As the end of the semester nears, so does the inevitable feeling of stress and total exhaustion. This may be from coursework piling up, too many inconveniently placed shifts at work, or, if you’re me, all of the above!
I started to feel that dark and uncomfortable feeling a while ago, known to us all as “burnout.” According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), burnout is a mental response to prolonged amounts of stress and other stimuli. My experience with burnout might be a bit different from yours, though.
How, you might ask? Well, I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at 13 years old when I first entered high school, and with it came a whole new meaning to burnout.
To me, burnout is caused by a number of factors, including, but not limited to, schoolwork and my part-time job — like many students my age. However, due to my being autistic, there are a few other things I experience that lead me to feel burnt out.
Autistic people, like myself, do something called “masking,” which, according to the National Autistic Society in the U.K., is hiding or lessening traits associated with autism in order to fit in, whether that be in a social, academic, or professional setting. Due to this, my social battery tends to deplete much faster than most people, which also means it changes depending on the type of day I’m having.
For example, on Wednesdays this semester, I get up at 5:45 a.m. to catch the train and be on campus at 8 a.m. Then, I’m in class until 2 p.m. and have to commute back home and work until 10 p.m. These long days, filled with various degrees of social and mental energy, mean I have to carefully plan my days to preserve whatever social battery I have left and manage my schoolwork while maintaining a semi-active social life.
As the semester draws to a close and the looming workload hangs over my head, it becomes harder for me to balance school, work, and life overall without completely depleting my social battery. Because of this, I experience burnout much faster and more intensely than others.
I tend to get easily distracted because I also have Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and my motivation for schoolwork and inspiration decreases as the days go by. I tend to experience frequent meltdowns, which are a kind of full-body anxiety attack, and they happen most frequently during exam season. I start crying, I shut down, and I become really scattered.
Personally, for me, they are triggered by a buildup of anxiety or just becoming overwhelmed by the amount of things I have going on. Thankfully, I have access to therapy, on-campus resources, and a supportive social circle to lean on. These give me tools and coping mechanisms to combat end-of-semester burnout, and I could not be more grateful.
A word of advice to anybody else experiencing burnout right now: Take it slow. It is not going to be forever. Winter break is soon. You can do this!