As I have gotten older, I had hoped I would get rid of my "teenage-years-attitude." You know the one. The one that makes people say things like:
"Are you okay?"
"What's wrong with you today?"
"Do you not like spending time with me?"
And, as time passed, I realized maybe my "bad attitude" was not just a phase. Because not only has it not gone away at 27 years old, but some days it feels like it has only gotten worse. That "bad attitude" that I thought was only seen by people close to me (e.g., my parents) or those whom I didn't know at all (e.g., a stranger on the street), was coming out at work or in front of peers or even to my partner. And it was not until I learned about my autistic identity that I realized maybe it was all burnout.
Burnout for autistics and other neurodivergent individuals looks different for each person.
For me, it looks like this:
I am incredibly irritable, but not just in how society perceives being irritable. Where someone may be able to breathe through their annoyance of someone and go about their day, the very idea of being able to hear someone breathing makes me want to burst into tears.
All my sensories are in overdrive. An activity that usually doesn't bother me will suddenly feel like my worst nightmare. For example, I work at drag shows. I can generally tolerate the noise, or, on a bad day, I can find comfort in my noise-canceling headphones; during a burnout, I can feel the music pulsing through me no matter the volume level. Have you heard of autistics being able to hear electricity? During burnout, every room with electronics/appliances (e.g., projector, speakers, etc.) sounds like Pikachu zapped it.
Another sensory that is in full overdrive is touch. I often do not want to be hugged, patted on the shoulder, high-fived, or anything of that nature - unless I initiate it. When this boundary is broken (mainly because I cannot articulate that I don't want to be touched before it happens), it feels like I can't breathe during the interaction.
I have migraines that last until the burnout has come to an end. Not only do they cause pain, but they also affect eyesight, blood sugar levels, and dizziness—all things I take medication for.
My body physically hurts all over, and I am utterly exhausted. Thinking hurts. Moving hurts. Lifting things hurts. The thought of being in public hurts. Engaging with my special interests hurts. Everything hurts.
My special interests are not enjoyable. I still love them, but I don't have the energy to spend time with them.
Somedays, I am nonverbal. Unlike some autistics, I can still mask this trait through burnout (as much as it feels like I am pulling the last bit of my energy out of me) that being said, if I could live in a world where I could just go about my day without speaking some days, this would happen even not during a burnout.
One thing all these traits have in common is: masking is off the table. As I learn more about myself, the more I am learning just how many habits I have formed for the sake of others. Like, laughing when I don't get the joke, creating small talk to avoid people thinking I don't want to be around them, or going out when I much rather stay in or go to a quieter venue. As I learn more about what my body needs, I am also learning the power of saying "No, thank you," spending time away from my phone and social media, and reaching out when I need assurance from friends or family.
Regardless, while burnout is never an excuse for one to be rude to others, know that neurodivergent burnout can take a stronger form because it can be caused not just by stressful events but just everyday life. It can be more frequent because of this as well. The biggest thing is never to take it personally. Because it's not you, it's not me - it's just the burnout.
Understand Autistic Burnout better and how you can support: Autistic Burnout: What It Is, Symptoms, & Recovery.
Whatever kind of burnout you are feeling, you are not alone. Feel free to share my article with others so they can understand why you may be distant more often than others in their life. If you feel the need or want to support me further, you can buy me a coffee (https://ko-fi.com/rileyjaysironen) or send me a tip through Venmo (@AustinBlack9), CashApp ($AustinBlack9) or PayPal (email@example.com).