Surviving "isolation fatigue" as a neurodiverse individual



Most of us have been staying home for weeks. There is no certainty about the end of the restrictions. We are getting sick and tired of this situation. The shape of our lives is starting to get warped. Time gets distorted. Our sense of self is changing. We are getting on each other's nerves. It is easy to get down, to start feeling low and unhappy. Yet as the stress is building up, the opportunities to cope that are available to us are limited. Where I live, we are allowed outside but need to wear masks. Many parks, beaches, and trails are closed. Catching a movie or any live performance is out of the question. Getting a comforting hug from someone who is not in our home is impossible. In many places, going outside even for personal exercise is not allowed. If you are a neurodiverse individual, what can you do to deal with the fatigue that is starting to set in? How can you continue to care for your mental health? There aren't easy solutions, but there are strategies that might help.

Focus on things you can control There are many things we cannot control in this situation. Learning and thinking about them can make you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed. Bring your attention to things under your influence. What can you do to feel OK? If food is important to you, explore new recipes in your kitchen. If it's sleeping well, focus on your sleep hygiene. If it's organizing your time, focus on having a good routine. Whatever it is, focus on bringing those important pieces into your life at home. Do not attach value to them, and do not let others do that either. If it is important to you, it deserves your attention. Identify your triggers and avoid them What is hard for each of us in this situation is different. If you become overwhelmed by too much information, avoid it. If you get anxious going into a grocery store, get delivery, or ask a friend to shop for you. If not talking to anyone all day is hard, schedule check ins with friends and family every day of the week.

Find what helps you and build it in Many of us feel guilty for taking time for ourselves. Neurodiverse individuals, who often get questioned, criticized and doubted by those around them, might feel that they do not deserve to take care of themselves. At the same time, as a neurodiverse individual, there are things you absolutely need to do just to be OK that others don't. It will help you and those around you if you take good care of yourself. Meditation, movement, quiet time, helpful sensory inputs, being away from overwhelming sensory inputs, hobbies/special interests, journaling, special projects, and stimming are all valid ways to spend your time.

Be open and direct with others about your needs Other people can make you feel worse without realizing it. Tell them what you need. For example, I was walking with a friend the other day (both of us were wearing masks and walked 6 feet away from each other). She was talking about her frustrations with how this crisis is handled on the state level and her belief that fear of death is unjustified. It was really overwhelming for me because I was having a bad week already and my coping strategy is to focus on day-to-day tasks. I told my friend that this conversation was too much for me. I did not have the mental energy for a friendly debate about big questions. My point is, be polite yet direct and open about your needs. We can't expect other people to guess our challenges. We can expect them to respect our needs once expressed. And, of course, we need to show the same courtesy to others. Be kind to yourself This is easy to say but hard to do. Under stress, most of us do not shine. We need to adjust expectations. If you are having a self-critical thought, ask yourself it is helpful. If not, let it go. There is a quote by Mary Anne Radmacher that I like, "Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow." Think of what this could mean for you. You do your best every day. Every day is another chance. Sleep well and give it another shot tomorrow.

Be forgiving of others We also need to be willing to forgive others. Extending kindness, understanding, and flexibility to others in this challenging situation will help in keeping things less stressful for you. No one needs extra conflict these days. Know what motivates you It is not easy to find motivation and focus on goals in isolation. Do you prefer to work on things that are easily attainable, or are you the kind of person who likes to tackle a major challenge? Choose your goals based on your style. If you can keep yourself honest, that's great. If you need someone to help you, ask a friend or a family member for friendly "check-ins" or feedback. The "right way" is whatever works for you. For example, one of my goals while staying home is to work out every day. My strategy is to work out with my daughter. She treasures this time together, and so do I. Even when I am busy or tired, this gives me enough motivation.

Have a plan for a bad day All of us will have them. Think about the supports you need. Do you have a way to reach your therapist for an extra session on short notice? Is there a friend you can call who knows how to talk you through it? Do you need someone else to watch the kids? Do you have a clear plan in case you are not feeling safe? Have a plan and discuss it with others.


Telehealth

Many providers switched to providing services online. There are multiple secure online platforms available so that you can be sure your confidential information is safe. If you had therapy or other services before the restrictions began, make sure to explore all avenues for continuing.