July 23, 2021

Experiencing an autistic meltdown

By rosieweldon

Disclaimer: Please note that I am talking about my specific personal experience and every autistic person is different. I am explaining my experience to give a better general understanding of the process of a meltdown. Also note that any medication and/or methods used have been approved by my doctor. Do not use any medication without your doctor’s approval.

I wrote recently about the impacts of the heatwave on my resilience day to day, and that has certainly factored into the autistic meltdown I had Wednesday evening. Monday and Tuesday evening I was struggling with the affects of the heat on me from a sensory perspective and this made every thing else harder. So, going into Wednesday I was already struggling with the week and wanting the intense heat to stop.

Wednesdays have suddenly become an uncertain and chaotic day at work for me. Where I used to have a set routine and start time for a time-consuming task, it now takes place at some point between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning. This uncertainty has made it extremely difficult to plan for. Especially given that once the task starts it is intense and others depend on me to do it quickly.  

I got the email later Wednesday afternoon and started the mayhem few hours of getting it all done. I’m not a fan of spinning lots of important plates at once, and certainly not at a minute’s notice. I did get it all done and from my companies’ point of view everything was fine. But my mind was not fine. It was spinning a hundred miles an hour and couldn’t settle. It’s like my mind gets ‘itchy feet’ and can’t settle because it has run of adrenaline to get me through and then can’t calm. I needed to bring my mind down to a safe level. Leaving my mind at that frantic point means I’m out of control. And an out-of-control autistic mind is one step away from crashing into a meltdown.

‘Crashing’ into a meltdown is exactly how it feels. I can pinpoint the moment my mind broke. One thing too much and my mind has fallen over the edge and it is too late to stop it then.

I finished work and pretty much knew I was going to hit meltdown at some point. I was right there on the edge. I could barely hold back tears and my mind was struggling to find calm. Then a social situation that I didn’t understand happened and my mind crashed. It really is like someone walks into my mind and pushes it, I just watch as it falls and smashes to the floor. I feel it all just break and the distress and mental pain start.

My first instinct is to escape. But that’s not always possible. So instead, I fought with everything I had to not visually show my meltdown, to not cry. I tried to push my mind to shutdown instead of meltdown, but I couldn’t. The psychological distress builds, and I know I can’t do anything but see it through.  

I went outside and sat on my own. My fingers traced the shapes on the table, getting more and more urgent and harder pressure as my mind craved some kind of release. As the meltdown built, I knew it was going to be a bad one. It’s like a ball of distress bouncing around my brain, getting more frantic and painful as it goes. I hate the feeling and long for it to stop. When I am like that, I get this overwhelming urge to feel pressure, often with the unexplainable urge to hit my head. It’s something I have only done a couple of times, but the urge is there. Perhaps a want to stop what’s in my mind from hurting me, I don’t know. I tend to put pressure on my own hands and try to drive away the feelings in my mind.

But it wasn’t calming my mind and even my partners presence wasn’t calming it. I cried on her and could just feel my mind breaking and breaking. The week had been too much, and I had put off meltdown too many times for it to calm so easily. I was going to break a lot more than I already had, I could feel it.

I have recently seen my GP about sleeping tablets to stop nighttime meltdowns. As I sat there and feared what was going to happen that evening and night, I made the decision to go to bed early and take a sleeping tablet. It was my first time taking it and I was terrified of what it would do. But more so, desperate for the distress to stop, before it got worse, and to get some sleep. I knew I needed to stop it before it escalated and was too late.

I got into bed and took the tablet. After taking it, I did let myself cry and feel the weight of it all. I think part of me felt safe enough to break and know it couldn’t really escalate because I had taken the tablet. I couldn’t bottle the whole meltdown, I needed to cry properly and feel some kind of release before sleeping.

Whether physically or psychologically the tablet did help calm me down and I did get some sleep. Without it I would have gone through a horrible emotional turmoil that night, got no sleep and been emotionally exhausted the next day. Instead, I woke up with a sleeping tablet ‘hangover’ of being groggy and ironically, very tired! But I had slept, and I had managed to avoid the worst part of the meltdown so I’m glad I took it.  

I am very self-aware of my own autistic mind; it’s why I write about my experiences. I want others to understand that it’s like a thing in the dark coming and taking our mind and not giving it back until it’s done its damage. I want people to understand we can fight it sometimes sure, but only for so long. If people really knew what it was like to feel an autistic meltdown, they would show so much more compassion than a lot of people do.

It is a horrible part of being autistic. I fear them. I hate them. But there is nothing I can do to stop them being a part of my life.

Please please have patience and compassion for autistic people in meltdown/after meltdown.

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