Was I Burned Out?

I’m back at work now after a five day break over the Christmas holiday and I’ve managed to arrive before 9 am two days running! This might not sound like much but over the past few months I’d been regularly starting between 10 and 10:30.

I was finding it difficult to get moving in the mornings. The alarm would go off at 7:30 am and I’d need every minute of the two hours before I had to leave to stumble through my routines and get ready for work. Saturdays were usually spent in PJs, slippers and robe, often not being able to summon the energy to wash or dress.

The start of the holidays was like that. Whole days spent watching shows and movies on Netflix. But then, after two “lazy” days, something changed. After about nine hours sleep I woke up at 8 feeling refreshed. I might still not have done much, but what else are holidays for? The change was that I felt alert, like a fog had cleared from my head, like weights pulling down on my limbs had sloughed away in the night.

I guess I really needed the time off. Time to rest and rebuild my energy. Time to gather a stockpile of spoons. I’d had no idea how exhausted I had become, but looking back I can see how I was trudging zombie-like through the days, going through the motions without much conscious thought.

You see, this is one of the down sides of autism. Many of us really have no idea when we’ve pushed ourselves too far, too hard, and our bodies are at the point of collapse. The warning signs don’t get picked up in time, if at all. And then it takes time — days — to recover.

How did I get to that point? How could I just ignore the signs? Well, the answer is that I just didn’t notice. I suppose one of the effects of tiredness is that it reduces awareness of the state of the body. In my case this doesn’t have to drop far before it’s hovering around zero.

The way to prevent this would probably involve planning ahead and putting breaks in place before I get to the point of needing them. But when am I likely to need them? I don’t know. If anybody has any suggestions I’d love to hear them.

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20 thoughts on “Was I Burned Out?

  1. Hi Alex,
    I don’t think these symptoms are just isolated to autism. This is something I have fought with for many years now. I think that we need to break through the head thinking which just keeps pushing through. Nowadays I try and connect to my gut feeling – quite literally – by using visualisation.

    I just take some time to sit down in a peaceful environment and centre myself. Then I take long deep breaths for 5 minutes or so to just purge any stress I can and then drop my awareness down to my centre – which I usually find in my lower abdomen, or “dan tien” in tai chi terms. Then I try and visualise my inner child, usually a little boy in a sunny meadow for me, and then ask him how he is feeling – there is more here I could say but easier when we meet. So far he is always on the button and a good indicator of my inner state.

    Trouble is that programmers are likely to have difficulty getting out of our heads, and I find it difficult to really get in touch with what this ‘inner child’ wants rather than all the myriad things I am expected or have to do as an adult.

    Hope that helps some though…
    All the best for 2015
    Charles

    • Thank you Charles: an intriguing meditative technique. One of the negative effects of exhaustion is the way it restricts the capacity for creative thought. Instead of interrupting my customary thought patterns I fall back more and more on learned, habitual routines. The key would seem to be involve developing self-awareness to the point where these cycles can be identified and broken.

      Best wishes for the New Year!

  2. This is familiar. I think I’m still in the perma-tired stage of the holidays, although having said that I am blogging/checking FeministAspie accounts again, and I don’t go back to uni until Saturday so it’s quite difficult to judge properly. I find that it doesn’t take me too long at home before I miss uni again, despite often not thinking that possible by the time I leave! As for actual solutions, I’m afraid I’m as clueless and desperate as you are. Recently I went through the anxiety course on 7 Cups of Tea and resolved to adopt certain habits long-term (recording, challenging and replacing automatic thoughts; listening to relaxation tapes on YouTube to get to sleep easier) and this has all proved really helpful for me, but I feel like I’m just slightly alleviating symptoms rather than solving the problem.

    • I read your recent post Where I’ve Been: A long whine about my brain and recognized much of what you describe: I started to comment a few times but couldn’t manage to gather my thoughts into a coherent shape.

      I found that I largely enjoyed my time at uni despite the problems I encountered (mostly related to the degree of independence necessary, but I’ve written about that elsewhere). I’ve always found that when I enjoy my time in a place I am reluctant to leave, and when I do leave I miss it. Some of this is the comfort of the familiar, some is a desire to relive positive experiences from the past.

      Anxiety is difficult to control (I know: I’ve tried) and while there are definite benefits to be gained by alleviating the symptoms the underlying causes/triggers remain. Unfortunately the most successful strategy I’ve found is simple avoidance but this is obviously not practical for all situations. A short course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy did teach me some coping strategies for specific scenarios and has been of some help in managing my anxiety; however I’m not aware of any reliable ways to prevent triggering altogether. 😦

  3. Sounds very recognizable. I think people with autism in particular, but a lot of people in general when they are busy, have a tendency to forget about themselves. I mean, how often have I heard colleagues say they need to go to the bathroom 4x before they actually go? Or get a drink, stuff like that. It’s all part of the same thing.

    But, yeah, how do you plan breaks when you don’t know you need them? You need them when you’re least likely to think of them.
    I have been seeing people mention mindfulness/meditation apps on twitter, maybe that’s a good idea. From what I understand it will ask you to sit down and listen to yourself a couple of times a day, I suppose you can set a frequency. Unfortunately, I don’t remember a name, or even who is talking about these.

    • Yes, I’m terrible at looking after myself when I’m busy. The number of times I’ve gone all day without even having a drink of water, and ended up feeling out of sorts without realizing why.

  4. You could have been reading my mind 🙂 This is exactly what I said to my husband just yesterday… there really is no warning of pending burn out. One minute going like a boeing, next thing total cease up, literally: every muscle and joint aching, head pounding, all senses heightened, and digestive system screaming so far and NO further. I HATE nausea more than anything else!
    And honestly no warning! I simply cannot tell when I am overdoing it!
    Fortunately my husband does NOT want me to land up in that state again while we have guests, so he is helping out a lot! 🙂

      • This, yes. I get blamed for it, get accused of not even trying. I keep trying to explain, I AM trying, I have been working on building “self awareness” for YEARS. But for me personally, it is just not working. As productive perhaps as a blind person trying to draw a scene from a photograph. I need some other way, because I can’t keep trying like a normal person.

        Sorry, no suggestions. Just frustration.

  5. Big hugs, Alex! I know that cloud all too well. While not confined to autism alone, for us, it often happens because we are too focused on one ‘task’ and forget to pick up the warning signals in time. Executive dysfunction, and inability to function commensurate with intellectual capacity, are other facets of what I constantly experience as multidimensional breakdown. For me, paying better attention to Lucy has helped me take better note of my own thresholds, a synergy that I am very grateful for. Tale care, my dear friend, and may 2015 bring good things!

    • It can cause a lot of problems, affecting both physical and mental health. I try to look after myself but don’t always manage to remember to do so. Issues with Executive Function can get in the way.

      • Yeah. It happened again just today. I’m in the process of searching for jobs, and it’s been hard. But instead of taking time off to regroup and knowing that I needed to, I plowed through for two days straight (hence the issue with executive function). When I was faced with another rejection, I just broke down from the stress, and normally I just shrug things off.

        • Totally burned myself out thinking I needed to do everything now now now and not taking time off to get myself together

  6. Alex, this post helped me to understand my AS husband more. Thank you! He often cannot find motivation to get to work before 10 or 11am, and when he comes home sometimes he can only get on the computer. He doesn’t even want to prepare his dinner. Because of your blog post, I understand now this is because he does not know how to regulate his work habits so that he doesn’t burn out, since he is not able to feel the impending exhaustion. However, I do think recently he has been able to take short breaks during his work day to do what he wants. This has decreased the amount of “burn-out” I’ve witnessed. Good luck!

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