It’s been a stressful month and in times of stress, I, like many people, don’t function at my best. My working memory (never my strong point even on a good day) takes a nose dive. I experience physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches. I get physically tired more easily; in this case, not helped by a recent bout of the virus that has been circulating the globe for the past three years. And annoyingly, it takes its toll on my ability to write.
Burnout can happen to anyone, but is particularly common in autistic or otherwise neurodivergent people. We spend our whole lives trying to suppress our traits and needs to fit neurotypical expectations and that inevitably leads to exhaustion. This is where self care comes in. Self care may sound like a bit of a cliché – you may be thinking of bubble baths, chocolate cake and the like. For me, self care is more about staying healthy and doing things that are good for my mind (although I wouldn’t say no to the occasional piece of chocolate cake). So I thought I’d use this day off work to share my go-to self care tips that get me through burnout:
Plenty of alone time. When I’m alone, I don’t have to keep monitoring another person’s social cues or concentrate extra hard on passing as neurotypical. I can stim* to my heart’s content or indulge in Googling whatever random intense interest I’m currently into. Basically, I can just be.
Talking to people I don’t have to mask around. When I do need to talk to someone, I need to not have to worry about suppressing my traits, needs or struggles, because I feel safe enough to be real and open. Is it any coincidence that some of these people are also autistic?
Rereading/rewatching familiar things. This is a common one for autistic people. Familiar books, TV programmes or films are soothing because I know I like them and can take comfort in knowing what to expect from them when everything else in life feels chaotic and unpredictable.
Going to bed early. This one requires some discipline. These days I aim to be winding down by 9 and in bed by 10. Having sufficient winding down time makes all the difference – I sleep so much better if I first take the time to lie quietly, read/reread a comforting book or do some…
…Journalling. It helps me get my feelings out of my system and put them into words without any pressure or reactions from other people.
Drawing. This is something I’ve had less time for since getting a job but have managed to get back into lately. I managed to do some pet portraits in time for Christmas and have been trying to do a bit of drawing most days since. Sometimes it takes a bit of motivation to make myself do it. Once I get past that, however, it calms my mind, makes me feel like I’ve achieved something and generally boosts my morale. Here are some of my latest drawings:
As I’ve got an annual leave day today, I am trying to strike a balance between getting things done and taking things gently while I can. This is often easier said than done, but having a bit more breathing space than usual makes a real difference, and I’m hoping that regularly practicing healthy habits will give me my writing mojo back.
*Stim – self-stimulatory repetitive behaviour. For me, that often involves pacing or fidgeting with something soft, especially when over-stimulated.