How ADHD Complicates Autistic Burnout Recovery

When your brain needs rest but craves stimulation and activity

Jae L

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Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

When I first learned about Autistic burnout, I thought I was just Autistic. I deep-dived into the research, wrote about it and pretty much absorbed it as part of my story.

Burnout is still part of my story, although these days I’m happy to say I’m avoiding it more than succumbing to it. It’s not because I’ve got better at managing it. I’m simply no longer capable of living the life I used to live and it’s a lot different now.

The story became more complex when I was diagnosed with ADHD a few months ago. When viewed purely through the prism of autism, burnout is caused by the effects of masking and cognitive and sensory overwhelm of neurotypical environments.

But when you factor in ADHD, it can be driven as much by what is going on internally.

I couldn’t figure out why it was just so hard to recover from burnout despite eliminating a bunch of stressful things from my life. I left a demanding job, cut toxic people out of my life and laid out boundaries all around me.

But I just couldn’t relax. I couldn’t let myself sink into the stillness that I thought I needed to recover. I thought that resting and doing the bare minimum was what would eventually restore me to some kind of homeostasis.

But everything inside of me railing against slowing down. Every day would start with a to-do list and end with me examining what I had managed to tick off. Every available stretch of time would fill with things to do, as inevitable as the tide washing over a bare sandbank.

Recovery for me wasn’t about being still because that’s just not who I am. I have a perpetually restless mind which I now understand is part of what ADHD looks like for me. Given the choice of collapsing on the couch on a Saturday afternoon or sorting the kitchen cupboards while having a batch cooking session, you’ll find me on my feet every time.

I’ve been that way since I was a child. Always on the go, always wondering what’s next. I was like a cat on a hot tin roof if forced to be somewhere I didn’t want to be and it wouldn’t take long to start plotting my way out of there.

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Jae L

Queer, neurodivergent and in the business of defying expectations. Doing my best to answer the questions I keep asking myself. diverge999@gmail.com