Have you ever explained important things about yourself and said something like “…because I am autistic” or “…I have Asperger’s so ….”
Maybe you gave up explaining and just said some variation of: “People like me on the spectrum can’t do that.”?
I know I do. I have done that often in the past. You know why I do it? Because sometimes people just don’t seem to accept that I experience the world differently from them and instead of arguing about it, it’s easier to just blame it on my Autism Spectrum Disorder.
It’s not just neurotypicals either, sometimes I meet others on the spectrum – exact same diagnosis as me – and they can’t seem to accept my experience is different. I don’t think it’s all that strange, no one in this world can be completely objective and thus, our view and values vary from person to person. It’s not about what labels others have given us, it’s human.
I understand they – those who refuse to accept others may see the world differently from them – might mean well, but my patience isn’t unlimited and there’s A LOT of people out there who doesn’t know anything about ASD or life on the spectrum. I can’t spend every moment of my life explaining to everyone I meet what ASD is or isn’t. Sometimes, I just want to relax. Other times, I am too stressed or too tired to explain complicated ideas in a satisfying way.
So, I accept their prejudices and ignore misunderstandings and use my diagnosis as an excuse to not spend too long in a situation that isn’t beneficial for anyone. You could argue that, by not explaining or giving those who at least show some signs of curiosity the time they deserve, I am making things more difficult for myself and others like me in the future. I am making things easier or helping spread autism awareness this way. I know, but then again, how beneficial is it really if I am not in a state of mind to properly explain something?
Well, that was what it was like for me at first. Later, it became a habit. Then, I started to believe it myself.
“I can’t do [insert whatever you feel incapable of doing] because I’m on the spectrum.”
But is that true? Sure, there are things I can’t, but…. how did I end up feeling like that is pretty much everything? Why do I feel like I can’t do anything?
Some of you may know about my last burnout. It wasn’t my first burnout, but it was the first time I found out that such a thing even existed. During that time, I completely cut off what ties I had to the world and self-isolated in the countryside as much as I possibly could. I would have loved to delete every contact in my mobile contact list and every single social network
account I had, but for some reason I didn’t.
I think I was afraid to be all alone forever, even though I craved it more than anything else at the time. Perhaps, it was hope that made sure I didn’t delete every contact I had. Hope that one day life would be different? It was a confusing time for me, just feeling one emotion at a time is confusing, so you might be able to guess how difficult it was to feel two so conflicting emotions at a time for me. To want friends one day and yet, at that moment, not want any at all.
My burnout didn’t come out of nothing, before it started the signs that I was pushing myself too far were already there. One year before the burnout really hit me, I slowly started withdrawing myself from society and the world, I started avoiding people because interacting with others was constantly hurting me and then it hit me – I felt like I was drowning – and I self-isolated for a year. After that year there was another year of slowly trying to break out of it, a relapse year where I was even worse than the first year I self-isolated and now I am still trying to open myself up to life again. Yes, even now several years later.
One of the most terrifying things was that when my burnout really hit me it was accompanied, not only by depression and anxiety run amok, but also by all of my hypersensitivity increasing to levels previously unheard of in my life. It was literally making me physically sick. It was as if everything that makes me someone on the autism spectrum increased in strength making life even more difficult than before.
Healing from burnout is a painful process. We broke, there’s no getting around that, and now we have to pick up the pieces. I could probably have stayed isolated for the rest of my life and been perfectly content. I didn’t start the process of healing because I wanted to, but because I needed to. The only thing that forced me to change was money – or lack of it, I guess.
Like most others, I needed a job. Maybe there could have been a different way, but honestly, I never lost the desire to work. I never lost the desire to become able to fully support myself.
However, it didn’t go well at first. I was unemployed for about four years before I found something, which I promptly failed spectacularly. I had forced myself outside of my comfort zone, however, and I was getting better in spite of everything. You see, to learn we need to be just outside of our comfort zone and to heal, well, I think it’s the same thing. We need to be just outside of our comfort zone.
Then, well, I didn’t do so well and relapsed into depression, anxiety and isolation. I had pushed myself too far because I didn’t understand that going outside my comfort zone doesn’t mean we have to push ourselves until we collapse. It’s about finding the right place, not too far from our comfort zone and not too close.
I am figuring out now, I think. I am trying, at least.
Now, I finally have a great job with amazing colleagues, and I am doing better every day. I don’t get along with all my colleagues all the time, nor do I do well at work in general. My colleagues are amazing because they seem to accept me just the way I am – whether they like me or not as a person, well that’s a different matter and that is perfectly okay to me. I don’t need people to like me, but I do want them to accept me.
The actual work is difficult and I honestly don’t think I will ever do well, but that doesn’t mean I can stop trying. Learning takes time and if I don’t have the skills to do my job well, how would I be qualified to know whether or not I am ever going to be able to learn or not? I think all we can do is do our best and learn as much as we can. If one day I am fired because I am not good enough, then at least I will have learned as much as I could. That can never be a bad thing, right? Learning is always a magical, albeit sometimes painful, experience.
I have been getting better these last couple of years, I would even say that, in a way, even my relapse made me better. I am learning to heal myself just like I am learning many other skills in life. I always assumed that healing would happen on its own, but now I believe healing is a choice. It’s not about giving something time, it’s about taking responsibility for our own life and choosing to try and get better. No matter what happened to us to make us burn out, it happened. The reasons aren’t really all that important. The most important thing is getting better – healing is the most important part.
As I mentioned earlier, I believe that to heal from bad experiences and burnouts we have to move slightly outside of our comfort zone – but not too far. It a delicate balance.
I don’t know if I will relapse again. Just a few months back I almost broke completely, but I had enough self-awareness to see and understand what was happening. Somehow, I stopped it in time.
I think, healing will probably always be painful in some ways because we have to acknowledge and accept the hurt. We have to face ourselves and change – healing is changing, nothing will ever be the same again and that’s a really good thing. In fact, it’s an amazing thing. We are the ones in control of the process, even if we are not in control of how it started or how it will end. Besides, if you were able to break and burn out in the first place, wouldn’t you rather change into someone stronger and healthier instead of returning to how things were before? I don’t want to go back to how things were before. I am happier now, in spite of everything, than I ever was before. I don’t ever want to make the same mistakes again. I’d rather make new ones.
I think, at some point during my burnout, I started believing I couldn’t change. I started believing I needed someone else to heal me or that going back to how things were before would be better. I don’t believe that anymore. I thought healing wouldn’t be painful, but sometimes it has to be somewhat uncomfortable at least. We need to face ourselves and our pain and that in itself can be painful.
So, what is my conclusion today? Well, my point is we all have bad days and good days. The problem isn’t using our diagnosis as a shield or an excuse not to explain something – the problem is if we believe it ourselves. My teachers treated me horribly when I was in school, but the problem really wasn’t what they told me or how they treated me in class – the real problem was that I believed them.