TW / CW // Suicide
The Darkest Night
Roughly this time last year I was falling into extreme Autistic Burnout. It’s a period of my life that to be honest – I am still dealing with the consequences, relationship damage, mental health destruction, and personal implosion that occurred. It was unlike any time in my life.
I didn’t know how I would be this year coming into Winter. Seasonal Depression is extremely prevalent for me. I am trying to work out what it is exactly about the winter season that keeps me so depressed. At best I feel like it gives my often lingering but not clinical depression about the world an excuse to express itself more fully. I’ve had it as long as I can remember. I’ve never had standard major depressive disorder as it goes away during the summer months every year.
There are still ramifications I can’t talk about from this time that are making me revisit it mentally on a daily basis. In the months in the peak of my burnout I did something that made my life far more complicated than it needs to be, and the resultant consequences almost made me end my life.
Seasonal depression was different. It never involved my senses or overloaded me like this did. The Void is my affectionate name for the cognitive space that exists when inside the worst of burnout. Every sense overloaded – every sound like a hammer against the side of my head, tastes too strong, skin on fire from touch, with no means to filter. The biggest challenge for me was controlling the plethora of rapidly negative emotions – pure rage, complete melancholia, and abject hatred – all directed inwards.
I was trapped in this state for months – unknown to me that I was Autistic. This was Autistic Burnout. At the same time my family had to watch me implode – the toll on my wife was extreme. While I never directed my anger toward her – she got to see me with enough rage to scream at myself, cut my arms, punch myself repeatedly, ruminate while staring at walls, break a bone in my hand hitting a wall – every morning waking up with an existential dread that only not existing could prevent.
I spent six months on medications that I believe exacerbated the situation. The seasonal depression part was still here in November and I had no clue why – this hadn’t happened before. I then started tapering off the anti-psychotics they had me on. It was those. They extended it – and they seemed to make me far more unstable as a person as soon as they lapsed.
I eventually was seen by a psychologist in our public system. However, I had incredibly awful outcomes generally. The beam of light I needed out of the darkness was the knowledge that I was Autistic – but what that means outside of the scientific community and text books that fail to understand the Autistic mind – I needed to find the Autistic community.
The Choice to End It
There’s a word that I’ve heard a lot in my life. It’s one that can trigger me pretty easily – “burden”. I am innately familiar with it. I grew up in a critical environment, and I was abused at a young age. Unfortunately the same things that make you an “old soul” are the same things that seem to indicate that you’ve not been allowed to be a child. I was constantly reminded of my worth – told that I was a problem. It was personal – a fault or flaw within me that made others hate me.
Seeing myself starting to destroy my marriage, and hurting my family – I realised I had become a burden to those I had loved most. In Autistic Burnout with no capacity for reason or logical thought and a tornado of thoughts and actions from my past reminding me what I burden I was – as medication lapsed – I rebound and decided it was time to go.
I attempted suicide – I thought that was it. I woke in hospital with no recollection and was discharged that day. I don’t know what I said or how I managed to negotiate a release.
That night I tried again – I’m ready to laugh about this now. Sometimes you fail at something so spectacularly and maybe I need to take this as a sign it wasn’t meant to be. I wanted to drown in the ocean – to be with my Dad as that is where his ashes were scattered. I left my house at 1am at night, with no glasses. I live roughly 8km from the coast where I intended to go.
I couldn’t find my way in the dark – my ability to navigate relies pretty heavily on my ability to see and the entrance to a road I needed seemed to have moved – I was also pretty compromised mentally from the overdose earlier in the day. I gave up trying to find my way to the beach about an hour after only making it less than 2km from my house.
I made it home – and told my wife I would be trying again in the morning – I laugh now, but I was so angry at myself for failing at this so hilariously.
I thought I was resigned to being a “crazy” person for the rest of my days – at that time I agreed with my family to be sectioned voluntarily in a mental ward to protect my family from the harm of them seeing me hurting myself.
I was lucky – the ward was full. The first inkling of recovery came during suicide watch during the three days I was waiting to get seen. A worker who was assigned to make sure I was under watch at all times just treated me normally. Everyone else had been treating me like I needed their worry, or concern. The problem is that with hyperempathy I just internalise that as being a burden more – and it justifies me feeling like crap.
I am comfortable in my discomfort, but I do not like that my suffering causes others to suffer too.
I was discharged. I was still undiagnosed.
The Slippery Staircase Into the Light
I used Twitter for a lot of the therapy that doesn’t exist in New Zealand. Our mental health crisis is going to be major news for many years – unfortunately no one in power is dealing with this crisis as though it is one – the issue also being that it’s been neglected for so long as an area of health that needs treating – we have no means to scale up.
My previous advocacy for ADHD probably ended up saving my life. It was though it that I connected with other neurodiversity movement advocates. It was here I learned I might possibly Autistic. You can read the diagnostic process for having this confirmed – it wasn’t easy.
None of my diagnoses at this point could explain Autistic Burnout. I had Seasonal Affective Disorder, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Generalised Anxiety Disorder/Social Anxiety Disorder.
Between November and the end of January, I delved heavily into whether I was Autistic. I had it confirmed twice. In February I discovered Autistic Burnout – as a phenomenon that happens to Autistic people through the extreme pressures of masking every day in society, and constantly coming up short and not knowing why.
That moment was kinda watershed for me – having some understanding of why I seemingly just seemed to break down when I had been able to withstand a lifetime of previous extreme trauma (I score an 8/10 of the Adverse Childhood Experiences, not including the stuff that’s happened as an adult). I didn’t know why this caused me to fall apart.
After discovering I was Autistic I had a resolve to live that I haven’t had in the past. I actually believe I should exist – I know I have a lot to contribute to the world. On my darkest days now I entertain the possibility of leaving the world behind – but there’s an underlying control that won’t happen.
Burnout was the worst and the best thing to ever happen to me – a fitting paradox for me existing as an Autistic person. It was the worst for the reasons above, but it was the best for what is going to follow now.
There is a quote I found around this time that helped me – it’s from When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron.
“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us”Pema Chodron – mentions this poster in the book – unknown who first said it
Skirting the Void
This winter was always going to be the challenge. The real test to see if I was deluding myself and I was still the broken, miserable, burden that I saw myself as a year ago – would the effect of the winter season make me regress?
I like to envision my mind as a galaxy, the concepts of space seem to fit in here. My analogy is that trauma that I have had in my life creates black holes in my mind, neuronal pathways are redirected through the black hole – allowing no good memories or light to come though. I got good at compartmentalising these black holes. Limited my capacity on certain things – avoided topics.
Autistic Burnout caused all the black holes to coalesce into a supermassive black hole. The pull of this into a place from which there can be no escape is strong. The ‘flight paths’ for neurons have to take this into account.
I know the Void is there with me always – but I’ve learned getting close will be the point at which I cease to perceive any light in this universe, and so now my days are spent skirting the void from a safe distance.
Where to now?
Making sure that other people can avoid creating their own blackholes – helping others find their way out of the ones they are being pulled towards. Training to be a coach. Making sure in whatever way I can that I improve things for people who are like me – because I know what it’s like to feel like no one gets you or is on your team.
I get to be actual me too – not the many masks I had constructed.