Edit: If you’re of a sensitive disposition, you might not want to read this.
Traditionally, the end of the year is a time for reflection, looking back over the things that one has achieved that year, and thinking of ways to improve. For me, this year seemed to be going quite well, until about June. When I consider what I was like up to this point, it’s clear that I was verging on the manic, because I came crashing straight down into the worst meltdown, burnout, call it what you will, that I have ever had.
At the time I was trying to do too much – ‘doing all the things’ is not a good idea for any length of time, even for a neurotypical person. Aspies are already over-processing and over-thinking everything anyway, so adding to this by stacking everything up in a precarious tower of stuff is not going to end well. Your body will tell you to slow down, and if that doesn’t work, it will make you slow down. I actually predicted way back at the start of the year that I would reach burnout at some point, but was naive about its potential impact.
It rendered me useless – a debilitating lack of energy meant that I could barely walk up stairs, and a complete lack of appetite or interest in food meant that I lost weight and was in danger of being physically ill. From being previously fit and healthy, with a strong appetite, this came as a huge shock. My routine mutated into crawling out of bed every morning, going to work, attempting to focus on what I was supposed to be doing, going home in tears from the effort of it, attempting to force myself to eat, trying to study despite the fog in my head and then crawling into bed at around 8 or 9pm, utterly exhausted.
I felt like I was staring into the abyss. I truly, seriously, considered ending my life. I couldn’t handle the thought of having an ever-present feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach for the rest of my life. I could not see a way out of the situation. I did not see how anything would ever get better. I felt like a complete failure. There did not seem to be any point in being alive.
More for the sake of my (very supportive) family and friends than my own sake, I decided to try and get through it. I distilled my life down to the bare essentials: work, study, sleep. I gave up my sporting responsibilities and stayed off-radar socially. I lived on foods that were easy to make and easy to eat, trying to maximise the nutritional value where possible (suffice it to say that I ate a lot of eggs). My one aim was survival.
I’m not saying it was easy – in fact, simply surviving for those four or so months was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I spent so much time crying for no reason other than feeling unfathomably sad and helpless. It took me all summer to regain some semblance of energy, and I missed out on glorious weather, social events, and the opportunity to just relax. Those months were some of the longest and loneliest of my life, though my excellent mother was there to offer advice, twee inspirational pictures, sympathy or just a hug whenever I needed it.
One thing that helped me through was reading about suicide in a chick-lit novel (of all places). It was described as “a very permanent solution to a temporary problem”, a phrase I know many have issues with, but which helped me a lot. Whatever my current woes were (and they weren’t actually that bad), they would not last forever. Ending my life would be a solution but not one I could reverse. Who knew what awaited me in the future? Wouldn’t it be a shame never to find out? What if ‘tomorrow’ was the day everything worked out fine but I missed it because I was no longer alive? And finally, how would I feel if my life was taken from me, if it was not my choice? I had considered ‘ending it all’ because I could, it was a nice little get-out clause that I could use if I needed to. But, some people do not have any choice in the matter, and I felt that it was insulting to them to throw away my life as if it meant nothing at all.
By the end of the summer, and with my final essay handed in, I was working on getting back to normal. I began to talk to people again. The impenetrable fog cleared from my head and I found that I had an appetite and energy for food, exercise, life. My mother remarked that I seemed to be getting back to my normal self, and the feeling of dread slowly disappeared from its place beneath my ribs.
I’m still only at about 85-90% of what I consider to be my full capacity, depending on how much sleep I’ve had or whether I’ve eaten well or not. That last 15% is going to take some time to come back. I don’t want to push it too much, for fear of breaking the fragile inner peace that I have rebuilt. But the main point is that I’m heading in the right direction. I’m following a Pinterest board of inspirational sayings which is surprisingly helpful… sometimes we do not realise that other people are going through the same thing we are. My favourite picture is this. I’m going to print it out and frame it at some point, just to remind myself that though the journey is not over yet, I have travelled so far since I began.