Volunteering, Work, and Self-Care

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything!

To start off, here is a brief autism disclosure story because disclosing that I’m Autistic is essential for my wellbeing when I do any sort of work outside of my house:

A few years ago I was volunteering at a large event and I told a fellow volunteer that I was Autistic. It was by far the best disclosure I’d ever had to someone who wasn’t Autistic or otherwise neurodivergent themself.

I was reading Loud Hands: Autistic people, speaking and a fellow volunteer asked me if Autistic people have their own language or something.

I shook my head “no” and told them, “Actually, I’m Autistic myself.”

They seemed surprised, saying “Oh wow!” and then asked how I’d found out and how old I’d been.

I explained about being told by my boss that I should look into being Autistic and about finding the writings of Autistic adults that were like seeing into my own brain for the first time in my life. I talked about how learning about autism made everything in my life make sense.

And this co-volunteer listened. They said it must’ve been intense to find out something that huge as an adult.

Then they treated me just as well after my disclosure than they had before my disclosure. They just accepted that I was who I said I was and worked alongside me without any issues for the next day or so.

I’ve had more volunteer opportunities since then, but that was still the most positive response I’ve received to an autism disclosure from a non-autistic co-volunteer.

My current volunteer job is sorting, pricing, labeling, and cleaning up donated items for a local charity thrift shop. It’s perfect for me! I have a deep interest in the history of garbage in modern society, I care about diverting items from the waste stream, and I absolutely adore the treasure hunt feeling of being around random cast-off items from a variety of people/families.

This is the first long-term volunteer job that I’ve managed to keep doing without having a severe burnout about 3-4 months into it. I think that part of my success has been in keeping my volunteer load reasonable and doable. One day a week, that’s all.

_____________

But now I’ve added a few additional things to my schedule, which has me feeling a little bit nervous. Everything I’m adding to my life is something that is invigorating and exciting — they’re all things that I love to do!

But even good and positive and exciting situations can lead to burnouts and meltdowns so…

I’ve decided to increase my self-care measures because I will likely end up burnt out if I’m not proactive about my wellbeing.

Here are the things I’m going to try and I’ll update in a month or two about what actually helped, what didn’t, and what happened with all these exciting things in general!

This is really a grand experiment because I’ve never been able to keep any sort of “regular” job for very long, but everything new in my life is something I love and these things all give me energy. So maybe it’ll be different. Maybe this is doable!

Self-care plans:

  • Set reminders throughout the day asking whether I’ve recently done a variety of self-care measures: eating, drinking water, resting, isolating socially, etc. if I’m tired, hungry, thirsty, overwhelmed, etc.

The above is important because I struggle with interoception (how my body feels physically) as well as with knowing how I feel emotionally (known as alexithymia). So regular check-ins seem like they might be helpful.

  • Refer to a list (yet to be written) of things/places that are relaxing and soothing to me
  • Plan to use AAC and not speak verbally for a set amount of time each week. I’m currently thinking that one day a week is reasonable — just something planned so that my children can cope with me not speaking and will know that it’s a temporary state (they tend to struggle when I can’t speak) instead of waiting until I’m burnt out and completely unable to communicate with spoken words.
  • Figure out my own words for my feelings. Other people’s emotion words don’t really work well for me (thanks, alexithymia) so I’m going to figure out my own! Stay tuned and I will give an update about this as well 🙂
  • Plan at least one or two hours a day to just lie down and rest with no expectations of myself.

It’s so good to be back here! I hope to never ever take such a long (and unplanned) break from posting here again and part of being able to continue writing here is implementing the ideas above.

Wish me luck!

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