High Functioning my Ass

CN: autistic burnout or shutdown

TW: ableism

I think I should be fired from adulting effective immediately. So many people tell me I’m high functioning, but the reality is that’s a load of bunk on two counts: 1) I am not high functioning because I can barely do the tasks they think makes me high functioning and 2) functioning labels are all kinds of animal feces.  What follows is a list of the things that have happened in the last week.


Last Thursday, the writing center theory class that I coteach had a discussion on disability and the parent of an autistic kid said we need to make our clients, students, and kids “normal” (It makes me uncomfortable just writing that).


The next day, I went to a disability event at my university where they had disabled people lead simulation experiences of their own disabilities…except autism, which was lead by a professor at a disturbingly disgusting private social skills college (Yeah, you read that right, a private college that focuses on social skills, no academics). She simulated it by walking around and being “rude” and told us this was what she was trying to do because that is what autistic people do.


Two days later, my headphones broke and I ran out of wraps, which is necessary for a meal I have nearly every day (and by nearly, I mean actually every day…sometimes for both lunch and dinner…and breakfast…and snacks…I think you get the picture).


I had a terrifyingly long day where I was on campus for 12 hours on Monday (during which time, I forgot to eat.  So, I hadn’t eaten for over 12 hours.  Added on top of that, I did this day with 7 hours of sleep (I usually need 9 or 10 hours, which I haven’t been getting because I work in the morning and can’t get my body to sleep in time to get that).


On Tuesday, I got home only to realize I couldn’t remember anything from the past two days.  Did I have a tutorial on Monday?  I couldn’t remember anything.  My mind spinning an endless loop of echolalic phrases, I sat on the couch staring at the ceiling willing myself to eat.  I was hungry so I walked to the refrigerator and realized I didn’t have the wraps necessary for what I wanted.  I stood there, scratching my head with a rumbling stomach, not knowing what to eat.  Staring, endlessly staring, at the expanse of my refrigerator.

Food, I thought to myself, we want food.  

But there isn’t any food.

There’s lots of food in there.  Pick something.

I just can’t recognize anything I can have.

Just pick something.

There isn’t anything

This conversation played again and again in my head for 10 minutes as I stood there staring into the fridge as if it was the heart of the TARDIS.


I went to work the next day and my brain agreed to work with me for a bit.  That bit was a whole twenty minutes before it started cutting in and out of awareness like a radio not quite tuned to the right station.  Bursts of productivity lead to longer and longer bouts of staring into nothingness, no thoughts from my brain, but worry from my mind.  I tried to focus on something, but my eyes wouldn’t register it.

What is that?  My mind asked a silent brain.  What are you looking at?  More silence.  Are we okay?  This was met with a physiological response: vertigo so strong I felt like I was going to pass out right there.

Then, a brief moment where my brain turned back on.  Okay, what were we working on.  Let’s do this! And I could recognize what I was seeing again, so I quickly typed in what I needed to type in.  And just like that, the burst was gone and I was back to struggling to recognize the alien script that just moments before made sense to me.  I blinked (as if that was going to help!) and brought my head closer to the screen, but the alien script would not give up its stubbornness.

So, my mind decided to work on figuring out this alien script while my brain was intermittently off.  Twenty minutes I toiled, and to no avail.  So, I closed out of the thing I was working on and sat down on the couch.  My mind focused on a pattern on the floor, but I couldn’t recognize it as wave after wave of vertigo hit me.  I was sitting on the couch, but my brain told me I was falling as if off a cliff, nothing to cling to.  Falling, falling, falling for what felt like forever.

I left work early because I was not there.  I was physically there and mentally there, but brain-wise, not so much.


I got home and my mind tried to figure out what was going on and why.  But, the pattern recognition is in my brain, which was still intermittently working.  So, I relaxed and ate some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  It was half-way through eating them that my brain turned back on and threw out the answer: Sunday.  Then, it shut off again and I was left to another bout of vertigo, less severe this time.

Repeating the word as a personal mantra, my mind went through the mental Rolodex to find the answer to riddle my brain had just given me.  Finally, it saw the faint glimmer of what my brain had been talking about.  Sunday, the day that my headphones broke and I ran out of wraps.

That was it, those two things were the proverbial straw that broke the (even more proverbial) camel’s (also proverbial) back.  Everything that had happened on Thursday and Friday, the emotional and mental toll combined with other things (namely the fact that if I don’t pass my thesis, then everything that I have worked for–all of the conferences, all of the money I spent applying to PhD school–in the last two years was for nothing).

I didn’t think that I had any rituals that I couldn’t live without.  But after searching for why these two things were so (lack of words here), I realized that for the headphones, I wear them almost 14 hours a day (if that short).  They provide three things: 1) complete silence, 2) pressure against my head, and 3) helps me with my auditory processing problems.

The running out of wraps was an equally (lack of words here) because it is something that I don’t have to think about when I make.  I have to think about every single step and talk myself through every little detail when making anything else (even on my best days).  To make raman, I have to tell myself to stand up, go to the pantry, grab a raman, open it up, take out the flavor packet, dump the rest into the bowl, put water in it, put it in the microwave, press the 3 for 3 minutes, go sit down and when you remember it, go get it.

All of these things combined made me like this.

Why I should be fired from being an adult

I got meat today, it was delivered at 5:00.  It was one of two bags.  I got the first bag in the refrigerator, but guess what I didn’t put back in: the meat.

So many people think I’m high functioning, but the reality is that I should be fired from being an adult.  Yeah, high functioning my ass!


3 thoughts on “High Functioning my Ass

Add yours

  1. I talked to you on the phone while you were struggling with all of this. It all happened exactly as you described. I wish I could help you when this happens…..but I don’t know how.


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