I had a camping vacation planned last week. Following my typical yearly pattern, I took off the week after my team’s biggest event of the year (a global sales conference that we plan, execute, and build training for) to go camping in my favorite spot.
It’s a state park on the Washington/Oregon border on the bank of the historic, cold, wild, epic, gorgeous Columbia River. The park is surrounded by orchards spilling over with ripe stone fruit (peaches! nectarines! apricots! cherries!) and it snuggles up to an old, old railroad that makes perfect west coast railroad sounds.
It is one of my top ten favorite locations on this planet.
We stayed one night…
…because I could not stop crying, could not get out of the (hot hot 105 degree) tent, could not eat, could not speak, could not even drink water.
We came home with a whole week left on our reservation. While my husband used the time to catch up on some home repairs (which is usually my happy place), I sat. I sat, defeated, and I watched the same 10 movies over and over and I smoked a lot and I slept and that’s kind of… it.
Turns out, I am burned out. Autistically burned out. Like, that thing that autistic people go through. I’m going through it. Right the fuck now.
And I’d love to write something moving and relatable and full of gorgeous imagery about that – what it feels like to me – but… I can’t. I’m burned out.
And it turns out, looking back on my adult life, I think I’ve been in a kind of rolling burnout since something like 2006. I’ll talk more about the history of burnout in my life in another essay, but here I just want to chronicle some features of my current burnout and a few things I’m learning about it given that I now actually understand that this is related to a condition (autism) that I only just realized I had about 3 months ago.
I’m giving myself permission not to write this with any skill at all, because I’m burned out.
Here’s a list of things I’m seeing in myself now that I have the autism lens to view it through.
- Extreme emotional responses – rage, terror, and a nearly irresistible urge to throw, rip, crush, or pound things.
- Meltdowns 3-5 times a week about a wide variety of small and large things.
- Deep existential anxiety about what’s required of me and how little confidence I have that I can do it.
- Confidence crash. No confidence. Not even a little. I can lie and tell you I feel confident but I don’t.
- Mask collapse.
- Selective mutism, loss of vocabulary, loss of the will to speak, losing language in the middle of sentences, sometimes straight-up aphasia.
- Deep fatigue.
I want to be able to write with more skill about this experience, but… I’m burned out. Like, all those things that I listed above? Most of them are happening right now. As I write this. Right the fuck now.
(Take a minute to let that sink in. I’m a writer. I write and speak for a living. I’ve run out of words. I am unable to write or speak except with the most rudimentary skill. I mean… who am I?)
What am I going to do about this? I really don’t have any room to rest right now. This time of year is a full court press at my job. That’s the rhythm of our sales year: the “slow” period for our sales team equals the busy period for my team (who builds their training and performance programs). So that week I got off last week, where I didn’t camp but just sat and smoked to much and watched the same movies over and over? That’s the vacation I get, at least until late fall.
And yet… this feels really big. Like, it feels like if I can’t stop this burnout feeling I will be at risk for all the bad things. Bad health outcomes. Bad relationship problems. Bad job stuff. Bad money shit. Bad craziness.
To be honest, I don’t know what I’m going to do. But I have figured out one thing: no matter what I choose to do, it has to be less.
Like, I need to find all the ways to do less. I’m not just talking about working smarter instead of harder. Yeah, that’s gotta happen too. But like… I need less…
I need less of everything. Except air. I need a lot of air.
And I’m pretty OK with the 3 cases of peaches (Rich Lady variety) we bought on our way up the bank of the Columbia. Imma eat a lot of those.
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