5 Signs You May Be Experiencing Burnout

When I was 19, I was trying my best to be a grown up. I was living with Jess in a new city with no friends or family around. She was in medical school, and I was working full time and going to school part time.

I thought that this was what adults do, and so I missed a lot of warning signs that something was starting to go very wrong.

It was burnout.

Autistic burnout is usually caused by an autistic person attempting to surpress their autistic traits over a period of time. It causes regression, and sometimes, some of the regressions are permanent. For example, I’ve never regained the sensory tolerance I had before.

Looking back now, I can easily identify the red flags. I hope knowing what early burnout looks like will keep it from ever happening again.

These are my symptoms. Yours may be different. But I hope that you read this and think about what your symptoms might be, so you can prevent burnout too.

1. Everything is TOO MUCH- Everything is too much all the time, you might say to me. And I get that, I really do, but this TOO MUCH will be different. It’s the difference between a gust of wind and a tornado, so I promise that you’ll know the difference. The main thing to watch for is that the overload will keep increasing and it will feel neverending. If one day you realize that you’re hiding in your closet because the world seems like too much, it might be time for an intervention.

2. You’re tired all the time- And not just sleepy. I mean falling asleep sitting up tired. Can’t get out of bed in the morning tired. Things that are usually easy hurt to even think about. And there’s a reason for this exhaustion, the parts of your brain that handle sensory issues and social skills are working overtime- and you’re paying the price. Self care, taking time for yourself, giving your body what it needs, and asking for help if you need it are the best way to deal with this.

3. Communication is a struggle- Let’s face it, most of us are not great communicators at the best of times, I think that we can admit to that. But we know our strengths and weaknesses, right? I know that I communicate most effectively in writing, and that if I get too stressed, I lose all of my verbal communication skills. That’s just my normal. It’s when things start happening outside of the norm that I know there’s a problem. If I’m having a lot of trouble comminicating with my wife (who is my person), I need to consider that something might be up. I think that you probably know where your point is, when your gut tells you that something’s up. If you don’t, that’s fine, beginning to notice what’s normal for you and what isn’t is an easy, but incredibly usefull skill to have.

4. Can’t stop stimming- Do you unconsciously stim sometimes? I definitely do, and it has been reported back to me that I have ‘good’ stims (that I do when I’m happy! or excited!) and ‘bad’ stims (that I do when I’m stressed or tired). For example, if I’m rocking side to side, I’m in a super chill mood, but if I’m rocking front to back, people should be concerned. And that’s what I’m talking about. When stimming turns into a frantic or upsetting activity, whether there’s self harm or you just can’t stop, that’s when this sign becomes a big deal. As with all of the other signs so far, you know what your norm is, and it’s the deviation from that that needs to be questioned.

5. Your special interests seem extra special- 5 books a week. 2 hats, 2 mittens and a scarf. Top scores on everything. Special interests are one of the defining behavior of us autistic folks, but there special, and there’s Special. Sometimes all I want to talk about is Star Wars, or Phineas and Ferb, or Stephen Sondheim. I can, for the most part, be persuaded to talk about other things, if in a slightly less enthusiastic manner. But during that burnout? I literally couldn’t think about anything except my special interests (which at the time were Super Mario Brothers and Guinea Pigs). This might be the hardest one to notice in yourself. At least for me, I didn’t feel like I was thinking or acting any differently, but in hindsight I definitely was. In this sort of situation, having a buddy is definitely helpful.

A Note– If you know anything about mental health, you might have noticed that a lot of these symptoms could also be caused by anxiety or depression. For me, autism and mental health go hand in hand, to the point of them influencing each other, and it might be the same for you. All I’m trying to say is if you’ve read this whole post (thanks for that!) and you see yourself in some of these signs, checking in with a professional you trust is totally reasonable.

Take care of yourselves, friends!

 

 

 

 

6 Ways I Survive Haircuts

So here I am, waiting for a haircut. And you may not know this, but letting someone cut my hair is a god damn miracle, because for many years (read decades), I wouldn’t let anyone except Jess cut my hair.

But a few years ago, I started investigating if I could make a real haircut work, and it took some time and some tweaking, but I can proudly say that I get my hair cut regularly, and, AND I survive it.

So here’s a few quick things I do to keep myself sane, and then I’m off to get trimmed.

Wish me luck!

1. Plan the day: So I think the number one most important thing for me is to keep my haircut day clear. No other appointments, no other stress, basically keeping myself as un-stimulated as possible, to make up for the inevitable overload. So I keep my day low-key. Watch a favorite show, eat my safe foods, cuddle with the cats. I want to keep myself as fresh as possible for my appointment.

2. Schedule Smart: My stylist knows me really well now, and when I make appointments, she schedules me when her schedule is mostly free. So I’m not in a room with 6 others people and clippers and blow dryers blaring. It’s just her, me, and maybe a couple other people. Going to smaller salon also helps with this, because they’re not trying to get people in and out as quick as possible, like a chain does.

3. Get to know a stylist: I am so lucky. I found my stylist because my wife went to her, and they got talking and Jess learned that my stylist (L) had an autistic sister in law, and she offered to see if we could make it work. Now I realize that not all stylist can know someone with autism, but finding someone who can listen and work with you makes a whole lot of different. L knows that I don’t like small talk, so we only talk about the cut. She turns the chair away from the mirror for me. She asks good questions about what I want. I know I lucked out, and it usually takes some stylist shopping, but it makes a huge difference.

4. Sensory sensory sensory: The absolute worst part of the haircut process for me is the many ways that I can get sensory overload. There are things that I do now to keep things as doing as possible. Here is a short but hopefully complete list. Washing my hair in room temperature water, and having strategic towels to keep water out of my eyes and ears. When touching is necessary, firm pressure at all times. No snip snip of shears, long deliberate cuts that don’t sound hellish. No blow dryers ever. Extra thorough efforts to get hair off my neck, so I can make it home to shower. I’m sure there are more, but these are my important ones

5. Be prepared: I still make sure that I’m prepared for a haircut appointment like I am for anything else. So for me, that means stim toys, ear plugs, and miscellaneous things like wipes, snacks, and something to read. You never know when someone will be running late and you’ll have to wait, or when you’ll be more overwhelmed than you predicted. Lastly, if you can go with a buddy, absolutely do. Having someone safe and familiar around is calming, and if necessary they can help you communicate and advocate for you if necessary.

6. The Cheat: This is cheating slightly I think, because most salons don’t have a shop dog, but I am greatly helped by this tiny bundle of love!

So it’s haircut time, with any luck I’ll make it through, and my hair will finally be out of my face. Wish me luck!

5 Reasons I Love Musical Theatre

It’s summer in St. Louis, or at least the 95 degree temperatures make it feel that way, and summer here means lots of cool outdoor events. One of my favorites is seeing shows at The St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre, otherwise known as The MUNY. They put on shows all summer, a new show every week, and if you’re willing to sit in the nosebleed seats, it’s even free!

This year the lineup is Jerome Robbinns’ Broadway, The Wiz, Singin’ in the Rain, Jersey Boys, Annie, Gypsy, and Meet Me in St. Louis- not a bad lineup!

We saw our first show of the season yesterday, and it reminded me how much I love live shows. So here are all the things that my autistic heart loves about musical theatre

  1. It’s Sensory Friendly: At least when it comes to performances. I don’t know about you, but I need earplugs to make it through movie theatre previews most days. (in fact, the movie Dunkirk was so painfully loud, I swore off movies until it was out of theatres). Concerts are also loud, although they can be loud in a good way, and often have lighting effects that make me kind of nauseous. Live theatre is great because it’s not prohibitively loud, unnecessarily bright, and more and more often sensory friendly shows are being offered! The only negative sensory thing I experience is having to sit still for a couple of hours- and I can’t really complain about that.
  2. Orchestral Music Gives Me Goosebumps: For most of my life, I was unaware that not everyone gets intense goosebumps and tingles when they listen to classical music. And I was astounded. I couldn’t imagine an existence where Vivaldi didn’t send chills up and down my spine, or where the score from Jurassic Park didn’t give me full body tingles. I always thought when people said that a piece “moved them to tears”, they were describing how. damn. good. music makes their body feel. For me, this sensation is the best type of body stim, and musicals are basically just 2 hours of stimmy bliss.
  3. The Themes are Universal: Relating to people can be tough. Sometimes when I’m in social situations, I find myself just smiling and nodding along- mostly because I’m either confused about other people’s experiences, or I just can’t relate. Real life is hard, but musicals are easy. They are about human things that everyone has felt before. Feeling oppressed? Les Mis. Feeling Misunderstood? Wicked. Family Troubles? Lion King. Mental Health Issues? Dear Evan Hanson. Cats? Cats! Sometimes it’s really just to just sit back and relax- without having to interpret the world.
  4. The Characters Literally Sing Their Feelings at You: That’s right, I said it. No figuring out facial expression or body language, no sorting out metaphors, and absolutely no dealing with the consequences of guessing wrong. I love knowing exactly what the characters are thinking and feeling because it lets me immerse myself into the story- something that doesn’t happen too often in real life. Can you imagine: you’re in a complicated situation, and you’re trying to figure out if you’ve said or done something wrong, and all of a sudden, the other person breaks into song? YOU DIDN’T VALIDATE MY FEELINGS EARLIER AND I FEEL LIKE YOU DON’T CAAAAAAAARE! It would certain make life more interesting!
  5. All the Feels: Sometimes I have trouble identifying my emotions. Am I upset? Am I overwhelmed? Am I sad? And I know for me, not knowing how I’m feeling can lead to a build up of emotions, and I will eventually explain. Figuratively, of course. So, at regular intervals, I find that I just need a good cry. I don’t even have to by crying about my life and my problems- musicals let me cry about other people’s problems. Key examples include: Do You Hear the People Sing (Les Mis), Wait for It (Hamilton), For Good (Wicked), and Goodbye Love (Rent). There are many more. Seussical, which is a funny show based on the works of Dr. Seuss has a song that makes me cry. Maybe I’m too emotional, but at least I’ve got an outlet, right?

So there you go! Now that you know how I’ll be spending my summer nights, I think it’s only fair that I know about your plans. Tell me what you’re looking forward to doing this summer, even if it’s just saying at home and enjoying your air conditioner!

6 Word Stories pt. 27

So it’s been awhile… And the worst part is, it’s not like I haven’t been writing my 6 word stories, it’s just that two weeks in a row, I bolted up out of a dead sleep at about 2am on Saturday morning realizing that I haven’t written a blog post. I then immediately fall back asleep, which is less than useful.

I’ve had a long couple of weeks. I started physical therapy, which makes my POTS flare, which means I’m ‘fall asleep sitting up’ exhausted. My heart rate is also in the 150’s which makes me feel like I’ve had 5 shots of espresso one after the other. Luckily, I found a glut of gardening shows on Netflix, so I can just lie on the couch and stare at the TV when necessary.

So with the whole ‘skipping two weeks of posts’ thing, I’m going to leave you with The Best Of March’s Stories. Thanks for reading!

  • I started today with negative spoons.
  • Oh where has my ambition gone?
  • So tired. I blame Daylight Savings.
  • A thousand earplugs are not enough.
  • After too much socializing, it’s naptime.
  • Just for today, I’m not overthinking.
  • It’s hard to describe my feelings.

Well there we go! My last few weeks in 42 words. Sorry for the missed week, but if you ever feel like you’re in 6 Word Story withdrawal, my Tumblr blog, 6 Word Autism is updated daily!

Hope you all have a great first week of Spring!

6 Word Story pt. 25

So I didn’t do a 6 Word Story roundup last week. In my defense, most of the stories would have gone something like ‘ouch, pain, naptime, where’s my ice?’, and that’s not exciting for anyone. What is exciting (at least for me!) is that I’m feeling a lot better. On Thursday, I didn’t use my cane for a whole day, which is a big deal considering I’ve been using it for almost 7 months. Fingers crossed, but it looks like this is one medical problem that will resolve itself!

No more surgeries as far as I know, so stay tuned for business as usual!

 

  • Post surgery tradition is a stuffie.
  • Self, platonic, and romantic are all love.
  • Nothing distracts me from the pain.
  • Nap like you don’t even care.
  • Rain rain go away. No. Seriously.
  • Smelling books is a sensory experience.
  • Today I walked without my cane!!!

 

Meltdown Embarrassment

Oh man, what a day.

Any day that includes a meltdown is tiring, but rarely am I as embarrassed as I am about the one I had today.

For some reason, sensory related meltdowns seem acceptable to me. My senses are being bombarded, I’m overwhelmed, and often in pain, so I find it completely understandable that my brain reacts so intensely.

This was not a sensory meltdown. Today I had my first IV saline infusion, and I’m kicking myself for not being able to predict what happened. I had to wake up early (strike one), I had to navigate a large medical complex (strike two), and I was going into a brand new situation (strike three).

I really thought that I had a handle on it though. I knew what was supposed to happen, and had been mentally practicing what was going to happen.

This is where everything went wrong.

First, they were running late, and I had to sit in the waiting room for more than half an hour. Secondly, the first nurse to check my chest port thought it was warm and pink, so she poked and prodded at it, and eventually called over another nurse, who also poke and prodded. After that got sorted out, they informed me that since I was a new patient, they had to run the IV at a liter every two hours, instead of one an hour like I was expecting. I’d been planning to be there about two hours, and suddenly it turned in to four hours. After all of that, it turns out that my doctor had written the orders wrong, and we’d have to change plans for future infusions until it was sorted out.

This was when I started melting down. After the waiting, and the touching, and the change of plans, my brain couldn’t hold it together any longer. I started ranting at my wife. She helped me keep my volume under control, and to not blame the nurses for things that they couldn’t control. After that, I lost my words. Everyone was asking me questions and all I could do was nod and try not to cry. My body started stimming without my permission, my extremities started shaking rhythmically, and my head bopped violently to invisible music. And I couldn’t make it stop.

Thank god my wife was there. She communicated with the staff for me, and helped them contact my doctor for the correct orders. She told my nurse that we were going to cut the infusion short, and stop after one liter of saline instead of the two we had planned. She also had them reschedule me for later in the week. After all of this, she got me out of there.

I was so embarrassed.

I have non-sensory related meltdowns so rarely anymore that I kind of thought I had moved past them. I think I have a sort of elitist view of myself that says that since I’m so self aware, I should be above this sort of thing. I’m embarrassed about this too.

I talk so much about Autism Positivity, and I totally believe what I say, but I think that I have to remember that it doesn’t matter how smart a person is, or how self aware, or if they’re well prepared or have coping skills, sometimes meltdowns happen. They happen to all of us. And they’re nothing to be embarrassed about.

Even so, I’m really hoping that next time goes better.

6 Word Stories pt. 20

Sorry guys, this weeks stories are a little medical heavy. With spending New Years Day with a stomach bug, and my surgery coming up this Tuesday, I’ve got a bit of a one track mind. I’m excited though, once this chest port gets up in, I won’t have to have one find a vein in the arms (if they’re lucky) or my hands/feel (if they’re not). The site has to be kept incredibly clean in the beginning though, and I think that’ll be a sensory challenge. Wish me luck, friends!

  • Hopefully surgery is easy and successful
  • I invited someone over. On purpose?!
  • The fabric store is my favorite!
  • Afraid surgery will be sensory hell.
  • Stomach flu is bad for Autistics.
  • Peeling is fun until you bleed
  • I ran out of samefoods- help!

Can You Relate?

I run my hands over something soft

Something bumpy, something smooth

There’s no describing how good it feels

Can you relate to that?

 

I’m in a place that’s much too crowded

Too much noise, too much light

My senses hurt me, overwhelmed

Can you relate to that?

 

Engaging with my favorite things

Special Interests, special joy

Makes me want to jump and flap

Can you relate to that?

 

Talking to people I do not know

Try to smile, try to listen

Being polite is a social requirement

Can you relate to that?

 

Accepting that I’m a bit different

Always have been, always will

I’m starting to love who I am

Can you relate to that?

5 Good Textures and 3 Bad Ones

I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for a satisfying texture. Whether it’s squishy, or plushy, or smooth, or nubbly, I want to touch it. My wife says that I see with my hands, in the sense that oftentimes looking at something isn’t enough, I have to touch it to get a good sense of it. There are hazards to touching everything that I see. Some textures are just bad, and sometimes I can’t tell they’re going to be bad, so I get surprised. Let me tell you, it’s a terrible sort of surprise.

So, as a bit of a Public Service Announcement of Textures, here are some of my favorites,  and a few that are sensory hell.

5 Good Textures

1. Smooth Rocks- If rock hunter were a profession, I’d definitely be at the top of the field, mostly because I’m on the lookout for good ones wherever I go, because smooth rocks just feel so good. Whether I’m scoping out landscaping or taking a walk in the park, if I see a rock I like, I’m going to pick it up. I’m probably going to keep it as well. Their weight, plus their texture, plus how they always feel cool no matter how hot it is, makes them one of my favorite things. Very decent river rocks can also be obtained at the dollar store, but they’re slightly less satisfying without the hunt.

2. Soft (Flannel/Fleece/Minky) Fabric- I feel like fabric was everyone’s first stim toy. Even neurotypical kids love soft fabrics. They pet and and rub them on their face and bring them everywhere. Granted, most kids grow out of that, and I didn’t, but that’s ok with me. Some of my favorite fabrics are flannel, fleece, and that silky soft minky fabrics that baby blankets are often made of. If I am at home, I am surrounded my favorite fleece blanket, my corduroy elephant, and my flannel marble maze. All of these textures are so comforting, and so stroke-able. And I definitely only rub my face on them at home.

3. Dry Rice/Beans- If the soft fabrics from above were comforting, dried beans and rice for me are energizing. There’s something about all the individual  pieces being the same size, they fact that they’re smooth, and the noise they make when they’re played with that make them so satisfying. The only downside, for me at least, is that I have to have play only and eat only types, because apparently no one appreciates me using their food as my own personal rain stick.

4. Running Water- This one is full of contradictions, because I hate being wet. But there is something about putting my hands, and only my hands, mind you, under moving water is an almost mind blowing experience. It takes me outside of myself, my brain is quiet and everything kind of falls away. It is because of this that I love fountains. I have favorite fountains all over the city, which I make an effort to visit regularly. For some reason, tap water and washing my hands just isn’t the same.

5. Paintbrushes- Have you ever run a paintbrush over your hands? It’s heaven. The bristles are silky soft, and they give just enough pressure to hit all of my happy buttons. Makeup brushes work much of the same way, but holy crap are those expensive! Paintbrushes are fairly cheap, very portable, and a great sort of input that I haven’t found from anything else. Being able to “paint” myself before I paint makes the whole art experience ever more enjoyable.

3 Bad Textures

1. Sand- For someone that loves the beach, I sure hate sand. It’s gritty, it gets everywhere, and you keep finding in the most random places (in my socks? I didn’t even wear socks!). One of the worst feeling in the world for me is getting sand under my fingernails. *Shudder* I don’t like it. Dry sand is terrible, but wet sand it tolerable, mostly I think because it doesn’t cling.

2. Tags- My Autistic peeps, do I really have to say anything about tags? For something so small, it causes so much discomfort, and sometimes even pain. An accidentally missed tag can keep me from concentrating until it’s gone. And while I appreciate that more tags are easy to rip out, but still, why are they even necessary! If I ever run for office, it will be on a No More Itchy Tags platform!

3. Anything Sticky- My hands being sticky is basically an automatic meltdown. To the point where I carry wipes with me everywhere I go, on the off chance that I might get something on my hands. When I’m making dinner, I usually have to wash my hands a half dozen or so times, which certainly makes things take longer than they should. Like how running water up in the “good textures” section took me takes me outside myself, my hands being sticky sends my brain in to panic mode, and every section of my brain is just screaming “SOMETHING IS WRONG. WRONG WRONG WRONG”. And it is wrong. Sticky is wrong.

So those are the textures, good and bad. I bet you guys overlap with me on at least a few of them, but if you’ve got any sensory heaven or sensory hell textures, I’d love to hear about them!

All Hail the Mighty Toolbeast

Behold, the mighty Toolbeast, my faithful companion, my sensory savior, I would be lost without it. You may look at it and think to yourself “Self, that looks an awful lot like a monster shaped pencil case.” And you would be right. Its primary purpose may have been to hold school supplies, but it’s been elevated to so much more than that.

This is my AutistiKit, also known as a Toolbeast. It comes everywhere with me, because I never know when I’ll need one of its components. And need them I do. Over the past year or so I’ve done tons of field research, figuring out what I need to keep myself comfortable and meltdown free when I’m in unpredictable situations.

My collection at this point is almost entirely sensory based, because that’s usually what can tip me over the edge and into meltdown territory. And even if I don’t have a meltdown, sensory overload isn’t exactly comfortable, is it? I’m at a point in my life now where I can recognize pretty early on when things are starting to go bad, and by intervening early, I keep myself well balanced, which in turn, lets me do things I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.

These are the essential contents of my Toolbeast, grouped by sense:

 Touch

*Wipes: I don’t tolerate my hands being sticky or messy, so unscented baby wipes are key if I’m going to outside, or eating.

*Thinking Putty: I keep a tiny tin of putty with me, because I can push it or rip it, which helps me not to unconsciously using Self Injurious Behaviors.

*Koosh Ball: The spiky hairs are satisfying to pull at, it’s my most active tool because it can be tossed around.

*Squishy Caterpillar: This was one of my first Stim Toys, and it’s still one of my favorites. I can’t describe why it’s so good, but I’m constantly reaching for it.

*Tangle: I can use this with one hand, and in my pocket, so it’s stealthy.

Smell

*Essential Oil Roller: I have had the awesome experience of blending my own scent, which is Sandalwood based. Smell keeps me grounds more than anything else, and I like that the roller means the oil won’t get on my hands.

Taste

*Pink Starbursts: Pink Starbursts are the only ones that I like, but the strong taste is grounding, and they also provide a little blood sugar bump, which I can always use.

Hearing

*Earplugs: Of all my senses, my hearing is the most sensitive, so something being too loud becomes a big problem really fast. Mine are rated up to 30 decibels, which even lets me go to concerts.

Sight

*Blue Light Glasses: These are generally made for people who spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, but they’re perfect for toning down fluorescent lights, which many stores are so fond of.

Miscellaneous

*Instant Cold Pack: I discovered these when I was in Treatment, and they are amazing. They’re shelf stable until you stomp on them, and then they get cold. Putting one on my neck or chest is like magic; they’re incredibly soothing.

*Chewy Toy: I wear chewelry whenever I leave the house, but it’s pretty soft, so I keep a heavy duty one in the Toolbeast in case I need to do some hardcore chewing.

So that’s my Toolbeast. It’s been a lifesaver, and I highly suggest that everyone give them a try. Just think of the things that help you the most, in as many sensory categories as you need, and if they’re not quite portable, if they come in a mini version, or can be easily replaced with something smaller. Pencil cases make great AutistiKits, and they come in lots of fun varieties. They’re small enough to fit in a purse or a backpack, and so easy to personalize. Why not give it a shot?