One of the things I have noticed is that I seem to cope for so long, before I can’t any longer, and then I will crash. I will experience extreme exhaustion, pain and Depression. Whether it is mental health burnout or autistic burnout I am unsure, perhaps it is both.
What I do know is this – there seems to be a bit of a pattern to it, the length of ‘coping’ time in between burnouts can vary depending on what events or situations I have had to deal with, but in the end I will experience a deep Depression which I now believe is the result of a burnout.
It is well known, to my family and friends, that I have always struggled with social situations and have servere Social Anxiety. I used to avoid social events and situations like the plague, but once my daughter was born I made more of an effort and tried to deal with social settings as best as I could, despite paying for it afterwards with a ‘social hangover’ which would require a day or two spent at home doing very little to recover.
At the end of 2017 I decided it was time to start going back to work, I was told I would need to update my qualifications, specifically English and Maths. At the beginning of 2018 I attended a centre 2 days a week and began with a computer course. The days I chose were Mondays and Wednesdays, I made sure I had a day off inbetween so I could recover from the previous day. I quickly learned that one day wasn’t enough but I was unable to change it. I had to attend the centre all day, 9.00-5.00, on the days I had chosen with a long bus ride to and from the centre. It meant spending the day at a place I didn’t know with people I didn’t know. I found it draining making small talk and holding conversations all day, although the staff were lovely and the people that attended the centre were nice, there was a constant flow of different people who attended. People would pass their course and leave and other people joined. I felt exhausted all of the time.
I quickly passed level 1 of the computer course and moved on to level 2. By May I had finished the computer course and started English, which I thought I would struggle with, I got through it quite quickly except I kept putting off the English Speaking Exam as it meant talking infront of a group of people.
During this time my Daughter started a new school, which meant I had the school run to contend with and a whole new lot of different people. Plus I had to have an operation in the May.
Eventually in the October I went through with the English Speaking Exam and passed the English Course. I felt drained and was experiencing a fair amount of pain and weakness. There was a delay in starting the Maths course, I couldn’t start until January 2019 where I had to attend the centre one day a week. I passed Level 2 Maths in the May and left the centre.
Not long after my daughter was referred to hospital, she had to have lots of different appointments with different doctors and there was the fear of something being seriously wrong which took its toll.
Everything became much more difficult to cope with after that and I was struggling with my Anxiety badly. I could deal with the appointments and hold my Anxiety in check while at the hospital, but I paid for it later in a ‘social hangover’. Other areas of my life began to suffer, my confidence dropped and I felt such a failure and as though I was letting everyone down.
A social hangover for me is exhaustion, struggling to focus and remember things, high Anxiety and low mood, aches and pains, brain freeze and just generally feeling unwell. I had no energy left and recovering from each event and activity took longer and longer.
The constant flow of worry, new places and new people caused me to hit rock bottom. My coping tools were no longer working. I felt there was something wrong with me and felt guilty for struggling.
My daughter also turned the age I was when I was sexually abused, which I found really difficult for some reason, more difficult than I was expecting. There was an intense fear of history repeating itself. By the end of 2019 I slipped into a deep depression (burnout) and needed some support so in 2020 I refered myself to therapy, again. I also asked for support for my daughter for her worrying, but no one was listen or take me seriously to begin with.
Sleeping was difficult, I had crazy dreams when I did sleep and experienced nightmares. Although I didn’t realise they were nightmares, I would wake with my heart racing, shaking and visual disturbances but I could not remember having a nightmare. Turned out they were Trauma memories which I had been experiencing for a long time but had recently became worse.
Due to Covid-19, therapy was different this time around, the only thing available was a Social Anxiety group/course online rather than 1:1, normally I would have declined but I needed something as I was really struggling. I thought this would help with the school run anxiety. The course was really good. Luckily for me the therapist allowed me to have some 1:1 sessions online, initially I ended up with a PTSD diagnosis and then the suggestion of being Autistic.
Therapy helped, I learnt a lot about myself and coping strategies, I also learnt why I struggled so much. I felt I needed some support with the school stuff and he suggestedan organisation, actually getting it has been difficult and has been pretty much non existent. Initially I had help with the school stuff and help with the conversations with staff, but that was taken away because I’m good mum. My daughter is still receiving some support. After they signed us off they put me through to a Social Prescriber, which I had 2 or 3 phone calls with and that ended. At that time I really needed the support and it just wasn’t there. I didnt have the energy left to keep fighting for it. It really shouldn’t be like that should it.
Looking back over my life there have been certain times when Deep Depression would set in, when I couldn’t cope with the constant high anxiety and the daily social interactions and events. There were many times when it was followed by me walking out of a job because I become overwhelmed and couldn’t cope. I understand why it kept happening now, through the autistic lens.
I haven’t got a diagnosis yet, but I think its pretty obvious that I am Autistic, going by the struggles I have experienced. The above is a snapshot of one burnout, the worst one I have experienced, but I know there have been others even though I didnt realise what they were at the time. I hope that I don’t experience another like that again, not for the length of time it lasted or to how bad it was. I’m hoping I have developed enough coping skills to try and prevent it
Slowly, in the last month things have started to improve. The Depression is lifting. Its taken a lot of hard work, distraction and using the tools I learnt through therapy. But, I still have so much to learn.