Today, the prompt for Reena’s Exploration Challenge is one word: burnout. This word evokes so many thoughts, feelings and memories in me! After all, though I was never diagnosed as suffering with actual burnout, the reason is more that burnout isn’t a DSM-IV or DSM-5 diagnosis than my not having suffered it.
That is, I did indeed not suffer the classic shutdown-type burnout where people are too exhausted to function. Rather, my burnout was more of the meltdown type, where I got so irritable and dysregulated that I couldn’t function anymore.
In 2007, I suffered autistic burnout. This is an actual thing and is more and more recognized by autism professionals too. It involves an inability to function in daily life as a whole, not just work, due to the experience of being overloaded, being autistic in a neurotypical society.
I have shared my experience of landing in a mental crisis in 2007 many times before. I was at the time living independently (though with a lot of community support) and going to university. That all changed within a matter of days: on Tuesday, I was sitting an exam, while the following Saturday, I was a patient on the locked unit of a psychiatric hospital. First, while there, I had to stabilize. I had to get back into a normal sleep/wake rhythm and regain my will to live.
Once I was no longer nonfunctioning and suicidal, however, I had to get my life back on track. My social worker thought I could go into supported housing for autistic people. I, at first, thought so too. Until I saw all the criteria relating to independence, lack of challenging behavior, trainability, etc. That wasn’t going to work out.
To be quite fair, I never fully understood my actual level of functioning until sometime in 2020. I had wanted to prove myself for so long. I had worn so many masks that hid the real, messy truth of who I am. Consequently, I constantly overestimated myself and my abilities. So did the people around me. Until one day, in November of last year, I crashed again. I probably suffered another burnout. That was when my one-on-one support was started.
There still are voices in my head telling me I could, should in fact go back to my life of before my first burnout in 2007. Back to independent living and college. Otherwise, how can I claim recovery?
The thing is, people who experience work-related burnout, usually don’t go back to their exact jobs from before their burnout either, if to the same job at all. Why should I then go back to a life I hated from the get-go? I try to see recovery from burnout not in terms of recovering lost functioning, but in recovering lost pieces of myself.