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My Mental Health: 10 Clear Causes of Burnout in ADHD

Post originally published on 02/05/2021.

Updated for clarity and accuracy. Original images updated.

“Burnout is nature’s way of telling you, you’ve been going through the motions your soul has departed; you’re a zombie, a member of the walking dead, a sleepwalker.”

Sam Keen

Hello, beans! Have you ever been under a lot of stress at work and you suddenly realize that you’re exhausted, you can’t stand even the thought of your job or your coworkers, and you aren’t able to produce or perform the way you once did? If you have, you’ve likely experienced burnout. Burnout has been on my mind lately and how it correlates with my ADHD and mental illnesses. Naturally, I decided to write about it.

What is burnout?

The APA recognizes burnout as physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes toward oneself and others. It is generally brought on by prolonged or chronic stress. It can be caused by a number of things, for example:

  • lack of support system away from work
  • time-sensitive pressure
  • lack of managerial support
  • lack of clarity in job role
  • dysfunctional team or organizational dynamics
  • an unmanageable workload
  • weak time management skills
  • unfair treatment by supervisors or coworkers
  • lack of control over your function or job role
  • poor work-life balance

The three main indicators of burnout are:

Exhaustion – this includes emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion.

Cynicism – toward yourself, your job, or your co-workers. You no longer identify with your role within the company.

Reduced ability – you can no longer perform or produce

There are 5 stages of burnout, but I won’t go through them all here. Though, I do want to mention quickly Stage 5, which is Habitual Burnout, or Burnout Syndrome. At stage 5, symptoms become significant and on-going; the person with burnout is now in crisis mode.

Symptoms can include chronic mental and physical fatigue, chronic sadness and anxiety, and depression. This level of burnout can be dangerous and people often have to seek medical care at this point. It is likely that 23-54% of workers have had or are currently dealing with symptoms of Burnout Syndrome.

This is the point where I was going to list some suggestions about how to beat burnout but, honestly, I didn’t like any of the information that I found. Not only was none of it possible if the stressor is out of your control (a bullying co-worker or, worse, manager), but I also felt that most of it was geared toward neurotypical people. ADHD folk can’t always follow the same kind of advice. So it got me thinking about any correlation between burnout and ADHD. Turns out, there might be.

Burnout and ADHD

When a person with ADHD gets hyperfocused on an issue or a project, we often go hard and fast. Sometimes, it consumes our every waking thought. We research and look at pictures and read articles and talk, talk, talk about it and then read more articles and then spend an impulsively foolish amount of money on it…and then nothing. We burnout. The ideas disappear and dry up along with our enthusiasm and gusto. But, it’s more than that for us.

ADHD is a lot more than quirkily spending all your money on random hobbies. People with ADHD often cannot control their symptoms in a high-pressure job. They have trouble producing the same amount as neurotypical co-workers, so they often work after hours or through lunch breaks to make up for what they couldn’t get done during business hours.

The shame and stress of not being able to handle the load become too much. Before we know it, we’re dealing with burnout symptoms on top of our ADHD symptoms. Cognitive impairments like loss of concentration, time-blindness, poor planning, and poor organizational skills are signs of burnout but are also hallmark ADHD symptoms.

People with ADHD, who tend to be less kind and compassionate with themselves, try to prove themselves by taking on too much, and we tend to have inconsistent or even non-existent routines. We also tend to ruminate on what we see as our failures. These things make us prone to burnout.

It is also more likely that, even in long chunks, rest won’t “cure” the burnout if the circumstances that caused it continue. If your boss picks on you, you can’t concentrate on the right things, and you live in a panic spiral…no amount of rest is going to help. Likely, it will make returning to the original circumstances induce anxiety and depression.

I know from experience.

Update 03/29/2024

I was terminated from my job of 15 years on 08/03/2023 due to the experience that I was remiss to talk about below. I am no longer hesitant about talking about it. Winter is coming.

I’m hesitant to talk about my own work experience. It is so relevant in my journey, and I feel that it’s imperative for us to talk about what people with ADHD go through in the workforce. It is lonely, confusing, and causes shame to have these things happen to you and not know why. However, all of that said, we live in a world where you can get fired for mentioning where you work on social media. Since only about 20 people read each of my blogs, and I don’t think I work with any of them, I’ve decided to go ahead and talk about it in vague terms.

I’ve worked for the same company for 13 years. The first 5 years weren’t that bad. The company restructured several times and remodeled the building so I was either changing jobs because of reorganization or changing physical office space every year or so. I took a new position about 8 years ago that paid significantly more.

Just a few months after I took the job, I experienced the trauma that I have referred to that pretty well-spun me out. I got very, very sick. I was barely functioning at work or home though I was able to continue to wear a mask of normalcy and competence. I was able to fly under the radar until I got a new manager. I went from having almost no supervision at all, to having a supervisor who prefers to micromanage.

To make a long story short, problems started almost immediately, when she decided to start running monthly production reports. Keep in mind, this was years before my ADHD diagnosis, so I did not have that piece of information about myself as it was happening. My production was much lower than the rest of the team. She started constantly comparing me to the rest of the team; something I had never experienced in all the time that I worked there.

Slowly, she and another person on the team started using the fact that my production was suffering as an excuse to bully, lie, and harass. It led me to a full-on dissociative breakdown. At the time, I honestly believed that I was going to have to be hospitalized. It’s what my old-fashioned Mamaw would have referred to as a “nervous breakdown.” I have been in Stage 5 burnout since that happened, almost 4 years ago.

My job makes me perpetually exhausted. When I’m at work I’m paranoid; about making mistakes of any kind, but also that there is some plot against me that they are going to spring on me at any moment. They eventually promoted my bullying co-worker. There are teammates that I cannot stand, I no longer believe in the job, and I feel no passion for it at all.

I struggle every month to reach the numbers that my co-workers surpass easily. I am in complete and total crisis mode for the last 2 weeks of every month. I procrastinate on the tasks that give me the most anxiety and am in constant fear that my procrastination will be noticed and it will all start up again. My concentration and attention span are almost non-existent, except when I’m panicking at the end of the month. It’s all very undignified.

I’ve been off work since December. I was feeling on the verge of another breakdown and this time I reached out to my doctors for help. I’m still not out of the woods…I’m going on Monday for another med check as it seems that the current dosages of all my meds aren’t working well anymore. I’m working on the steps in therapy to get well and healthy. The thought of going back to work, though, makes me want to die inside. It’s gone beyond not having a passion for it and moved into it actively hurting me.

I have to have this job to pay my bills and keep healthcare for my family, but it’s taking a toll on my health. It breaks my heart when I think of how many of us are out there, feeling this trapped hopeless. How can we get out from under burnout out if a lot of the external factors that exacerbate the symptoms of our mental illnesses and ADHD are beyond our control? I guess I’ll find out in a few weeks.

In conclusion

Burnout is a widespread problem, even among people without ADHD and mental illness, if for very different reasons. In my opinion, companies do not often breed environments where mental and emotional health of employees is a priority. [Update: I have never believed this more than I do today, three years after this was originally published.]

I also think it’s important that we start talking about it. If not to let each other know that we are not alone, but to fight to be heard so that it is taken seriously by the companies that employ us. Just know, if you are feeling burned out, you are not alone. Talk to a friend or a family member or a therapist, if you have access to one. There is help out there and a fight for change is coming.

Remember to make time for your self-care, be more self-compassionate. Listen to your mind and your body; take a break when you need to. Most importantly, forgive yourself for your failings and work to learn from them; be kind to yourself. Try to implement a routine that works for you. Work with a body double (someone who simply works along with you, for accountability reasons) when possible. Find the workplace accommodations that work for you. There is hope out there, we just have to keep fighting the good fight.

Subscribe by email or follow me on Twitter or Facebook so you don’t miss out. Check out My Mental Health: ADHD Extended, to learn some of the lesser known ADHD signs! I hope to see you there.

Love and light.💜💜

ADHD Beans

Still depressed, anxious, and traumatized. Still an ADHDer. Still kicking ass and taking names when it comes to busting stigma. Changing hearts and minds, one post at a time.

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