time but please keep inviting me.” That shows that you are interested and you do want to maintain contact. It’s just you genuinely don’t have energy.

    I had a friend, a really good friend of mine, who did this for me for about two years. Almost every week for two years, she would invite me to a dance class, and I wanted to go but I was in burnout. It wasn’t gonna happen. But she kept inviting me, and we had to talk about it and I asked her to please keep inviting me. I never actually went, but for as long as she went to the dance class she kept inviting me and it was just maintaining that connection between us was a good thing.

    And later on, after I got out of burnout, it turned into something else. We did start meeting up more or less sort of weekly but at her house, not in the big group setting. And that worked out really well. But I had the energy at that time to do that, I didn’t before.

    Okay, one other example is, you might say to someone, “If I don’t text back right away, it’s probably just that I don’t have the energy and I don’t know how to say that, because I don’t want to disappoint you, because I care about you.”

    Okay, so those are my strategies, and tips, and tricks for the short term stuff. I want to focus on the long term just briefly. This is not actually going into depth in this and we’ve probably got about 10 minutes left, max.

    Okay, so the long game, here’s the overview. This is what, in my experience, it takes to really get out of the cycle so that you can consistently and reliably have a reasonable amount of energy, with reserves, and to protect that while still getting to do the things that you want and need to do. Again, it’s not going back to the old standards of being able to do everything at capitalist ideals. That’s unrealistic long term. But the goal is to be able to going from not really being aware of what your current energy states are, or your needs, or your wants, to be able to respond to them appropriately in real time.

    Here’s the fundamental tenant on underlying my philosophy on this. A large percentage of my clients and, the questions that I get around energy and other questions that were submitted before this workshop in the signup, are basically people saying that “I don’t know how to tell how much energy I have. I don’t have a connection to my body. I overdo it and I pay for it later.” Variations on that. And I get it I was there. I was there for most of my life.

    The situation is that either people don’t have internal awareness. It’s numbed, it’s ignored, it’s disconnected in a variety of ways. Or they have so much awareness of it, but it’s not useful awareness. They’re hypersensitive to all sorts of feelings in their body, but it’s not making meaningful connections to something that’s useful as an information source.

    What I believe you need to do is to establish useful, reliable feedback to what’s going on inside your body in real time. So that you can tell how much energy you have and what you need so that you can give your body the nutrients that it needs, the rest that it needs, the awareness of what’s going on. And, be able to use that it. Which is also, by the way, is useful for making decisions in your life, for being able to tell when people are not safe people. You get awareness of what are the red flags in a situation or with a person. It has lots of other useful side effects, but here we’re talking about energy. It’s the way you get energy.

    So, why body stuff? If physical sensations and emotions seem non-relevant to you, like they did to me for most of my life, why should you bother with this? Here’s the idea.

    If any system, or machine, or group, or person can tell you exactly what it needs to be able to operate efficiently, that’s relevant info. If your computer tells you that it’s low on battery or needs a system update, you plug it in or you update the thing. If your car gives you a warning light saying the tire pressure is low, or you need to change the oil, or there’s an issue in the engine. It’s nicer to find that out when it’s at the point of warning lights, not the point of your car stopping and it won’t go anymore.

    Your body gives those kinds of warning lights too, in the forms of dehydration or hunger, thirst (thirst before dehydration, ideally), the feeling of needing to go to the bathroom, of being overtired, being able to tell the difference between being tired and sleepy. There’s a whole range of physical responses that you can get useful information out of.

    As you do, you can gather data points about how things are affecting you in real time. Like, “This person is saying things that I’m noticing a physical reaction to, maybe that’s useful information about if this person is an okay person or not okay person to be around.” Or maybe, “I want to speak up about a topic.”

    Or, “I’m noticing that I’m resisting doing a particular task.” If you notice that, you can start questioning, get into the curiosity mode of, “What is it about this task that I’m having an issue with?”

    It’s generally not the whole thing. There’s usually one or two specific things. If you can figure that out, then you can use that information to solve those particular issues and then all of a sudden, the whole problem is like, “Oh, okay, I can do that now that I’ve got this one or two things taken care of.” It’s just not a big deal anymore. That’s where a lot of procrastination comes from, by the way, there’s something in there that’s bothering you and you’re not able to respond. If you can figure out what that thing is, then the procrastination goes away.

    Okay, so the basic idea of long term stuff is reintegrating your physical experiences. It’s not easy and it’s not quick, it took me years and was sometimes deeply uncomfortable, but it made life so much easier afterwards. It’s so much better.

    Okay, so here’s the overview, and I’m not going to get into all of these in depth, it’s just this one slide and then we’re gonna wrap up.

    Someone’s asking in the chat, “Do I have a course on that body stuff?” No, but I have thoughts of creating one in the future. It’s going to be integrated into my burnout recovery course, by the way, because it’s simply a part of the burnout recovery.

    Okay, so here’s the top down overview. I’ve laid these out in a series of six steps, but you’re gonna be going back and forth between them. It’s not a perfectly linear thing. But it starts with recognizing various physical experiences and starting to attach useful meaning to that internal awareness.

    Then healing at least some of your trauma history. Doesn’t have to be all of it. You don’t have to go full force, all of it at once, that can be overwhelming.

    Then unmasking and undoing some of your internalized ableism, some of your internalized capitalism, other cognitive dissonance, other painful thoughts.

    Integrating your own values more fully into how you’re living your life.

    Learning to use your internal awareness and emotions as information sources, and slowly, gradually getting better at interpreting your cognitive signals, emotional signals and physical signals in real time.

    And, again, you’re gonna be going back and forth between these a lot, but that’s the general overview.

    Alright. So let’s wrap this up.

    No one else will ever be able to reliably and consistently know what you need at all times, because they only have the outward markers of your needs, which are limited and can be misleading. There’s lots of internal states that are very, very different, but they can look the same on the outside and if people are just seeing those outside signals they’re not getting all of the information, but you have access to that.

    Getting access to that involves establishing trust with yourself. And you do that by establishing a healthy relationship with your body, dissolving harmful messages, learning to trust your own evaluation of your needs, and practicing your ability to respond to them without damaging relationships with other people, with relationships that you want to keep. Some relationships are worth letting go, and that might be a way to regain energy (thinking of toxic or abusive people specifically).

    My closing thought is something that I realized in my own journey, which is that not all activity is productive, and not all productivity is active. What I mean by that is that you can be looking like you’re doing a lot of things but getting actually very little useful stuff done. You can also look like you’re not doing much, you’re just sort of sitting there, but you’re processing a lot internally or you’re resting, which is a productive thing to do. I remind myself of this frequently, have it on my phone.

    Okay, so that’s that’s my workshop. That’s what I wanted to share with you today. I do very much appreciate some feedback on this. I’ll put the link to the feedback form in the chat. Thank you Coin.

    Oh, and I wanted to do the poll for the next workshop. While I’m getting that set up, here’s my contact info if you want to contact me. Alright, and I do have a quick poll if you’re still around, you can help me choose the topic of the next free workshop. So hopefully you’ll see those on your screen now.

    “Oh, by the way Heather, Thank you.”

    You’re so welcome. Glad it’s useful.

    “Ah, hit me in the heart.”

    It’s not always the easiest stuff to hear.

    “No, but I prefer truth over manipulation and grotesque abuse, you know, any day is this a little more fun?”

    Yeah. That’s kind of like with the whole cognitive dissonance. Truth, even when it’s uncomfortable truth, even when it’s unpleasant truth is often easier than lies.

    “Okay. Oh, good. I get to do multiple.”

    Yeah, you get to do multiple.

    “I like all of this. It’s hard to prioritize well, how many do I get?”

    I think you can pick as many as you want.

    “Yeah, you can click them all. I clicked them all.”

    “I didn’t click two.”

    That’s alright. You don’t have to like everything that I’m interested in.

    “Yeah, I always… You know, I’ve had some medical trauma around therapist though so I’m always like ‘eeeeee’, but I’ve been having great success with coaches. But financially, yeah, it’s a stinger.”

    It is. I still wish that coaching would be covered by insurance.


    I would go through all of the hoops and do all the paperwork in order to be able to take insurance but it’s simply not covered.

    “I know. That’s the screwed up thing and we’re suffering because we don’t have enough advocacy. But, you know who does? The blind folks they get some great advocacy, even just modeling after some of their structures because yeah, it’s a little behind here. Well, everywhere.”


    “The blind people, they’ve been around for longer, haven’t they?”

    “Well, they admittedly been… I mean, it’s a little easier to tell you don’t see. You know? Physical ones are usually that’s what they allow. I mean, I just called my local disability network and the only offerings I could get were in the realms of physical for accommodations or any kind of services. I had to call the police this week and I couldn’t hear them because of all the background noise and crazy sounds, and they couldn’t accommodate me either. So it’s just a crazy world that’s not built for people like us, but we can rebuild it!”

    “I’m a project manager, let’s do it. Well, maybe after we’ve got some energy back, ey?”

    Yeah. So I do want to open up if anyone had last questions.

    “I did have one for you Heather.”


    “I’m not as familiar with the terminology ‘cognitive dissonance’. So could you explain a little bit more about what that actually is?”

    So, cognitive dissonance is a term in psychology which refers to the disparity between trying to hold two conflicting thoughts in your head at the same time. Trying to put it into these terms, it might be something like, “I should work full time, and I have medical/physical/burnout reasons why I cannot do that, but I should.”

    And holding yourself to that standard of being able to work full time while you physically, genuinely cannot. It’s creating a problem in your head because ‘I should be able to do this thing. I’m expecting myself to be able to do this thing. But I cannot do this thing. But everyone expects me to do this thing.’ And you’re stuck between trying to believe that something is true that is not true. Like, “I shouldn’t be able to do this. That should be true. But it’s not true.”

    “Alright, thank you. Yeah, no, that’s actually a perfect example. I’m living that right now, so thank you.”

    You’re welcome. Almost any kind of “should” is a disguise for something that is trying to believe or pretend to be true, that is not true.


    “Okay. So earlier you said ‘Knowing the truth about the disparity between you and neurotypical society can give you energy.’ I don’t see that. I find that quite depressing. And it makes me feel quite low.”

    Okay, so totally fair.

    “How do you find..? Did I misunderstand or?”

    Now, there’s two different ways that that can go, and one of the ways is, “Oh, wow, this really sucks. This is depressing. Nothing’s ever going to change. It’s awful.”

    There’s another way that you can go with it, which is something closer to, “Oh, wow. This is a standard that is entirely unrealistic for me. It is hurting me. What my actual truth is that I will never be able to live up to that standard. Let me try and find a way to be able to still work and contribute.” (However you want to define that) “that I enjoy, that works for me.” And just saying that capitalist standard is not a healthy thing.

    “Okay. So you’re really saying, ‘I know the truth now. How do I make it work for me? Rather than making it into a huge mountain of something I can’t get over’?”

    Right, yes.

    “Okay. Cool, thanks.”


    Okay, so someone else wrote in, “How can I prioritize when I’m in the rest or minimum viable energy states?” How to prioritize… Prioritize the things… Are you talking about prioritizing ‘my gigantic to do list’, or ‘what types of rest or improvement are better for me’?

    “Sorry, jumping in here to try to clarify. What do I mean. Yes, just prioritizing the good things to try to aid my recovery from burnout, in my case, or to aid avoiding burnout. If somebody is well… if I’m on the rest net, the two bottom rungs of your diagram. Yeah, how do I make choices? Sort of added another question, which is a follow up to that. Which is, you know, today’s example for me, where I have done very well getting some basic stuff done, but then I realize, “Oh, yeah, the things that I want to do…” Like, for example, play piano. I like to play piano but it’s now late at night here (I’m in Germany). But then because I’ve… between being really tired, and trying to get some basic stuff done, I ran out of it. Sort of ran out of time to do some of the things that might actually, you know, add a bit of shine and polish to my life.”

    Right, okay. So the first question was, ‘how do I prioritize what things can help me get off of those two bottom rungs?’ Did I remember that correctly?

    “Yes, I think that’s a good way to put it. Yes, trying to get to the stage of reasonable energy.”

    Alright, so two thoughts on that. First of all, don’t put too much effort into trying to prioritize “the best thing”, just pick anything. Anything that feels within your capacity. Because there’s not like one particular path that if you don’t do it, it’s not going to work. If you can do anything that helps you get up a little bit. That’s the best thing you can do. My second thought on that is, when you’re coming down to it, prioritize the things that you have the capacity for, and those might be the things on that slide of when you don’t have the ability to rest that don’t take much energy.

    Sorting out internalized ableism doesn’t take a lot of energy. It takes a bit of a skill set, but going through your the things that you have to do and saying, “Do I really have to do that? Am I willing to live with not doing that? Whatever the consequences are, just being okay with it.” There was more on that slide, but I would go back and look at… You can see it on the recording, but look for those things because those take very, very little energy and you can do them while you’re lying on the couch, doing nothing.

    Your second question was… I ran out of energy by the end of the day and I can’t do the things that I want to do because I did all the things that I had to do. Sometimes that’s going to happen. That’s just the reality of life. But if you can try and build in moments during your day, or a little bit here and there, of doing the things that you like earlier in your day. You don’t have to always put it off to the end of the day, to do your piano, or to do your art, or to do your whatever it is that you like. Try and wake up to the piano. Wake up to the thing that you want to do, or do it a little bit earlier, or do it during a lunch break, or do it during times of the day that you have a little bit of energy. That’s not gonna help you today, because you’re about to go to bed but in the future.

    “Thanks for your answers. Yeah. I can try. Yeah, some days are it’s always mixed bag. Yeah, today… specifically for today it was a chase of having a bit more energy. So I was saying, “I’ve got these things have been…” My house is a mess, for example, I’ve got to get through it, but another day. Yeah. Maybe now things are more clear than I can think, “Oh, yes, put a bit of time into doing some music in the middle of the day.””

    Okay. And Hank was asking…

    “One of my biggest problems is and I do carry a lot of baggage, on a lot of things, but the thing it gets the most is the OCD, takes a lot of energy.”

    I’m having a hard time hearing you. I’m gonna turn my volume up.

    “Just saying that OCD takes a lot of energy and my time. It’s very, very hard to break.”

    Yeah. So OCD. I’m not an expert in it. I’m familiar with some parts of it, but from what I understand… One of my dear friends has OCD and listening to her describe her experiences and what I’ve read about it from others. What I’m about to say is not a clinical perspective, I have no idea if it matches any official OCD stuff. But it sounds to me like one of the biggest features of OCD is that cognitive dissonance… not cognitive dissonance, but a disparity between the actual danger in a situation or the actual needs of a situation and what you’re internally creating, or feeling, or the actual needs of the situation. And that is a struggle. Tell me where I’m wrong.

    “It’s like, if I don’t do something a certain way, I do it differently, than in my whole day is ruin.”

    Right. Yeah.

    “If I try and change something, my OCD response then everything becomes wrong, in my head is wrong. But I found that I can’t leave the house if there is dishes in the sink, but if I do and I get my car and drive away, my whole head starts to explode.”

    Yeah. So I think that there’s a lot going on in there about trying to control it to create a sense of safety or a sense of rightness, that is more than what I think even you would agree in your best moments is actually needed.

    “It is probably not actually needed but I need to be done because I need a sense of order in chaos. It is my way of keeping the world in order. If it is not in order then it is in chaos.”

    Yeah, that whole ‘if it’s not an order, then terrible consequences’. That’s going to eat up a lot of energy.

    “I mean it is one of my biggest things. I talk to myself in my head, and I do all of these things, and I try and break my day up but as soon as I break a part of my OCD, then the whole world’s in chaos.”

    I’m a little unclear about what the actual question is at the moment.

    “Trying to gain energy here but OCD is a huge draining energy. And OCD is one of those things that can’t be controlled. It is something that has to be done.”

    “So Ian, I am not an expert. I have some personal experience. And I’ve also had some experience with other people with quite severe OCD and I think we are sort of… If you look at it holistically your OCD is probably one manifestation of many. And while you might not be able to directly manage your OCD in terms of what you do, if, even though you’ve got the OCD, if you go and do other things that holistically will help to improve your well being. Whether they’re meaningful activities, physical, the more stuff that you do around the OCD, you will… it’s hard for me to describe. I have some experience of it. And the healthier I am in general, the better my well being is in general, the less compulsion I find. So there’s things that I can do easily all the time every single day that I always do. And like you. I’m really bugged if I don’t do those things. Even the way I tie my shoelaces. Now that’s a silly example but I’ve got these strict patterns. But you know. And this sounds really ridiculous but when I’ve not been in a good place generally, I used to not be able to go into a supermarket. I used to have the different carrier bags for all the different supermarkets in the car, and stuff like that. I couldn’t go into that supermarket, you know, I’d drive past it if I knew I didn’t have a carrier bag for that supermarket. I didn’t want to be in there without their carrier bag. That’s a stupid example. But I know that the time in my life when I had OCD really badly was when there was all other bad things going on, and I wasn’t really like trying to, you know, do what we’re doing here today, which is work through them. And I find that, although you might have to do five different things to get out the door, if you go out the door and do that meaningful activity… Yeah, the more you do that, or the more you you’ve addressed some of the stuff we’ve been talking about tonight: The less compulsion there is around some of it, if that makes any sense. I don’t know if that’s any help.”

    “My OCD come from… I was in the army. I saw some really bad things. I deal with… I have to deal with every day. And I take one pill at night to make me sleep and one pill to make me forget. But I need order and control in my life because if it is not in order and if it is not in control, I can’t handle chaos.”

    “Of course, it’s completely associated with all of that. And it’s doing the things that you need to do to process all of that and to overcome all of that stuff and the OCD will go away with it. You know not saying that this is necessarily possible. But I think it’s part of the whole thing. You know what I mean? So focusing on trying to control or change your OCD is probably the wrong way to spend your energy. Spending your energy on your sort of general self improvement, addressing the things you’re talking about. PTSD, whatever it is, by doing that, it will help you to manage your OCD, it will fall away I would imagine. That’s just my experience.”

    I would agree with that. Focusing on trying to reduce the OCD itself is probably not going to be as helpful as just healing the original trauma. And then the effects of it, which manifest as OCD among other things, will be less intense.

    “I don’t know where you are Ian but I’ve also worked in setting up and supporting delivery of Veterans Services. And the best therapy, I can’t remember the name of off the top of my head, is where you visualize things and… can’t remember the name of it. But we certainly trained all the therapists in Wales to deliver that. And they had really good results. I don’t know if you’ve had any support like that.”

    “Oh, yeah, the nice people in the army. I’ve got a full-time therapist, full-time psychiatrists.”

    “Well, that’s good. I mean, pursuing all of that will help you to overcome your OCD, rather than just focusing everyday on trying not to be as compulsive. If you know I mean?”

    “My focus everyday is to just to get through the day.”

    You are getting through the day, it may not be in the way you want, but you’re getting through every single day. You’ve gone through 1000s of them.

    “I think we talked about it before Heather, that you actually know about a bit about my background.”



    “I hope that was helpful.”

    “It is. It’s a tough one because I think a lot of autistic people, especially being in the army, it becomes a point in the army that was controlled, and you had order, you had everything. But then I didn’t think about it. At the time, that was a peaceful situation until everything started happening in Iraq, in central Europe and things just got a bit out of control for me. You live with it every day, but it’s just trying to get through a day without trying to think about it all the time. I got on my phone, I got a therapist and everything on speed dial. I tell autistic people, young autistic people, ‘if you are autistic don’t join the army. It is not good for you.'”

    “You got different circumstances, but a fairly regimented environment and just going along with it. Find yourself having to do all this stuff. Just… Yeah, you’re right.”

    I do want to get to two other questions that were asked, who people have been very patient. Hank asked, “What happens when your wants actually create cognitive dissonance?” And I think I’m guessing what you mean by that is when you want things that you can’t have?

    “Yeah, I think the main part was for me was, I want to make some income and it’s just so hard for me to access those different ways. Or I want to make art, because when I’m making art I feel often a lot more calm and regulated, and and I can express myself, but there are some things that that either trigger me. I feel like I get super overstimulated because I’m too excited, or I have a trauma response to something, or I’m just so exhausted. But I find myself… My brain or my heart is like “I want these things, I want these things,” but my capacity is not… Or like, the idea of how to do it is not right. So I’m missing the steps between.”

    Honor your capacity. You’re not going to get out of it what you want if you’re trying to push so hard that you’re hurting yourself in the process. And when you allow yourself to do less, or to do it in smaller bits or not to the full extent that you want, you’re starting to build a trust with yourself that you’re going to be able to do things. You’re teaching your nervous system that it’s going to be okay in the future, by knowing when is too much to do. When to stop, when is too much for me. So that you don’t just keep recreating that situation where you push so hard, and then it actually starts sucking and the art that you want to do starts hurting you. Doing just a little bit when you have the capacity to do it. Working just a little bit, when you have the capacity will create new associations in your body and in your nervous system that will allow you to eventually, gradually work up, and do more and more and to be able to know when’s enough. Does that make sense? I don’t know if I’m explaining that well.

    “So much sense. I really fucking appreciate it. Yeah, very succinct. Thanks”

    You’re very welcome. Okay, there’s one more question… where was it? Joanna, I think? Yeah. Alright.

    So Joanna asked, “What if one of your energy drains is also the person that you depend on because you can’t live independently? I feel stuck.” Okay. One of the interesting things that I’ve noticed consistently is that when you start working on yourself, it changes your relationship with the people around you. When you start healing your own wounds when you start communicating, learning better ways to communicate when you start acknowledging and honoring your own needs more. The people around you, the people who you depend upon, even ones who aren’t really into that personal growth shit, kind of thing, they will… Especially if you can start in really small ways, that aren’t threatening for that other person, it can change your relationship just a little bit at first and slowly, slowly, slowly more and more over time. They might begin to respond to you in different ways, in ways that are a little bit better. If the person is genuinely toxic or abusive, that’s probably not going to work very well. Though it’s possible. I’ve seen it happen, but it’s less likely. But if they’re not necessarily genuinely toxic or abusive, but they’ve ‘got their own shit’ kind of thing. And it’s not a great relationship. The relationship can change gradually over time. And they might even become a little bit more interested in doing some work on themselves in small ways. I wouldn’t count on that. I wouldn’t like do it for that reason, but it can happen.

    I don’t know if Joanna is still on here. Okay, yes. Is that helpful for you, Joanna?

    Was that even addressing the question that you’re thinking of?

    And they might not change it. That’s possible. But it’s possible that your relationship can change a little bit… and there’s sometimes abusive? Okay.

    Sometimes abuse is just because someone is stressed. Sometimes, it’s a response to a much deeper trauma history in that other person and it’s not going to be something that you you’re doing your own work is going to necessarily resolve, but if it’s just… They’re extra stressed and they’re taking it out on you, then reducing the stress in your relationship, or in yourself, or in your situation, might be able to help with some of that. I don’t know what your exact situation is. We don’t need to get into the details right now either, but also some of that just healing your own wounds. Doing the parts of it that you can manage can reduce your overall stress level, increase your own energy level. It might not permanently change that, but it can change other things in little ways, and it can be sometimes surprising how much those little changes can add up to over time.

    It’s not a perfect fix. I wish I could just say, “Oh, do these 123 things and it’ll fix it all.” It’s not that easy. I’m sorry. But it is possible to do some things that help you out, even if it’s not about changing them.

    I think I am going to wrap this up here. I hope this has been helpful for you all. Even if you get one or two gems out of it that you can apply in your life, that’ll be great. Alright. Thank you all very much and the recording for this will be going out in the next day or two. And there’ll be information on that for the next workshop as well. Okay, have a neurowonderful day.

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    2 Responses

    1. I get this request every once in a while, and the deal is that I am feeling some internal resistance to sharing the slides. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly where that’s coming from, but I’m not sure yet, and until I do, I don’t want to override myself, inarticulate though it is.

      Sorry, I know it’s not ideal, though there is a complete transcript which might help as I do read a great deal of the slide content out loud.

      Hope you get something useful from the recording and/or transcript.

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    Heather Cook

    Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an Autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other Autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, just about every -ology, and Star Trek!

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