Bachelor star Demi Burnett on how her autism diagnosis improved her mental health

In February Burnett announced on Instagram that she had undergone a psychiatric evaluation which determined that she is autistic. More specifically, she identifies as "100% PDA," or pathological demand avoidance, a profile of the autism spectrum disorder characterized by resistance to the demands and expectations of others. Burnett, who is self-diagnosed, says she struggles when she perceives a lack of autonomy or control in a situation.

Learning about PDA has helped bring some clarity to her longtime mental health struggles, which date back to her adolescence. Being on The Bachelor put those struggles on the "back burner" and made her forget "how messed up I was and how bad I felt because I [was] so consumed with the current moment." She began self-medicating with alcohol, using booze to numb any feelings of anxiety or discomfort around others. But even after going sober she still felt like a piece of the puzzle was missing. She was "begging for help," she says.

Her revelation, nearly a decade later, has been "life-changing" and "healing." Burnett has come to find a community of women who can relate to her feelings and experiences. She now feels less alone, and says that no longer wondering "what's wrong with me?" has helped her anxiety levels.

Video transcript

DEMI BURNETT: I had suspected that I was autistic. And everyone was like, oh my god, no. And they made me feel ashamed and stupid for thinking that. Whatever your intuition is telling you, intuition is not magic. Intuition is your body subconsciously recognizing patterns and information and is subconsciously stored. That was the biggest thing that changed for me personally was believing myself.

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I'm Demi, and you probably know me from "The Bachelor" franchise. Reality stars have it pretty rough, and anyone who's not a reality star will laugh at that. But it's because you take people who are not in the industry, who have fantasized, glorified, the industry in their minds. It's like Disneyland to me, baby. And you use that naiveness to get good television out of me. We're all under distress, psychological distress, during the show's filming.

They openly will misrepresent a situation. They choose chaos, chaos, chaos at our expense. They have our mental health in their hands because they throw us to the wolves of the industry. And all the meanwhile, you have the people telling you how grateful you should be and how no one feels bad for you because you got the chance to be on TV. In my life, I have struggled with my mental health a lot. I was going through so much mentally. I also am going through coming out on national television. So I'm getting disowned by half of my family.

I'm, like, an openly fluid person. And, like, I like guys, I like girls. But I've not really made that public at all--

- Yeah.

- --like, being into both.

And everyone's approaching me like, oh my god, you're so brave. I wish that my family saw that. I wish that they celebrated me. They still don't. And then I start self-medicating with alcohol whenever I do start feeling these feelings of anxiety, of depression. Drinking to mask it all. In 2021, once I got sober, all of the feelings started coming back. Once I started just really listening to what I was feeling, just started exploring the things.

Now I dive into the research, and I came across some stuff about autism in women. And then I was like, [GASP]. I felt so alone. And then I find these thousands and thousands of women who have the same feelings that I had, a whole generation of women who did not get diagnosed. It is life-changing. PDA is a profile of autism, Pathological Demand Avoidance. I know that I am 100% a PDAer. I know that that's my wiring of my brain. There's one way that it's been put that I love, and it's pervasive drive for autonomy.

Autonomy is freedom from external control. Everyone wants autonomy, right? The autonomy for me, it's not I want it, it's my nervous system is activated if I don't have it. If someone tells you not to do something, you just have to do it. That's, oh, you told me not to do it, I have to do the opposite of it. Internalizing fight or flight mode, survival mode, and trying to cover it up. Going through all of that and having no idea that's what's happening, self-loathing is created there.

Self-diagnosing in the autistic community is widely accepted. Insurance doesn't cover adult autism diagnoses because of the stereotype and stigma. This is so inaccessible to so many people. Research yourself. Look at credible sources. You know yourself better than anyone. I would say, get a therapist that you know is going to help you and your brain type and what your neuro type and what's going on with you.

We understand so much more about autism while still not knowing very much at all about it. We know so much more now about it in women. I just check in with myself every single day, and I constantly am assessing my behavior, assessing why I feel the way I feel. What's going on? How can we fix it? Self-love is being on my own side, zooming out on yourself, and saying like, how would I treat me if I wasn't me?

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