Monday, February 14, 2022

Autism and Burnout

 I had a parent send me a message and ask if I had any material on burnout. Well, the message was "autism burnout" but as I was working on a racetrack at the time, I missed the autism part and spent the weekend thinking about employment burnout and how that played out in my life. Re-reading the message today I read how it was actually phrased so I looked up autism burnout and was amazed at what I read as I've explained what I was reading in many different ways without knowing that autism burnout was a thing. From firsthand knowledge I can assure you it's a thing. Because this isn't a medical website, I'll let you do your own web searches on autism burnout, but I will describe to you how burnout has played out through my life.

copyright Ken Johnson
I'm extremely blessed in that my work at a racetrack is fully within my Kansas. Just yesterday I was at Homestead Miami Speedway for the SKUSA Winter Series, and the weather conditions were challenging. The day before it was extremely hot, then yesterday we raced in the cold rain which eventually gave way to hot and humid conditions. All the while I'm playing in traffic and putting on a show with the flags at the finish line. It's physically taxing, and I am feeling it today, but for myself this is a breeze compared to the things that'll lead me to burnout.

Next week the NTT INDYCAR Series begins, and I'll be in Saint Petersburg for a week with extremely early hours and working in the conditions whatever they may be. The hours are long, it's a marathon, but again this is easy compared to what I've experienced in the past.

So what causes what I would consider "burnout"? For myself it's always been due to the social aspect of a situation. And this, I think, is where this can be a tad bit confusing if you aren't on the spectrum because you may find it difficult that social situations where nothing bad happens can be just as draining as situations where something bad did occur. For myself, it's the processing aspect of life which is the gasoline on the fire that causes the burnout and regardless of if a social situation went well or bad the amount of processing is still high.

Processing delays are common for those on the spectrum, but this doesn't mean that the processing is slow. Quite the contrary because the way it plays out in myself is that so much processing is going on that it's difficult to be able to get the information I need out of my brain in a timely manner because so much other stuff is being processed. The problem here is that, without a break, this time gets longer and longer, and it'll get to a point where I'll have to hear something or read something several, if not more, times to finally understand what it is that is either expected of me or the info I need to recall.

I haven't had the extreme lack of recall since my school days, but at the start of the pandemic just under two years ago I had been going on about a year straight of nothing but go go go between presentations and flagging. I have memory gaps at the end of 2019 that are of a fog and in March of 2020 I remember telling my dad, "I can't explain this, and I know autism can't get 'worse', but it feels as if my autism is getting worse." Reading what I read today about autism burnout explained a lot.

Thinking of this leads me to understand that there's a difficult balance here. Going back to my days in school is difficult to think about safeguards that would've helped because I wasn't diagnosed at the time, and I had no ability to relay how I was feeling because I had almost no self-awareness. How could I have verbalized that the constant sensory bombardment throughout the day led to extreme exhaustion which then the exhaustion led to fatigue which led to an inability to do the work given because I had no energy left to do anything except simply exist? There's a lot of steps there and without a diagnosis and with zero understanding of myself, and myself to others, there was no hope of any adjustment to the environment that would've helped.

Looking ahead, what can help? Being aware of this, both by a person on the spectrum and those around them, is going to be critical. And this is where I go back and stress that situations that weren't bad can be just as detrimental. As I've said, understanding is the foundation for hope and simply understanding that this exists can help things head in the right direction. I wish I would've known about this 25 years ago because my keen recall of dates and facts had vanished. I knew I knew something, but just couldn't come up with it. This compounded the problem because I started processing the fear of not knowing something because I typically did know something when asked.

I'm going to be doing a lot more thinking on this subject. I'm wondering if this whole burnout thing has been the cause of many of my low points and also, if it had been, what could've helped. Clearly, I am not alone in this struggle which even in writing this I have felt a hint of needing to justify its existence which within that means I have a hint of guilt on this when that shouldn't be the case. I shouldn't feel bad about needing time to recharge, recoup, and get back to my baseline level. I shouldn't feel bad when I need to skip a social function like, say, everyone going to dinner you after a workday so I can be energized for the next day. And yet, you may have picked up on the tone that I have that hint of remorse that I do need to. That internal fight by itself is enough to cause the burnout because I'm aware of "what others think" and what I need. Trying to "fit in" or to "hide" who I am to be part of a group is emotionally and physically crushing and I'm so grateful the race series I work understand what I great at, and they allow me to be the best I can be, but nonetheless there are times I do wonder what that block is, what it would be like to simply be without all this processing and what it would be like to be in a social situation without a million thoughts happening all at once... anyway, this final paragraph was written in this fast paced, circular, almost confusing manner to illustrate the constant elements at play. IF you did think it was a hint in the realm of a ramble all I can say to you is imagine having this at all hours of the day. If you can, then you're on your first step to understanding the burnout.

1 comment:

  1. Thankyou so much for taking the time to write this blog and research, I hope you also got something out of it. You have described exactly what my son has been feeling lately. Thanks again it really helps him to know he isn't the only one feeling this way.