If you know me personally, I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about autism before. It’s no secret that autism is something I’m very passionate about. I’m very vocal about autism awareness, but something I’m not very vocal about is my own diagnosis. For a very long time, I’ve known that I was different from “normal” people, but I could never really explain why. Plus, it doesn’t help that it’s a lot harder to diagnose girls with autism than it is boys. Because of that, I didn’t receive my diagnosis until I was an adult. However, being diagnosed with Aspergers is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. As odd as it may sound, my diagnosis helped me begin my journey of self-love. My diagnosis gave me a better understanding of who I am.
I do want to make it very clear that autism is different for everyone. No two autistic people are alike, and just people I have autism, I do not speak for the entire autistic community. I can only speak to my struggles.
I’m not sure what I want this post to be, so please bear with my rambling. My hope is that this post will help people understand more about people on the spectrum. My hope is that this post will show people that just because someone is “high functioning” does not mean that autism doesn’t affect them. Autism is a disability, it’s often called the invisible disability because people on the spectrum suffer every single day, and often no one even notices. Just because you can’t always see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Please keep that in mind before you make assumptions about people on the spectrum.
Today I won’t go into too much detail about my diagnosis, but I do want to discuss something that a lot of “high functioning” people struggle with and that’s Autistic burnout.
Many people who are close to me know I’ve been struggling with a ton of health issues recently. I dropped around 15 pounds almost overnight, and have been plagued by migraines. After some extensive research (and blood work) I’ve come to realize I was suffering from autistic burnout. I’m recovering now, but I still have days where I feel unwell, and struggle just to make it through. Like I said before, no two autistic people are alike so the way I experience burnout will be completely different from the way someone else experiences it. However, I hope sharing what helped me get through it will help someone else struggling.
For those of you who don’t know, burnout is defined as “long-term exhaustion, and diminished interest in work.” The symptoms of burnout often mirror those of clinical depression. Symptoms of burnout for autistic people can often include regression of coping skills. Autistic burnout often occurs in “high functioning” people. It stems from mental exhaustion caused by an intense effort to seem neurotypical. For those of you not on the spectrum, I’m sure it’s hard for you to understand what I mean. I guess the simplest way to put it is, it takes a lot of energy for an autistic person to try to be “normal”. Especially for those labeled as “high functioning”. Recently I read an excellent post from Planet autism blog, which said, “Basically, the high functioning you are, the more others expect of you, and, the more you push yourself.”
Like I said before, every autistic person is different so everyone’s symptoms of burnout will be different. For me, it presented has extreme tiredness, migraines, and a general lack of interest in things that are important to me. I spent a few weeks trying to deal with my symptoms on my own, but as they progressively got worse, my partner insisted I go see a doctor. I had a ton of lab work done, and everything came back normal so I was basically back to square one. I knew that I wasn’t depressed, and doctors had confirmed that there wasn’t anything medically wrong with me. I was despite for an answer, so I started googling my symptoms. I know, not the best idea but like I said, I was getting pretty despite. Of course, I ran into a lot of things that said I was dying, but then I found a ton of autistic bloggers that were writing about exactly what I was going through. I finally knew what was happening to me, and I cried for about an hour from sheer relief. Once I started reading more about autistic burnout, I realized that this wasn’t the first time that it had happened to me. I have dealt with this several times during my life, and I’m only 22 years old. The realization that I had dealt with this before kind of hit me hard. I really took some time to reflect on how I had handled burnout in the past. I’ll be honest, in the past, I struggled a lot with coping skills because I wasn’t diagnosed properly. I struggled a lot with anxiety, and addition, especially during a burnout. Obviously, I didn’t want to head down that path again, so this time I really focused on recovering from burnout a healthy way.
The first thing I did was try to relax. Honestly, this was the hardest thing for me to do. I’m a very high-strung person, I always have been. So, as you can imagine, relaxing is not something that comes naturally to me. However, I knew how important this step was. Stress was a big contributor to my burnout, so I knew eliminating stress was necessary for my well being.
The next thing I did was focus on doing more of the things I enjoyed. For me, that was blogging, or binge-watching YouTube videos until I fell asleep at night. Ideally, I would have taken some proper time off, but it just wasn’t possible for me. So, because I couldn’t fully abandon my normal routine, I changed more energy into the little things in life that bring me joy.
The last thing I’m going to mention is stimming, which is short for “self-stimulatory behavior”. Stimming is something that I think is extremely important for autistic people (if their personal safety isn’t an issue), there is a lot of debate about the topic but I think making time for stimming is vital for people on the spectrum. The stim most people think of when they hear the word autistic is head banging, or hitting. Obviously, this behavior isn’t healthy, and this energy should be channeled into a safer stim if possible. With all that being said, making time in my day just for stimming was a key part of my recovery. For me stimming is necessary. The extra sensory input stimming provides keeps me level-headed, and helps me control my anxiety.
I’d like to take a second to mention that clearly, I’m not an expert on autism. I’m only speaking from personal experience. If you’re interested in learning more about ASD please let me know. I’d be more than happy to write more post about autism.
If you made it this far, thanks for putting up with this long rambling post. Your love and support mean the world to me.