When I have a meltdown, I feel like I regress to about a two to five year old emotionally speaking. The world becomes too big, too loud, and way too much very suddenly. Often times I feel like I am suddenly grieving. A heavy weight of sadness comes over me temporarily and sometimes unexpectedly.
My natural reaction is to run away from everything. I want a quiet and dark place to not be okay for a little while and to decompress. I think this has been perceived as “attention seeking behavior” at times or “pushing away.”
The oddest part is that while this self isolation seems to stem from self preservation, I don’t actually want to be alone. Having a very calm person with me one on one that understands that “it isn’t personal” and that “it will pass” is worth more than gold to me. I’ve had my partner rock with me before and it was the most precious gift I could have ever asked for.
When I have a meltdown, I tend to feel so incredibly alone. I want to scream, to cry hysterically, to rock, and to be comforted by someone. Not by a group of people, not in a public setting, but by one person in a place that is calm, dark, and quiet. But so few understand the way my brain works. They seem hurt by my self isolation and confused by it.
I never ever intend to hurt someone else’s feelings. In these moments, I often feel helpless and in severe need of compassion. In these moments, I so often feel incapable of communicating what I actually need. The knowledge that my meltdown is upsetting someone that I care about, can and often will, turn a mild meltdown into an epic meltdown.
During a meltdown, I don’t feel capable of comforting them because I often can’t even regulate my own emotions. If they say they are upset because I went “running”, this will often make me feel more helpless than ever and I will completely shut down. If they get angry about it, I will begin to actually push away emotionally; Not to hurt them but to protect them from feeling hurt and from becoming even more upset. I am a caretaker by nature and the thought of being responsible for someone else’s hurt feelings when I cannot control my own is heartbreaking to me.
In these moments, I don’t want advice. My brain is already processing too much and not in a positive light and will often simply reject the advice and become more hysterical. While I will likely tell you that I’m upset about something that may seem trivial after the fact, my brain doesn’t know that it’s trivial in that moment.
Telling me “It’s not a big deal” won’t help. For me, it is a big deal. Processing “what happened” or triggered it won’t help during a meltdown.
What does actually help me? Just quietly sitting with me and offering very quiet reassurance does wonders. Being gentle and getting me to laugh can help. Gentle guided redirection does wonders as well. (A great example: During a tour of a museum I became completely overwhelmed and my partner took me to a very quiet and dark exhibit and quietly pointed out what we were looking at while stroking my hand. I calmed down very quickly.) Deep pressure or physical touch is extremely helpful but *only* if I know them and trust them. There are only two people I trust enough for that and only one that I would really want it from.
On the flip side, telling me to take a bath, read a book, or anything on my own will generally make me more sad and frustated. I’ll likely tell you why that won’t work or help. I think it’s because I’m craving comfort so badly and don’t feel confident or capable of doing so on my own in that moment.
Instead, if someone offers to do something with me, such as read, help them with dinner (if it is quiet), or listen to music with them, I am much more likely to respond well. If they are texting and cannot be with me, reminding me of an upcoming time when we can spend quiet time together helps. Any suggestion or reminder that I’m stuck in this nightmare of a meltdown completely alone seems to make me more upset.
Comparatively speaking, telling me to calm down during a meltdown or that my behavior has upset you is like crossing your arms, tapping your foot while giving a toddler advice on the logic of monsters under the bed and how much sleep you’re losing when they are falling apart, terrified and sad, and reaching out for someone to hold them. Just like that toddler, I feel more afraid and alone; Abandoned.
I am wondering how to help others to see that although I am effectively running away from a situation to calm down, I am not actually trying to run from them. I need someone. Can anyone in the ASD realm help me fix this disconnect?