Burnout is a chronic state of stress which leads to physical and emotional exhaustion. It might manifest as anxiety or depression or both.
The Signs Of Physical and Emotional Exhaustion
- Fatigue: You lack energy and feel more tired than usual.
- Insomnia: Starts with the occasional bad night and progresses to the inability to sleep or stay asleep every night.
- Concentration: Lack of sleep affects concentration and the ability to complete tasks.
- Physical Symptoms: Palpitations, chest pain, chills, stomach aches, headaches and hundreds of other physical symptoms that make you worry that you are gravely ill which in turn forces you even further down the wormhole.
- Illness: Your body becomes more susceptible to immune related illness.
- Appetite: You may lose your appetite or go the other way and over-eat, especially sugary or high-carb foods.
Alongside the physical signs, there are emotional signs.
- Loss of enjoyment about things you love.
- Negativity: You become pessimistic about everything. In my case, it isn’t glass half empty. It’s glass smashed into smithereens all over the floor!
- Isolation: Socialising is hard work for most autistic people but during burnout, we don’t have the energy or inclination to socialise at all. This includes social media.
- Detachment: As an autist, I have always felt detached from everybody else but detachment from burnout can be a detachment from everything including yourself.
When you reach this stage it is illness.
A lot of autistic people will reach burnout stage at some point in their lives. The reason is that trying to exist in an NT world is stressful and exhausting and the human body can only take so much battering from stress hormones before it starts to burnout.
Call it what you will but it ALL amounts to the same thing.
Your body has had enough and is no longer whispering words of warning to you. IT IS SCREAMING AT YOU TO FUCKING DO SOMETHING!
The whispers started for me as a small child when I constantly felt sick or threw up and was living in a constant state of fear.
The whispers got louder as a teenager when I developed an eating disorder as a way of trying to gain control of my own life.
As a twenty-something the whispers told me that it wasn’t normal to be seeing ‘black things’ scurrying across the floor that nobody else could see or imaginary spiders in front of my eyes.
At thirty-something I tried to shut the whispers up with alcohol.
At forty-something my mother died and I had my first nocturnal panic attack.
At 46 years of age I had a nervous breakdown.
Finally, my body said ‘ENOUGH’.
Physically and mentally, I burned out.
My body has pumped so much adrenalin into my system that my fight or flight response now triggers when it shouldn’t – like in response to my dreams or the heating coming on. This is why I have insomnia. This is why I wake up in the early hours every morning.
Why do autistic people burn out?
The more ‘highly functioning’ we are, the more is expected of us and the more we push ourselves to be neurotypical. People can’t see what’s going on inside of us. They just see somebody who ‘looks’ perfectly normal. The effort it takes to be able to pull this off is phenomenal and sooner or later, the consequences will be burnout.
A lot of autistic people suffer from anxiety and anxiety means fear.
We fear walking out of the front door into a noisy and confusing world. We fear having to socialise. We fear having to make small conversation at work. We fear that we will lose control. We fear people being able to see past our pretence of being neurotypical. We fear rejection. We fear there being no escape route.
Our hearts beat faster. Our bodies are constantly primed to fight or run. The fight or flight response is triggered numerous times a day and over time it takes longer for our bodies to recover from it. Eventually, even the fittest of us will succumb to illness. Either physical, mental or both.
Once you have had a breakdown you are never the same. It’s an invisible scar. A wormhole opened up and you know that it won’t take a lot for you to lose yourself down there again. As if life wasn’t already tough enough? Now there is this fragility about you. The difference is that by now you know you have to take better care of yourself and your needs.
You learn to say no.
You learn to let go of people/situations that drain you.
You accept your limitations.
You will hang up the neurotypical ‘skin suit’ for good.
What the fark is a skin suit?
If you’ve ever seen Men in Black, you’ll be familiar with the big ol’ ‘bug’ who comes to Earth. The alien nicks farmer Edgar’s skin so he can look less, er, conspicuous. Only it’s not his skin, so it doesn’t fit. He looks weird and it makes him uber cranky because it feels pretty shit to be wearing someone else’s skin. A bit like trying to cram yourself into size ten jeans when you are a generous twelve..
Feeling ‘alien’ is a feeling that a lot of autistic people identify with. We feel like we don’t belong here and a lot of us pretend to be neurotypical in order to not stand out. It’s an act and acting requires effort. When we shut the outside world out, it’s such a relief to finally be us.
My breakdown coincided with my diagnosis and even though I am still fighting to rid myself of panic disorder and insomnia, I am finally free of the constricting neurotypical suit I’ve been inhabiting for the majority of my life.
I feel lighter.
I don’t push myself to be ‘normal’ anymore.
If I can’t go to social functions I don’t beat myself up about it.
If I can’t face shopping in the supermarket, I’ll do it online.
I haven’t given up on life. I just find ways that make living a little easier.
When I get overwhelmed I shut myself away like I have always done. The difference is that I no longer feel guilty about it. People can think what the hell they like because you know what? They will anyway because that’s what people do.
This is no longer about them.
It’s about you.
It’s about self-care.
With social media, I get overwhelmed pretty quickly so I have learned to give myself breaks from it and to limit time spent on the internet. The internet can get pretty intense and I soak up the negative stuff like a sponge. Bad news and hate is all over the internet. It affects me, then I get ill. Yes, we live in a computer age and the internet can be useful but it can also be damaging to your mental health so it’s up to us to police our internet time so it works for us not against us.
I have also accepted that I can’t do ‘life’ on my own so now I ask for help when I need it. Being autistic, there are certain things that I struggle with. Asking for help, isn’t being weak. It’s self-care.
The thing is that I’ve have put so much effort into existing that I’m exhausted and for what?
To fit in?
So I don’t offend people by saying no?
I’m done with all that.
We should all be done with that, right?
If you can identify with this post. Please don’t let another day go by where you live your life on somebody else’s terms. If it hasn’t already, it will make you ill.
It’s time to be the fabulous human being you were born to be.
It’s time to be you.
“If you celebrate your differentness, the world will, too. It believes exactly what you tell it—through the words you use to describe yourself, the actions you take to care for yourself, and the choices you make to express yourself. Tell the world you are one-of-a-kind creation who came here to experience wonder and spread joy. Expect to be accommodated.” ~ Victoria Moran – Lit From Within