Melting Down #Autism

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?

About Gretchen McIntire (formerly Leary)

I am 34 years old, I live in the Raleigh area, and I am writing from the perspective of an individual with Asperger's Syndrome.
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12 Responses to Melting Down #Autism

  1. There’s this app I recently found called emergency chat. You basically just open it up when you have a meltdown and it tells people what to do. The idea behind the app is that you can then text back and forth to communicate. That isn’t so helpful for me, but you can edit the first page to explain what you need/ want which is a lot more helpful. Might be something to check out.

    • Thank-you! I am able to message people on FB messenger but there seems to be a disconnect. They feel hurt and upset that I’m “running away” when I’m not even in a place to help them see that I need one of them and not an argument. It’s taken personally as though I am trying to hurt their feelings when in fact I’m trying to regulate my brain and calm down.

      • Yeah. It’s difficult to express or put into words what you need in the moment, but it would be great if people could understand what you need and know how to help.

  2. Deci says:

    It is very hard to deal with meltdowns. I got out of the Navy and couldn’t face the world anymore.

    What sucks is that sometimes people don’t notice. I’m currently with an introvert, when I have a melt down my partner doesn’t notice and because of all my issues I have a very hard time walking over to him and asking for attention. He doesn’t like it when I reach out with Skype, cause typing is so much easier talking. But we both are trying to figure it out.

    You would think that the longer you were with someone the easier they would notice your triggers. I’m so sorry, this isn’t always the case. Expesially if the trigger happens when you are away with them.

    Most people dont understand, I tell my kids to breath, I take a bath if I can’t cuddle or be touched by someone I need the touch from. Sometimes I open a book and just stare until I can process the words, but I like reading.

    It is very hard to deal with breakdowns, if you have them enough you should talk to a doctor, there are some medications that help, doesn’t make you “normal”, but helps.

    The best thing I can say is find a word or an action that you can say/do to your partner knows that it’s a break down and that your not just pushing them away. Sometimes it is very hard and when they ask for advice people will say space, cause sometimes you need it.

    Remember you should make any decisions while you are not 100% calm. When your having a break down is not the right time to make any decisions. Wait for it to pass, talk with all parties and then choose.

    People care, and when you run in the middle of a break down you hurt their feelings… *speaking from experience on both sides*

  3. joannamcknight says:

    I am the same and it hurts.

  4. I am the author of Everyday Aspergers blog. I shared this on my facebook page, by the same name. 🙂

  5. aspertypical says:

    This is really useful, it’s amazing how different we all are, yet our meltdowns are so similar.I hate how immature I can become, but I know I can’t help it.

  6. Bodhirose says:

    I feel a connection to what you shared, Gretchen, because it describes what my panic attacks feel like sometimes. I like that you have a couple of safe people that can help you feel more centered. I on the other hand, need to be by myself to calm down. I’ve yet to want to have anyone around me when I go into panic mode. People usually try to rationalize the whole thing and it’s (my panic attack or your meltdown) not coming from a rational place. You can’t be talked out of it and it’s ridiculous for people to feel hurt by your need to find solace of some kind however you can…including running away from them.

    I would think by now that those closest to you would recognize what is happening to you and know the reason why you need to “run away.”

  7. This resonated so strongly with me. I often struggle during meltdowns because I desperately need to escape but I don’t want to be completely alone. I need my partners help, but I often find it too difficult to reach out to him. We’ve been working on cues I can give him, particularly if other people are around, so that I can let him know what’s going on. Sometimes, if I’m able, I text him to let him know what’s going on. We’ve also come up with some physical motions in case texting isn’t an option. I hope you and the people in your life can find ways to communicate in these moments.

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