The Other Autism

Heath Wilder, 'Autigender', and Autistic Empathy

March 25, 2023 Kristen Hovet Season 2 Episode 9
Heath Wilder, 'Autigender', and Autistic Empathy
The Other Autism
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The Other Autism
Heath Wilder, 'Autigender', and Autistic Empathy
Mar 25, 2023 Season 2 Episode 9
Kristen Hovet

Heath Wilder is the Director of Customer Experience at the Sydney Theatre Company in Sydney, Australia, and they were one of the first listeners of The Other Autism podcast — maybe even the first!

Listen as Kristen and Heath aggressively abstain from small talk and dive right in to gender, autigender (aka gendervague), the female autism phenotype or presentation, the double empathy problem, alexithymia, masking, meltdowns, shutdowns, and more.

Check out Heath's website: Heath Wilder — a journey in the performing arts

Episode intro and outro music: "You Set My World On Fire" by Loving Caliber

Theme music: "Everything Feels New" by Evgeny Bardyuzha.

All episodes written and produced by Kristen Hovet.

Send in your questions or thoughts via audio recording for a chance to be featured on the show! Email your audio clips to kristen.hovet@gmail.com through WeTransfer.

Become a patron on Patreon!

Buy me a coffee!

Show Notes Transcript

Heath Wilder is the Director of Customer Experience at the Sydney Theatre Company in Sydney, Australia, and they were one of the first listeners of The Other Autism podcast — maybe even the first!

Listen as Kristen and Heath aggressively abstain from small talk and dive right in to gender, autigender (aka gendervague), the female autism phenotype or presentation, the double empathy problem, alexithymia, masking, meltdowns, shutdowns, and more.

Check out Heath's website: Heath Wilder — a journey in the performing arts

Episode intro and outro music: "You Set My World On Fire" by Loving Caliber

Theme music: "Everything Feels New" by Evgeny Bardyuzha.

All episodes written and produced by Kristen Hovet.

Send in your questions or thoughts via audio recording for a chance to be featured on the show! Email your audio clips to kristen.hovet@gmail.com through WeTransfer.

Become a patron on Patreon!

Buy me a coffee!

Kristen Hovet  
Today I'm speaking with Heath Wilder from Australia. You'll notice that Heath and I jump right in with almost zero small talk, even before I asked an introductory question. And instead of trying to insert it somewhere in the interview, I just decided to leave it as is, nice and authentic, autistic goodness. Also, this is a very, very special interview for me because Heath was one of the first listeners of The Other Autism podcast back when it was only on YouTube. And now it's not at all on YouTube. So, you know, Heath might have been the first listener, if I recall, their comment was like the first one I saw on The Other Autism YouTube channel. But yeah, it was a YouTube channel, originally. It was the way I introduced it to the first listeners. And I decided, with everything on my plate, with work and school and everything going on, the setup for making videos was hard. It took longer, anyway, and it took longer to edit. So maybe at some point in the future, I can bring that back, but for now, this is what we're doing. I am super, super excited to bring you this conversation with Heath. And I'm super grateful that I was finally able to get to speak with them. Without further ado, please say hello to my guest this week, Heath Wilder. Hey!

Heath Wilder  
There we go. It's taken a little while to get all the audio and stuff together. But yay, it's done.

Kristen Hovet  
Nice to see you, finally.

Heath Wilder  
Yeah, it's funny because you used to do, when you did the YouTube podcast, and for some reason, my brain is just like, oh, no, we've done this before. I'm like, ah no, we haven't.

Kristen Hovet  
I think you were one of the first listeners. So I like that you have they them in your name.

Heath Wilder  
It's kind of a reference to, I never really felt a lot of connection with the kind of male gender. When we kind of got around to people kind of passing around about autigender, the gender that kind of goes with the... occasionally kind of tends to go along with how you feel about gender as an autistic person. And I was like, yeah, actually, that's really what I'm, I feel is true. And so I went with they them and, intriguingly, that really messed with people's ontology. Like they were just, oh, no, what does that mean? How are you? How is this? What's the thing? Oh, like, it's really it's a personal expression. It's, you know, I prefer it, but I kind of get it.

Kristen Hovet  
Yeah, that's interesting. I was trying to explain this the other day, and I don't know much about... did you say autigender? 

Heath Wilder  
Yeah. 

Kristen Hovet  
Okay. I think that's a new term for me. I was trying to explain this the other day that I am female. However, I don't feel very tied to that. Like I've never, that's never been a huge part of my identity. And I feel more like my gender or whatever is more like a costume, if that makes sense. 

Heath Wilder  
Yeah, I know, right? It's part of the mask. We grow up and, from around about the four plus kind of school age, there was a oh, I have to be this thing. And then just kind of trying to mold myself into this kind of shape or something else. There's so much of that at that stage is about gender and it's about... you're in primary school, you're like a six year old, and people are going, Who are you going to marry, are you gonna marry this girl? Like what are we talking about? Like, this is inconceivable that this is going to have any kind of legitimate impact on my life. I'm six right. And in a lot of ways, I guess at some times I may display very male qualities. But when it comes down to it, this is the clincher. When it came to diagnosing myself as autistic, I'm like, Why am I not like Freddie Highmore? Why is Freddie Highmore not playing me in my real life? Or Sheldon or whatever? Why am I not these versions of autism? How have I managed to mask all this time? And I started looking into it and I'm like, oh, cool, female autism presentation. That really sits so much stronger with me than the classical male presentation.

Kristen Hovet  
I guess we haven't really started, but I will include that because I think it's really interesting. 

Heath Wilder  
I've got an air conditioner, I just noticed I've got an air conditioning unit in here. And if there is there might be air conditioning sound. It probably masks out the... I've got a kind of team of people outside. They're probably doing neurotypical frolicking. 

Kristen Hovet  
Nice. The other thing, I wanted to make sure, you're okay with me using your full name in the show notes and in the title and everything.

Heath Wilder  
That's totally fine. Like I'm massively out and proud and whatever. I very quickly made a pact with myself that I will, whatever lumps come with it, I will take them so the people coming up behind us do not.

Kristen Hovet  
So could we start by introducing yourself and just explaining what brings you here.

Heath Wilder  
My name is Heath Wilder. And as a visual description, I have short dark hair, I have browny kind of tan skin and rectangular glasses and I'm wearing a headset today as well. And I've got a fuzzy background. I'm wearing a blue shirt with some white bamboo leaves on it as well, which is lovely. It's quite nice. I am in my kind of late 40s, early 50s, that's how I appear. Heritage wise, I am a mixture of various things. I'm Dharawal, which is Indigenous Australian from just little bit south as what you might know as Sydney. I'm coming from the Gadigal land, is the traditional lands that I'm coming from today, in my office at the Sydney Theatre Company. I'm Australian Aboriginal and Finnish Jewish on my mother's side. And my father's side is I think originally German, but they're from wonderful Alabama.

Kristen Hovet  
And what do you do at work?

Heath Wilder  
Currently, for the last little while, I work in arts administration. My job at the moment is at Sydney Theatre Company is director of customer experience. I am fairly new to this role at the Sydney Theatre Company. I used to work here years ago. And I've just come back here, invited by the executive director to come over and host the department that includes front of house, usher services, box office, the analytics and insights team, and the database and applications team and the application ticketing processes systems team, all of which are jobs that I've done in the last seven years. So it's kind of an amalgamation of my arts administration work over the last kind of seven to 10 years.

Kristen Hovet  
How old were you when you were diagnosed as autistic?

Heath Wilder  
Yeah, I was kind of mid 40s, I was having some conversations with other people at work. And I found myself every now and again, I'd fall into these really interesting conversations, or we'd have these conversations about things. And it's when it kind of fell into the leadership area where I started to lead teams, and I would be very clear about what the needs were. Now I've clashed with people over the years, I think we've all kind of been there. When I was starting to advocate for others and I put down really, emphatically put lines in the sand about these things need to be this way. You kind of said this, but then you did this other thing. Look, it needs to be this. And these conversations would blow up in ways that I just couldn't understand. And I had been called, over the years, have been identified by other people as being Asperger's, or autistic and various things. I had done a little bit of research into that over the years as well. And there's lots of things that I found that were similar, but I had kind of let that go mainly because of... the more I kind of went down that road, the more I kind of identified with it. When I have brought it up, I would get a lot of kind of pushback and a lot of kind of marginalization, I guess, from people who are really close to me. So I kind of let that go a fair bit. And after a couple of these blowups, and some very kind of respectful, kind, and wonderful mediation by some exceptional women I had the chance of working with at the time, we're still really good friends, I got to the point where I said okay, I kind of know that this is a fact. I kind of know that I'm autistic. I've just got to kind of commit to it now. So I did six months worth of solid research. I was actually researching a friend at the time as well. I was playing this game of Dungeons and Dragons at the time and a good friend of mine, we kept kind of clashing on various things or there were certain things that were quite intriguing to me about how we were interacting. I was like, Oh, hang on a sec, are you autistic at all? And he'd be a bit taken aback. So I was like, Okay, I'm going to research this before I kind of offend anyone any further. And I started doing this research and it just fell down the hole of like, how much of this is really relates to me. So I wrote this document, which I sent you earlier, this huge document on myself and what I was uncovering, in very specific terms, and how that would influence my viewpoint on whether I was autistic or not. Entirely, for like six months, I was completely obsessed with it. I had it on my phone, I had like a Google Doc. And I would listen to podcasts or read some stuff and then write some stuff down and just throw it in on the bus or wherever I was, every spare moment, I'd just put it in there, writing things in and I'd reference it, and I had kind of reference tables as well. And I'd do tests and then I would go and I'd kind of re-organize them into into tables and groups and chapters. And it just became incredibly obvious that this is what was going on. So I kind of went back to work. And I said to my boss, we were talking, I said, Look, starting of conversation, how are you? And I was like, Just kind of apropos of what we were talking about the other day, I'm gonna go look for my autistic diagnosis, I don't know how to do that, I might talk to the EAP at the psychology services that we had at work to kind of see how that goes. But I'll let you know where it is because I just think we can clear a whole bunch of stuff up if we do this. Whilst I was saying this, the executive director of the Sydney Dance Company at the time, walks by and goes, Oh, yeah, this is where you should go, I've just been there with a friend. So that's where you're gonna end up anyway, go check them out. I'm like, Okay. Kind of happens to no one. But kind of is the thing that you really want to have happen. And I went there, and I did three plus months of tests and filled out forms and all that sort of thing. And before I got to the end, way before I got to the end, they had this bit where they kind of bring your significant others in and have a chat. I did that. And they sort of like, Look, we're gonna stop it here because there's no way that you are not, we're pretty solidly convinced that you're artistic.

Kristen Hovet  
What changed after that, if anything?

Heath Wilder  
Well, I grew a second head.

Kristen Hovet  
I thought so.

Heath Wilder  
And then I got magic powers. People who talk about the kind of diagnosis journey, I hate the fact we have to go through diagnosis in order to identify, just as a general rule, however, that moment, that specific moment in people's lives, where they're waiting for their identity Oscar nomination to occur, right? The reports are the same. So what I felt when they said, you know, Sit down, we've got something to tell you. And they're like, What would happen if you found out that you weren't autistic? And I answered, as usual as pragmatically, I said, Well, you know, I'm just going to go back to the drawing board and work out why the heck else I'm different from everybody else. And they said, Well, you know, in fact you are. And when they did, there was this huge rush of... being alexithymic, I'll kind of explain it in generalized emotion words, quite really a real light body feeling and real tingly kind of skin and, metaphorically, it is like a huge weight has been lifted, there is that kind of sense. And it's just an absolute relief. Because things that you know, intellectually, things that I completely understood to be the case, were then confirmed as being reality. It's like, yeah, somebody doing a DNA test and saying, Hey, guess what, you're human. And you go, Oh, wow. I knew that, but yeah, I just wanted to check. It is a huge relief because it means that distress and blame and uncertainty all of a sudden make perfect sense.

Heath Wilder  
You mentioned feeling different from other people. Do you remember like in childhood, if that started then? And what were some of those things that you identified?

Heath Wilder  
This is really interesting because I first felt different... I was gonna say at school, which is true, but I first felt like I was stepping out of my space capsule and going on a spacewalk amongst... in a weird world fairly early, I guess, kind of about two or three. Well, my sister was just born. So it would've been, I would have just been three. My mom would go to, there would be mothers groups, and there were other kids there. And apparently, you know, you put kids with kids, and apparently magic happens and they play, and this is what's supposed to happen. I felt really out of place with these other children. Whereby, at least with adults, they were fairly easy to judge what they were doing. The kids seemed to just be completely all over the place. Like they would just do all sorts of strange random things and say stuff or do stuff that was really distressing. At one point, like one kid had come up and my sister was in the bassinet thing and the kid like slapped my sister in the face, as you know, a couple of months old. I was like, This is outrageous. How is this happening? So I felt a real barrier. It was really hard to communicate with kids until a later age, like school age, maybe about five or six. I was starting to get introduced to the games that people play, like there were actual games, but they obviously mask a social interactivity network. But there was this navigating this kind of strange network of who is doing what with whom and people manipulating one another. And seeing where those actual pulls were. The game we played in sixth grade, which was more or less playing the characters from the puppet TV show the Thunderbirds, who got to be what Thunderbird kind of depended on how socially cool you were and how many friends you had and how much chutzpah you had. And those things seemed to be really, really overt. People playing on people, boys having no idea of sexuality. But there was one girl who was very charismatic and kind of knew... would kind of play a game with who was more popular around about that stage. Whole bunches of things just seemed very obvious that seemed to be completely, I wasn't a part of.

Kristen Hovet  
What are your top three autistic traits that you love the most?

Heath Wilder  
There's a whole bunch of kind of things that I really enjoy. At the moment, I love that I sleep... among like 315 days, sleeping about 2.7 hours a night. I work an enormous amount of time, I really do need some downtime. Hyperfocus, I think, is an absolute godsend. Yeah, I think hyperfocus is one of my absolute favorite autistic tool. One of the things I love about every autistic person I know that I've come in contact with and have had the absolute pleasure of spending time and working with them and calling my friend, is the lack of hierarchy. And the egalitarianism, the sense of equality. The last one, I think I might kinda bounce around, there's little things like sensory sensitivity, which I absolutely love. It also is a real... the fact that the world is against you and up on the wall, from the sensory insensitive people that we share the space with who set up the rules, it is a bit tricky. But I think the drive, I think just that kind of, you know, things we want to kind of change the name of on occasion, but special interests, those kinds of drives and focus is really important. I think it's really important to us, it's really important to healing, and especially for me for burnout and the world for getting to where it needs to go and having people solve the dilemmas that we currently face. Autistic special interests is the way that any of that's ever going to get done.

Kristen Hovet  
What's a myth or stereotype about autism or autistic people that bothers you the most?

Heath Wilder  
There's so many to choose from. 

Kristen Hovet  
Totally.

Heath Wilder  
I was arguing with somebody about autism and lack of empathy, the early hours of this morning. I think that's probably one of them. I think the double empathy problem is the most frustrating thing. And it comes because there seems to be this idea, that barrier is insurmountable. That allistics, or neurotypicals, and Autistics can't communicate or that autistic people can't be communicated with. As a consequence, because there's an opt out button on double empathy from one end, what I see is a lot of people struggling to do double duty on connecting and kind of getting burnt out. So yeah, the Autistic people lack empathy or the ability to be communicated with, I think, is a huge, huge issue. 

Kristen Hovet  
How does empathy show up for you because I know you said you are kind of... or were drawn to the idea of the female autism phenotype and sort of identified with that, more so than the traditional presentation. So I know with the female autism phenotype, typically, that's associated with high empathy or almost like overly high empathy. So how does that show up for you?

Heath Wilder  
How that shows up for me is, yes, I am very at times in abundance of empathy. So I have empathy to spare, to go around. And that comes out as kind of connection with things like connection with animals, connection with ethics, connection with... especially connection with people and causes and interests. Things move me in exceptional ways. The intriguing part of this, and this is what I would love to have kind of a quorum on, is how alexithymia plays into that. So I believe that I'm alexithymic because I know I have emotions, I have a lot of them. I struggle to identify what they are because, as far as my thinking goes, those role models where emotions were labeled, were not present in my life. I struggled to see a lot of what's displayed in sitcoms where I kind of learned how to do most socializing. There's a lot of emotions really clear displayed there that I wouldn't respond in that particular way, but I can mask it that way. So as a consequence, I had a really bad labeling system for my internal processes. So I can feel really strongly about something and I know that I had some sort of a kind of a vector of force towards that thing or away from that thing that's very internally generated, but I don't really know what that is. So I might say to myself, or if I'm I have fairly flat effect, which I tend to do in hostile and sometimes autistically poor environment, I will not display that. And I won't know that I have empathy there, until I kind of look at that back in the past. I think we have lots of empathy. I just think it's hard for us personally and others to identify that that's what's going on there.

Kristen Hovet  
Right. In the moment, it's challenging sometimes, for sure. I think part of it is, at least for me, the complexity of emotion doesn't really match the labels that other people have given it. So it's like, I could be feeling so many positive things and negative things at the same time, so picking it apart is challenging for me. And then the other thing is... just the constant bottleneck of information in the brain. 

Heath Wilder  
Oh, yeah. 

Kristen Hovet  
It's like, How do I pick out what I'm feeling when I'm having to parse through all these other things, including my own thoughts, my sensory overwhelm, etc?

Kristen Hovet  
Are you a visual thinker much at all?

Kristen Hovet  
Oh, totally. Yes, very much so. Yeah.

Heath Wilder  
I find that it's quite difficult for me to be able to parse what's actually happening, unless I can kind of map it out in some way, unless I can kind of find some kind of visual metaphor for that thing. And until that happens, I'm quite scattered and picking things up and dealing with what I already need to process at the same time can be somewhat overwhelming. So yeah, similarly.

Kristen Hovet  
When we were setting up the interview, you sent me the document that we've referenced already called Autism Thoughts, where you outline what it's like for you being autistic. So these next few questions are based on that document. In Autism Thoughts, you wrote, No one knows who I am because it's never been safe to show anything other than a character like a puppet and perform out of that. I'd love to hear more about what you mean by this. You say playing a character like a puppet, so is this similar to the concept of masking?

Heath Wilder  
Yeah, I think that's kind of metaphorically how I would describe masking and what masking is to me. There is a kind of a distance that I would have with people that I trust less that I know that will try and manipulate me. So I will operate in a way that keeps me engaged and displaying what they need to display, but at a kind of an arm's length. The reason I kind of came up with a metaphor... so I started off leaving school. After I left school with high school at 17, I started doing science and medicine, and I got my masters in physiology, and neuroscience. But after that, I kind of fell into acting for about 25 years. And there was this one metaphor about good acting and bad acting and it's this clumsy way of thinking about it. But good acting is inhabiting a thing and actually living the role. So you're telling your own experiences through another lens, and bad acting's holding up like a puppet or shield or something like that, and showing that, those motions as who you are. But it does feel like that, it does feel like I'm creating a simulacrum, like some homunculus, that is representing me, it's an avatar for me, in relationships. And for years, I would try and I would try things out. And I would have ways of expressing and talking and try out ideas. And I very... I was gonna say I very quickly found out, I really didn't, I still do it and get in trouble for it now. But I will try out different kinds of aspects of who I might be or who might want things. I might want to see and they won't accept it, so I would create a very... a persona that works very well in that situation. In sales, I kind of did my share of waiting and box office sales and whatever, there is a character that I play there that's extremely outgoing, a very upbeat kind of person who laughs and jokes in a particular way. And that's my way of interacting. Often, I found the best ways to get by in social situations, and to get the most mileage and keep safe, is to play like a character, like a sitcom character. I've been guilty of watching a whole bunch of Friends and then turning up to a party and I will pretty much be doing my Chandler impression. That's kind of what that is. It's kind of doing things that people want to see so that you can get by and get the minimum that you need from that encounter.

Kristen Hovet  
I definitely identify with that, too. And I've used terms like effigy or you know, something along those lines, right. 

Heath Wilder  
Oh. Yeah 

Kristen Hovet  
I feel like I definitely understand the use of it, but I know that it's also had an impact on my sense of identity. And I've had to figure out, okay, when am I being myself, and when am I being like the effigy self. How have you found ways to, I guess, resolve that, either with relating to people who actually see you, you know, or other ways?

Heath Wilder  
Yeah, I think this is one of those very complex, difficult topics that we need as a community. We need to be careful, but rigorous, in how to stop masking and when to stop masking. And know that masking is a choice. Sometimes it's something that we can play with. And when masking, which is a coping tool, most of us use it as a coping tool, and then when we choose to drop it, there are difficulties in doing that because it's so ingrained for so many years, but also dangerous in doing that in the wrong space and being vulnerable and, to be completely fair, dropping it in situations where we're not safe. For people to come out and then unmask, it's super dangerous. Although masking does take a huge amount of... I've done some tests on myself, and roughly masking costs me about 20 IQ points and problem solving. And it is exhausting. And it takes up a lot of space that is based on just kind of scripting everything all the time. But what I found is after being open and honest and safe and having the privilege to be able to do those things, honestly, not everyone has that privilege, but I've found that masking has kind of changed itself, it's taken itself away. It's something that I now actively need to do if I'm going to do it rather than reflexively. That has stumbling points and very tricky parts that can get me into sort of weird trouble, but, that being said, I've managed to find a very kind of privileged situation that I'm in so that that's less of the consequence for me. I think masking, it's interesting, it means that now I'm reflexively honest, and open, and present, and in the moment. I will talk about what's in my heart, given my role, this is quite, quite funny. I've realized that I'm unable to be professional. The word professional is a middle class, white male word that defines success. And I think that it's really irrelevant, but I will certainly be kind. So it's about being honest and present, and doing my best to be the best person that I can be for the people that I love in the room. It's meant that I love a lot more, that I'm very open about telling people how much I care about them, I try not to let a moment go by where I don't tell somebody how much I appreciate them. It means that I'm very much able now to be clear where I've made a mistake without getting caught up in self worth. And I'm also able to do a lot more mentorship from a very honest, clear kind of standpoint, and get support, ask for support, create support for others because I can say, hey, I need support here.

Kristen Hovet  
I love what you wrote, I don't fear groups of people. Their noise hurts me. You said I get massive overload anxiety while I try to work out what to say. So I'd love to hear more about what you call overload anxiety, what this feels like and in what contexts it happens.

Heath Wilder  
I think society, in the way it's constructed in the present tense, is in a way that is exclusive or not really inclusive for a lot of us with sensory sensitivities and social sensitivities. Keeping track of all those things all the time, I tend to think about myself as not having any kind of unconscious or pre conscious, or any kind of processes, I kind of keep track of all those things in real time, all the time, which I remember from having conversations, other people don't do it. Because of that, if I'm in a big environment, like a... we tend to do a lot of celebration here. It's in the arts, and we tend to celebrate our wins, and our great opening nights and shows, and whatever, in a really loud, noisy way. Like, there will be lots of, Hey, here's this thing, we want to really welcome somebody. So let's make heaps of noise right about now. That is fairly overwhelming. If it's just noise coming from one place, it's yeah, it is doable. But when you start layering on top of things social interactions, how people are pushing one another's push pulls, the cocktail party phenomenon, so lots of people talking at the same time and trying to keep track of every conversation or lighting, just general lighting, sensory changes that you would get, bad clothing. Adding those things together kind of fills your cup to the surface. And you've only got a little bit left in the brim to actually deal with stuff. Occasionally then, once you're kind of juggling all these balls and mixing metaphors, a little thing, a little stumbling block will kind of push that over the edge, and you will start pushing into the danger zone territory where your brain, your body will start to just rebel against that and say, Sorry, we kinda got a no go zone. Emotions have gotten involved now and we need to... we need change. So we need to get out of this situation. Just a quick metaphor for that, I was a box office staff member whilst doing a whole bunch of other things, was my third job, and putting in a busy ballet show in the Sydney Opera House, which is a busy place, give tickets out, make sure everyone was fine, keep them leaving, they're probably pushing about 1500 people through in less than an hour. And a boss would come up and tap me on the shoulder and want to talk to me about some other fairly esoteric thing. I can do my job fantastically, really well, in all those conditions, if it's focused. Start throwing in other things and different areas, and that's kind of danger territory. So in that case, it would be like, I just really got to compartmentalize this and need you, and there's hiearchies here, I need you to stay out of the box. Or we need to go somewhere else and do that because otherwise, I'm gonna go into a meltdown or shutdown or something. And it's not gonna be pretty for anyone.

Kristen Hovet  
That leads into my next question, actually. So in your document, you talk about having both meltdowns and shutdowns, and I especially love how you describe meltdowns. You said meltdown feels like my soul is on fire. This stood out to me as super interesting, because I use a similar phrase to describe what it feels like when I'm so overwhelmed that it's hard for me to form coherent thoughts or share ideas with others. So in those moments, I say my brain is on fire. And there's nothing that will put the fire out, I just have to kind of wait it out, or step away completely from the scenario, right. I'd love for you to talk more about your experience of meltdowns and shutdowns, if you feel okay, and comfortable sharing.

Heath Wilder  
Yeah, totally, yeah of course. I think we have to, if we're going to start digging into this stuff, 'cause no one else is gonna tell us. So often, I, in a lot of circumstances, when hitting overload, I will get to a point that will flag for me, I'll get a kind of a warning signal, and I'll be able to make a choice as to what happens. Sometimes that's not the case. I'll be so surprising that I will not have the choice to shutdown or meltdown. I luckily have had enough kind of these experiences in my life where my meltdowns tend to be the... if you know the the meme, the credible Hulk, you know, the Hulk with the glasses on, and he has lots of, um, supports all of his rage with backup theories. Often I will get very pointedly wordy, in an early stage kind of meltdown where I will have... my filter will go, but I'll still have coherent thought and I will be outraged, you know, I'll put my Karen hair on and I will be outraged and want to speak to the manager. That can happen. Often, if it gets too hard too fast, I will feel myself slipping into either a meltdown where I, because of empaths, and especially childhood trauma, I will get to the point where I will just leave, I'll just need to leave. And I have certain ways of kind of dealing with overload, that is a meltdown. Shutdown, what happens is my body manages to catch it early, and it seems to turn off my ability to... I'll kind of be a head in a box, like I'll be this brain in a jar. I will completely core out all of my senses, sensations, and emotions. Sometimes I can do this purposefully. And I will be just barely, basically and simply, piloting my body as if my body was the puppet. When I get overload, and often this is what actually happens as well, in parallel with depression, more with depression, sometimes with anxiety, I will feel that sort of thing coming on, where the only way I could possibly make people understand that or even kind of allude to that myself is that my soul is on fire. It feels like I'm in an exceptional amount of pain. But I just can't put my finger on where it is. And the pain is kind of like an idea of pain, rather than any thing that I can quantify as being... I was in a car accident about 10 or so years ago, and I broke my spine and that was not actually painful. But it had that kind of sense that everything was wrong. And I was so overloaded with kind of like sensory burnout. It felt like I was morally and ethically, intellectually, and socially, just immolating, just going through the world often smiling and doing things and being very, very shutdown as I possibly could, while still kind of being interactive, as much as I can, whilst feeling like I was on fire, which is kinda tingly, just every hair on my body standing up at the same time. It's like every sensation is open at the same time and taking in, and all of them are staring at the sun, hyper aware of everything, and also of my own internal experience, like also judging my own process and processing at an incredible speed, and I'm feeling everything with incredible speed. And also, it's very painful.

Kristen Hovet  
Would you say that shutdown is more extreme for you? Or is it vice versa? If the overwhelm is most severe, would you most likely go into meltdown or shutdown?

Heath Wilder  
I reflexively will go into shutdown. I think meltdowns are more exhausting, shutdowns are more damaging. They're safer. Shutdown is my way of controlling who I am in a space, so that I am protective of my future, and the people around me, and myself.

Kristen Hovet  
I so identify with your statement about listening to hours of science podcasts and reading science articles because you don't have anyone to talk with about these topics. So this is very true for me when it comes to medical topics. And when I find someone who's interested in talking about these things, they really quickly become like my favorite person ever. So one topic that's become one of my special interests, of course in the last few years, is autism. One way I get to talk a lot about autism is through this podcast, and by interviewing and presenting on this topic. Have you found any similar kind of strategies for discussing these things or having an outlet?

Heath Wilder  
I have a few science friends. I find socializing really hard, so the way that I would ever do that is through work, and creating support networks is really what I always... when I was designing, okay, I'm gonna live the autistic life, and this is going to be better for me, I created social support structures, and one of them was actually looking out for people to play Dungeons and Dragons with, which was a big escape for me when I was a kid. And the people that tend to aggregate around that sort of thing are very much of similar inclination, are either scientists, often autistic as well. That's really good because I get the kind of people that I can talk about this stuff with. Often, though, I find that with people like us, we just want to talk about it all the time. And then they kind of have like downtime. And they're like, I don't wanna talk about work. And I'm like, Yeah, the reason that I've made you my friend is so I could talk to you about this stuff that I want to talk about, like hold up your end of the bargain, why don't you. However, the better tactic was, I in a couple places online in various influences, or autistic advocates kind of accrete kind of groups of autistic people, I made some friends there, kind of formed a bit of a network that we can kind of talk about kind of stuff like that. Also in arts and culture, and we do that on a Discord channel, so it's actually segregated, it's just us, it's a really good place where we can just sit there and be ourselves. And we still might clash every now and again and have discussions about, Now this is me, and that's more like this, that's more like that, and we talk about autism and ADHD. In arts and culture, because what was missing, in the international arts and culture space, was workplace accommodations. I sometimes have these ideas, I think they're great ideas, and I go out and go, Yeah, this seems like this theory could work, so I'm going to form a group here and see who's gonna turn up. I formed a regular kind of meet up of people in arts and culture, for neurodiversity, that kind of cast the net fairly wide. And I found that people would turn up and they would turn up with like, as lost and kind of needing other people as well. So that was also a really good way of unpacking it, talking about the autistic special interest and ADHD and stuff like that. That kind of fulfills that. Some of the more specific kind of science-y stuff is, to be honest, it's really hard. A lot of us kind of talk about spending most of our time living in Reddit forums, right? Like talking about this stuff that we want to do. But even that can be a bit of a minefield. It's tricky, it is really difficult to do that. I tend to only have transactional based friendships, which was always like an absolute heartbreak of my life. But now I kind of have shared mutual, parallel work friendships, where we're both kind of working towards projects together and we're sharing and we talk about stuff. There's a lot of places like that. Setting up a support network, where I can get... I was going to say my fill, but there's nowhere near, there's never my fill of talking about autism, about accommodations, about things that we need to do in order to get across the line. I need to solve people's problems, that's kind of more of my goals are, and if people know that I'm autistic, they'll get me in, Zoom in across the world, to talk to them about accommodations in the workplace. So in that way, I can kind of also, I've kind of got a captive audience, where we kind of talk about or riff about those sorts of things. And people have problems and apparently in neurotypical society, you can actually talk about these things. They will, on the downlow, come and ask me a question about stuff and I'll get a little bit of conversation about autistic special interests that way as well.

Heath Wilder  
Thank you so, so much for sharing. This has been so interesting and awesome. Is there anything we haven't talked about that you wanted to make sure is included in the episode?

Heath Wilder  
Oh, what I really wanted to include in the episode is just me saying thanks to you for doing this. I have followed varieties of your content for quite some time. And the level of insight is wonderful. It's absolutely brilliant. And I just wanted to especially just say thank you for that because the candor, the humor, and the commitment to talking about the things that we really need to talk about, the really important stuff, with kindness and depth and rigor, is what being autistic is all about. That is 100% peak, autistic goal. So just thank you for that. It's been a massive benefit to me.

Kristen Hovet  
Awww, thank you. I wish I could spend more time making the podcast but I also have to work so... One day, maybe it can be a full time thing.

Heath Wilder  
Look forward to all of the next stuff that's coming up.

Kristen Hovet  
Well, that's all I have for you today. Thank you so much for being here.

Kristen Hovet  
Until next time, bye.