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Having trouble pacing myself, first I feel great and then I get a meltdown

AuroraBorealis

Well-Known Member
I spent yesterday and today completely focused on preparing a statistics presentation. I was really productive, and I felt great during it. Yesterday a bit shaky maybe, a bit too driven, a bit nervous and jumpy, but good in general. Today I felt great, energetic, my brain was on top, I worked on this thing from 11:00 till 21:00, almost straight. I had lunch, but apart from that, I pulled through, feeling awesome. Even talked to a friend for an hour, everything was great. But then, in the evening,one little thing happened - my partner corrected something on my presentation and I will have to make a graph again - and I crashed. Got super irritable, all of a sudden, it really tilted. Thank god, by now I recognized what was happening and was able to tell him thank you for his help, but I'm gonna go to the other room now because I'm about to have a meltdown. And then I went into the other room, dimmed the light, grabbed my plushie and crashed. Spent several minutes completely curled up, pressing my eyes shut and the plushie to myself. After that, my mood was fairly calm again, but I felt really exhausted all of a sudden, like all the energy had just left me within 5 minutes.

This happens to me, not often, but on a fairly regular basis. I am in a good mood, have a lot of (social) energy, get a lot of intellectual stuff done, hyperfocus easily (I'm fairly sure that I spent a few hours hyperfocusing today and yesterday because suddenly I noticed, god, I'm thirsty, oh, and really cold so I must be hungry too). But then the next day, I crash, either feeling just really tired and worn out and hypersensitive to sensory stimuli, or even having a real meltdown.
I find it very hard to recognize the signs of overstimulation early. And I have trouble interrupting this hyperfocus or telling myself to go easy and have a break while I still feel good. Because I want to get the most of this energy as I can, and also it just feels great. But if I pull through, although I feel great, I usually end up heavily overstimulating myself without noticing and not resting enough, and paying for that with a sudden crash. It's a bit like my asthma: I don't notice that it's getting hard while biking up the mountain, I feel great and I pull through. But once I'm up the mountain, I get a full-blown asthma attack, which could have been prevented if I took a break earlier.

While feeling great, I don't want to pace myself. But I also don't want to have these ups and downs of energy and having meltdowns. It's exhausting and annoying.

Do you have advice?
 

marc_101

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
Sounds soooo familiar. It happens to me often. I don't have much in terms of suggestions, sadly. Being aware of it is a great step, though. Especially knowing that it's a fragile state. If there is something I want to find a solution for, it's managing my focus and energy. I go from total immersion to total lethargy. It all falls under executive function.

Please let me know if you discover good strategies.
 
I struggle with this, as well. The fact that you figured out what was happening, and gave yourself space to have a meltdown, is a major act of self-care.

A bit like you've described, I'll discover that I'm harboring a thought that if I stop, I won't get started again. Maybe because I can spend so much time in an exhausted state, when I do "activate" I cling to it for as long as possible, even if that creates a vicious feedback loop. Basically, I hear: "You don't know when you're going to lose your energy. It could happen at any moment, so go now and go hard while you have it!"

Other times, I'll have such a strong vision of the outcome of my endeavor, that it almost hurts to not see it realized and I'll slip into flow states very quickly, and so I go hard to reach that satisfaction. That is super tough. I still don't know quite how to navigate this, except to accept that is how I function.

I've also learned that any work involving computers seems to shut down my awareness of physical needs much more quickly than activities away from a computer, inducing "flow" states more often. My theory is it relates to how your body takes in cues for the passage of time in the environment, and the light emitted by screens interferes with that.

As a result, ignoring bodily needs for too long leads to a crash, and purposefully structuring my activities where I'll be forced to pay attention to what my body is feeling can help. Things like timers to take breaks, five-minute mediations where I do some deep breathing, going outside for a few minutes to take a walk, etc. can help prevent me from getting too out of touch.

Maybe it comes down to trust. I don't know why, but if I'm overstimulated and have to lay down, I have this fear that I'll be stuck in that state forever and I should have to rest like that. It is totally irrational, but I almost have to fight that belief, and trust that my body knows what it is doing and knows how to regulate, if I'd only let it.

I wonder if, in your case, you're also experiencing the pressure of giving a presentation - that obligation to others. That in itself might create nervous energy to get it figured out and finished as quickly as possible.
 

Rodafina

Hopefully Human
Staff member
V.I.P Member
Very relatable, @AuroraBorealis.

I think one strategy involves a whole lot of self reflection. I don't want to be too cynical here, but we have to learn to mistrust the high. Sure, feeling so motivated and focused and positive is a great feeling, but our brain will teach us that it is not sustainable for very long. There will be a cost.

Most things remind me of drug use (I'm a recovering addict), and this sounds very familiar to the experience of getting high. The high and happy moments are so great, but there is an inevitable (and sometimes dangerous) comedown that is attached to these moments. Any hyper-focus, hyper-happiness, or just hyper energy will exhaust our brain and will result in an unpleasant crash or meltdown without a more moderate approach. I think once we know we have the propensity to get in these hyper-focused phases we can take some disciplined protective measures:

- Setting timers for work time

- Taking breaks to walk or stretch

- Eating at regular intervals

- Drinking lots of water! This is always good for us, but also, it forces bathroom breaks.

- Avoiding procrastination so there is plenty of time to work at a slow pace

- Taking notes for extra ideas - not everything has to happen right in this moment. But, if you are having really great ideas, maybe writing them down to save for the future could be helpful. When I am inspired, but out of time and energy, I make a list of what to do in the near future.



By the way, well done managing your meltdown. It sounds really healthy that you explained what was happening to your partner and then took the space you needed to process your feelings.
 

kriss72

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
That is very relatable @AuroraBorealis and an excellent description of how it is and as the others have said, you handled the meltdown in a really good way :)

I can get into this state with my work, but it always end with a crash, so I'm trying to very strongly enforce not going overtime, which for me currently means a 4h workday.
 

AuroraBorealis

Well-Known Member
Thank you all for your kind, thoughtful answers, and also for saying that I handled my meltdown well. I didn't think of that at the time, but you're right, I suppose that it went as smoothly as it possibly could, and definitely smoother than most times in the past.
Please let me know if you discover good strategies.
Thank you, I will. You too, please.
when I do "activate" I cling to it for as long as possible, even if that creates a vicious feedback loop. Basically, I hear: "You don't know when you're going to lose your energy. It could happen at any moment, so go now and go hard while you have it!"
Yes, yes, yes! Exactly this! I know that often I don't have that much social energy, so while I can, I answer to as many people as possible and try to have social contact with many people so I have sort of a positive balance stored up which I can use up when I don't have the energy to talk and meet people. Or, that I struggle a lot with cleaning, so when I have that energy, I enthusiastically spend hours cleaning to make up for the days I missed. But, like a vicious cycle, this probably uses more energy than it should and I burn out quicker.
I've also learned that any work involving computers seems to shut down my awareness of physical needs much more quickly than activities away from a computer, inducing "flow" states more often. My theory is it relates to how your body takes in cues for the passage of time in the environment, and the light emitted by screens interferes with that.
That's an interesting point I haven't thought about until now, but one that definitely resonates with me, too. I get into that hyperfocused, flowy state after which I feel shaky and drained much more when it involves a computer.
I wonder if, in your case, you're also experiencing the pressure of giving a presentation - that obligation to others. That in itself might create nervous energy to get it figured out and finished as quickly as possible.
That's probably true in this case. I'm always very nervous before giving presentations or any kind of public speaking.
but we have to learn to mistrust the high. Sure, feeling so motivated and focused and positive is a great feeling, but our brain will teach us that it is not sustainable for very long. There will be a cost.
You're right, although that's SO hard. These highs feel amazing, and it often takes me a while to notice that I'm actually in one. There's nothing wrong in working focusedly on something for 3 hours, after all, but I gradually slip into the state where it gets too much, too focused, too intense. It usually takes a while for me to snap out of it enough to notice, oh, maybe this is too much, you're having actually too much energy and you feel all tingly and excited (more than normal) it's actually almost uncomfortable. It can happen through work and screen time, but also through reading up on something that I find interesting, and sometimes I also just wake up like this and spend hours cleaning, also because I know that if I'm not in that state, I struggle way more with motivation and organization, so I want to get done as much as I can.
And then, at some point in the afternoon, I notice a sudden drop in motivation and energy, only to find myself drained a few hours later, barely able to hold a friendly conversation with my partner.
I find it hard to find the balance between embracing, enjoying and taking advantage of these highs and this hyperfocus, and trying to keep it under control enough so I don't crash completely afterwards.
Any hyper-focus, hyper-happiness, or just hyper energy will exhaust our brain and will result in an unpleasant crash or meltdown without a more moderate approach. I think once we know we have the propensity to get in these hyper-focused phases we can take some disciplined protective measures:

- Setting timers for work time

- Taking breaks to walk or stretch

- Eating at regular intervals

- Drinking lots of water! This is always good for us, but also, it forces bathroom breaks.

- Avoiding procrastination so there is plenty of time to work at a slow pace

- Taking notes for extra ideas
These are good points. I guess it's a bit hard because, at other times, I struggle to even get into my work enough, and then frequent breaks would only throw me off track and prevent me even more to get focused. I also have "normal" states in between, but I often either can't focus at all, or I get into the completely absorbed state. Also with the point about procrastination - it's a fine line for me, I suspect some ADHD component in there as well, so without a certain urgency and deadline, I have difficulties getting myself to work at all. I guess a balance is needed.
Thank you for your pointers, I appreciate them. I struggle with setting up a plan for myself, I always look for some sort of pre-made schedule (also with workout, exercising, studying). But I know there's no ready-made plan for my own, individual energy balance and I will have to figure it out myself.
 
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marc_101

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
I was thinking about this last night. It's one of my main problems. Maybe there are some things that I have done:

1. I don't beat myself up as hard as I used to. I always knew that I was not "normal," but I never wanted to make an excuse for it. So I kept pushing myself and berating myself for being lazy, unfocused, and unorganized. I don't do that as much, but I still have the personality that doesn't want to make excuses. Compared to most humans, I'm very hard-working, but my comparison has always been mentors and people that are productive and specially consistent. I keep working on it, but understanding where it comes from has helped. So one strategy is acceptance. Not giving up. Acceptance, with a sprinkle of hope. Accepting that that's how my brain works for good and bad and hoping that, within reason, I can find ways of having more control.

So many people on the spectrum are diagnosed with ADHD, myself included, but I think that another label is redundant. ADHD traits are part of the spectrum. I think the stats that keeps being repeated is that 70% of people on the spectrum have a diagnosis of ADHD. Like most stats like that, it's probably off, but executive problems are part of the spectrum so acceptance seems like a good first step.

2. Sometimes, but not always, I follow a recommendation I read somewhere. I think it was from a writer. I stop working on something in the middle of a task, when I don't want to stop. Example: I'm writing a book (monster project), and I'm in the middle of a section that I find exciting. I try to stop there. Just walk away. That way I'll be motivated to continue the next day. Can I do it often? Nope.

3. Something that works is keeping track of the hours I'm "productive." I have noticed that a good day is a day in which I worked productively (including stopping the timer for breaks) for about 3 hours. That's all. More than 5 hours puts me in obsession/exhaustion territory. I think some call it the pomodoro technique. For whatever reason, it works. And a twist is that after 3 hours I feel that it's ok to stop even if I don't want to.

Now, how to continue using 3) consistently... well, that's part of the problem [insert shrug emoji] :)
 
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AuroraBorealis

Well-Known Member
- Drinking lots of water! This is always good for us, but also, it forces bathroom breaks.
This particular one is actually really good. I have noticed in the past that drinking lots of water during my study sessions both helps my brain stay clearer, as well as makes me calmer and less prone to complete exhaustion afterwards. Maybe it's because of the more frequent bathroom breaks, I don't know. But I have been neglecting this and will try to keep this up again.
 

AuroraBorealis

Well-Known Member
So I kept pushing myself and berating myself for being lazy, unfocused, and unorganized.
Yes, I guess that's deeply engrained in my mindset, too. To me, my academic intelligence makes up a lot of my self-worth (I know that's wrong, but it's the way I feel). It's hard to cut myself some slack, but your mindset there sounds helpful and healthy.

I tried to apply some of the advice today already. I spent a quiet morning just reading, after obviously overworking myself yesterday. I've been working focusedly for about 3 hours, drinking lots of water and tried to get a short mental break and get up each time I finished a sub-task (like designing a plot or writing a paragraph) and about an hour ago I noticed that I've been getting cold, shaky and nervous so I decided it was time for a lunch break. I think I started getting into hyperfocus about once or twice and that was okay, but I forced myself to take a short break after finishing the task at hand, which helped to clear my head.
I don't know how it will be long-term, but so far, I've been productive and don't feel too hyperfocused or too tired. A bit shaky, I might have let myself get too hungry.
 

marc_101

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
Yes, I guess that's deeply engrained in my mindset, too. To me, my academic intelligence makes up a lot of my self-worth (I know that's wrong, but it's the way I feel). It's hard to cut myself some slack, but your mindset there sounds helpful and healthy.
Something to work on. It's for sure a recipe for unhappiness.
 
@AuroraBorealis

A trick that has been helpful for cleaning is to plan timed cleaning sessions. That kind of work doesn’t benefit much from spikes in activity, but rather consistent, low-level maintenance.

So, a system I came up with is to plan some manageable time interval for cleaning/picking up, say 20 minutes minimum and an hour maximum, and to only clean for that long, more often, instead of going on a spree and then neglecting. It feels more low-commitment to keep the time short if needed (it might be as simple as wiping down the sink and picking up the living room), and since it is planned ahead of time or as part of a daily thing, I can maintain some momentum even during low energy periods.

Then, to gamify and reduce decision-overhead, I don’t know what I’m going to clean until I’m about to start. I use a dice roller with various tasks preprogrammed and select randomly (can always reroll, too). I will also have a favorite audiobook or podcast I’m only allowed to listen to if I’m cleaning for some added motivation to make it a habit.

This has kept me from overdoing the cleaning and crashing, where I couldn’t look at a broom again for weeks. Fallen off once in a while, of course, but that is where @marc_101 has nice advice… accept, perhaps troubleshoot a bit, modify, and try again.

Maybe that kind of thing could work for you, or at least get some ideas flowing for how to set up your own systems. I think, being intentional with the areas that easily get unwieldy is the biggest takeaway that I’ve learned.
 

The Pandector

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
This is amazing, finding how so many are having this issue.

I recently finished third draft on a book I’ve been writing for two years now. The main character (autistic) is highly creative but constantly burns himself out with the process. I wrestled throughout the project with how to make this make sense to the reader, when it’s never made sense to me. Now I read that many of us have this cyclic pattern.

In my rewrites, I am able to pace myself. But during the initial year and a half, I watched myself going through this creative soar-and-crash and metering my output was very difficult. My character wound up just like me, screaming through the creative periods because of the very rational fear that the creative process would soon crumble.

Ultimately, I, like my character, had to learn to trust that, sooner or later, the creative juices would flow again. But, when you are nearing the end of a creative period and watch as it fades, it is very much like being at the far end of life and seeing so many of your dreams go unrealized. Your project is yet incomplete and your ability to carry on is vanishing; your legacy is unfulfilled. You can remind yourself that, so far, your abilities have always returned, but your heart sees your hopes and dreams dying.

Or, maybe I’m just an old geez who knows he shouldn’t be starting writing projects or buying green bananas.
 

MNAus

Well-Known Member
I have similar challenges, but if I self-reflect (which of course means highly subjective) I feel it's more than just a case of pacing. There's something driving that.

I think the point on measuring self-worth on academic intelligence is very insightful. I would guess for quite a lot of "HFA" this occurs. When you have a disability, it makes sense that other capabilities try to pick up the slack. So for me it's not just measuring self worth, it's about it being part of my identity, because I rely on that intelligence so much to compensate. It's like my faithful friend. So you get used to using it and like they say, when all you have is a hammer....

I also suspect some of the typical ASD traits are combining to affect they way I see challenges. A combination of black/white thinking, finding peace in systems and order. The net result is a particular challenge can be very appealing until it's not. And then it's not. It's like I imagine how I might tackle a task, and how it would be done and that's very appealing. I like to think of what might be, how one might tackle things. And often it will translate into preparing for a task. And sometimes, just sometimes, that "creating order" phase stretches into the task itself. And that feeling of the pieces falling into place like Tetris blocks can actually see my work rate explode. I've had many comments on my ability to produce things at massive volume and high quality. In those situations I'll pull shifts that last from dawn to dusk.

But - of course there's a but - at any point during that task that flow can be broken. It's hard to explain why. I would say because I don't like details, but that isn't quite right. When I'm in that flow I can work on extremely detailed pieces no problem. So in the OPs case, when your partner pointed out the change that needed making to the chart. That would have shattered everything for me too. Not because they were wrong, but because, somehow that perfection I had in my brain got broken. I'm just pouring thoughts onto the page as they occur to me here, but I think in my head the output feels perfect. Not perfect as in "clever me" but as in perfect like a beautifully balanced machine. And having to dig back in? Sometimes that feels like "Yes!!!!! we can add a whole new piece of beautiful machine here", but more often it feels like "Let's use some sticky tape and elastic bands".

And to continue that analogy, sometimes I don't get started because the machine is already made in my head, so creating it is not an act of creation, it's a chore. Other times it appears I only get halfway through a task, but it's the equivalent of having mastered the guts of the task, and now needing to paint it and make the case.

So, long story short. For me, personally, I think I enjoy the challenge of bringing order, which can become all absorbing. But once that is done, or broken, I RAPIDLY lose all interest.
 

AuroraBorealis

Well-Known Member
Update: There really seems to be a fairly consistent pattern there. I experienced a toned-down version of this energy-meltdown cycle a few days ago when I was at home. From waking up until early evening, I felt really good, woke up in a good mood, had lots of energy. I didn't even do all that much and tried to pace myself, and I just spent my day normally, going shopping, spending time with family. I guess the slightly unusual thing was that I gave in to reading up on my special interest (I recently started to suspect that, in fact, space might be a special interest for me). But to my feeling, it wasn't over-the top. In the evening, however, I noticed that I was worn-out. It didn't come down to a real meltdown, but suddenly I couldn't bear the simultaneous sounds of my family talking and the TV being on anymore (something I usually have no problem with). I secretly put in my earplugs and that improved things a bit, and I went to my room soon to be alone.

In this case, I feel like I couldn't have done much differently. I feel like when this energy-surge comes, I feel a special urge to go after my special interests and hyperfixations, and get really excited about them. And I don't want to suppress that, since it's part of my personality. I guess it comes down to realizing that I'm being overexcited right now and that at some point probably later in the day, I'm inevitably going to get overstimulated. If possible, if I notice this feeling in the morning, I could deliberately plan for a quieter evening. To this amount, I guess it's just part of the neurodivergent experience. I just need to figure out how much overexcitement leads to some hypersensitivity, which can be remedied with some quiet time, and how much leads to a full-blown meltdown (something I'd like to avoid).

I feel fairly proud right now because I've been working myself up to a slightly overactive cleaning spree today, and although I wasn't physically hungry, forced myself to sit down for some lunch and browsing time instead of starting to clean a new room straight away. Let's hope it calms my brain and body a bit.
 

AuroraBorealis

Well-Known Member
I have similar challenges, but if I self-reflect (which of course means highly subjective) I feel it's more than just a case of pacing. There's something driving that.

I think the point on measuring self-worth on academic intelligence is very insightful. I would guess for quite a lot of "HFA" this occurs. When you have a disability, it makes sense that other capabilities try to pick up the slack. So for me it's not just measuring self worth, it's about it being part of my identity, because I rely on that intelligence so much to compensate. It's like my faithful friend. So you get used to using it and like they say, when all you have is a hammer....

I also suspect some of the typical ASD traits are combining to affect they way I see challenges. A combination of black/white thinking, finding peace in systems and order. The net result is a particular challenge can be very appealing until it's not. And then it's not. It's like I imagine how I might tackle a task, and how it would be done and that's very appealing. I like to think of what might be, how one might tackle things. And often it will translate into preparing for a task. And sometimes, just sometimes, that "creating order" phase stretches into the task itself. And that feeling of the pieces falling into place like Tetris blocks can actually see my work rate explode. I've had many comments on my ability to produce things at massive volume and high quality. In those situations I'll pull shifts that last from dawn to dusk.

But - of course there's a but - at any point during that task that flow can be broken. It's hard to explain why. I would say because I don't like details, but that isn't quite right. When I'm in that flow I can work on extremely detailed pieces no problem. So in the OPs case, when your partner pointed out the change that needed making to the chart. That would have shattered everything for me too. Not because they were wrong, but because, somehow that perfection I had in my brain got broken. I'm just pouring thoughts onto the page as they occur to me here, but I think in my head the output feels perfect. Not perfect as in "clever me" but as in perfect like a beautifully balanced machine. And having to dig back in? Sometimes that feels like "Yes!!!!! we can add a whole new piece of beautiful machine here", but more often it feels like "Let's use some sticky tape and elastic bands".

And to continue that analogy, sometimes I don't get started because the machine is already made in my head, so creating it is not an act of creation, it's a chore. Other times it appears I only get halfway through a task, but it's the equivalent of having mastered the guts of the task, and now needing to paint it and make the case.

So, long story short. For me, personally, I think I enjoy the challenge of bringing order, which can become all absorbing. But once that is done, or broken, I RAPIDLY lose all interest.
I find your answer very interesting and - on a side note - beautifully written. I resonate with a lot of things. Especially with the one on academic intelligence. I know it's not really healthy, but my brain has always been something I can rely on and which gets me through challenging situations, so it's become a defining part of my self-image. School, studying and academics were something I had control over and where my brain wouldn't let me down. No matter whether my home life went up in smoke, put an exam paper in front of me and maybe after a bit of time to adjust, my brain would go into hyperfixation mode, I'd forget everything around myself and look up an hour later, barely even knowing how the answers/the essay had gotten there in the first place. Don't get me wrong, I'm no genius and had to study hard too, but I could usually rely on my brain, as long as I had a pen and paper and time to think (oral exams were a whole different story).
However, this also means that my world crumbled down when my brain let me down sometimes because I had overworked myself.
 

The Pandector

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
I find your answer very interesting and - on a side note - beautifully written. I resonate with a lot of things. Especially with the one on academic intelligence. I know it's not really healthy, but my brain has always been something I can rely on and which gets me through challenging situations, so it's become a defining part of my self-image. School, studying and academics were something I had control over and where my brain wouldn't let me down. No matter whether my home life went up in smoke, put an exam paper in front of me and maybe after a bit of time to adjust, my brain would go into hyperfixation mode, I'd forget everything around myself and look up an hour later, barely even knowing how the answers/the essay had gotten there in the first place. Don't get me wrong, I'm no genius and had to study hard too, but I could usually rely on my brain, as long as I had a pen and paper and time to think (oral exams were a whole different story).
However, this also means that my world crumbled down when my brain let me down sometimes because I had overworked myself.
Interesting how academics provides a great medium for autistic intensity. I do well on IQ tests, but have learning difficulties that keep me from the classroom. I can feel you guys’ narratives like a day of my life, except for that.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know I have learning problems because I excelled at learning on my own. (I concluded the obvious; my learning is fine but most teachers really suck.) So learning was always a big part of everything I undertook.

But I was painfully aware that the special aptitudes I marketed to my employers weren’t always in stock, and I was always ashamed of that. In my lows, I was quietly frantic for the cloud to lift, desperate because my livelihood was at stake. Fortunately, my foundational skill (troubleshooting large scale computer systems in hot situations) never failed me, so I got away with some guilty bluffing. Sometimes for weeks on end.

But as with disappearing into an examination, I thrived on system failures where even in the most hazardous times, time and wild eyed users fade away. Now I understand that this dissociation played a major role in my ability to think under pressure. In real time live fire operations, $millions at stake with only minutes to perform, most competent technicians’ brains freeze up like electronic engineers. (Sorry, guys). It didn’t bother me.

But ultimately, it was as you say. We overtax our systems, especially in creative endeavors, and then pay the price. Wish I had known this sooner.
 

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