Posted in Autistic Identity, leadership

Perseveration and Derailment: the Path to Burnout

Yesterday was one of those terrible days.  It started at 8:30, when I had fallen asleep.  My teacher who has a public-school run classroom who has been instructed to get a district sub now, told me she had a sick daughter, but somehow could only find a sub who could stay until 2:00.  I woke up to this text around 10:30 and replied we needed a full-day sub (of course we did) and no, I wasn’t available to just cover that hour because 1) I had a meeting all day and 2) why would I get a sub for “most of the day”?  She never did explain why this was the sub she’d obsessed over.  There was an option to cancel the afternoon class, so I said if that was really the only sub she could find, I guessed she’d have to cancel the afternoon.

So now, of course, I’m up all night waiting to hear what she decided and how badly this would mess up my day.

And so it all began.

Perseveration is common for Autistics and it can be compared to an earworm, a term for that thing that happens when you get a piece of music stuck in your head and you can’t get it out.  Unfortunately, it’s about an event that happened and you can’t stop thinking about it.  It can keep you up all night or worried for days.  Perseverate a lot, and you lose sleep and can’t get work done.  This goes on long enough, and everything falls apart and it’s shut down and/or regression, when Autistics can no longer find anything interesting to do (and if we’re not interested, we don’t do it…).  Perseveration can be dangerous and can be a factor in job loss because this unhealthy obsession can wear us out.

Yesterday was perseveration headquarters because even after THAT was done, we bad roads that were worse the direction another of my teachers was coming from, and the weather was such that getting to my meeting was going to be a challenge.  I figured I’d try to go late to the meeting, but had to get there to let in this mystery sub (she decided to cancel the PM class), but also had to worry if the teacher would make it (she did, at the last minute), but every other adult was late, including one who’d run off the road in her car and had to be pushed out. Someone had to be there with the kids and the sub (new subs are the equivalent of a new kid in class, and just as helpful, often).

By the time everything started to settle down, I get an e-mail from my boss to hold the marketing.

He comes in around noon Tuesdays.

Guess who spent most of the morning, then, unable to do anything since 1) what she was supposed to be doing was rendered impossible due to weather and short staffing and 2) what she could be doing had been derailed by something, though what she didn’t know?

Perseveration made it impossible for me to do all that much, but what helped me get through the morning was that everyone’s day had been so bad that we were all feeling it.  Though everyone else moved on faster, I could keep switching to other things to think/obsess about and try to solve (unsuccessfully) until lunch, when I found out the issue (and it was a very annoying issue involving making people outside our organization be happy.  Think a mom-and-pop shop trying to market and a large chain, with whom you’ve been friendly and you have a small overlap with, but generally, you’re selling different products, objecting to your plan to market yourself so you don’t go out of business, and your boss actually listening to this complaint and taking it seriously.  Yes, it was that annoying.).

When I realized that 1) there were parts of the campaign I could still do in the meantime, and 2) it wasn’t about shutting down the school completely (though I contend if we’re going to ask “Wal-mart” every time we make a move, we are going to close down), I had moves to make. I got past the perseveration and started doing things.

THAT is the gift God gave Autistics to counteract this huge dose of perseveration: we can create a million different options to solve problems if we know what our boundaries are.

I’m still worried about a lot of things, but I’m feeling better because I can keep moving forward, even if I see a few hurdles, and then I can figure out how to rid myself of the hurdles.

But I still had to go home quickly after school and stim a lot.  We watched a lot of Survivor (“I want to watch people be mean to each other and call it a game!”) and I played meaningless computer games on the laptop while perched in bed.  “Doing nothing” is necessary because perseverating all night and into the next day steals spoons like nobody’s business.  If I don’t build myself back up, and quickly, this inability-to-function will continue day after day, until I can’t move any longer.

An important part of leadership, people tell me, is to not give of yourself so much that you have nothing left for yourself.  I get that in theory, but in practice it’s quite another story.  But I can do all that I can do; I can try to grow my spoons so that the next day is better, and I start out with more patience and flexibility.

Because through stimming and resting of my brain and body, I can grow the spoons to fight again tomorrow.  This is what I have control over.  I do not have control over whatever the world throws at me.

And St. Michael the Archangel can keep fighting the demons for me, while I recover.

But no, it’s not easy.  But no one said that being Disabled and also a leader would be easy.

At least I have allies, and people who seem to understand me and what I need around me.

I hope you have allies, too.

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