January 7, 2022

An expected meltdown

By rosieweldon

As an autistic adult I am very self-aware of my autistic behaviours. I would say this is a good thing, but it also results in heightened guilt, shame and allows for manipulation, but that is a blog for another day!

There are benefits to being self-aware and (sometimes) knowing how autism affects me. Even if I don’t have all the answer, I can get a sense of when my mind is struggling and when I can push it more.

Over Christmas it’s fair to say my mind had the absolute bajeezus beaten out of it. I was more mentally distressed than I have been in years and the recovery was harder than I have done in a very long time. It reminded me just how ill I can become when I push my mind too far. The day after boxing day was a day of heightened mental distress. My mind felt like a hot iron rod was being held against it all day – it hurt. It wanted everything to stop, processing absolutely anything, was too much.

I will talk about that day and the Christmas period more in the future, but for now it is still too raw and hurts too much to think about. In this blog I want to take the whole festive period as a whole and just get across that it is extremely difficult.

So, you would think I would be excited for the return of my routine on Tuesday morning? I thought I was too. Until I started struggling all of Monday. I was okay, I was getting by. But I could feel a niggling unsettling in the back of my mind. A meltdown was building, I could feel it, but I didn’t know why. Monday was a calm day. I was happy, at peace, there were no triggers. Yet still I knew a meltdown was inevitable.

I have a track record of bad meltdowns when I try to sleep. It’s frustrating for me as well as my partner. I had a horrible feeling I was heading to that. Not out of planning but out of knowing I can resist a meltdown for so long. I can fight back, hold my guard up and resist the break for so long. But I could not hold that fort and also transition into sleep. I knew it would come for me when I tried to sleep.

We decided to watch some TV in bed before going to sleep. As I led there my hand tapped against my partner, I tried to stop. I couldn’t, I needed the release. So, I tapped my foot against the mattress and fought back against the urge to cry. I tried to focus on the TV. I could tap and hold of the meltdown. But only for so long. Then we would try to sleep, and I would have the meltdown. I was going to have a meltdown; it was just a case of when. We both had to be up early in the morning, I was back to work. So, I let it happen.

It’s the easiest feeling in the world to let it happen. I just breathed. I breathed and let myself cry. I got closer to my partner, who quickly paused the TV and asked if I was okay. She knew, I knew, the meltdown was going to happen.

She asked if I wanted music, I didn’t answer. The crying built as the waves of emotion and frustration went through my body. I hit against my partner (gently) to try and find some sense of release. I moved to tapping against the side of my head. I realised I wasn’t breathing and tried to regulate my breathing, it made it worse, I was breathing weird. My body almost convulses with the waves of emotion. My partner started firmly running her hand up and down my back. I focused on the feeling as I cried and cried and cried. The movements of my body eased as I focused on hers instead. I could hear her heartbeat. I could feel her hand going up and down my back.

My breathing began to slow. I realised my whole body was tense and relaxed into her. The crying eased. The meltdown was over, but I stayed there a little longer to find a sense of peace.

After a meltdown happens, it feels very much like the calm after a storm. The fog had lifted, the frustration gone, my mind was once again my own.

I sat up to look at her. My way of saying ‘I’m back’. We smiled. I got comfy again to carry on watching the TV.

She explained that everyone feels off that time of year. The holidays in between Christmas and new year, going back to routine. It isn’t our routine when we haven’t done it for two weeks. There is still a transition back to the ‘normal’ routine. She said she had felt off as well, but that it will show differently in me.  

I agreed. She was right. It did just feel off. I was going back to work yet it didn’t feel right. The whole thing felt strange, and my mind didn’t know how to place that feeling.

She pressed play and we carried on watching our show. Nothing more was said of the meltdown.

I don’t know how long it lasted; my sense of time isn’t great when it is happening. I would guess at about ten minutes.

My partner didn’t judge me, question me or leave me. She also didn’t stop it, fix me or do much at all. But her calm presence was enough to ensure it didn’t escalate to head hitting, it didn’t last a long time, I saw it through quickly and calmly with her.

Meltdowns are scary. The absolute best thing you can do for us is make us feel safe. To meltdown in my partners arms with her telling me everything was okay, is as good as a meltdown can get. While my mind is breaking, my body knows, she is there.

Meltdowns are a horrible part of autistic life. Please have patience with us while they happen and after while we recover.

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