Autistic Shutdown

Growth & Resilience
13 min readNov 19, 2023

The reason for this title — It was changed from ADHD & anxiety to a better title and more relatable as to how I am doing and coping to this day. There’s a lot of unneccesary and overwhelming personal stressors prevalent in my life but it’s not that I cannot manage that. I cope by disengaging from particular situations and persons that do not serve a purpose or do not have my best interest at heart if that makes sense. Sometimes we have to disengage to better ourselves and to further re-energize — That’s just what it is. When I am feeling mentally and physically drained, I will likely disengage from everything and everyone, and I think that is okay. During my own autistic shutdowns, these are my own personal traits that I feel I strongly do but have often gone unrecognized throughout the years — I’ve been more open to share about this the older I get and the more I read about other experiences of those who are neurodivergent and autistic themselves; that’s why I’m so appreciative for the many shares that I can relate to personally because I’ve gone through it. Here are a few of my autistic traits that can contribute to autistic shutdown and I hope this helps:

  • I will go non verbal — This includes not speaking for a while even when others want me to speak or they’re prompting me to speak; I just won’t speak. When I go non verbal, It’s when others have mistreated, walked over my own boundaries, and have been not so nice to me throughout the years. Please keep in mind that I have been bullied all of my life and everyone has a breaking point. I may not post what is going on in my personal life but I’m a human being who is trying to make herself out there while navigating this neurotypical world that was clearly not meant for autistics. I’m trying my best though and that is what matters.
  • My anxiety will be exacerbated and last night was a great example — I will go from mild to moderately distressed to being severly distressed. I will likely reach out to many of my own professional supports such as my therapist and this will be many times in a day. I have recently booked a follow up therapy session for this upcoming week as it is needed. I used to never reach out for support and I would rely solely on others for that. I realized very fast and this was recently from about May of 2023 to the summer that, sometimes, you have to reach out for your own support and be your own advocate because nobody else will do it for you.
  • Calling in sick. Do you all remember the sick leave I took for myself from early May of 2023 to the beginning of August of 2023? I was not in the greatest place and I’m vulnerable and open to share that because we need to be having these conversations more if anything. The more vulnerable that we can get, the better and the more that others will share their experiences too and that’s what we want.
  • Overcompensating — In lamens, I will take on a lot more than I need to do so this will look like picking up on extra shifts or responsibilities throughout the week to avoid being around myself. I’m more of a threat to myself than I am to others.. I’ve received many private messages on X where people are sending me screenshots of some person that I used to associate with and trust — She is going around X and trying to sabotage and ruin who I am because I am supposedly open about my traumatic experiences and autism. This individual has an autistic son and is autistic herself. However, I have chosen not to engage for my own wellbeing and peace as that is maturity to say the least. I’m 29 years old and I have made substantial progress in only a short few short months and I am continuing to make that progress — This individual is still in the same place and I do wish and pray that she can get the help that she needs.
  • Internalizing our environments and having internal meltdowns as a result of this behind closed doors. I don’t publicize all of my struggles and I only share what I share with you guys. I have encountered quite a few of my own personal struggles especially from disclosing being potentially raped/sexually assaulted. I’ve lost a few people but I’ve also gained a lot of real and genuine connections in which I am grateful for. I used to and I am still defining what the word friend means — I think I’ve almost mastered this definition as a friend is someone who will just be there even through our darkest moments. A friend is also someone that will not judge but accept our past mistakes and flaws regardless of what we have been through, and they will try to support us while offering their own perspective and constructive criticism. A friend will also go through great lengths to attempt to guide us onto the correct and the most appropriate path. A friend will also check in when we are quiet and this may not be like us at all.
  • Executive dysfunction — I opened up and shared this in a mental health collective the other day. A few speakers asked me about this. To experience executive dysfunction, you will not want to do anything at all. You feel incapable and you’re unable to possess the energy and motivation to say or do anything. All you can do is sit there and stare up at the ceiling. You’re physically incapable to move and everything is frozen as you’re sitting there in the middle of the ocean on a single yet broken leaf — The water is still and people are calling your name and your ears are ringing — It becomes overwhelming and you zone out and you’re unable to respond back as it feels like multiple drums are going on in your head and it’s become to be too much and so you shut down. I hope I explained this well because I’m trying to give a few examples to make it easier to understand! I understand from giving examples and also from visual images.
  • Stimming — I never realized that I do stim a lot. Do you know what this actually looks like? My own stimming when I am overwhelmed and experiencing a lot of distress can include playing with my hair and my nails — This can look like biting the inside of my mouth in which I do this quite frequently. Stimming can also look like pacing back and forth and I’ve had colleagues and peers ask me if I was okay; I never realized any of these behaviors until my close neurodivergent friends talked to me about it. Another stimming behavior that I used to do a lot when I was a child and I still do this frequently but not as often — I twitch my eyebrows and I can’t stop it — I will also blink as if I cannot control my blinking and it’s challenging because, as much as I want to control this, I cannot. In a nutshell, stimming is a coping mechanism and can help a lot of us calm down especially when we are experiencing bouts of large emotions and/or distress.
When I had close friends ask me about my own behaviors that I never recognized we talked about it — I started to eventually recognize these behaviors for what they are, and then that’s how I even begun to talk about these stimming behaviors in therapy and with other counselors as needed. Sometimes we do things to make ourselves feel comfortable to ease the distress — I stim quite a lot and that’s what I’m realizing. At this very moment, I am stimming right now and this includes biting the inside of my mouth; I’ve been biting the inside of my mouth when I’m anxious and overwhelmed about particular things since I was very young.
  • Sensory overload — You’re sitting in the middle of this ocean on a semi-broken leaf and people are calling your name but nothing is processing. The world has become overwhelming and this bubble starts to form around you and you’re unable to escape from that bubble. The relentous thoughts consume your mind and you just can’t escape and you’re barely able to catch your breathe. When I’m overloaded, I can easily go from mild to being severely distressed very fast. When I am experiencing sensory overload, it looks like executive dysfunction which can easily lead to autistic shutdown where I cannot do anything at all.
  • Self isolation — I will disappear and go non verbal, and likely hold my stuffed unicorn and squishmallow because these material objects here understand who I am and my struggles, at times, more so than anyone else. I’ve tried to have conversations with those I thought cared, loved, and had my best interest at heart — Little was I aware of those peoples intentions to further sabotage and try to ruin who I am — I’ve learned though that there will always be people that will committed to misunderstand and they will refuse to look at all aspects of a situation. I do self isolate quite frequently as it’s needed and it’s easier.
  • Autistic meltdowns — This will be the last point here. I’ve endured past and even recent meltdowns to say the least. I don’t publicize any of this though; I just disengage and go non verbal when I feel that I am shut down from the world. Anything anyone tries to say does not process or get much to me if that makes sense. It may look like not listening but I’m struggling to listen and to process the many bouts of information being sent my way. I already struggle and have delays with my own processing so try to imagine being sensory overloaded on top of executive dysfunction too. Try to imagine having a literal processing disorder with so much information being spewed out and you’re trying to keep everything in but that isn’t working but that’s where we need to reach out and attune to supports including safety plans, therapy, counseling, and other useful supports in our communities. My meltdowns do not look good but I’m working on that as we are all working on something to navigate this tedious and challenging yet hopeful and wise life.
I probably could have slept a bit more as I only got about 6.5 hours of sleep. On top of everything I need to attend to in my personal life, it’s hard to get sleep; it can be challenging to tackle what we need to do and, sometimes, just getting out of bed can be enough. When I am shutdown, I do art and look up unicorn memes as these cheer me up and bring out my own personal special interests. Understandably, some people have recently expressed their hate for unicorns but I will always have this as a special interest because that’s me and I’m not afraid to share that; I think that’s okay.

I’m that bubble floating up in the cloudy, gloom-like sky and there’s many thoughts circulating around in my mind. The thoughts linger and they don’t disappear, and then the butterflies start filling the pit of my stomach — The butterflies take over my body and I can barely get my words out. My breathing cannot be controlled and I cannot control my blinking either. People stare at me from afar as I blink extra hard and overthink how and when I need to blink. Yes, this is a real time example of how in real life interaction can look like. Last Thursday and Friday (November 16th and 17th) were not the greatest as I had to high mask in front of a room of extroverted individuals but that may be an assumption on my part by saying extroverted (anxiety sucks! My colleagues are amazing!) However, I can see myself and a few neurodivergent traits in one colleague that was in the training on those days. Now, I’d like to talk to this girl but I can’t as I’m tremendously shy and I don’t normally approach others first; people approach me usually.

Last night on Saturday, November 18th, I worked the evening shift. I managed to actually have a conversation with this particular colleague and we sat there and just talked — She opened up to me about her own awkwardness and how socially excluded she was all of her life especially in high school. As she opened up about this, I listened and I could easily relate because I’ve been there and I’m still there. I may be socially awkward, quiet, observant, but I love and I embrace the awkwardness — More awkwardness, the better! I’m appreciative for that conversation last night as we’ve always had great interactions but that one last night was impactful. Sometimes it takes in depth conversations to really make a difference. I think also being open during my training dates last week — I think being open about my own delays in my processing and being open about my own learning styles in front of everyone helped open their eyes a bit. I have never been open like that before and you can actually thank one of my neurodivergent friends who is so open about her own neurodivergence and autism that I’m being inspired and encouraged to be open myself too. I do hope that I can eventually talk about my own autistic traits in the near future because it’s needed — I find there’s so much shame and stigma when it comes to certain topics and not just with mental health and addictions; there’s that substantial amount of stigma and shame when it comes to autism in general which disgusts me at the very least.

My friend posted the other day about autistic masking and how it really looks like. I high mask all of the time and, when I was at work yesterday evening, I was high masking. My friend was there which was great and I love working with her because I feel accepted, heard, and I don’t feel ashamed to ask certain questions. At times with other colleagues though, I do feel ashamed to ask what I need to ask; I’ve always felt ashamed because I was bullied all of my life for not being all there, for being socially awkward, and for having a speech impediment. There are still words that I cannot pronounce to this day and I replace those words with words that I can pronounce. I was also bullied for not being able to read and my developed was delayed by a lot. I was walking, reading, and I obtained skills at a very late age as compared to most of my peers.

High masking can look like the following —

  • It’s hiding your emotions and who you are. I’m sure most of you have heard of the word imposter syndrome and this is something I’m still learning. My friend is always posting about this and I feel that, in a way, imposter syndrome can be related to high masking and autism. We all do this in a way but masking our autistic traits, it’s very different and can ultimately lead to instant burn out or even where we shut down altogether.
I personally love memes to explain situations and experiences especially to those that I can relate too. Lisa is correct in this image! “Am I autistic?” Yes. I have constantly questioned my own personal autistic traits throughout my childhood. I have undergone thorough assessments with no follow ups. I’ve had medical professionals suspect Central Auditory Processing Disorder with no further follow ups. I have not really received that much opportunity or a fair chance at particular assessments but adulthood has made me recognize a lot of my autistic traits within myself and that’s how I’ve started to talk about this to others. Even my mother asked me a few years ago — She didn’t necessarily ask but stated, “I think you’re autistic.” Please keep in mind that our very first contact for most of us into this life will be our parents, either our Mom or our Dad, and my mother knows me best. When she stated that I could be autistic, I was admittingly in denial but then I started to question it because other autistics I befriended in real life saw themselves in me; they started to point out my own autistic traits that I never saw before. My mother was a single mother and she played the role of both mother and father as my sister and I grew up. I displayed a lot of complex behaviors as a child and this had to do with my own frustrations and how I navigated life and the inability to process my environments and be able to cope. I was a frustrated, angry, and emotional child as a result of not being able to communicate effectively and cope. This needs to be talked about more and I will keep talking about this because most of us autistics — We mask and we’re not able to communicate what we want to communicate as much as we want to communicate, and then these meltdowns happen and people think and/or assume that we are mentally and physically incapable to be or do anything without further analyzing who we are and the situation(s) at hand. Personally, I write better than I communicate verbally. Autistic anxiety is a thing.
  • It’s internalizing our environments and taking that home with us so we’re unable to function or do anything at the very least. My place has been a mess for a few days and you can see hangers and clothes on the floor, the same stain that has been there for weeks, and a few dishes in my sink. Before work yesterday, I did somewhat organize and clean my place. I’ve managed to do my dishes and my laundry so that’s good. I can do the basics to further take care of myself and my wellbeing. The other aspects that I need to do can be challenging especially when one experiences autistic shutdown. I’m somewhat experiencing this right now and there’s a ton I need to do at the moment— I just cannot muster up that energy as I’m mentally and physically drained.

On most days, I high mask and I’ve mentioned this many times. I’m high masking and faking a bit of confidence to get by but that’s how you have to do it most days; this can be referred to as imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is high masking as an autistic individual. I don’t mean to do this but there’s so much shame and stigma when it comes to autism and being neurodivergent. I recently had a conversation with my friend in real life about incorporating more real neurodiverse conversations in our workplaces. It’s challenging enough to try to do the tasks at work while trying to prevent a meltdown or becoming too overloaded with not even the tasks that we have to do but with navigating conversations. As I mentioned previously, communication is not our strong suit and we’re forcing that conversation and eye contact. When I was working with my friend last night, I had to look away during our conversations and I’m sure she noticed that. I feel that with eye contact, their eyes are drilling into mine and I feel uncomfortable — By the way, I cannot say this word at all- Uncomfortable.

That being said, taking lengthy spaces for ourselves to re-fuel and re-energize can be needed to process life and what we need to do. This can look like setting boundaries, walking away from situations and/or people that do not serve us at all, and saying the words “no” which can be challenging for the average autistic individual. If we don’t have boundaries and we continue to give so much of our time and energy to people — I know this from experience that we will burn out instantly as it’s happen previously and, even, recently.

Please feel free to share this with your loved ones and/or with the public even. Please feel free to share this with someone that you think may need to understand what autism is and how it can impact our lives every day.

I’m trying my best and I can only do so much. I do have to keep reminding myself that it’s that 1%-5% every day that does matter — Even if we can only manage to get out of bed and this doesn’t include brushing our teeth. This morning and it;s only 11:15am, I have not brushed my teeth or had breakfast. I’m overwhelmed with everything that I need to do but I will manage and I will reach out and talk to someone because, sometimes, we need to. As mentioned, we have to be our own advocates in this world as challenging and tedious that can be.

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Growth & Resilience

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