Overload Nation: Premier Fatigue.

Read time: 20-22 minutes. Potential triggers: contains details of depression, panic attacks, breakdowns, and suicide ideation.

So, I kicked off the start of this year’s “Leo Season” on the 23rd of July with a 10-day Staycation. 🦁 I didn’t mean to make so many rugby puns in the first 3 lines of this post, but let’s get stuck in! 🏉

“Overload Nation” is a term used by one of my sober neurodivergent friends, which I loved as soon as I heard her use it! Premier Fatigue is a pun on how advanced my levels of fatigue were before I booked this time off. The “Leo Season” timing thing was a total coincidence, but definitely a happy accident!

I deleted all social media apps from my iPhone, iPad and laptop. I added “AWAY ON STAYCATION” to the bios of my blog and tattoo accounts and added posts to Facebook and Instagram detailing when I’d be back. I celebrated the first day with a decent osteopathy and acupuncture session, followed by a long CBD bath.

I’m so grateful to be in a stable(ish) place financially that afforded me this time at home, especially after this past year. I’ve been craving a holiday/writing retreat for a while, but knew I couldn’t afford to take time off AND pay for a different location to do it in… Then I realised, I’m a total homebody and I’ve spent years creating a life in sobriety that I don’t need to escape from! I never needed to escape, I just needed to decompress and take some time to fall back in love with my life again!

I had a few grandiose plans in mind (haircut, manicure/pedicure, massage) but realised I was far too exhausted on so many levels to deal with that amount of talking/human interaction. I’ve made peace with the fact that a big part of my “unmasked” Autism is being non-verbal. I also struggle with verbal communication online; I hate trying to keep up with different conversations at once (multiple group chats are a hellish pit of social urgency, confusion and overwhelm!). I’ve always loved my own company and it’s why I’ve enjoyed living on my own for the best part of a decade. I’ve spent years having no idea how to NOT surround myself with people that didn’t overwhelm me. Instead of setting boundaries with people, I’d spend days on end hiding in my own flat not speaking to anyone until I felt fully recharged again. I always saved my verbal and social energy for my clients (and for partying obviously – how else was I going to self-medicate and be socially acceptable at the same time?!) and now I’ve learnt how to set and hold healthy boundaries, I’ve realised that they mostly involve me spending A LOT OF time doing my own thing. Why did I ever prioritise doing “society’s thing” instead of mine? Survival, of course.

A big reason why I love being with my fiancé Chris is that we can enjoy each other’s company whilst doing our own thing (he’s currently playing Last of Us as I write this). “Alone time together” is a big part of neurodivergent relationships and can help us accomplish more (or just relax easier) whilst still retaining both our independence and privacy.

“The term Autism (from the Greek autos, meaning “self”) was coined in 1911 by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, who used it to describe withdrawal into one’s inner world.”

Autistic brains produce 42% more information at rest, which could account for why they are more easily overloaded and for why people with Autism experience a more pronounced mental inner life. We conclude that the information gain in the brain’s resting state provides quantitative evidence for perhaps the more typical characteristic in Autism: withdrawal into one’s inner world. “

Source: Information Gain in the Brain’s Resting State: A New Perspective on Autism
10 days of domestic bliss awaited me: cleaning, sleeping, self-care, reading, writing, and lots of Sid cuddling.

I finally got to make use of my gym membership again. I attended my first in-person Yoga class post-pandemic and attended my first ever Pilates session (which is a well-known treatment for building strength in chronically ill people). I’ll be honest, the last time I went to my gym was November 2021… I’ve always found that depression and chronic illness in the winter months don’t make for fun gym trips! It felt great to get back into proper training nutrition too, which I missed after losing touch with my deadlifting days through the lockdowns. I spent 5 days cleaning 1 room of the house each time; it made every morning and evening feel like the start and finish of a home makeover show!

After being unexpectedly and unfairly evicted from the building Ebony Squid Studio resided in (with just a few weeks’ notice), Chris and I had to figure out how to move our current studio in Penarth somewhere that would be suitable for us and our clients in the long term.

We raised £2,165 from 72 donors in just 6 weeks from our GoFundMe: Help La & Chris Rebuild. We received hundreds of pounds in tips and gifts from clients (and honestly can’t thank you all enough). We didn’t just manage to find somewhere else to move after just 2 weeks of searching, we found the perfect place for the studio that we’d only dreamt of before. I was so in awe of my partner Chris in his unwavering positivity and ability to keep sight of the most important tasks as they needed to be done, all whilst navigating hospital visits and brain scans for mystery symptoms related to the horrendous and unnecessary stress in the last year. I never thought I could love and feel loved the way I do in this relationship, and it’s obvious to me now that I never truly understood the term “power couple” before! 🏆

28 days later, we managed to rebuild Ebony Squid Studio and create the studio of our dreams. After so much happening so quickly, it was difficult to know which part to process first. There was so much loss, heartbreak, feelings of failure, stress… But also, so much happiness, joy, relief and the ultimate success: peace. Weekly sessions with my therapist of 3.5 years really helped, along with lots of snacks and naps!

We moved house end of February/early March, amidst the eviction notice and working those last few weeks at the old premises. I wrote more about this in a blog post I published yesterday: Release and Rise. Chris and I unpacked and settled into the new house as fast as we could, but had to focus our attention on getting the lease drawn up and signed, making sure the change of premises got approved, sorting insurance, sorting the building/painting/decorating and getting the studio inspected and licensed… All while making sure the clients on our waiting list were rebooked in a way that enabled us to start recovering financially as quickly as possible, without burning the both of us out into oblivion.

Owning a PS5 and 4KTV helped too, obviously. Especially when there are so many games right now that allow you to play a small mammal navigating dystopian, post-apocalyptic landscapes void of all humans (Spirit of The North, Stray) or a slingshot-wielding teenager and her brother navigating an unfolding nightmare of diseased rat infestation in 14th Century France (A Plague Tale: Innocence).
I affectionately and imaginatively called all 3 games Fox Game, Cat game and Rat Game because fuck saying their full names every time. (Fox game was a gift from a lovely regular client. Thanks Jake!)
Even though Fox Game was one of the most beautiful, calming and most confusing/frustrating games I’ve ever played, it was a welcome distraction for the stress of navigating the first few weeks of the new studio opening.
Rat Game summed up the bleakness of my mental health during a vintage 2020 version of COVID I manage to catch in June. Also, the impending plaque and desolate villages felt incredibly meta!
Cat Game was hands down one of the best I’ve ever played. Two of my favourite things combined: cats & sci-fi!
I’ve been embracing my autistic special interests more and treating myself to fancy anime DVDs, especially because streaming/downloading makes it so difficult to enjoy properly. Blu-Ray is so much smoother and experiencing anime in 4K is absolutely mind blowing on our TV and speakers!

It wasn’t “cool” to like Anime growing up as a kid/teen in the late 90’s/early 00’s. I rinsed out the tiny Anime section at the video rental store (Vampire Hunter D, Ninja Scroll, Ghost in The Shell, Akira, Appleseed) and watched them over and over. I later spent my student loan money on DVDs of Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Evangelion, Ghost in The Shell STC, Love Hina, Oh My Goddess! and early Studio Ghibli movies. I’ve not watched as much anime as I’ve wanted to in the last 12 or so years, mostly because tattooing took over my life! Now I’m an adult in my mid-thirties, I’m honouring the awkward and insecure little me – making sure that I treat my hobbies and interests with greater care and respect. I am absolutely obsessed with this limited collector’s edition of Belle, which is the latest Studio Chizu movie from Mamoru Hosoda (massive fan of both!). Belle reportedly received a 14-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival last year (one of the longest in the festival’s history) and is already one of my all-time favourite movies. I never thought it could top Summer Wars in 2009, but it completely smashed it out the park. I’ve been literally singing this film’s praises for months!

The 7 Types of Fatigue: Physical, Social, Anxiety, Compassion, Emotional, Ambition, Sensory.

I discuss the differences between stress, anxiety and fear in one of my 2020 blogposts, Tattoos vs Therapy but didn’t know there’s was so many different types of fatigue! Recently, I learnt about the 7 types of fatigue and 7 types of rest. I realised I was suffering with severe cases of most of them, along with a couple of extras – “chronic illness fatigue” and that fun one we all share since 2020: “pandemic fatigue”.

“Stress & Burnout Prevention: 7 Types of Fatigue Everyone Needs to Know About” by Nawal Mustafa, a PhD Candidate in Clinical Neuropsychology at Simon Fraser University, Canada.

Physical Fatigue: when your body is under physical stress. Symptoms include headaches, muscle weakness, feeling constantly tired, stomach issues – IBS etc, stress ulcers, muscle tension, weakened immune system. Tips for reducing Physical Fatigue: getting enough sleep, nutrient/protein rich foods, taking additional supplements like Ashwagandha, vitamins/minerals etc.

Social Fatigue: when you spend too much time socialising with others, especially with those who leave you feeling drained and overstimulated. This might result in you having little to no time for yourself and falling behind on other responsibilities, this leaving you in a state of overwhelm. Tips to reduce Social Fatigue: say no to social interactions that pull from your energy. Spend more time with yourself doing things you love. Be around people who leave you feeling energised.

Anxiety Fatigue: when your brain is filled with intrusive thoughts and mental chatter. You may feel like your mind is often racing and is difficult for you to stop overthinking. During this time your nervous system is in a constant “fight, flee or freeze” response and May leave you feeling exhausted and paralysed. Tips to reduce Anxiety Fatigue: write down your thoughts and challenge the unhelpful ones. Catch your inner critic and replace that voice with a kind one. Let go of things that are out of your control. 

Compassion Fatigue: when you spend too much of your time and energy into helping and supporting others while neglecting your own needs. Compassion fatigue can also result from absorbing emotional stress of others or what is happening in the world. Tips to reduce Compassion Fatigue: offer support but try to avoid taking on the pain of others. Be mindful of how often you consume news about world events. Prioritise your emotional needs and prioritise time to rest and recharge. 

Emotional Fatigue: when you feel constantly overwhelmed with emotions to a point of having no energy to do anything else. You might feel “stuck” and as though you have no control over your life. This can lead to having a lack of motivation and an inability to enjoy the things you used to. Tips to reduce Emotional Fatigue: prioritise your emotional needs. What do you need to do to feel better? Practice mindfulness. Identify the stressors in your life and find ways to minimise them.  

Ambition Fatigue: when you push yourself too hard to relentlessly pursue your goals and ambitions, often with unrealistic expectations from yourself and a lack of self-compassion. Tips to reduce Ambition Fatigue: set realistic goals and expectations from yourself. Be patient with yourself. Remind yourself that progress matters, not perfection. Set boundaries around the time you spend working or thinking about work. 

Sensory Fatigue: when your brain feels overstimulated with sensory input, such as loud noises, bright lights, sight (social media, watching videos), sound (talking or listening to others). We all experience sensory overload to an extent, but it is common in neurodivergent individuals, PTSD, anxiety, and medical conditions such as Fibromyalgia. Tips to reduce Sensory Fatigue: only focus on the task at hand. Minimise distractions around you. Limit the time you spend in overly stimulated environments. (I ticked all 4 of those sensory sensitivity examples! whoops)

The 7 Types of Rest: Physical, Social, Mental, Emotional, Creative, Spiritual, Sensory.

“Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity” by Saundra Dalton-Smith MD.

10 days to tackle 7 different types of rest: I wanted to make sure I had enough time off to explore different types of rest every day. I was suffering chronic sensory overload and demand/decision fatigue (all of which are very common for neurodivergent folks) but I was also suffering severe emotional, ambition and anxiety fatigue.

Compassion Fatigue is also a big one for me. I happily take care of my clients most of the day, but sometimes if I’m not careful this can mean I’ve got very little energy to look after myself when I get home. Boundaries are super important in this case, especially professional ones. I wrote a Tattoo Preamble back in 2019 which helps my clients know what to expect and how to take care of themselves before, during and after tattoo appointments. This ensures I don’t have to worry about them any more than usual, and I make sure we’re both not overstepping professional or personal boundaries such as oversharing/overloading when I’m trying to concentrate on tattooing in my place of work. It helps with energy drain and keeps the appointment more fun and less painful!

Physical Rest: this one was more obvious than the rest, but surprisingly hard to achieve. I had to balance time to physically rest with time to take up Yoga and Pilates again, with enough time to recover from the sessions. Tattooing is hard work, and it’s difficult to balance with exercise classes. Having hypermobility AND Fibromyalgia means that my muscles and joints always hurt but I need to keep moving and stretching them to ease my symptoms (and be extremely careful not to overdo it!). I manage to stave off chronic pain and balance physical rest during my staycation with being physically active, using gentle exercise and a few hours to clean one room of the house each day. I hit about 8-9 hours of sleep daily – it meant I missed out on sunrise swimming but didn’t want to feel tired all day from waking up at 4am. I made sure to feed my body plenty of protein (Huel is great for plant-based/gluten-free complete nutrition) and kept on-top of supplements. I currently take iron, B vitamins, magnesium, 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan is an amino acid which can be converted to serotonin in the body) and have been taking 3 different types of probiotics each day (great for anxiety/IBS/heartburn/bloating/tiredness etc). Like Nawal Mustafa mentions, I can vouch for the effectiveness of a good quality Ashwagandha supplement daily too. I have a long list of supplements I would love to be taking regularly in the future, but it’s not financially accessible yet.

Social Rest: long periods of non-verbal communication at home is the best way to decompress socially for me. Logging out of and deleting all social media apps from my phone for this staycation worked great too. I’ve gone about 3-4 days without them before, and always felt so much better for having done it. I really didn’t miss them as much as I thought I would this time, and those hours spent twiddling my thumbs instead of scrolling meant that I would naturally think of something else more useful to do – even if that just meant enjoying the sound of birds or view of trees from our windows, instead of watching a constant flashing stream of random posts and advertising. I missed lots of lovely posts from my friends, but I know that ones that really care about my well-being didn’t mind.

Mental Rest: minimising sensory input makes a massive difference to my anxiety levels and mental health as an autistic person., Writing/journaling really helps too. I’ve been fortunate to have lots of writing saved up in drafts that are easy to breathe life back into when I’m ready for them – I published one yesterday which I’d started writing back in January this year.

Anti-Anxiety Affirmations (AAA’s) that I repeated to myself regularly during this time of mental rest & reflection:

Here’s some really lovely “wounded inner child” affirmations with a few “Leo Season” appropriate ones thrown in at the end! 🦁

  • I am not a lost cause, nor am I someone to pity.
  • What happened to me as a child was not my fault. 
  • I deserved so much better.
  • I deserved to feel safe and accepted.
  • I don’t owe anyone my time, forgiveness or access to me.
  • I am not hard to love, there is nothing “wrong” with me. 
  • I accept, appreciate and approve of myself. 
  • I am worthy and deserving of the good things in my life.
  • I am celebrating the life I’ve created. 

Emotional Rest: emotional fatigue has almost killed me this year. I’d spend weeks being so exhausted from bouts of crying, panic attacks and angry rants – I’d spend days utterly numb and unable to enjoy or engage with anything. I felt like a robot set to autopilot with no feelings and no way of feeling alive. Video games really helped – completing games gives me a confidence boost and makes me feel accomplished, along with making lists of things I was proud of achieving. I meet up daily with sober friends online, and we list things we’re grateful for every day. Music and singing have always really helped me release emotions – you don’t have to be great at singing to benefit from it, and emotions like grief are stored in the lungs. One of the reasons you feel so great after a big cry!

Creative Rest: the two photos below were taken less than an hour apart in April this year. I craved the energy to be ambitious, I wanted to drink it like wine. The studio was just a painted room, so vulnerable, primordial, and premature. Both mine and Chris’s careers were in the middle of a room, covered in dust sheets. I treated myself to a massage at Lush Spa Cardiff for the first time. I chose Synaesthesia (which turned out to be an autistic/sensory seeking paradise) and was completely blown away. I especially loved the opportunity to smell of Ambition! I also chose Acceptance for the room during the massage and had a few helpful and teary/cathartic moments. I realised that not only had I never lacked ambition in the first place, but I was also chronically overwhelmed and exhausted from it. Now the studio is done, the grateful relief I felt spending those 10 days away from the responsibility of the studio was so important and beautiful. It was like a ceremony.

I was telling my mind, my body and my heart loud and clear: “it’s all over now, you FUCKING DID IT.

“Quite simply, my life and my recovery is evidence that miracles exist.”

Spiritual Rest: I don’t consider myself as a religious person, but I do have a lot of faith. I called myself Atheist for years, flirting with the idea of Agnosticism. I’ve experienced and studied the Hare Krishna movement, Christianity, Buddhism… I don’t believe in sects, organisations or institutions etc. A while ago, Chris introduced to Baháʼí Faith, which believe in a oneness of humanity and devote themselves to the abolition of racial, class, and religious prejudices. I quite like their idea that taking alcohol and other drugs recreationally/non-medically is forbidden, for God has given human beings reason which is taken away by intoxicants that lead the mind astray. I’m grateful for the times I lost my mind though, I have much a better respect for it now and want to take care of it more than ever. For me, there’s been too many coincidences and serendipities in my life to deny any kind of higher dimension of a spiritual force, and believe I have a Higher Power that belongs to me which I can work to understand and connect with more deeply. Quite simply, my life and my recovery is evidence that miracles and a Higher Power exist. Practicing regular mindfulness and meditation puts me in touch with mine.

Sensory Rest: I ticked all 4 of those sensory sensitivities Nawal Mustafa mentioned (neurodivergence, PTSD, anxiety, Fibromyalgia) and feel that sensory overstimulation is an almost “normal” feeling for me now. I have to remember it doesn’t have to be my “normal” anymore, I can make better choices for myself and advocate for a better life for myself. Sensory individuals deserve to live full, comfortable lives without societal pressure to try and “get used to” or “adjust” to things that significantly impact their quality of life. Sensory resting during my staycation looked like low lighting, candles, sitting in silence listening to birdsong, talking to my cat, headphones playing low-fi beats/ambient relaxation stuff (white noise and brown noise on loop really helps too).

Taking time to truly rest and decompress recently has made me realise how successful I really am. I am not successful despite my neurodiversity and chronic illnesses, I am successful in spite of the world telling me how wrong I am all of the time, when I’m actually doing exactly what is right for me most of the time. 

Of course, I didn’t keep away from my big brick baby for the entire 10 days! I came in for a very special day – after tattooing fruit for 2 months in the new studio with us, our apprentice Athena tattooed skin for the first time!

6 years ago, Chris started tattooing Athena, and over time she and her husband Gwyn became good friends. Turns out that I actually went to art school with Athena back in 2007 and knew exactly who Chris was talking about when he first mentioned her! She’s always been transparent about wanting to learn how to tattoo one day, and we’re so happy to be able to offer the opportunity to her now. We feel totally comfortable having one of our dearest friends working with us in the studio, and we look forward to seeing what she creates in the future! 💜

Speaking of tattoos and keeping with the nods to rugby, I’ll start wrapping up the blog post with this photo: The first message I read after I reinstalled my social apps yesterday was from my PT I trained with last year, Gwen Crabb ♥️ I created 4 tattoos for her last month, and the team photographer took this photo of the one celebrating her first cap! 🏉🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

I decided to end my staycation with a “Closing Ceremony” – I bought myself a huge fuck-off card that I had delivered to the house, followed by a ridiculously long bath afterwards. I wrote to myself:

YOU FUCKING DID IT. CELEBRATE THIS LIFE YOU’VE CREATED.

I’m so fucking proud of you. You’ve made it through the hardest year of your life, and you’ve stayed sober through all of it. You’ve met every challenge with ready hands, a grateful heart and an open mind. You’ve cried so many tears that have watered the flowers of joy that have grown around you. You’ve saved yourself and have allowed yourself to be held and cared for by others that love you. You’ve been so patient and self-compassionate and have weathered every storm knowing that this one wasn’t going to be the one that broke you. You’ve refused to let it all win (even though you wanted that too) and you chose yourself every single fucking time.

I exist now because of you.

I’m so happy you stuck through it.

THANK YOU.

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