Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer. I hope you’re all as well as you can be. As always, it’s good to have you here. I’ve had a good week. I’ve started the ball rolling with getting contractors on board for sorting out my new house. Conveyancing is still underway, but everything looks hunky dory so far. Part of me keeps expecting something to go horribly wrong, but that part of me, I recognise, is in pain from many kinds of old trauma in my life. And speaking of trauma, this week, I want to return to a frequently discussed topic on the blog… autistic burnout. I’ve mentioned many times on social media (the subject comes up again and again) that I feel the damage done to me by autistic burnout is permanent, and as a result, I am somewhat less than I used to be. But does that mean I am now useless? Am I utterly broken? Am I on the social scrapheap, unloveable, unwanted, unemployable? Is this the case for any autistic person who has endured this kind of burnout? There’s quite a bit to talk about…
Why am I coming back to this subject right now? Well, with the changes in my life – particularly buying my new house, which means moving from one end of the city to the other – I’ve been thinking about whether I should change jobs in order to make my commute a bit easier. At one time in my life, that would have been a fairly straightforward decision, but not anymore. For many years, I’ve maintained an online CV with recruitment agencies. I haven’t been in any hurry to change jobs for the last four years or so because I like my current job. But I would be foolish not to be interested in opportunities, hence the online CV. And for as long as that CV has been online, I’ve been fending off a weekly onslaught of phone calls and emails from recruiters. This was to be expected; I have a decent career history, having been in management for a long time, and having shown a lot of loyalty to my employers. I also have a decent degree, which helps. But on only two occasions in the last four years did I come close to taking a different job – both times, it turned out in the details that neither job was quite right. That’s okay; like I said, I’m happy in my current job. But a few months ago, something changed. I updated my online CV and made it very clear right at the top that I am autistic. Since then, how many phone calls and emails from recruiters do you think I’ve received? I’ll tell you. None. Zero. Nought. Zilch. Zip. Nada… choose your synonym. Try telling me there is no workplace discrimination against autistic people.
Am I unemployable because I’m autistic? Well, I’m in work now, but I received my diagnosis shortly after starting this job, so maybe I wouldn’t have got the job if I’d known and been open about my autism beforehand? Who knows? Seriously, I don’t think I’m completely unemployable – I’m sure there are plenty of my neurokin out there who have landed jobs while being openly autistic. But the fact remains that interest in me from recruiters has dropped to zero since I proudly proclaimed my autism on my CV. Should I do something about this? (That’s a rhetorical question; I don’t need replies.). If I remove mention of autism from my CV, I will feel I am cheating myself and my neurokin; like I’m cowarding out. Of course, that wouldn’t really be the case; it would simply be a practical decision but nevertheless, it would not sit well with me from a moral standpoint. I’m proud of being autistic, and proud of the autistic community to which I belong. I don’t want to hide that. But if I decide to make that change to my CV (and, honestly, I probably will bite the bullet and do it), is it too late? Has the damage already been done? Employers commonly check the social media profiles of prospective employees, and let’s face it, my social media activity basically holds up a big red sign that says, look at me, I’m autistic. Are prospective employers going to look at that and think, no thanks? Will the fact that I have openly stated autistic burnout has left me permanently lesser than the man I used to be come back to haunt me?
There is a more than good chance that my honesty about my autism and burnout will put employers off me. But should it?
Okay, first of all, I have to tackle the ever-present question of what autistic burnout actually is. Regular readers will know I’m going to say that the term autistic burnout means different things to different people, some of whom use the term to refer to things like meltdowns. I think the misuse of the term adds to confusion, and I gave my thoughts on what autistic burnout actually is, and how the terminology should be used, in a previous blog post which you can read by clicking here. The type of burnout that has affected me is what I have labelled long-term burnout.
My experience of long-term burnout led to a period of deep depression so severe it literally changed my life. Long-term burnout is, among other things, a result of mental and emotional exhaustion that has built up through many years of masking (changing behaviour to fit in the non-autistic world). Living life as something you are not, day in, day out, for years and years is hugely debilitating. My burnout was a prolonged period, from 2015 to 2018 in which my ability to function in general life was compromised. (From 2018 up until just a few months ago, I would say that the embers of my burnout were still smouldering as I struggled to cope with what life and the non-autistic world were throwing at me.). The diagnosis from my GP was depression and anxiety, but what none of us knew back in 2015 was that I was autistic, and that I could no longer hack the masking behaviours and coping mechanisms I’d been using thus far.
Finding out I was autistic gave me an explanation for why I’d been struggling, but that explanation did not work like a magic bullet to kill all my problems. Being burned out meant that I could no longer maintain my masking and coping mechanisms, but it also meant my autistic sensitivities to the non-autistic environment (my sensory issues, social issues, etc) had been dialled up a few notches. Also, just knowing the reason I’d been struggling was unidentified autism meant the last of my resistance crumbled – I describe it as the walls tumbling down. This two-pronged effect; the increased sensitivity and the crumbling walls, explains why so many autistic people who are diagnosed in adulthood say they feel like they become more autistic after their diagnosis.
As fate would have it, my autistic burnout was accompanied by, and perhaps hastened by, other things happening in my life. Over the last 7 to 8 years, I have been through the wringer. So much shit has come at me, that I wonder how I ever got through it. I’m starting to feel much stronger now, and I’ve noticed signs of my self-confidence starting to return, but as for being the Darren I used to be… not going to happen. The burnout changed me, for sure, but I don’t underestimate the effect of the other things that have happened in my life, either. Over the last 7-8 years, here are the headlines of my problems, in no particular order…
- 2015 – around my 50th birthday. I felt like an alien in an unfamiliar world. I felt constantly misunderstood, and I was starting to realise I was in some vague way fundamentally different from almost everyone I knew. In a phone conversation with my son, I mumbled something about Aspergers, but then dismissed it.
- Also 2015 – My problems with my lung infections reached their peak, and I was unwell pretty much constantly, being rushed into hospital twice. (The problem was eventually resolved in 2018.)
- My mother, who I loved dearly, passed away after a series of massive, devastating strokes left her a shell.
- My depression reached crisis point with suicidal ideation.
- I left a job I had been in for 28 years, and had expected to be in until retirement. I was angry that my employer had stopped valuing me because of my protracted health problems.
- Despite enjoying my new job, I had to leave it due to health issues. My autistic burnout reached its most intense at this point, and that led to a GP suggesting I was autistic.
- I realised a group of people whom I had considered friends for about thirty years didn’t actually give a crap about me, and were becoming toxic. I cut them off.
- An old friend I had been very close to in the past got in touch and apologised for ghosting me years earlier. I forgave him. He then ripped me off. I called him out on it, and he ghosted me again.
- An infection damaged my ears, popping one of my eardrums.
- I cut off some family members who had behaved intolerably toward me, my mother, and my son. It still hurts.
- My home was burgled.
- My car was broken into.
- My marriage broke down.
- I almost became homeless, finding somewhere to live virtually at the last minute.
- I suffered an excruciating herniated disc in my spine, which led to a stay in hospital and significant quantities of morphine.
- A problem with my shoulder (calcified tendon) took one of my arms out of use for a while.
- I ended up seriously out of pocket after buying a dodgy car when my funds were limited and I was desperate.
- I’ve been on the waiting list to have a troubling health niggle dealt with for nearly a year, with no sign of an appointment.
Now, let me be clear, I’m not after sympathy. Plenty of people have had it much worse than me. But you can only face your own problems as they come along, and looking back at how some of the above stuff affected me, I do wonder how I held it together. It’s not been fun. But there have been positives. I’m currently in a good place mentally, and my only major physical issue is the lingering effects of my spinal problem. But hey, even with my herniated disc, I’m doing a job that has a physical component, and I’m generally quite active.
The subject of work, and my value to employers, is where we came in this week, right? Does my neurotype make me unemployable? Well, you know, I’ve still got all that experience from 28 largely successful years in a challenging management role. I still retain all the skills I picked up in that role, and the new skills I’ve acquired since. And I’m not doing too bad in my current role. Back in my old management job, I was often described as being driven and relentless. Can I still be that guy, after my autistic burnout? Hell, no. But am I older, more experienced, much wiser, more tolerant, and more socially aware? Yes, I am. Am I broken? That depends on how intolerant and discriminatory you are. Let me explain…
These days, I consider myself disabled. My increased autistic sensitivity makes that undeniable. It has not been easy getting me to a place where I accept my status as a disabled person. This is because I come from a background in which ableism was naturally indoctrinated into me as part of my upbringing. People of my age and social background were raised to believe that disability was bad and shameful. While I shook off socially ingrained racism at a very early age, and threw off socially ingrained misogyny and homophobia a little later as I educated myself, it seems ingrained ableism stuck around a little longer. I have to thank the autistic community for enlightening me on this front. Unconscious biases are present in everyone, and can be hard to unlearn. This applies to employers and recruiters. My status as a person who is disabled, a person who is autistic, should not put off employers, but it will. I’m proud to be who I am. I will not apologise for being autistic, and I will not allow our culture and society to make me ashamed. It just looks like I might have to play the game a little should I decide I want to move jobs. That’s sad, and just one further reason why many autistic people will never be able to fully unmask while faced with constant prejudice. We autistic people have plenty to offer workplaces, though. It’s our bouncebackability and our spirit.
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That’s all for this week. Until next time, take care.
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Why Do I Write This Blog?
When I first found out I was autistic, I was a middle-aged adult and I knew nothing about autism. I quickly learned that there was a serious shortage of information and resources for adults in my situation. With this blog, I aim to inform about autism and autism-related issues as I learn, hopefully helping people who are on a similar journey of discovery. Like anyone who writes a blog, I want to reach as many readers as possible; if you like what I’m doing, please share it with your friends and followers. I will never hide this blog behind a paywall, but running the website does incur costs. If you would like to support, feel free to make a small contribution at BuyMeACoffee.Com.
You might also be interested in David Scothern’s blog, Mortgage Advisor on FIRE, which covers a range of topics including mental health issues and financial independence.
2 thoughts on “Part 123: Burnout Bouncebackability”
I really relate to this! I’m going through a burn out, also complicated by others stressors and trauma. For me its about not going back to my stressful job and creating a life that now fits my needs!
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That’s right – we have to make the right adjustments to offset all the damaging stuff that comes at us.
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