“Aspie burnout” is a colloquial term, that the clinical world doesn’t seem to acknowledge as a genuine part of the autistic spectrum, resulting from the attempts to “be normal”, fit in and keep up. Here, I think it is very useful to draw peoples’ attention to Christine Miserandino’s ‘spoon theory’: http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/wpress/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/ because when I read it, I saw such immense parallels with living with Asperger’s/autism. It can creep up on you, it can hit any time, but for sure, most Aspies will have experienced Aspie burnout by the time they hit 35.
Basically, the higher functioning you are, the more others expect of you and also, the more you push yourself. You have an invisible disability, you look normal and have no apparent physical difference. So why can’t you behave and carry on like everyone else? Sure, everyone gets tired, sure they also can get burnout from pushing themselves too hard. But the difference is this: we get it from just existing in a neurotypical world, a world that doesn’t accept our differences or make allowances for them. Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are greater in high-functioning autistics, because of trying to fit in and finding it so difficult. Because we are acutely aware of our differences and our failings, but we are just as affected by them as lower-functioning autistics. So we kind of have the rawest deal.
People say to you things like “Other people manage why can’t you?” which only serves to make you more insecure. There are low points, when you are angry at having autism and being different and having no control over it. Those moments are exacerbated by such unhelpful remarks. When you have brain differences, when you literally get overwhelmed by so many environmental things, just existing is challenging. So when you try to take on responsibilities that other people find par for the course and take for granted, they can become massive challenges to someone like me. And ignoring the difficulties, carrying on as you see everyone else doing, at some point, will ensure a mental/physical collapse. This means, you can’t go out, can’t even contemplate doing the most basic things without great difficulty. The saying “Something’s gotta give” comes to mind. We need to pace ourselves, just like Christine, there is only so much we can manage. Trying to do it all, can only work for a limited time.
If you Google “Aspie burnout” all that comes up is a collection of blogs and websites like this. The very real experiences of us Aspies. But there is no clinical term for this specific condition, no doctor seems to be aware of it. When you hit burnout, you can take a long time to recover. Even one stressful day, for someone on the spectrum can mean days or even longer, of hiding away to recover afterwards. So imagine what impact it has if you try day after day to continue living at a level, which to others is ordinary but to you is a massive challenge. And once you burnout, your coping capacity is diminished. That means, even when you recover, if it happens again, it can happen quicker and take less to provoke it.
I have read of one author who has written about Aspie burnout:
Suzanne C. Lawton refers to Aspie burnout as The Asperger Middle-Age Burnout in her book Asperger Syndrome: Natural Steps Toward a Better Life. On page 33 it says:
“She had noted this same behavior and attributed it to adrenal exhaustion from years of pumping out high levels of epinephrine from prolonged severe anxiety. Not only were these AS people dealing with their regular levels of anxiety, but they were also working extremely hard to maintain a façade of normalcy.”
Although I don’t think that it only applies to middle-aged Aspies as I have read of younger Aspies having it too. I think it depends on your unique balance of traits, the support you have and your environment as to when you get it. Some may be lucky to escape it, but I think that is a rare Aspie. So us Aspies must remember, to stop pushing ourselves too hard, think of what we need, like Christina, measure out our spoons with care, and be kind to ourselves. Don’t be scared to say “no”. Thought for the day:
“Exhaustion without reward is torture.”
~ Kerlynne Ferrer
(someone has done a Dutch translation of my above blog post here, I can’t verify the faithfulness of the translation because I don’t speak Dutch, but it might be useful to Dutch speakers!)