I had a breakdown this morning. I was planning on marking some work, before going in to teach two new 2-hour classes, followed by another 3-hour class. I’d been bubbling with anxiety over the fact that it was new students for over a week, and it all overflowed in a fairly pathetic crying fit.
The classes went fine, but that’s not the point. I get so, so much anxiety over teaching new classes, and with the precarious nature of TEFL in the UK, it’s unavoidable. And this time, combined with teaching another new visiting group of French kids earlier this week, it just became too much.
I’m autistic. I’m “high-functioning autistic”, which is really not as great as it sounds, because it means that nobody aside from other autistic people believe me when I say I’m autistic, and so people expect me to meet the same standards of socialisation and labour as a neurotypical.
Case in point: I only taught 18 hours this week, and I had Monday off because it was a bank holiday. And yet, it was one of the most stressful weeks I’ve had so far teaching. I have never come close to full time hours, but I know with certainty that if I did, they would destroy me.
In my brain fog this morning, I read this story which reminded me of all the things I find draining. Picking clothes, making smalltalk, dealing with office politics. The worst thing about being “high-functioning” is that you start to believe the lie. I had really convinced myself for a hot minute that my meds, meditation and melons had somehow ‘cured’ my autism, or at least severely reduced the symptoms.
But no. I’ve mastered the art of appearing neurotypical, to the extent that I can perform in a job that’s incredibly social, but that may yet be my downfall. And what are the alternatives? Office environments shatter me in a very different way, and it’s hard to find part-time positions. I had to give up my teenage dream of becoming an interpreter when I realised how it would obliterate me. My goal from a few years back of becoming a full-time novellist is once again looking like the best option, because it would give me near-total control of my sensory and social environment. But I can’t fast track my way into that.
This post must seem like a lot of complaining. After my classes this morning, having realised the anxiety was mostly misplaced, I was on a bit of a high. And once again, I acted as if that achievement had cancelled out all my worry and fatigue. But now, sitting at home at the end of the day, I feel like abject slime. This week is the closest I’ve ever felt to quitting teaching, and that’s already a pretty audacious thing, given I’ve only been doing it just over a year.
I’m intensely qualified. I’m sorry, I just am. I speak seven languages. I can write copy, stories, articles, design websites, shoot and edit video, give trainings, improvise entire lessons. By all accounts I should be thriving. But as an autistic trans woman, I will never find an environment that truly allows me to thrive, because there will always be too much chaos, and too many neurotypicals raising an eyebrow when I start to crack under the pressure.
When I was googling for self-assuring articles about autism and fatigue this morning, I inevitably came across the NT carnival of “How To Help Autistic People Push Outside Their Boundaries”. It’s so fucking patronising, because these people baldly assume that if we don’t directly show our suffering, we’re “progressing”. But every other autistic person I know is intimate bedfellows with burnout.
Our shells are cracking, and you can’t glue them back together.