I started 2019 in a state of severe autistic burnout. After a 2018 in which I sold my debut novel, finished my PhD, started a new job, and moved across the province and in with a partner for the first time, I was just completely out of every kind of energy. Over the last month or two of 2018, I had made some adjustments to my living situation and a tentative recovery plan, but I was still so overwhelmed by life generally that I couldn’t even handle household noises or watch television. That made for a very precarious start to the year.
I’m happy to say I’m doing a lot better now. There wasn’t a clearly defined end to the burnout so much as a gradual readjustment. I still struggle on and off with my energy levels and with sensory overload but, let’s be real, I’m autistic, I’ve always struggled with that and always will.
Some of the thing that helped me recover include:
- Demanding my own space in my house. I’m a sensory avoidant morning person living with sensory seeking night owls! I love them but it’s tough. Having my own room where I can work and sleep and be quiet is a godsend. Having my own room also improved the quality of my sleep, which immediately improved a half dozen mental symptoms that I didn’t even know were sleep-related.
- Shamelessly indulging in special interests. At the beginning of the year I did a series of Star Wars livetweets and they were literally the only thing in my life I felt happy about. I feel happy about more things now but I’ve continued to make space for the things that bring me joy and keep me going (including but not limited to Star Wars). I’ve tried to banish any thought of needing to “earn” them, any more than I earn my meals or sleep.
- Getting better at using accommodations. There is something in me that doesn’t WANT to use noise-canceling headphones, or stim with stress balls, or do any of the dozen other little things that help relieve sensory stress. Why not? I don’t know. Internalized ableism or whatever. But when I work on quieting that voice, my life gets better.
- Keeping my schedule simple and flexible.
- Delegating! There are some things that I’m not so good at handling but that my partner can do, like going to the store. There are some things that are no sweat for me, like putting away dishes and folding laundry, but that my partner hates to do. We’re a team! And now I hardly ever have to go to the store anymore.
- Making time for face-to-face social events, but on my own terms. Isolating myself makes everything worse, but socializing is very costly in time and energy. Some events are worth it because of the joy that they bring. I focus on those and let myself pare the rest down.
- Above all, being patient with myself.
Publishing and academia are both a bit slow, so 2019 was the year when my novel came out and when I got to go to my PhD graduation ceremony – even though almost all of the work for those things had been done in 2018. Sometimes that felt strange and I wondered if I was actually doing anything useful in the current year. Apparently this is a normal author brainweasel, though.
MY DEBUT NOVEL! In case you missed it! Is THE OUTSIDE! It is an autistic space opera with cosmic horrors, AI Gods, and cyborg angels! It is eligible for 2019 awards, in case you are reading the year in review for that purpose. This includes the Aurora Award (because I’m Canadian) and awards to do with queer SFF (the protagonist is a lesbian whose girlfriend doesn’t die; other characters are queer and genderfluid; I am also queer and genderfluid, hi).
Meanwhile, here are the other things I published in 2019:
- “Fairest of All,” a novelette in The Future Fire, is the only short prose fiction I published this year. It’s a dark fairy tale with a happy ending; it plays with changeling folklore and its attendant disability and abuse themes, as well as being queer and polyamorous as heck. This was hard to write and hard to find a home for, and it’s not for everyone, but I’ve had autistic readers tell me it’s their favorite of all the things I’ve ever written. It also has a Locus recommendation, yay!
- “Culvert Kelpie” was published in The Temz Review, a Canadian online literary magazine. This is the most structurally ambitious / experimental poem I’ve ever written; it actually appeared to me in my head during a meltdown, which makes it stealth autism literature as well.
- “Nightmare II,” a poem involving lava and frightened awakenings (and the brief, reassuring appearance of a kitty!), was published in Kaleidotrope.
- “Thule” (tricksters and northern exploration), “Looking Down” (a case of survivor guilt / sad news overload), “The Evil Eye” (domestic abuse and magical folklore), and “The Bright Wind” (elemental forces and romantic longing) went up as seasonal Patreon rewards, and are now free to read.
All six of these poems are eligible for speculative poetry awards, including the Aurora (which has a Best Poem/Song category) and the Rhysling.
Non-Fiction and Fan Writing
I wrote several essays and articles online as promotion for THE OUTSIDE, including:
- “Theology in AI Fiction,” an essay for the Uncanny blog, about the way we use AI and aliens in science fiction to explore much older theological tropes that ask questions about morality and human nature.
- “My Muse is a Sorcerer,” a post up here on my own blog, about how THE OUTSIDE was inspired by a villain character from an RPG, and how the world and story of the book evolved around him. (There’s been so much discourse online this year about whether and in what ways it’s okay to have crushes on fictional villains! The post doesn’t go into that side of things, but I am staunchly on Team Go Ahead And Have Crushes On Whoever You Want To, for the record.)
- “Towards a Neurodiverse Future: Writing an Autistic Heroine,” an essay for Tor.com, about why I was scared to give THE OUTSIDE an autistic protagonist, and how Dr. Yasira Shien (and her shady former teacher, Dr. Evianna Talirr) shaped themselves into the wonderful autistic characters they are despite me.
Meanwhile, if you want all my Star Wars opinions:
- “Disability In Star Wars” is one of my most popular blog posts! This is where you can read what I think about Darth Vader (problematic fave), limb loss, disfigurement, mental health, whatever the heck was going on in Rogue One, and the strangely consistent ways that the Skywalker Saga uses different forms of disability to denote different moral and spiritual states.
- And the aforementioned Star Wars livetweets are here, by episode: [Rogue One][Solo]. A Rise of Skywalker livetweet will have to wait until it’s out on Disney+, of course.
And the books I reviewed for Autistic Book Party:
- January: “Every Mountain Made Low” by Alex White
- February: “Dzur” by Stephen Brust
- March: “Hoshi and the Red City Circuit” by Dora M. Raymaker
- April: “The Place Inside the Storm” by Bradley W. Wright
- May: “The Prince And Her Dreamer” by Ennis Bashe and “Algorithmic Shapeshifting” by Bogi Takács
- August: “Ghost in the Machine” by C.E. Kilgore
- October: “No Child Left Behind” by Claudia Casser
- November: “The Trans Space Octopus Congregation” by Bogi Takács
I’m eligible for Best Fan Writer, although to be honest I think many other authors have done more and better fan writing.
I didn’t read as much in 2019 as I wanted to, but if you want to know my favorite stories of the year by other people, you can look back at my Cool Story, Bro posts: from January-April, May-June, July-August, and September-October.
Meanwhile, here are my top ten tweets of 2019.
In between all the writing and recovery work, this year, I also taught three university courses and dealt with a household situation that continued to change. In particular, my primary partner lost his job, took another more precarious one, then had his own burnout in the early fall. He’s no longer able to work full-time. Due to the nature of his disabilities we always knew this would happen eventually, but it’s still startling when it does happen. I’m now the primary breadwinner in my house; what my adjuncting and writing income doesn’t cover is being supplemented by Ontario’s social safety net and by some contributions from my family.
There were a lot of times when I got distracted by drama or bad feelings, fell behind on the things that I felt I was supposed to be doing, and felt generally that this year was getting away from me. But honestly, looking back, it didn’t really. I did what I needed to do to take care of myself. I did my paying work, and I’m progressing with the sequel to THE OUTSIDE at a rate my agent is happy with. Sometimes this is what moving forward looks like, even if it feels like keeping barely afloat.
2020 looks like it’s shaping up to be another big, difficult year. I hope it’s a year we take care of each other. I hope it’s a year when we’re able to create the kinds of beautiful things we need most.