I woke up today, feeling very aware of my body. It’s not hard to do when I have a kitten – who I’m sure is a dog trapped in a feline vessel – that likes to attack my feet if they’re exposed at the edge of my bed. It wasn’t that, though, that brought on this overwhelming awareness. I could feel the weight of my duvet on top of me, I could feel the daylight shining through my bedroom window and weighing on my closed eyes, and I was becoming more and more aware of thoughts starting to race through my mind; wondering if the plan for the day would go ahead, what tasks needed to be done, what time I would prepare my lunch for work tomorrow, what I would put in my smoothies and when I’d prepare them, wondering what the time was and how long it would take for me to follow my morning routine and get to the supermarket before I could spend the remainder of my day completing other plans, tasks and then having my recharge/processing time, etc. Things that seem very mundane and easy to manage, but can be quite the opposite for those of who are faced with challenges with executive functioning.
Throughout the morning, that overwhelming awareness became more intense. The light shining through the bathroom windows became very overstimulating, as did the light beaming into the kitchen. I was so focused on how bright everything was that I started to feel agitated and, once again, overwhelmed. I couldn’t focus on the thoughts in my mind that related to my structure for the day, and I couldn’t put anything in order. I grew flustered and started to feel emotional, and I couldn’t understand why I was feeling emotional and what the cause of this feeling was. Was it due to what I experienced upon waking up today? Was it because I couldn’t organise my mental clutter? Was it because I’ve been anticipating a meltdown due to ongoing burnout, and as each day passed, I started to feel less functional and more worn out? I’m inclined to believe the latter.
So, I released my emotions in the arms of my partner, and I couldn’t express to him what exactly was making me feel this way. I was aware that the verbal anxiety I was spluttering out wasn’t rational and that there were things that I was saying that were most definitely in my control, that he had already helped me understand days and weeks earlier, but I had clearly been holding onto them. I knew that if I held onto this helpless feeling that it would only make things worse, and that because I hadn’t established proper structure for my day and I hadn’t stopped intrusive, illogical thoughts in the process, that I was also dealing with the consequences of not doing so.
Truth be told, there are a number of factors that contributed to how I have been feeling today. One of the main factors being my constant masking. I have masked for years and years – without even truly realising it until last year – and when I became aware of what I was doing, it has since been very hard to continue to play the role of this character I had created to help me fit in and appear "normal". Although I know that there are a select few people that I can potentially unmask around, I am already shrouded in shame and guilt for the moments that I have already unravelled around them. We all have our own obstacles to overcome and challenges that we face, and my neurodivergence and the challenges I face, at times make me feel like I’m taking people away from working on themselves.
I feel that I could have avoided my small meltdown if I had been more transparent about what I have been experiencing and the intensity of what goes on when I face my own obstacles. I’ll defend my lack of transparency by saying that it’s really difficult to understand the source of burnout, because one epiphany about what’s contributing to a burnout doesn’t all of sudden help you get to the one true source.
Only now, as an adult, am I uncovering what my sensory challenges, my lack of executive function, not understanding my emotions or knowing how to express them in a healthy way, facing social interaction obstacles and living by structure mean for me, and why they are things that I haven’t been able to erase. I have realised that living as somebody on the spectrum, a lot of the challenges I have are manageable, but not curable. There’s a whole journey of acceptance going on, and I’m breaking through a lot of stigmas as I get to know myself more and remember who I was before I started masking.
All of that is definitely contributing to an ongoing burnout, as is living away from my family and my partner’s family, in a different country and navigating through adulthood without having something or somebody else to focus on, and being in charge of managing a mortgage, paying bills and networking takes a lot of executive function – yikes!
What I’m learning is that when things become more intense for me, I have to try my best to be as honest as I can with the people that I know I can trust. I find verbally communicating what I'm feeling quite difficult, and although I love to write, there are a lot of times when I can't even put the words I want to say in order. As I ride the waves – and sometimes get pulled under before fighting my way back to the surface – on this journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance, I’m learning that a lot of the things that make me who I am, but that can also be really challenging and impair my level of functioning day by day, do not make me a bad person, and I’m not being difficult. There is no new “side” to me. I have always been like this, and although I have hidden and masked a lot of who I am, it’s time to find a healthy way to express my truth.
When you’re not being your authentic self, it can burn you out. Whether you’re neurodivergent or neurotypical. It’s not always the source of your burnout, as you might tell after reading this blog post, but it can be a contributing factor. If you have a support system that you feel will show you kindness and compassion, then seek their light in your time of darkness. If you feel that you don’t have that support system, then know that there are like-minded communities online that you can reach out to and that asking for support from your local community mental health team or responsible individuals can bring you comfort and guidance.
“Self-care is never a selfish act - it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”
― Parker Palmer