I have made posts, and talked about meltdowns on my blog before. It's not a new topic for me, by any means, however it's not something that happens to me often. When it does happen it's such a heightened state of emotion that the details of how I feel, what triggered it, and how to recover fades with every hour after I am in a relatively calm state. As usual, I cannot speak for everyone on the spectrum, but I can tell you how I feel, and hope that in doing this that some of what I say may help someone else, especially parents of autistic kids who don't have the ability to explain things. I'm 36, and barely am able to have the insight to be able to advocate for what I need to recover from meltdowns.
This afternoon I had a meltdown. It was an epic one that had been building for quite some time. When it hit I was unable to identify it, and stop the torrent of emotions from flowing out. What triggered it was not one thing, and with me it almost never is. I had been operating above the level of my capacity for a couple weeks now. School enrollment, and appointments have devoured my days. So much paperwork, and talking to people. Social engagements, and all the while keeping up with regular household stuff, too had me teetering. I knew I was teetering, but there was not much I could do. I used every coping skills available to me, but it was not enough. On top of the demands a few different people in this small time frame had treated Bubby poorly. This happens often with him, but usually not in such a small window of time, and one in which I was recovering from so much. (He is not aware of the rejection, or what was said about him in two of these incidents.) Not only was I beyond sad for my big hearted son who does not deserve this, but I was/am feeling as if I failed him in some way. This was the last straw. This took my last spoon, and it was all downhill from there. I had a meltdown, passed out from exhaustion, and have been recovering for the rest of the night.
I once heard from someone on an ASD message board that said the difference between a meltdown, and a panic attack was that a panic attack = "OMG! I'm going to die!!!!" A meltdown = "Omg. I'm going to make you die!" While not all of us are physical I find it an apt description. I felt anxious when I made a status update on Facebook, and that quickly evolved to irrational anger when it was met with well meaning, but not helpful comments.Now, I am sure there are people that think that if I'm going to leave bitchy comments (or say them) then it's fair game for them to respond in the same manner. I suppose that is true. Other people can hold that opinion, but I don't feel the power is equal in that equation. I see it all the time with adults vs autistic kids. They just can't leave the kid alone to recover. Instead they keep picking, and arguing with the kid, further escalating things. When I am in a meltdown situation it's the worst, rawest, most desperate feeling in the world. I am out of control, and my world is spinning. Sometimes I might cry, but that isn't real often. As a matter of fact, not much emotion ever registers on my face, so there is little for the other people in my presence to clue into other than my behavior.
So, what do (usually) well intentioned people usually say when I am having a meltdown situation?
"Have you tried not caring about _______?" Now this is a fair question. Usually what I am ranting on about seems out of proportion to my emotion. It seems small to others, but in reality what I am on about is often not even what I was upset about to begin with, or was just the last straw that set off the catastrophic firestorm inside of my head. This question feels like an attack to me in the vulnerable state that I am in. It is really downplaying the very real situation that I am trying desperately to gain control of.
"You need to calm down." That one is my favorite one to hate. No one likes to be told that when they're upset, so I really don't feel like I need to explain why I don't like hearing this during a meltdown.
And, the last one isn't so much a phrase, but there's always someone who feels the need to observe all of the errors in which I am not making sense, or how my behavior (to them) is inappropriate to the situation. They feel like for whatever reason right now is a good time to give me the run down on everything they don't like about what I am saying, or how I am saying it, even though this feels extremely patronizing, and is probably the worst thing to do. It is the adult version of taking away privileges for misbehaving, which I am adamantly against any adult doing to a kid in the middle of a meltdown. I know that sometimes we are rude, and difficult during a meltdown. I am not saying that we should just get by with doing whatever we want, and saying whatever we want, but please try to understand that a meltdown is a situation that is likely occurring, because we have exceeded our limits of coping. Help us get back down to a calm level. We likely don't want to be nasty. We want to feel better, but cannot gain control over the situation. We don't need to be told that we are not behaving well. We know this. We just can't stop, and telling us how about the consequences, or that we're not being nice is like throwing gas on a fire. I already feel worthless, and like my world is ending during a meltdown. I don't need to be told more negatives.
So, what is a good response, at least for me?
"I see you are upset/hurting. How can I help?" or "I'm sorry you're feeling so bad. I am here to support you when, and if you need it."
That is it. No criticizing. No arguing with me. And above all no more demands. Reassure, and support. Not react, and engage.
I have not been back to Facebook to read any comments left. I am absolutely terrified to do so, because I am afraid that people left critical, invalidating comments chastising me for being angry. I will likely just share this post from the share buttons on my blog without having to go to FB, unless I get some courage tonight. I am still feeling pretty vulnerable, and don't want to start the cycle over again.