Masking can leave a person with less energy to handle other aspects of their day, from performing basic housework to processing thoughts and feelings. This, in turn, can lead to meltdowns and burnout. Something as simple as trying not to play with my hair or keeping my legs still while sitting in public can leave me depleted after a few hours.

Source: I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder (p. 147)

I must pull my hair, scratch my scalp, and bounce my legs to regulate.

See also:

Autistic Burnout: The Cost of Masking and Passing – Ryan Boren

I called it autistic burnout, a term I learned not from professionals but from my fellow autistics trying to illuminate the gaps in the autistic experience that the so-called experts on us were either missing or ignoring. It describes a fairly common phenomenon that autistic adults were noticing in their lives. When faced with periods of major change, we can see a sizeable shift in our autistic traits. Causes of autistic burnout can include forcing yourself to pass as neurotypical, major stress or upheaval, sensory or emotional overload and illness. Symptoms can include a decrease in motivation, loss of executive function, selective mutism, problems maintaining social skills, memory loss, lethargy and decreased tolerance for sensory or emotional sensitivity. Basically, we hit a point where we can no longer manage our issues or keep up appearances in the same way that we have been and we end up feeling and/or looking “more autistic” as a result.

I’d been lurking on the periphery of autistic burnout for years, shaking off mild periods of confusion and exhaustion like a fighter moderately rocked by a strike. In the spring of 2015, I got knocked the fuck out. In my case, I think it was just a culmination of my entire life up until that point. Digging out from the catastrophic meltdown that had forced my diagnosis was very much a two steps forward, one and five-sixths steps back scenario. I was making progress, but I was tired. At least subconsciously, I was starting to realize that some of the coping mechanisms I was currently employing might not be long-term solutions.

Source: I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder (p. 165-166)

“Knocked the fuck out” by autistic burnout. Been there. Still recovering.

See also:

Autistic Burnout: The Cost of Masking and Passing – Ryan Boren

I updated “Autistic Burnout: The Cost of Masking and Passing” with selections from “THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: Autistic Burnout: An Interview With Researcher Dora Raymaker”, “What Hiding My Autism Costs Me – Devon Price”, ‘“Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew”: Defining Autistic Burnout | Autism in Adulthood’, and “Taking ownership of the label – Autistic Collaboration”.

“A state of pervasive exhaustion, loss of function, increase in autistic traits, and withdrawal from life that results from continuously expending more resources than one has coping with activities and environments ill-suited to one’s abilities and needs.” In other words, autistic burnout is the result of being asked to continuously do more than one is capable of without sufficient means for recovery.

Source: THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: Autistic Burnout: An Interview With Researcher Dora Raymaker

Now at 32, I have been variety of people, and I don’t always know who the real me is. My mask has fused itself to me, leaving me inhibited and confused, uncertain of how to break loose, left wondering if being authentic is even possible anymore.

I have no choice but to don the mask. I wear it reflexively every day. Here is what that costs me.

Source: What Hiding My Autism Costs Me – Devon Price – Medium

Autistic adults described the primary characteristics of autistic burnout as chronic exhaustion, loss of skills, and reduced tolerance to stimulus. They described burnout as happening because of life stressors that added to the cumulative load they experienced, and barriers to support that created an inability to obtain relief from the load. These pressures caused expectations to outweigh abilities resulting in autistic burnout. Autistic adults described negative impacts on their health, capacity for independent living, and quality of life, including suicidal behavior. They also discussed a lack of empathy from neurotypical people and described acceptance and social support, time off/reduced expectations, and doing things in an autistic way/unmasking as associated in their experiences with recovery from autistic burnout.

Autistic burnout appears to be a phenomenon distinct from occupational burnout or clinical depression. Better understanding autistic burnout could lead to ways to recognize, relieve, or prevent it, including highlighting the potential dangers of teaching autistic people to mask or camouflage their autistic traits, and including burnout education in suicide prevention programs. These findings highlight the need to reduce discrimination and stigma related to autism and disability.

The primary characteristics of autistic burnout were chronic exhaustion, loss of skills, and reduced tolerance to stimulus. Participants described burnout as happening because of life stressors that added to the cumulative load they experienced, and barriers to support that created an inability to obtain relief from the load. These pressures caused expectations to outweigh abilities resulting in autistic burnout. From this we created a definition:

Autistic burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic life stress and a mismatch of expectations and abilities without adequate supports. It is characterized by pervasive, long-term (typically 3+ months) exhaustion, loss of function, and reduced tolerance to stimulus.

Participants described negative impacts on their lives, including health, capacity for independent living, and quality of life, including suicidal behavior. They also discussed a lack of empathy from neurotypical people. People had ideas for recovering from autistic burnout including acceptance and social support, time off/reduced expectations, and doing things in an autistic way/unmasking.

Source: “Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew”: Defining Autistic Burnout | Autism in Adulthood

When autists attempt to blend in it is to avoid suffering the consequences of non-conformance – and not to gain or maintain social status.

Source: Taking ownership of the label – Autistic Collaboration

I updated “Autistic Burnout: The Cost of Masking and Passing” with a selection from “Autistic Burnout: “My Physical Body And Mind Started Shutting Down””.

Autistic burnout is a state of physical and mental fatigue, heightened stress, and diminished capacity to manage life skills, sensory input, and/or social interactions, which comes from years of being severely overtaxed by the strain of trying to live up to demands that are out of sync with our needs.

Source: Autistic Burnout: “My Physical Body And Mind Started Shutting Down”

This study on autistic burnout from the Academic Autism Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education at Portland State University notes this distinction between autistic burnout and depression. Autistic burnout…

Notably did not include anhedonia (not caring/feeling); if anything there was a pervasive frustration because people continued to care and feel but felt incapable of taking action on their feelings

Source: Autistic Burnout: “My Physical Body And Mind Started Shutting Down”

That aligns with my experience. Pervasive frustration indeed.

What is autistic burnout?

Autistic burnout is a state of physical and mental fatigue, heightened stress, and diminished capacity to manage life skills, sensory input, and/or social interactions, which comes from years of being severely overtaxed by the strain of trying to live up to demands that are out of sync with our needs.

CW: suicide

Results confirm previously reported high rates of suicidality in ASC, and demonstrate that ASC diagnosis, and self-reported autistic traits in the general population are independent risk markers for suicidality. This suggests there are unique factors associated with autism and autistic traits that increase risk of suicidality. Camouflaging and unmet support needs appear to be risk markers for suicidality unique to ASC. Non-suicidal self-injury, employment, and mental health problems appear to be risk markers shared with the general population that are significantly more prevalent in the autistic community. Implications for understanding and prevention of suicide in ASC are discussed.

Source: Risk markers for suicidality in autistic adults | Molecular Autism | Full Text

See also:

Autistic Burnout: The Cost of Masking and Passing

A passage on passing, masking, and burnout from a great #ActuallyAutistic #OwnVoices book, “On The Edge of Gone”.

The thought hits me out of nowhere. I gasp for breath, tears suddenly right there, pressing behind my eyes, and I no longer know what I’m doing here. I don’t know why I ever thought I could be here. I’m not the kind of person who can sit at her tab all day and smile and work and chitchat. I’m not Dr. Meijer. I’m not Els’s colleagues at the university.

Sometimes I think I could be, and that I have a hard time because I’m lazy, and that the way I’m suddenly staring at the plant in the corner for twenty minutes straight and seeing how many leaves are on a twig and how many twigs are on a branch and if any branches break the pattern – that that’s me looking for excuses. I’ll think that the only difference between me and the rest of the world is that I have no goddamn discipline, and that all of this is in my head, and if I tried, I could fit in and be the productive little cog I ache to be.

I’m not like those kids at the shelter, the ones playing. Not really; not anymore. Maybe I’m not different at all, my autism is just bullshit, and all I am is a failure. I should do more than I am. I should be more than I am.

But if what my head feels like now truly is what other people feel all the time— if everybody I see on the street or on TV really manages this day in, day out –

They can’t be.

The world can’t be that hard.

Source: On The Edge of Gone

Via: GUEST POST – Amy Pond, mental health and me | DoWntime

This is a book about an autistic girl, written by an autistic woman. This is the first book I’ve ever read in my entire life that is about someone like me, someone I really, deeply related to. It’s the first book I’ve ever read with an autistic protagonist that isn’t about autism. It’s about the end of the world, and it just happens to be told through an autistic person experiencing that. And it’s authentic, because this wasn’t written by someone who has studied autism, or who has a child with autism, but by someone who has autism. And this is the first book I’ve ever read that’s like that. I’m sure there are more books like it, but not many. Oh, there’s a wealth of books about autism, often written by parents of autistic children, often incredibly harmful books. Books that treat autism as a disease, that treat autistic people as something other, something not quite human. They treat us as if we don’t have a voice.

Do you know how tiring that is?

On The Edge of Gone made me cry, not because it was a sad book, but because I felt a little bit less alone. I felt seen. I felt like someone understood. A neurotypical person might read On The Edge of Gone and not understand. Or rather, they won’t feel it, not the way autistic people do. Or some autistic people, anyway. We come in many shapes and colours, after all. Not everyone experiences this. But I think that for a lot of us, it will resonate. I know that it did for me. And even if you haven’t experienced what the protagonist of Corinne Duyvis’s novel has, that doesn’t mean you can’t empathise with her. You might not be able to feel what she feels, but you can feel for her. Even if she isn’t ‘normal’.

Source: GUEST POST – Amy Pond, mental health and me | DoWntime

“Because Kara’s self-injury is a behavioral issue as opposed to neurological, it’s THC, not CBD, that stabilizes her mood.”

Source: Texas Rep. Pete Sessions’ War on Medical Marijuana

I get the distinction they’re trying to draw, but I cringe at seeing autistic needs framed as and reduced to a “behavioral issue”. Stop interpreting our needs as “behavior”. Behaviorism is bad framing. The behavioral vs. neurological and THC vs. CBD binaries in that sentence are too…binary.

Cannabis helps some of us endure overwhelming environments and the consequences of compliance, behaviorism, and burnout.