Looking to the past in my battle against Autistic burnout

This might sound like a strange one. But after living my entire 52 years not knowing that I’m Autistic (to this point at least – hopefully there’s a bit more living to come!), I have created an affirmation to help remind me who I (really) am and to help me overcome my current period of Autistic burnout.

Remember you’re Autistic: live accordingly

I used both affirmations and mantras on and off in my twenties, when I was at my lowest and struggling to discover how to best make my way in the world. I had stumbled across meditation as a way to try and relieve the stress and anxiety I was battling and, finding some benefits from it, attended a series of workshops at The Relaxation Centre (as it was known in the 90s) in Fortitude Valley.

It was there that I learned about the concept of frequently repeating a statement in the hope that mere words would bring about actual change. Statements like: My life is full of potential, I treat myself kindly and with compassion, and Just because you can’t see your muscles doesn’t mean they aren’t there did bring me some measure of comfort, and I found myself repeating them in my head (hopefully in my head!) when I was on the bus, in the shower, or eating breakfast.

While I have never been one to embrace ‘self-help’ in its various guises (I’ve been a cynic since long before I ever reached middle age), my experience has been that there is something to be said (for me anyway) for the way affirmations and mantras work on our brains’ neuroplasticity – essentially that particular organ’s ability to adapt and change.

Now, the affirmation I’ve chosen isn’t meant to suggest that because I’ve recently discovered I’m Autistic I can’t (or that any Autistic person endowed with their own fantastic qualities and abilities can’t) live a fulfilling life or do the same things non-Autistic people do. What I’m saying is I can’t continue to live as I have been because doing so would continue to perpetuate my lifelong struggles, and put me in even more peril than I found myself in at the end of 2022.

I recall (since my diagnosis I’ve done more recollecting than I care to remember!) that from a very young age there was pressure to live my life as others expected me to, rather than how I wanted to live it. Friends, loved ones, and authority figures labelled me lazy, or too quiet, a daydreamer. I didn’t know what to say or how to behave in so many (any?) situations. My parents regularly encouraged me to get involved in activities with other children, only to be met with resistance in the form of what I thought were tantrums (actually Autistic meltdowns) as I refused.

My preference instead was to be housebound, watching TV or drawing or, as the years passed, writing. I did have friends at school but somehow always felt separate from them – like I was part of the group and yet not, a watcher on the fringes rather than a participant in the middle of any action.

Sports (Argh! I hear some of you – hi honey! – groan) became crucial as a way for me to connect. I could play football or cricket with a group of my peers within the clearly-defined boundaries of the rules of the game. Tennis, a largely individual sport or one played in a very small team, would become a weekend passion of mine and I watched grey Saturday-morning skies with more than a touch of apprehension and wallowed for the rest of the week in full-blown depression if rain did indeed intervene.

Still, to survive the adolescent world I needed to do more than play sports – I needed to blend in almost completely. Not an easy task for someone who could barely speak outside his home, who was shorter and thinner than most, with a big mop of dark-brown, curly hair. (Reading that sentence back I am struck by the idea that my look as a teenager resembled that of a toilet brush. In fact, so thick and bouffant was my hair in those days that the catch cry that most often accompanied me was: Well, you’ll never go bald!)

Glenn in the eighties – with hair

As several health professionals have explained to me in recent months, the overwhelming stress, anxiety, and depression I now feel is because I have been trying to live my life beyond my inherent wirings (my specific brand of Autism) capabilities. I’ve been masking, like the ‘misshapen’ square peg that gets his square-peg mate to shave off his edges so that he can literally fit in to that perfectly symmetrical round hole. And all this, I now realise, is utterly debilitating, so much so that I’m having to re-evaluate my entire way of living so that I can go on.

That’s where this saying, this ‘affirmation’, was conjured – in the deepest recesses of my mind that seek desperately for stillness and space and slowness. It’s self-preservation at its most primitive: Remember you’re Autistic: live accordingly.

Of course, it isn’t the only technique or strategy I’ll be employing to help me recover from burnout. (If only a series of simple words alone was that powerful, that would suit me fine!) There will be counselling, too – psychology and occupational therapy – that will hopefully play a significant role throughout the rest of this year and beyond.

But for now, I have my affirmation. It is simple but has so far proven itself highly effective at sharpening my attention on the reality of my newfound situation. And at this stage, I’ll take help in all manner of shape and form.

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  1. Thanks again, Glenn.
    It felt good to read your affirmation – I’ll add it to my very small pile of tools.
    As I read this post, I had a tiny glimmer of hope that one day I may be able to ‘come out’. One day I may be able to use my own experiences in a positive way in this complicated world.
    Sincere appreciation,
    Cheers, Linda

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