If there are any longtime readers here (such that a return to blogging that only goes back to 2018 can be considered to have a longtime anything) know that I have trouble with articles about burnout because, as an actually-autistic person who’s experienced that particular type of it, I’m not fond of when people make burnout into a sort of millennial lifestyle choice or act of rebellion.
It unsurprisingly was with no small trepidation, then, that I began my encounter with Frank Chimero’s “burnout list”. “I spent some time,” he writes, “looking at what parts of my burnout were on me and what parts were outside of my control.”
Much to my surprise, Chimero’s formulation actually opens to door to a discussion specifically of autistic burnout, because it’s fairly easy to find in his list workplace burnout component analogues to similar components in at least my own experience of autistic burnout.
- Achievement culture and authenticity imperative can combine in that “believing that identity and safety are only available through high achievement” and “pressure to be oneself, but to adapt (distort?) that self to ensure achievement, status, or safety” compare to masking and camouflaging in autistic people.
- Metastasized independence maps pretty well onto the pressures of being autistic coming in part from society viewing it purely through the lens of the medical model of disability in which “systemic problems and inefficiencies [transform] into personal problems and responsibilities”.
- Feelings of futility I imagine come with any form of burnout, in that it’s easy to feel as if anything you might do, or might feel expected to do is only further going to drain resources and resources are precisely what you don’t have when in burnout.
- Visibility leading to hyperactive comparison for me in a sense mostly maps onto the social and performance distress that already features in my co-morbid anxiety diagnosis, but it’s also (again, likely in most forms of burnout) is difficult not to feel like other people seem to be doing much better than you, even in what appear to be the same circumstances.
- Angst ⭤ isolation to a large degree maybe only presents itself for certain types of people, regardless of the type of burnout. My own autistic burnout doesn’t include a dynamic in which “it seems you can only trust yourself”, although the fatigue of it often will keep an autistic person from being able to be out in the world in the ways they enjoy, even if while doing them they prefer doing them alone.
- Bullshit tasks and meta-work I think maps mostly to the executive function difficulties many actually-autistic people have, which can only get worse during periods of autistic burnout—and yet still somehow for the most part need to be overcome for every day needs like bathing or eating. The more resources you still have to commit to these mundane workaday matters, the fewer resources you have, or can accumulate, for recovery.
- Lack of ethics is one of the few things on Chimero’s list I’m not sure has an analogue in autistic burnout.
- Self-improvement industrial complex represents for Chimero “the mistake of seeing life as a project”. I can see how, possibly, periods of autistic burnout become so focused on the need to address the burnout itself that recovery seems like your life’s “project”. There isn’t time to be a person, per se, only time to be burned out.
- Abundance problem is a thing many actually-autistic people encounter regularly in the form of sensory sensitivities, which, again, can be more pronounced during periods of burnout when “too much of everything … leads to … exhaustion, fatigue, and suffocation”.
- Positivity bias, if it maps to autistic burnout, I think might do so by reflecting back both to Metastasized independence and Abundance problem in that many of the ways in which we are expected to recover simply involve more environmental, social, or sensory stimulus, which only result in the further draining of resources. “A disease of abundance requires abstinence, not antidotes.” (For values of “disease” meant to represent the burnout not the autism.)
I’d be curious to hear, if any other actually-autistic people actually ever read this blog, whether or not this attempt to map Chimero’s components of work burnout fits their own experience of autistic burnout. It’s the first time, for me, that I’ve seen any real reflection of what autistic burnout can be like in the ways in which another form of burnout is described.