Long read: 1248 words
Ten years ago I joined Twitter with the username @KarlettaA.
As my mum said to my support co-ordinator this year – “She’s done a full 360. She’s not the same person”. “I can’t see it”, I said. “No, she can’t”. “Not always anyway”, I said, with a warm, wry smile.
I’ve grappled with changing the title of the post “My autistic burnout and recovery“. I didn’t want to jinx the wonderful progress I’ve made in the past decade. Until now I never felt sure that I had recovered enough to warrant the word “recovery”.
Especially because when I declare I feel good, the cycle of productivity to unproductive and ashamed repeats again.
I haven’t known how to describe my life in 2019 – I am doing really bloody well. I just have bad hours or days. The first six months were busy, busy, busy marked with instability. I’m on a Management Committee again. My writing, when I can write, has vastly improved. My days are full.
In the first six months of 2019, not knowing who and when my support workers would arrive brought me to my knees. My support coordinator and I were frequently re-demanding consistent support promised to me through the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme).
Soaring through life again
Now that we’ve changed the provider for my support workers – and them understanding my needs for stability and reliability – I’m soaring through life again. 2009 Karletta would be surprised at how calm I am during my productive times.
I’m keeping my house consistently tidy and clean. I am able to remain mostly calm while tidying and doing meal preparation. I’ve been going out for mid-week café, social, and shopping trips. To my surprise, I’ve been wearing colourful clothes. I’ve been nesting – enjoying puttering around at home.
Knowing myself as strong, valued, and generally liked is often present.
Conversations are easier. Being present is easier. Connecting with and being able to understand others is easier.
Let me repeat that. Conversations are easier.
This is what stability, consistency, being understood and appreciated, and being free to take care of my sensory needs does. It allows me to feel and express what I know I am capable of. My self-identity and how I live life are aligned.
I still have anxiety attacks, like today when salespeople came to my door and when nearing a shopping center. I am often exhausted and lethargic, or utterly overwhelmed. This is my new normal. As an Autistic person, daily life-tasks overwhelm me.
When I go out, I now bring huge sunglasses and ear-plugs or over-ear headphones. I can clearly hear people even with foam ear-plugs. After all, they were created to be used as a safety measure in loud work environments.
Burn out in layman’s terms
Let me try to describe my burnout in laymen’s terms. It happened over a decade ago, when I had just moved back in with my mum.
I shut down. It was like depression without sadness. It was being exhausted. Not giving up – but my mind and body just saying “Nope”.
It was weird.
Why was I randomly going from productive to confused? Still. Not even a question. Just – this doesn’t make sense.
How could I be confident, yet randomly go shy? Still. Even when it is vital to be my best. Even when ten minutes ago I was literally in the zone?
Why was it so damn hard to keep friends? To live in one place for more than a year or two? To constantly have to prove myself to flatmates? Like, really? Do you not see who I am? Are you not listening?
I had been trying. Putting my best foot forward. Playing the game. Being a team player. A beloved team player, even. I showed up.
I learned to like myself. I practiced being compassionate and loving to myself. Be the parents I wished I’d had. Relaxed into enjoying my own company.
I could believe that people loved me, liked me, or respected me. Or just revelled in knowing that people’s feelings were nothing to do with me. I learned how to exude my interest in a person’s feelings. Lost myself in each moment. Returned to me again.
I meditated. Took my time doing things well. Was content.
I knew my worth. Knew how valuable it is to be vulnerable, compassionate, and share moments of tenderness. Not just moments, but spaces in time.
Seeing through people’s words to their beautiful souls. I learned to show up when people need to be heard. Be present. Be with them at that moment. Silently feeling with them. Being still and peaceful in our own little bubble.
Then I crashed. Something fundamental had said “Nope”.
I was like what..? I’m sorry, what just happened?
That was over a decade ago.
In the midst of my isolation in north Queensland, I joined Twitter and found the people I wanted in my life. From academics, scientists, writers, actors, and people who value this earth, to my Autistic tribe.
This past couple of months, waves of acceptance, purpose, trust, and knowing my worth keep returning over and over again. The looks of admiration and respect returned. The “Damm girl!” came back into my ears and heart.
I’ll tell you what’s made a difference. I’ve got stability back. I know what triggers my ‘going shy’ and how to return to stasis. I’m sick to death of having to explain myself and prove myself. It’s a “Nope”, but this time with calmness and clarity.
As you can imagine, there have been layers of recovery. This latest was catapulted by posting a YouTube video, reading some of my poetry. I sat on the second version for a week. I was bloody scared. My teeth are horrid. Brown and chipped.
My behind the scenes moments showed not only how comfortable I was being proud of myself – but also expressions, actions, and words that I’ve gotten shamed for. I call them being excited or proud. Kids called my excitement being ‘retarded’. Adults called my excitement ‘surprising’, ‘over the top’, or me ‘needing a chill-pill’.
Finally, one of my beliefs came to mind. If you’re going to judge my value/ worth/ intelligence on how often I shave my face/ shower, then you’re not worth my time.
I set the poetry video to publish on a weekend. Barely promoted it, because it is an experiment. Re-dubbed parts of it and published the audiobook version.
Also, here we are, at the end of civilization as we’ve known it for the past, what? Fifty years? I’m not the only one saying “Nope”. You’re not getting away with that crap anymore. Not in this moment in time. Not while I’m having this conversation with you. Twitter is full of us and we have been furious for some time.
As I got on with life – doing my best, brushing my teeth again, being present, being my self – a pure acceptance clarified bit by bit.
Along with it, my sense of worth and value was finally reflected in other people’s eyes. Or maybe, I could see their respect clearly for the first time in a long time.
Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly lonely at times. I just know that the friendships I have are valuable.
There’s a sense of… it’s over.