Autistic Burnout – Are You Going Through Burnout?

The most popular search term used to find my website is “Autistic Burnout” which leads me to believe that it is a topic that many readers have interest in. As always I am more than happy to elaborate and share what I’ve experienced on this topic however I am still waiting for a medical explanation for the onset of these disturbing symptoms.

Burnouts (sometimes called Autistic Regression in children) can last for weeks or months and can be reoccurring and can be tied to life and health events. Sometimes Autistic Burnout can look like and may be mistaken for or come with depression.

I’ve gone through burnout three times in my life.

My worst burnout was around puberty and my most recent burnout came when I moved and started a new job. In both of my most recent burnouts a major schedule change was involved and I had to adjust to a new normal.

Burnouts seem to be tied to stress and self worth. As an Aspie, having any large life changing event is almost guaranteed to cause me problems.

When I go through burnout it is easier for me to have meltdowns and they become more frequent.

My head aches almost constantly and my brain becomes fuzzy. Easy tasks may become more difficult. Trying to think can feel like swimming through thick glue.

My mind and body become worn down and tired easily and my sensory processing disorder gets a bit out of control. My senses become unpleasant and I don’t want to be in public.

Full blown sensory meltdowns don’t normally bother me unless I am going through burnouts or am not getting enough rest.

Burnouts make me feel like I am always tired, running on fumes and could meltdown at any moment. They make me feel sick and weak and even mess with my digestion.

There is only one cure that has ever helped me to recover from burnout – working passionately on a creative project that I am good at and being alone.

For me solitude is my savior. I feel the most calmness and clarity when left alone with my own thoughts and actions. On my own I can rest and repair the damage.

Your personal experience may be different than mine because we all after all are individuals.

Have you ever experienced Autistic Burnout?

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42 thoughts on “Autistic Burnout – Are You Going Through Burnout?”

  1. I actually have no idea if I’ve ever had an Autistic burnout, as I don’t know whether I am autistic, or just have many personality traits that could be viewed as symptoms of autism. Maybe I just take after my little brother(diagnosed autist).
    However, after reading as many posts as possible in the short time I’ve known about your blog, it is really striking how much I can recognize myself in your texts. And especially in this one.
    Whenever there’s a big change and/or much uncertainty, I get really nervous, and sensitive. I need to be in my room, or in a forest, inside myself. I avoid contact, especially on the phone(that thing is creepy!). I feel depressed and can’t get much done. I might just stay in bed for a few days.
    Only small disturbances in the routine gets me hissy. Like if someone is sitting in my spot, or the boyfriend doesn’t leave for work in the morning. That stupid flexible work-style of his is driving me nuts!

    Thank you so much for sharing all this. It’s really comforting and helpful for someone like me 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

      1. I guess it does. I’m not in a hurry to find out though. As my contact with the psychiatric system has been so unpleasant, I’m happy to stay unaware of any potential diagnosis.

        I’ve never heard of that project before. It seems really interesting! I am surely very protective of my little brother.
        I live in scandinavia though, so I’m probably not able to participate. But I will certainly follow the project, because I’m very interested in what they might find out. Thank you for sharing!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The same thing has happened to me over the past few weeks reading these posts. I’m a former psychotherapist and I know the danger and fallacy in self-diagnosis (it happens all the time in grad school), but I can’t get over how many traits of autistic meltdowns occur in my life on a regular basis. I struggle a great deal with PTSD and major depression, and I have what my wife and I call “meltdowns” on a regular basis and I’ve always been stunned at how similar in both look and feel they are to folks on the spectrum. Knowledgeable people with a lot of training have also brought ASD up to me as an explanation.

          I’m not a fan of mental health diagnosis in general; for the most part, it pathologizes the individual and pays attention to a person’s deficiencies rather than their strengths. With ASD it’s a little different for me due to the neurological context. I don’t know if I’m on the spectrum, I most likely am (it is a spectrum, after all), but it can’t hurt to work with some of the autism coping skills you outline. Diagnosed or not, the struggle is still the same, and we can overcome by using everything that is available to us. Thanks for your blog, “Anna”.

          Liked by 3 people

  2. There have been times when the circumstances of my life have caused this exact kind of thing. For many years I wondered if I might not have bipolar disorder, but I’ve never had manic episodes. I just seem to go from a long period of successful high functioning to a period of fatigue, disinterest, vague illness, and an overwhelming need to isolate and avoid stress and stimulation.

    Thank you for such an illuminating post. It is a relief to put all these things in their proper context!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’m currently in the middle of burnout it seems like. What I’ve been doing is almost like an episode of depression. I’ve stopped going out, I dread every day waking up and feel tired and dragging at my job. Oh, and I’ve been experiencing some IBS-like symptoms recently also. Never thought it could be tied to that but now it makes sense.

    Hopefully I snap out of it soon.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Yes, I recognize autistic burnout in my past, the worst two being after my first husband left and in the time period I call ” Online Dating Hell”. Both times I was near suicide and, funny enough, both had to do with bad relationships.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on The Inked Autist and commented:

    Well this definitely sheds some light on what I’ve been experiencing recently, from the fatigue to the apathy to the IBS that swings from one extreme to the other every few days. There’s still more I’m learning about my own condition over the years and I never knew this was a thing. Glad to have some answers.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, forgot to add IBS is certainly a huge part of my issues, too. In addition (or concurrent) to autism we have a genetic condition known as EDS running through our family. It causes a whole host of problems from joints to dental to gastrointestinal.

        Liked by 2 people

          1. Oh, how well I know! We pieced our stuff together largely through our own research. So, no official labels, just that sense of knowing that is both helpful and not. Sigh.

            Liked by 2 people

  6. I want to thank you for educating me. I am slowly beginning to understand why my brother does the things he does and why he does them. May your burnouts be a thing of the past. Blessings! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Yes this is me to a tee. I’m worried it won’t pass this time. God seems to be allowing quite the crock of discombobulating circumstances that have been difficult to mull over & line out. My priorities have been forced nutrition, exercise and rest while trying to find a more suitable career. I’m spent to say the least! ❤️Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Yes, though this is the first time I’ve heard the term. Thank you for that! It makes sense of a pattern I’ve experienced a number of times.

    I have definitely noticed that my meltdowns sometimes occur in clusters. Until recently, I assumed that meant I was decompensating in some permanent, degenerative kind of way.

    This year I figured out that, since I have always gotten get my ducks back in a row eventually, it must not be that I’m actually “getting worse” in a permanent sense. I realized that those meltdown clusters (sounds like the worst candy ever, heh) are associated with events that are both stressful and disruptive—things that screw up my schedule and/or eliminate time or space for introverted decompression, like adding an extra person to the house or working a schedule that never gives me a full day at home by myself.

    This post made a light click on. It’s like, “Of course!”

    When I’m living with a higher general level of stress and/or with diminished access to the coping mechanisms that help me get by (alone-time, dance), it only makes sense that a state of constant overwhelm should follow. Sometimes it takes several weeks or months to re-establish equilibrium.

    Under those circumstances, my brain is basically overloaded all the time—so of course “short circuits,” in the form of meltdowns, occur more frequently!

    This makes so much sense, and honestly, it makes me feel so much better to know A) that this is just a thing, and not a sign of impending doom and B) that other people are also experiencing similar things and finding ways to cope.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also relate to this so much…. and to so many of the replies… overload, no space for recuperation and external stressors such as too much asked of me . This is usually cumulative … everything builds up and strips away any meagre energy reserves… then crash and nowadays it usually takes months to recover to a state where I’m still energy deficient.

      Like many of us i push myself to achieve , to achieve what to me is important not primarily to please others, however, the social demands placed upon me, albeit occasional, also seem to come clusters. An occasional cluster of ” you gotta do this or that” to maintain some semblance of relationship with the rest of the human race.

      Medicos don’t have a clue about Chronic Fatigue, burnout, and autistic overload .. so frustrating!

      Liked by 2 people

  9. A long time ago it became readily apparent to me that changing jobs made me ill. When I was ill, everybody told me I became a “monster”, and couldn’t wait for me to get better. Then after getting diagnosed, I realized that being a “monster” meant that my autistic traits were less controllable when I was ill, and it still took me a little time to get a handle of everything after the illness was over. Finally, I saw a youtube video, where the poster was describing how burnout made her ill; I realized that I was having burnout, that it made me ill at the same time I was having burnout behavior. Since I retired, I haven’t been ill (had my first and only meltdown, thought).

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Wow . . . Where to begin?

    I am 44 years old, but I only learned two years ago that I am autistic. If I had gone to school more recently, rather than in the eighties, it would have probably been flatly obvious to anybody. But, I went through much of adulthood and a career going through the “mystery” of wondering why the heck I am how I am, without knowing the answer until two years ago. Two things got me looking and thinking in the right direction, leading me to the diagnosis of autism: autism in my own kids, and BURNOUT.

    By my late thirties, I could see certain changes happening in myself. Until I knew that I was autistic and started researching burnout, I did not know why they were happening, and they worried me. My nerves became much more frayed, such that I would be overwhelmed much more easily. I couldn’t tolerate sensory situations (such as secondhand cigarette smoke) that I used to be able to handle. I found myself doing more repetitive motion things than I used to and found it more difficult to restrain myself from doing them (as I later learned, “stimming”). I was spending more and more time dwelling upon a single interest of mine, pretty much every time I became anxious. And, I was finding it harder and harder to communicate with my colleagues. I am a high school teacher, and it came to feel like I could much more easily have a conversation with a seventeen year-old than with one of my adult colleagues in my age group. Even facial recognition has become more of a problem for me, making for some awkward situations with students . . .

    As I know now, all of those are signs of autistic burnout. The cause of it is a no-brainer for me: I have eight kids, and it is pretty clear that six of the oldest seven (the baby, we don’t know yet) are on the spectrum, ranging from strong “girl Aspergers” in my daughters to my oldest son, who is still nonverbal and wears diapers at age 9. Life entails a lot of stress for us, and my OCD has become far worse as I am constantly worrying about whether or not I am making things “sufficiently” right (whatever that exactly means) for my family and home.

    My wife is an Aspie as well (we didn’t know that either of us was autistic when we met), and she has been going through marked burnout as well. She is struggling with depression, fatigue, and meltdowns that come much more quickly and frequently than they used to. The noise of the house bothers her much more than before.

    I have been trying to connect with other Aspie adults – especially “late diagnoses” in their thirties or older – over the last few years, largely through FB, to try to learn more from them and to develop a circle of contacts with whom my wife and I have this in common. I am eager to discuss and learn about these issues, for I have been trying to research the heck out of Asperger’s myself for two years now and know that the best way to learn about it is not through professionals, but from other Aspies. So, thanks for posting on this topic. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you SO much for sharing! RE: “the best way to learn about it is not through professionals, but from other Aspies. ” – yes! This is why we all need to write and share our stories until our own words outnumber the words of doctors and non-Aspies talking about us. I would have NEVER believed that I was Autistic reading what professionals say about Autism. Only reading other Autistic people helped me to see from things from a prospective like my own.

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  11. Nice post. I’m not autistic, at least not diagnosed as such although I find I have a lot in common with aspies, but your words resonate with me.

    I’ve had that kind of “burnout” often. I even went through post-partum depression, which isn’t surprising considering the trouble I have adapting to any new situation – having a baby changes everything. What ultimately saved me is the realisation that I need time alone, and I need to use that time to work on projects that mean something to me – same as you.

    It made me feel “egotistical” at first, but I’ve come to peace with it. Protecting my daily time alone improves my mood, which ultimately is beneficial to my family as well.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I never thought of “burnout” until recently. I went through what I know is a late autistic regression around age 16. I screamed and melted-down a lot. I was totally out of control when exposed to trigger sounds that amplified around this time. It wasn’t the result of my dad’s sudden death a year and a half ago. If that were so, since I came to terms with my dad’s death years ago, I wouldn’t have these symptoms anymore. My mom died nearly 3 years ago & though heartbroken, I didn’t regress. I went through amplified, but common emotions of sadness and fear. I was not angry. I knew where I stood with God. Despite treatment, I have never been able to get back to where I was prior to age 16. That is because my brain is done growing. I went through 2 summers of sleeping all the time and gaining weight-in 2013 and 2016. I had been fantasizing about getting away from everything and crawling into a black hole. I am still struggling to fully come back.

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  13. I had a burnout at age 21 leading up to final year of university – after a work placement in year three – and I simply couldn’t focus on study and graduated with a lesser degree than I had hoped for. I missed out on graduate roles because my grade wasn’t good enough and I was practically like a Christian thrown to the lions in Ancient Rome.

    I liked school, oddly enough, but looking back I was only too willing to drink the Kool-Aid back then and had no mechanism of coping with day-to-day life. I was so naïve growing up.

    I did find a Government job in 2004, but was dismissed after six months due to my burnout. Then my financial state had free-fallen into Hell due to dealing with my gran and younger brother.

    I do overdo things at time; my grandfather had no life outside work. (he was a dairy farmer) But now I am coping much better and am learning now to operate a ‘normal’ day by myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Based on your description, I have, at times, gone through a burnout period like that. I’ve also gone through other types of burnout (e.g., “I can’t write code anymore”), and the fix for all of them seems to be what you’ve stated: find a creative project I have a personal investment in, work on that, and be left alone for a while.

    The last part is pretty hard. At work it’s an obvious problem; at home, it’s also hard to deal with. My wife can be understanding, but at other times she’s going through burnout of her own, and if our burnout times happen at the same time my need to be alone conflicts with her need to be with me and talk herself out of it. As you can imagine, that can be hard on both of us. She’s gregarious, I’m not.

    Side note: go look up antonyms of “gregarious” and they are almost all pretty unflattering: inhospitable, unfriendly, cold, unsociable. I suppose that’s to be expected; typically humans are social animals… and so are we, in our own way, but as we don’t meet social “norms” we’re referred to in unflattering ways.

    I think all we really want is to be accepted. Not necessarily understood – heck, I don’t understand how my wife likes people as much as she does, so it would be unfair to her to hold her to a higher standard. She does accept me, which is very nice – I should tell her more often.

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  15. Hmm. Sounds very similar to what I have gone through many times. This requires more thinking to see if this is true for me. So much to think about. My brain NEVER shuts off, and when it does, that is when people have a powerful need to ask me things; things I need to solve and I’m just a defeated glob of what was once a brain. I need more thinking. Hmmm. That what I explained is not what I’m thinking of. It is just one tiny thing that happens about 3 times a year without provocation…. I think without… provocation. You…. you got me thinking.

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  16. Yes major burnout episodes in my life, sometimes along with an illness that just makes me lie exhausted in bed, stops me in my tracks. It looks a lot like depression & sometimes does incorporate depression. It has occurred in a big way at least 4-5 times (I am 42) Last time it happened in response to cluster of stressful life events I went to doctor and explained I needed help & it was ‘like’ depression and she figured out it was more likely about anxiety. This was before I got an ASD diagnosis. Brain fog, confusion and extreme tiredness, plus weeping were symptoms. If asked there was no clear “why”. It was regressive in that my competence and capacity declined. Good news I eventually got back to my normal. If I had understood this element of autism at a younger age I definitely could have done a lot to protect my health & related things like employment…

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