Sunday, 15 February 2015

Last year: Burnout

I have been thinking more about what was going on in my head last year and how I was in shut-down almost all of the time. I refer to this post here.

I remember reading about things others were sharing about their daily lives on Facebook or hear others plans in day to day conversation. I would feel anxious and overwhelmed just reading about it or hearing about it. I would then start comparing my life to theirs without even realizing. Then I would end up feeling useless and like a failure at living and managing my life.

My thought process was 'I don't even know how to do that (whatever it was). I don't know how to do anything more than what I'm currently,' doing which wasn't much. I felt like a failure as a result. I didn't even try after awhile as it was too upsetting and depressing.

My brain felt like it was in a fog of overwhelm almost constantly. I couldn't think clearly or figure out how to do things, even simple things. I'd look at 'how-to's' and think 'huh? How? I don't know how to do that. I don't know how to figure out how to do that and the steps involved to get there.' My executive function was terribly impaired.

I was hyper sensitive to everything and perceived everything to be either a threat or judgement. I had trouble with letting things go, over thinking or perseverating on whatever it was.

Due to the fact that I was already very overwhelmed by trying to manage the bare minimum of daily life when anything unexpected came up it rendered me inert, anxious, stressed and struggling to figure out to deal with it. My EF issues made it really difficult.

For example when we found that out that my son had nits I instantly felt exhausted by the fact that I knew I had to sort it out somehow and that it meant I needed to change my routine (only thing keeping me somewhat stable and able to keep going) and go out of my comfort zone, to get the things we needed to deal with it. I just wanted it to go away on it's own so I could go back to resting and not dealing with anything outside of my very small comfort zone. Change is hard for me when I'm at my best. It's almost impossible when I'm at my worst which was the case for most of last year. Somehow I managed to gather energy and adjust to the change and we dealt with it. I would not have been able to manage without my husband who ended up doing most of it. He bought the nit shampoo as I was not up to leaving the comfort and safety of my home. He bathed and shampooed my son. We did each other's hair. I did all the washing and changing of bedding and towels. That was what stressed me out the most, the fact that we had to change bedding mid-week which is not my normal routine. I did not know if I had the energy to run around changing all the bedding and washing it. I managed though, somehow. I usually do washing of bedding and towels on weekends when I feel more rested and Atrus is home to help out with things. It takes the pressure off and the change in pace from the busyness of the week helps.

The above is one example of how difficult any change and anything outside of my comfort zone was to deal with. I felt the same way each time something new and unexpected happened. The same process happened each time.

All I wanted to do was be left alone so I could rest and recover in peace. I viewed anything outside my comfort zone or anything unexpected that came up as invasive and unwelcome. I did not have the energy or brain space to deal with it. Even doing the bare minimum was very overwhelming for me and required a lot of energy for me to think about doing and then actually do. Which is called inertia.

Daily living was challenging enough. I barely cooked last year because of EF issues and not enough brain space to process how to do it. I remember looking at recipes and feeling overwhelmed. I couldn't figure out how to do all the little steps and often did not have the energy to do it. Cleaning was in the too hard basket most of the time. Thankfully I have a cleaner through respite who does the basics which really helped keep the mess from getting out of control. Atrus helped out a lot with cooking and cleaning too. I do not know what I would have done without either of them.

Another example I can think of regarding my executive function is a packet of glitter stars which I found in the bathroom cupboard tucked away at the back just recently. The packet was open and spilling glitter stars everywhere. I remember making a calm down glitter bottle more than a year ago for my son and I. I had no idea what to do with the glitter packets and how to stop the glitter going everywhere so I just left it at the back of the cupboard and forgot about it. It brought back memories of how bad things were for me and how incapable I was of doing the simplest of things. Now that I'm in a better frame I can easily figure out how to deal with it. I put it in a mini resealable bag and its sorted.

There are many painful reminders around the house of a similar nature where I have not known how to deal with it and just left it. I'm coping better so I'm starting to organise the chaos and set up systems to minimize chaos and clutter. It's going to take time because I've been in shut down for a number of years and everything has really gotten out of control. Step by step I will work on the clutter and organise it better.

I have been in this overwhelmed shut-down since my son was born, nearly 4 years ago.

I found (and still find) Facebook incredibly overwhelming and stressful a lot of the time. I tried to manage my usage and limit what I used it for. I didn't want to give it up completely as I would have had no contact with any of my online friends and even less support. I would have been even more isolated.

When I vented about how much I was struggling on my own profile, it ended up being even more overwhelming and stressful a lot of the time. Others would suggest things to try as a way of fixing whatever the issue was. That was unhelpful and unsupportive for me at the time. I understood that they were trying to help. It was not what I needed. It added to my level of overwhelm and anxiety. I was at a point of frustration at not being able to do whatever it was and was trying to explain why it was so hard. Most people didn't get it. What I needed to hear was 'I hear you. I'm sorry it's so hard. Sounds like you need a break and to do self-care.'


No one said that to me though. I did not have the brain space to process what else to do to help me rest and find my calm. I ended up stuck in this state, unable to figure out what to do. It was a vicious cycle of not wanting to feel completely isolated, reaching out on Facebook and sharing my struggles only to be even more overwhelmed by ALL the 'too much for me to process suggestions.' I ended up using up more energy trying to explain myself over and over to people who I didn't owe an explanation which further wore me out. I did not have the brain space to think to myself 'venting on Facebook isn't helping me for these reasons, perhaps it's better if I did xyz instead.' I did not know how to listen to my inner voice and work out how to do what was best for me. I was not in the frame of mind to think to do that. I did not have a therapist or someone with more life experience to advise me on how to cope and to help me get out of that stuck state by giving me small non-overwhelming steps for how to get out of that stuck state. I likely wouldn't have thought to say anything if I did have a counselor because I was too overwhelmed and in shut down to realise that venting on Facebook wasn't helping me.

Thinking back to that time it is clear to me that I had regressed a lot. I simply could not process anymore information. I had experienced too much stress and trauma the previous 3 years and was at my limit. It has taken several months of letting go of everything and resting to get to the place where I'm at now.


Towards the end of last year things slowly started improving for me. I started seeing a fantastic counselor, I got more respite support,  and I had a 9 day break at home from the rush of the normal routine (my husband and son went away to visit my in-laws for 10 days). The change in pace and time to rest, let go and not have to worry about keeping up with the day to day, really helped me to recover to a place where I felt a lot less overwhelmed. 

My husband had 3 weeks off over the end of the year which was also instrumental in my recovery. The change in pace, having him home full time and being able to do things at a pace which suited us hugely helped me to not feel so much pressure to keep up with everything and to rest. 

It has been a gradual improvement, over time.

Things have improved a lot for me recently. I can think of several reasons why. More support, therapy, validation, listening to my inner voice, managing my energy extremely carefully, taking medication and vitamin supplements, eating healthy as best I can manage, letting go of what is not important and draining of my energy, managing my thoughts, change in mindset, lots of rest,  relaxation, exercise and self-care. 
 I have started little doable creative projects to use to inspire myself when I'm feeling triggered, anxious or feeling my moods get out of control.


I'm learning to have fun again and really enjoy life. Something I almost forgot how to do for a long time. 

I am determined not to let myself end up in such a dark, hopeless place again. I have made it my top priority to manage my energy and rest when I feel myself getting worn out. I am working on pacing myself better and not taking on anymore than I can manage.

Further reading:

Help! I seem to be getting more autistic.

Autistic burnout by Judy Endow.

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