Everyone in the disability sector is familiar with the phrase “autistic burnout”. It’s not like one of those obscure traits that no one outside of the disability sector knows. That’s because while I can’t say every autistic person experiences it, it’s something that happens everywhere. That’s why the suicide rate is far higher in people with autism. Trying to live a life that isn’t designed for their brain to handle becomes too much and they just can’t try any longer.
On the other hand, I think every person with autism, whether they’ve already reached burnout territory or not, have mini-burnouts now and then. It’s a burnout where they have to remove themselves, but then have the will to get back up. That’s what meltdowns often appear to be. Are they a warning of ultimate burnout? Maybe, if they happen more and more frequently. Are they a bad thing? They feel like it at the time, but if it doesn’t last, it might actually help.
This kind of temporary burnout is something I have to deal with all my life. It always happens when I’m working really, really hard to look like everyone else, act like everyone else, and be friendly, charming and healthy with it. It’s just not something that happens. It never shows itself until it’s happening, and that’s what makes it so dangerous. One day I’ll be thinking I’m totally fine, and then the next, it’s there and everyone blames me.
And that’s the worst part about burnouts – any burnouts. No one thinks it might be the world’s fault, a result of tiredness in desperately trying to act like everyone else – unless you’ve been there in which case you’re either feeling too much the same way to be a sympathetic ear (and it’s not your fault at all), or not there at all (and that’s not your fault either). Your autistic friend, neighbour, family member or acquaintance isn’t trying to look for a crutch. They just want to be allowed to be themselves and not have to burnout by being constantly on their best behaviour, like everyone else. Why are you blaming them for just wanting to be what you are?
So let me be me. Let me have bad moods when I’m not happy. You can ignore me if you want for that time, don’t feel obligated to ask me what’s wrong. Just don’t act like I’m doing it on purpose. Because I’m not. And the only thing you can do is make me feel worse about it when it’s over – and the last thing any burnout aftermath needs is guilt.