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All of these traits come under the umbrella of ‘Overwhelm’ and are all innately linked.

Autistic people like me, may reach these overwhelmed baselines just from existing because our Autism means we process much more data and stresses than other people, and that data is over whelming, triggering adrenaline responses for everything that we do, which gets confused by our brains as ‘illness’ - hence a lot of physical symptoms. Sensory overwhelm, is uncontrollable, without instant removal of the offending sensory stimuli or injustice - remember just because exhaustion has taken its toll doesn’t mean the Autistic person is recovered from overwhelm if the offending sensory issues are still there. Ultimately, the overload is a warning sign to allow you to rest and recover your capabilities before you reach a disabling shutdown.

The good news, is that sensory overwhelm can be both avoided in many places, and be accommodated to be made shorter and less impactful, by understanding people and a Autism / sensory friendly environment. 

Sensory Issues The world is a very stressful (and wonderfully inspiring!) place; especially when you notice all details around you – and it gets overwhelming very quickly - taking up all your attention, whether you like it or not. I notice a lot of details in my daily life that other people don’t seem to see. These details often inspire and soothe me when I’m well rested and happy. I could easily get lost in the swirling chaos of the cracks in a brick wall, scan my eyes over every individual blade of grass, or count the endless droplets of water dripping down a window - for hours, processing and learning in my own way. I love it and it’s something I love about my Autism. My senses are super heightened. I am more prone to sensory overloads, more able to see enhanced details in saturated pixelated depths. More able to ‘hear’ whispered conversations from across the crowded school hall but less able to tell it apart or make sense of it. It’s all just overwhelm. In this way, I get bad heat spikes which will prickle my skin until I feel like it’s crawling. Burning, scratching, tugging, aching, itching, raging endless injustice onto my sensory systems. To compare, I once scolded my arm, and ended up in the emergency room, yet, the sensory pain of skin burning from overwhelm, was worse – but you can imagine which one is believed to be real, and which one you’re told to ‘get over it’ because ‘its not real or that bad’. We as autistic people see so much details, not just visual or sensory related but information, our brains are constantly scanning for patterns and commodities, in order to help us process how to survive in a world like ours- that is designed against us.

Burnout I am always in a cycle of ‘shutting down - shutdown - severe shutdown - recovery - burnout - shutting down’. Burnout for me, is when I have consistently kept pushing myself when recovering from shutdown, I burnout – I can still do things but to the worse of my capabilities, and every capabilities I have, lowers, and drops into nothing, and then I’ll shutdown, and cannot do anything at all.

Shutdowns and Meltdowns Both, are extreme reactions to everyday stimuli. Both tend to be the result of long term un resolved issues, such as school, work, or changes in routine and general day to day stress. A Meltdown is a physical reaction, a form of communication, a Shutdown is a physical and mental retreat – a coping defence mode. As a result of consistent unavoidable stresses at school, with sensory overloads and with difficulty processing information, I suffered from frequent and severe shutdowns.

Autistic shutdowns – severe chronic fatigue and pain These are a type of information overload – but can be caused by daily life, and normal hardships which most people can cope with, without any problems. Things like coping with a change in routine, problem solving or communicating whilst also being overloaded can cause shutdowns. Shutdowns is a retreat from stress, and inability to do anything at all but rest. Basically it means that all of my physical, mental and emotional abilities will slowly drop, until they have disappeared entirely; the only way to recuperate my abilities is to rest in sensory friendly surroundings. This means that I have severe chronic agony, in all parts of my body, with no medical reason, and I get seizure like symptoms and pass out randomly on a daily basis, and can suddenly become unable to talk, walk, hold things, complete any of my usual abilities or life skills, or think to my usual abilities. This can happen to me at a moments notice; and often after doing a speech or workshop, I will be bed bound recovering for a few days; but I don’t mind that – being an autism activist is my biggest passion; it is far too important to help challenge misconceptions and help people understand the hidden hardships and the positives of Aspergers, and so, I wouldn’t have it any other way. A shutdown is when my usual physical, mental and emotional abilities literally ‘shutdown’ and eventually vanish – to communicate to the world that I need rest to recuperate my lost abilities. During shutdowns I have severe chronic pain, dizziness and brain fog, and I'm often prevented from walking, communicating or doing any type of 'normal' daily activity. It is so severe for me, that I cannot even process my own thoughts, feelings or needs. I literally become unable to think, let alone advocate, or communicate my wishes. Its incredibly frustrating.

Meltdowns On the other hand, a meltdown is a physical reaction to the daily sensory overloads; with the addition of confusing problem solving, and countless injustices. Coping with day to day life, while being forced to mask, or continue day to day activity without adequate rest or support, can result in meltdowns- meltdowns can also occur, even with all these aspects supported- because a meltdown is form of communication. A meltdown can look like a tantrum but it is not. My thoughts burn paths of scorched chaos through my brain. one path of thought only: the injustice-& trying to rectify it. The only injustice recovery is me trying to over explain it, desperately trying to make people understand how to prevent injustice in future. I can’t articulate it. I try; a screaming, stuttering, indecipherable mash of syllables, along with swinging limbs that I have no control over and don’t even realise I am moving, and objects thrown that I don’t connect I was even holding. I feel the injustice, burning, powerful, so raw & real; but I can’t for the life of me communicate it. Why? I’m screaming in my mind... WHY? A meltdown diminishes any reasonable or logical capabilities I have, until all is left is a chaotic attempt to make myself feel better – by stimming – accept the stimming is just thrashing, screaming, ‘bad’ behaviour that is judged to be naughty and dangerous – and honestly? Sometimes it is dangerous, but it is never intentional – and meltdowns are a communication to heal injustice – so restraints, touch or any words, would only ever create further harm, and further injustice (from causing further overwhelm) and make it worse. If you would like to learn more about how to heal a meltdown or my personal insights and stories, please check out my books.

Mental Health & Mindset Once upon time, I could never envisage myself to have found inner peace & success, like this. Bullying & mental health issues made me see my disability as a hindrance, & my Depression used to reign as King. I have complex post traumatic stress disorder & anxiety too. Yet the happier I became, the more I realised something strange – my mental health, while improved drastically - was still the same. My efforts & good intentions are still the same. All that changed, was my acceptance of my hardships & disabilities. So while volunteering, making mistakes, winning awards, failing, publishing books & crying, My mental health issues were still there – rather I managed to grow alongside it. Mental health is like a bubble, the bubble doesn’t change size, but you can grow around the bubble, & one day, the bubble of mental health issues may even pop... ultimately though, you can learn to love yourself & your good intentions, even if that bubble of mental health never pops. In this way, because my good intentions & efforts were consistent throughout my mental health crisis & hardships, I was empowered to see clearly, & look at the bubble with fondness & gratitude for what it taught me about who I want to be. Mental health does not equal a bad attitude & mental health does not equal not trying. Mental health issues do not equal having no hope. Mental health issues can change our perceptions of the world around us, & our own place in the world. Mental health issues can make us become distrustful of people & believe there is something wrong with us or our efforts. Even worse, it make you feel like you’re a burden & see every interaction with the people that love you, as something almost proving your lack of self worth, even though this isn’t true – you are loved & valued – & trusted adults would try to help you too. It can make our hopes & dreams & wishes seem so far out of our grasp. In this way, mental health issues can become an emotional disability, & when stress becomes chronic & perceived to be unsupported, stress can manifest into a physical disability too – with physical symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea, dizziness & brain fog. because disability has many different looks. I am autistic. I have CPTSD & a host of other medical issues. Yet – my question, is this, why should that fear for my future, born from my fear of not being cured of my rare disease, take away my capability to live in the now? To appreciate? To have good intentions? To try & help? To share love? You see, confidence doesn’t grow from the things we are good at, but confidence actually grows with our acceptance & relationships with the things we are BAD at. I’m disabled, & I am bad at a lot of things, but That doesn’t mean I am bad, at everything. that doesn’t mean my intentions are bad. That doesn’t mean my effort to try is bad. That doesn’t mean I am bad person. That doesnt mean, I have no hope for the future. Our negative emotions can build us up, as well as shatter us; it all depends on our mindset, & how frequently we try to challenge it: Do we give the world as much hurt as we feel? Or do we take the lessons, to learn how to TRY & spread love & hope instead? Do we try to be better? We all have negative emotions - it’s not a bad thing. It’s normal & it doesn’t make us bad people. Don’t forget your feelings are reasonable & understandable. Try to challenge that voice in your head, try not to compare your situation to mine, or other peoples. Anything that makes you feel anger, fear, hopelessness or anxiety, is valid & real enough to potentially cause trauma & damage your mental health, & it doesn’t matter what the root of those emotions are – whether its chronic illness, or Trauma, or bullying, or trauma, or a relationships break down or school, or stress… You’re worthy of support, no matter what the root of your emotions, and your mental health issues.

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