Boredom Isn’t Burnout and Decision Fatigue Isn’t Rebellion

It’s tough for me not to read every new piece about millennial burnout through the lens of the original one that referred to being bored with every day mundane tasks as “burnout”, which I know is terrible because not every other article is being that fatuous about the matter.

Although sometimes these other pieces are being fatuous in a completely different manner.

Before I get to the latest I came across, I briefly want to double back to what I said about the first one, to build upon or clarify some of my anger, and to proffer one way in which maybe all of this millennial burnout stuff can yield some good.

I mocked “errand paralysis” because it seems part and parcel of the boredom argument and burnout is not merely some sort of ennui in need of cute branding but a kind of existential exhaustion. “Decision fatigue”, however, is a real term to describe the effects of an enduring cognitive load upon executive function.

(I note with passing fascination Wikipedia’s reference to a potential relationship “between decision fatigue and ego depletion, whereby a person’s ability for self-control against impulses decreases”, because I’d think that might have some bearing on certain forms of autistic meltdown.)

What actually would be useful is if that original article prompted wider public and professional acceptance that these are real conditions and dynamics within the brain, which might help validate among the psychological and social service communities that autistic burnout, specifically, also is a real thing. Not only that, but then perhaps yield a recognition that on top of the sorts of cognitive loads neurotypical people face either in small-scale decision fatigue or larger-scale occupational burnout, autistic people are dealing with the daily (weekly, monthly, yearly…) loads of needing to camouflage themselves for the benefit and comfort of the neurotypical society around them.

So, a partial mea culpa.

In my zeal to dismiss “errand paralysis” as a branding move, I roped in “decision fatigue” in the process. To be clear, I’m also not saying that the author of the original piece isn’t experiencing some form of burnout, just that I don’t think their discussion of it was All That.

In the latest piece I’ve seen, the author (not the same one) posits that “decision fatigue” in fact is a result of exerting control over one’s increasingly-uncontrolled environment.

Perhaps it is the feeling of control itself (or the lack thereof) contributing to this constant procrastination. Perhaps me, subconsciously refusing to mail a package or take out some recycling, is actually me attempting to regain back some small feeling of control in my life.

As someone for whom the states of cognitive or emotional overload and the condition of decision fatigue are brutal, deadening, sometimes terrifying affairs, I’m going to have to go with, “No.”

My grocery shopping doesn’t get done because I am exerting control over my life and my right to do or not do the grocery shopping. I don’t fail to get out of my pajamas and bathrobe on some days because my brain is asserting control over a chaotic environment. I don’t check the mail for days at a time not because it makes me feel like I’m in charge of something about the world, but because that’s one less task my brain has to deal with.

In these moments (days, weeks, months, years…), I’m not choosing control, I’m cognitively incapable of doing all the things.

The author makes a bizarre turn along the way, suggesting that “in uncertain times, people prefer more authoritarian regimes regardless of their innate political preferences” for similar reasons. This makes little sense to me, as it seems the opposite of asserting control. It’s demanding that someone else take the control away from you.

Through the lens of my autistic experience, I have to say that ceding control to someone else actually be an absolutely agonizing process, as it actually increases the risk of having to confront surprise and uncertainty. It’s difficult for me, then, to see a link here.

When my executive function fails, it’s not because I want a big, strong leader to make my decisions and do my chores. It’s because I don’t have the capacity.

I am no more an expert on any of this than most of the other people writing about it lately. Like most of them, all I can do is relate things through the lens of my own experience, which in my case tends to be an autistic one.

What gets me, though, are people working through this current conversation about burnout seemingly trying to find ways to pathologize for themselves something they don’t have (“boredom” as burnout) or rationalize something they in fact might have but I guess don’t want to admit.

Maybe that’s why I can’t accomplish even the most simple of tasks. Maybe it’s my subconsciousness engaging in a small act of rebellion. Maybe it’s a way to say the tiniest “fuck you” to the machine that I live in. Maybe it’s one final, desperate grasp for the feeling of control, even if I know it doesn’t exist.

This is ridiculous.

Decision fatigue isn’t an act of rebellion. It’s a brain without the resources to take on even just one more thing, or at least without the capacity to do well or do correctly anything else being demanded of it.

If you’re bored with mundane, every day tasks, that’s not burnout. It’s just, well, boredom.

If you’re truly struggling to do things, that’s not rebellion. It’s potentially a real issue with how your brain functions, and it shouldn’t be mythologized.

Referring posts