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On Burnout

When you go to reach for that energy you rely on to keep going and suddenly there's nothing there.
We all talk about burnout as a thing that happens when someone works long hours in a thankless job and doesn’t take enough time away. But what a lot of Neurodivergent people discover in their 30s — especially Autistic people — is that existing in a neurotypical world carries the same emotional and physical toll as working a thankless job from which you can’t ever take a vacation.
If you google “Autistic Burnout” you’ll discover horror stories: people who lost their ability to communicate, to apply effort, to make themselves understood or function in the ways they’d been functioning.
It happened to me: I’d spent several years working hard at a startup that ultimately failed, then my engagement broke off and I spent some time traveling, I got my life back together and got married and settled down and within six months had what I consider my capital-B Autistic Burnout.
It was a rough adjustment period. I lost my ability to mask entirely— suddenly I was speaking in a loud, abrasive voice. I couldn’t really use words to capture my intentions very well, so my expressions became kind of abstract and hard to understand. I was emotionally completely dysregulated with no tools for managing the emotions that were coming out and no strength left to repress them. This was an incredibly painful experience, and I lost friends and almost lost my marriage over it.
It took time, patience and understanding to even begin to understand what was happening, and then I needed serious rest. Recovery took about 3 years, and I’m still not the person I was — I can no longer push myself as hard as I used to, I cannot work at all under pressure without freaking out. I’m diminished in ways I don’t fully understand, but have learned to respect.
All of this happened one day in one instant I’ll never forget: I went to reach for my special hidden reserve of energy and there was nothing there. In a moment I realized I’d used the last of the fuel in a tank I’m still not entirely sure how to refill.
All of this is shared as a cautionary tale: learn and respect your own limits, because if you’re living beyond them for too long you will eventually do irreparable harm to yourself.
Who are you?
I'm 20 months into recovery from capital B burnout. I don't know how I could have been closer to dead. I will write an essay about the experience.
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