Meltdown

Photo by Enesse Bhé via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Photo by Enesse Bhé via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

There may be times in my blog when I will mention having meltdowns. I’ve read that people with Asperger’s tend to have meltdowns, although I suspect it doesn’t always look the same for everyone. I’ll tell you what a meltdown is like for me.

First, I start to feel overwhelmed. This can be by external stimuli like being surrounded by people, lots of movement, hurrying, noise, loud voices, smells. Or it can be by my own emotions, triggered by people putting excessive demands on me, insulting or criticizing me, judging me, or (and this is the very worst) falsely accusing me of something.

Combine both external and internal pressures and it’s a recipe for disaster for me.

First, my brain gets fuzzy and it’s hard to think or concentrate. Then things start to get blurry, visually. My visual focus becomes narrow and I stop being aware of things in my peripheral vision. Then I start to feel a pressure rise up in my body, from my core, up up up, tightening my chest on the way, until it reaches my eyes. When that pressure starts is when I know I need to get someplace where I can be alone. If I can, the impact on my life will be minimal. If I can’t, like if I’m at work and can’t get away, it’s catastrophic.

There’s always this one moment that’s the tipping point. Once that moment passes, there’s no going back. Have you ever slipped on icy ground and tried to right yourself, but had this moment where you knew it didn’t work and you were going down? That’s what it feels like.

Once the pressure reaches my eyes I start to cry. Uncontrollably. I shake. Sometimes I have an asthma attack. Often I vomit. There is no way I can coherently explain my thoughts. People witnessing it think I’m immature and trying to get attention. I’m not. The last thing I want is attention at that point.

Eventually the outward behaviors stop. I go home, if I wasn’t already there (and I am usually not at home when it happens, unless my MIL is visiting). If it happened at work, I then usually quit that job. Seriously. I quit. In those cases I feel like I can’t handle doing anything different. If I don’t quit, I inevitably get “let go” soon afterwards anyway.

And then outwardly, I can seem okay. I carry on with my life. I talk, smile, eat, do errands. But for months after a big one, I barely clean my house, keep in touch with anyone, or even keep up with my hobbies. I am just utterly exhausted.

I get called “emotionally unstable.” I’ve never been diagnosed with any psychiatric condition though. I talked to one doctor about it, and also one counselor, but those discussions went nowhere.

When I feel like a meltdown is coming on, I try to avoid it, but my methods of avoidance usually piss people off, like walking away when it’s not appropriate to do so or blurting out something that other people take the wrong way.

One time when I was with my family in a restaurant and there were various other circumstances surrounding the outing like having house guests and having to drive in a city I hated with a car full of people, I could feel it coming. I said to them, “I really need people to not talk to me right now.” I didn’t know how else to say it just then to explain the overstimulation I was feeling. Fortunately, my family understood and gave me space, but a stranger (who unfortunately was in my direct line of sight, otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed) overheard me and looked at my mom and rolled her eyes, as if to say, “Ugh, what a drama queen.” That just about killed me, emotionally speaking. I do not want to be that person. I said to my mom, who was next to me, “How else am I suppose to say it when I feel that way? How should I say it next time?” My mom replied, “It’s okay. It’s okay how you said it. I knew what you meant.”

I should probably mention that my mom has not always been like this. My mom used to have huge anger issues and mood swings, and when I was a kid she could be downright verbally, emotionally, and even spiritually abusive. But she has changed and grown and is like a different person now. And she’s read things I’ve asked her to read so she does understand my issues now. I know I am fortunate to have that support.

But other people. Obviously other people are not going to understand the motives behind my words, actions, and outward signs of imminent meltdown, let alone the meltdown itself. And the fact that other people judge me for them makes them, and the fallout from them, so very much worse.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to not have them. I talked to my counselor about it and he offered suggestions for coping strategies, but they don’t always work. Either I don’t have the presence of mind to implement them, or when I do, other people thwart the things I try to do to protect myself.

It’s not like I have these meltdowns all the time. They can range from once every two to five years or so. (My last one was in March 2014, the one before that was in September 2010.) During the times I can get away with staying out of the workforce and not having my mother-in-law as a house guest (no one pushes my sensory and emotional buttons like she does), they’re pretty much nonexistent. But when they happen, they have a life-altering impact.

For the most part, I like the way I am, Aspergian ways and all. If I truly have Asperger’s as I suspect, I wouldn’t want to change that, because I like my gifts and interests and I wouldn’t want to lose those. But one thing I would change is my tendency to have meltdowns. They are horrible, humiliating, and debilitating.

Perhaps if the world were different. Gentler, quieter, more accommodating and tolerant of differences. But changing the world is a lot to ask.

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14 thoughts on “Meltdown

  1. I know people who have benefited from counselling for this so it may be worth you trying again. You’ll likely always be more sensitive to stimuli than most but being able to control the situation before it forces an implosion/explosion might be something you can get support for. :/

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    1. Can you describe what you mean by “control the situation”? Do you mean control my internal reaction, or do you mean control the external circumstances that are causing it? Sometimes I am able to do the latter, if I can get away. Those are the times I don’t go into full meltdown. But the times I do are the times I can’t get away, can’t control what’s happening, or when people get angry at me for my attempts to take control.

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      1. By situation I mean external situation. I’ve known people who are able to quickly identify things externally that trigger meltdowns and are then able to reduce this impact by internally rationalising their reactions or are able to alter external factors accordingly. That said I do also understand that if bombarded completely with outside stimuli sometimes it’s far too overwhelming. :/

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        1. Thank you. I appreciate your feedback and your kind intent. Yes, thank goodness, there are times I can take control. I probably wasn’t clear about that in my post, because my post was about meltdowns, not the times meltdowns were averted. There are many times when I feel I’m getting to the point of overload and I can either remove myself from the situation, take action to change the circumstances, or even control my internal reaction. I didn’t mean to sound as if I’m always completely helpless. And my counselor did go over coping techniques with me which I try to implement. It’s just that once every few years, things get out of my control, I pass the tipping point I mentioned, and that’s when the full-blown meltdowns occur. But even though they don’t always occur, not even in times of overload, I would like them to never occur. 😉

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          1. I’ve no idea what it must be like to go through this and I’m sorry if people around you, like that diner who rolled her eyes, let you down. I’m glad that it’s not as frequent as I led myself to believe and that you do have some coping skills and mechanisms in place. I’m afraid us NTs in general aren’t very good at identifying or appropriately responding to people with hidden disabilities and I’m sorry for anyone who has suffer that lack of understanding. Ned

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            1. To be perfectly honest, I don’t actually blame that other diner. In moments when I’m calm and thinking clearly, I can understand why she reacted the way she did. To her, it must have looked like I was trying to control everyone else, as if I expected everyone to modify their behavior solely for me, and as if I were trying to silence people. I can see how that looks very, very bad. I can see how I might have appeared to feel entitled, and how I might have appeared to be a horrible, nasty person. But the truth is, I am horrified at the thought of making other people feel bad. It’s just that in those times it feels crucially necessary to me to try to get some space and some quiet. It really is so, so hard to explain. In retrospect, I probably should have said I needed to get some fresh air and left the building (but I didn’t do that because we weren’t in a great neighbourhood). I’ve been criticized for doing things like that before, but I’m sure it doesn’t look nearly as bad as telling everyone to shut up. Even though I did phrase it much more nicely than that, it’s still how it came across, apparently.

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              1. True but if it was a physical thing people would see it and understand. “Everyone stop, my leg’s in a lot of pain”, “hang on, I can’t breath properly” would be ester to understand. And though you’re being polite toward that customer I do still think that people in general make assumptions and jedgements too quickly. I understand that you could have left but I also understand that you must have known that that too would have involved a great deal of sensory input so the safest thing to do was to stay put

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