People talk about burnout as something to get over, like a hurdle, or get through, like an obstacle course. However, in my experience burnout, especially autistic burnout, isn’t like that at all. Instead, it’s a crucible in which you’re melted down to your purest elements in order to be cast into a new mold and created into something different. A crucible is a container, usually metal, in which substances are melted down in order to be turned into something new.

Neurotypical burnout might feel like something to get through or overcome, like a cold. However, neurodivergent individuals know the truth.

We cannot simply return to our old lives and pretend as if everything is back to the way it was. When we experience burnout, it's so deep, so profound, that we actually have to craft new lives for ourselves in an attempt to prevent it… Share on X

It’s vital then that we completely rethink our definition of burnout and how we recover from it. I’m not saying recovery is impossible. But it’s going to take more than rest and returning to your special interests, setting boundaries and saying no. When you listen to burnout advice online, that’s usually what’s given by both neurodivergent and neurotypical burnout “experts”. And while those things help with the actual physical and mental recovery, if we don’t also use the crucible to melt down our lives, to get rid of the “impurities” which caused the burnout to begin with, then we’re going to end up where we are again.

What do they say about the definition of insanity? That it’s doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.

I think instead of fighting burnout, instead of thinking about it as something awful and horrible (which don’t get me wrong, it’s no picnic to go through and takes a lot to make the necessary shifts), we should instead look at it as the opportunity to lay bare our lives as we knew them, to break them into their component parts, and find out what we can do to make things better going forward.

I don’t believe you can completely avoid burnout at all times. It’s going to happen because our world, and especially our western capitalist society isn’t built for neurodivergent individuals. But when it does, we should fall into the chance offered to shed the skin of what doesn’t work for us, and find things that do. In that way, the crucible will have completed its work, and we’ll emerge as something different and hopefully better.