My Big Burnout. #TakeTheMaskOff

[TW suicide attempt]

I’m about to write something I’ve put off talking about for years. I still won’t talk about it out loud. But I feel I owe my family, and my husband, an explanation. It just took me a long long time to figure out what happened to me that time. And the answer I have found is Burnout. So, here is my long and sorry tale.

The year 2000 was a very difficult year for me. The year started off with a bang. Or, life saving surgery to be more precise. The pain that had plagued me for years, and which was written off as “gastritis” turned out to be a twisted ovary that had turned black by the time the surgeon whipped it out. He was shocked and said I was lucky, if it had been left any longer I would have had septicemia for sure. I believe it was less “lucky” and more having a boyfriend (now husband) who took my pain seriously enough to drag me to A&E.

I was in my final year of my undergraduate degree. And while I did take six weeks off after my operation, it wasn’t enough. My surgical wound re-opened at one point, even though I’d done nothing to strain it. (Thanks EDS!) but instead of taking this as a sign that I needed more time off, I ignored it. I jumped straight back into my lectures, my field work, my thesis. And though I didn’t do as well as I’d wanted, (because I’m not superhuman after all) I still came second in my class.

Two other factors need to be mentioned at this stage. The first was that I was living away from home for the first time. Not on my own, but sharing with two friends from college. At the time I thought I was getting on well, but I now wonder what they made of me and my autistic habits, even though I tried so hard to mask them. I loved living away from home, away from the constant fights with my father.

The second was that I was spending as much time as I could with my new boyfriend. And, as happens at the start of every relationship, was trying to present my best side to him. So, I was masking extra hard and socialising as much as I possibly could.

That was all well and good, up to a point. When I finished up my degree, it became clear that I’d have to move back home as I had run out of savings to pay rent out of. I managed to get a job in the newsagents up the road from my parents house. I liked my job, it was as a small family-run place and my bosses (a husband and wife) were wonderful, and I enjoyed stacking shelves, making sandwiches and selling sweets to kids. But the hours were long and it still involved too much social interaction. But it was the only job I could get at the time. And I masked there too, being chatty and sociable so I would fit in.

Once I finished my degree, I felt so lost. I had spent my whole life up to that point working hard on academics. Studying. Acing exams. I had no idea how to do anything else. I did look into doing a Masters, but by then my brain had just stopped functioning. I could not remember anything I had studied.

So, there I was, working too hard for not much money. Partying too hard. Pushing myself. Masking like crazy. Still not fully recovered from surgery. No idea what my future would be. No idea who I was. Suddenly flung into the “adult” world, yet living at home and regularly clashing with my father.

I was just exhausted. So tired. Tired. That was the one word going round and round and round in my head.

And then, one Monday morning, I was waiting for the bus from my boyfriend’s house, where I’d spent the weekend, planning on going straight to my job. It was November. It was pouring rain. And the bus splashed a whole pile of muddy water on me as it pulled up. The perfect storm. The final straw. I snapped.

Instead of going to work, I went home. And took every single sleeping pill my mom had. Not nearly enough, as it turned out. But all I wanted was to sleep. And not wake up. But I did wake up eventually….

I’m going to end this here, as I suddenly don’t want to write anymore. Going back there, thinking of those days, is still too much.

But there you go. My cautionary tale of what happens when you mask without rest. When you push on regardless and ignore the signs. I spent many months afterwards, completely burnt out. It took going away and living in Japan for a year, a completely different way of life, to regain even a semblance of recovery.

But that’s a tale for another day.


  1. Wow, what a difficult time you had. I feel so sorry for you and know it must’ve been so hard going through autistic burn-out. I suffered a similar experience in November of 2007. The thing is, I never truly considered it burn-out until now. I mean, I didn’t work a job besides college, wasn’t any sort of high-flyer, so I tend to think it doesn’t “count” as burn-out. Yet with autism factoring in, it definitely does.


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