A few words about meltdowns (Part 1)

Well, probably quite a lot of words about meltdowns. Because they are one of the most horrible things about being on the autistic spectrum. And it’s been really hard for me to accept that they will happen, that I don’t have control over my own actions once it properly starts, and that there are times when I will need to ask for help.

And I had one of these horrible things today. The thing I’ve most been dreading; a full-on meltdown at work.

To be fair, it’s been on the cards all week. I have so much going on in my head at the moment that it doesn’t take much to push me over the edge a bit. There are two analogies that I tend to use about this; one is a computer with too many screens open and the other is a coffee filter with water constantly being poured through and the holes being slightly clogged. If I detect that the computer is running slowly / the filter is full, I can normally deal with it by taking myself off to a quiet place. But if I can’t get to a quiet place, or things happen too quickly for me to retreat, or something happens that is just too big then that’s when a meltdown occurs.

This one was particularly bad because I could feel as it started. At that stage, it could have been stopped but not without help. Although I wasn’t on my own when it started, the person I was with didn’t pick up on what would be helpful and as I was pretty much non-verbal by then, I couldn’t tell them.

All meltdowns feel slightly different, but there are similarities. They start with a rising sense of panic and an almost irresistible urge to run; to get away. This is where I become non-verbal, normally for the duration. The image in my mind when I think about this is a rollercoaster, and at this stage it’s the slow climb up to the top. At this stage, it is possible to stop the meltdown if I have help. Otherwise, there is one last moment of clarity – the rollercoaster stopping at the top of the climb – when I realise what is going to happen but can do nothing to stop it.

Then the rollercoaster starts and all I feel is fear, panic, uncertainty. And I never remember much of what happens. I know I sometimes scream and invariably cry hysterically. I know I often manage to hurt myself – in fact, I still have scratches on my arms from today. (I never mean to hurt myself, and am not even aware at the time that I am doing so. I’m just trying to get off the rollercoaster.) This is where I need someone with me, if possible, almost to act as a safety harness for the ride. I manage at home, if there’s time, by wrapping myself tightly in about 5 blankets. But that’s not as effective as someone to help.

Eventually the rollercoaster ends and I am left completely drained, mind darting everywhere in a kaleidoscope of thoughts and colours and pictures and emotions. This isn’t so different from when I become overwhelmed, except I am already exhausted and it is very difficult for me to focus the kaleidoscope without some help. Again, at home I stay wrapped in the blankets until finally exhaustion wins and I am overtaken by sleep.

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