I have been researching this subject my entire life. And yet I am only just beginning to understand it. And like most people I thought Burn Out was exhaustion. I thought it meant being very very tired, but I was wrong. When a autistic person is burnt out they are not functioning. They don’t have the ability to help themselves. This is a big issue with the insane positive thinking culture of the West. As not helping yourself is seen as lazy, giving up, giving in, victimhood, pathetic, not British. And of course that is nonsense, and not only is it nonsense for neurotypical people but it is nonsense for autistic people, except for autistic people like everything else, it is vastly magnified in its ridiculousness.
Autistic people have issues with executive functioning, and executive functioning is what is required to look after yourself. You need to recognise when things are going wrong, see a problem, and you then take action to solve the problem. Autistic people often can’t see when they are struggling with life, because they are always struggling with life. Burn Out is when that struggle becomes so extended that they are barely living. And what’s more they sense something is amiss, like when the steering begins to go on a car, but they can’t understand it. They haven’t the tool to fix the steering. They need a psychological AA man to come out and get them back on the road. But they don’t know how to call them, if they should call them, even what calling them means. Or where the phone is. And then there’s the phone? They just know the steering doesn’t feel right and they are heading for a ditch.
Autistic people are generally very capable people, and if they are like me they will want to solve a problem. If like me you are a problem solver, burn out will mean you burn out even more. You do do do until you fall into bed, and you’ll only fall into bed if the fog clears enough for you see a image of your bed in your head, with you in it. You will not put the solution of bed, together with the issue of burn out, and consequently find a temporary solution. Instead you will look at inane things on the internet, get angry at things you’ve long identified as not worth getting angry at, you’ll skip meals, run out of toiletries, begin putting your hood up more so the world is less excruciatingly painful to be in. In short, you’ll ENDURE. And autistic people have been enduring pain since they were born. It seems normal to ENDURE. Until, you are lucky enough for something to trigger a part of your brain, your autistic brain, and that is when you STOP.
I am learning so much from my autistic brothers and sisters on Twitter. Without them I would be dead. In particular I want to highlight and thank Megs who produces video blogs in which she talks about autism and her autistic life. Watching Megs has helped me understand myself, but particularly because Megs is artistic and similar to me, I can very much relate to what she feels even when she doesn’t understand herself. What happens is she holds up a mirror to my executive functioning, but because I am processing it with my frontal cortex, I can then understand it. This in turn means I can take action, even though it isn’t coming out of my executive functioning tool box. This makes complete sense.
If you are feeling as though you are walking through quicksand and you simply are not functioning, perhaps you might find it helpful to read this, or watch Megs, or someone who you relate to, and you may then be able to use that mirror to give yourself a break, and rest, without guilt, and be a cat for a while. Enjoy resting and eating and watching.