Taking care of yourself in tough times — a guide for the neurodiverse

You might not need this post, but I do. It started as a note to myself about what works. Some of it might also work for you. And I’m sure I missed some things. Feel free to add in the comments.

If you’re like me, you’re different from a lot of the people around you:

  • You might have more trouble letting go of obsessive negative thoughts
  • You might get easily triggered into traumatic states
  • You might be prone to spirals of anxiety or depression that are really hard to stop
  • You might feel that you’re the one responsible for fixing the world
  • You might absorb feelings and energy from the people around you, even if it makes you sick

One great thing is that you know this about yourself. Also there are a lot of simple steps you can take to be strong and healthy. Here’s my list:

Disconnect from stressful inputs

Turn. It. Off. Whether your stressful input of choice is TV news, Internet news, Twitter, you can turn it off.

Turn off notifications. Turn off integrations (like Facebook chat linking to your phone’s texting). Do not let disturbing information catch you off guard. You can look at it when you’re well and ready and feeling powerful. You can leave on the one or two channels that support you — usually this includes emails, text, maybe phone — but you might want to take some breaks even from that, like quiet mornings when you can focus and feel productive.

You are not going to miss anything crucial if you kick the public Internet and TV news out of your life for a few days, weeks, even months.

Connect to loving inputs

Feeling loved is immensely good for the body, mind and soul. This can be people, of course, or pets or familiar books, movies, games. Being in nature or anywhere you experience a sense of awe is very healing.

Do this in a way that matches your personality. Just because a bunch of friends are getting together doesn’t mean you have to join them if that stresses you out. And if you need community, there are many great get-togethers, conference calls, email lists, forums, etc. to access now.

There are also many organizations that are actively pursuing very positive agendas. My favorite emails this week came from The Greater Good Science Center, The Charter for Compassion, and Reid About Sex (because sex-positivity and good communication works in more places than just your intimate relationships).

Ask for help

I suck at this. Recently I discovered a trick that helps me get the help I need when I need it. I call someone I really trust and let them know that I need help and I’m having trouble asking for it and ask if they’ll support me through that process.

Here on the page that might look a bit foolish. But in real life it works amazingly well. “I know I need this but I’m feeling too scared (or too caught up in my tough-girl thing), will you stay with me (on the phone, online, in person) while I ask for the help I need?”

Don’t be ashamed of what you need

A key part of this is letting yourself feel what you feel. If you are feeling some shame, talk to someone or read a book. Brene Brown’s books are great for combating shame.

Replace negative thinking

If you’re stuck in an obsessive negative loop, see if you can replace it with something positive. It’s much harder to tell yourself not to think about something than it is to overwrite that subject in your brain.

As in: Think about a white elephant. Okay now don’t think about a white elephant.
Compared to: Think about a white elephant. Okay, now think about a brown horse.

In the first example, your brain has to keep coming up with “white elephant” to check and see if you’re not thinking about it — and then of course you are so there’s this layer of failure. In the second, you have something positive to go to.

Taking care of yourself is a radical act.

It’s not well-taught in our culture. We might have some tough times ahead. Getting strong and being well — and staying that way — is what wins in the long run. Being well doesn’t mean you don’t have a mental illness or that you don’t struggle, it means you keep getting better at self care. The better you can take care of yourself, the more available you are to other people.

Read good books & play good games

Of course I’m going to say this, you know how I feel about books and games. Books and games show us what’s possible. They show us how to get through tough situations.

Check out this great post over at GayYA: “How to Build a Safe Space for LGBTQIA+ Teens via Books.”

Also there are tech companies that are quietly working to making gaming and tech spaces safe and supportive for everyone. Check out: “Can a Video Game Company Tame Toxic Behavior?” for more info about how good people, tech and games could change the world.