• autifacts

1. The delayed meltdown

Updated: Jul 21, 2019

Why the hell you think you're gonna die at night

If you're anything like me, sitting quietly on the couch in the evening can turn out to be devastating.

I guess everyone has read a thing or two about what I'll be writing about today. Mention the word 'meltdown' and people instantly picture a three-year-old laying on the supermarket floor screaming his lungs out in an attempt to get the sweets his mom has just denied him. It's time to set some things straight when it comes to meltdowns, not only in autistic children, but also in adults. For now, let's focus on the delayed meltdowns... oh yes, just when you think you've made it through the day, autism will sneak up on you and screw you over. Here's how...


In my teen years, when I didn't know I was autistic and my family was convinced I was just simply weird at times, it would happen to me that I found myself in utter dispair during my quiet moments. To me, the feeling of a meltdown can best be compared to a clash of both physical and emotional feelings. My brain will feel like all the neurons in there are firing all at once. It will give the sensation of electricity running through every inch, every cell of my body. Like ants in sharp and spiky boots marching underneath my skin, inside my muscles and even in my bones. It will cause muscle tissue to cramp and clinch, so much so that my jaw tightens, my arms become rigid and my abdominal muscles will pull in and I will have trouble breathing. I can't tell you how I feel exactly, a word for this emotional state has yet to be invented. It is an accumulation of dispair, of frustration, of sadness, and sometimes even a state of excitement. It's wanting to scream, wanting to scratch open your skin, wanting to rip your own head off, wanting to jump of a bridge, wanting to laugh hysterically..

Just wanting it all to end.

I had no idea what to do with these feelings. I sure as hell couldn't tell anybody! Experience has taught me that scratching and cutting myself would not go unnoticed, so what to do? Well, back in my day, having an eating disorder was somehow more socially acceptable than wanting to tear the walls down, so I developed a thing called bulimia. Self-harm in the form of puking your guts out was much more acceptable then telling people your brain was on fire and so I kept it up for years. I even told myself and others that I did it because I wanted to be skinny. Well, in my late teens, early twenties, being skinny was an admirable goal for sure, but really deep down, I just needed a way to vent and to sooth myself. I can remember the feeling of peace that always came over me whenever I ended one of my toilet sessions. It was like lavatory heaven, repugnance and reconciliation all at once.

Like marching ants in sharp and spiky boots

Eventually, I learned to replace my bulimia with sports and for a long period of time, excessive sporting was my new way of dealing with what was going on internally. But still, years later, after being married, being a mom, having a job, the state of simply being at peace can sometimes turn into being overwhelmed with the flick of a switch. Like this weekend, it was my son's fourth birthday. Of course we celebrated, of course I tried to guard my boundaries, and luckily, even though it was overwhelming, we had a wonderful day. That day passed and the next day came on. I was somewhat tired, but okay, convinced I had managed things well and convinced that I might have gotten away with this one. But come Monday evening, the ants starting marching again. I kept rocking back and forth while watching TV, unable to control my stimming and even though I tried to suppress it, things got worse eventually. I spent half the night dealing with inexplicable panic attacks, heart palpitations, chest pains, and a state of dispair and anger and wanting to harm myself. God, I took quite a few meds to try and calm down and when I finally fell asleep and woke up the next morning, I had grown a serious death wish. My body felt like it had run a marathon, I could hardly stand, let alone think and walk. I felt so empty inside, so sucked dry, what was the point of all this?

I made some tea and had a quiet moment before the kids came down. It allowed me to think about the decision that lay in front of me. I could stay depressed, I could hang on to this feeling of emptiness. Or, I could look forward to the day ahead, my little boy's first day of school, my little girl who would swing her arms around my neck as soon as she would come down stairs. Slowly, but surely, the meltdown melted away. Thankfully, nothing lasts forever.

When you're autistic you don't have choice. It's not a matter of dysfunctional thought patterns that can be set straight by a therapist. It's not even a matter of a chemical imbalance that can be fixed with drugs. This is how our system works. It's ever so delicate, like a brain consistent of trip-wire. Put too much pressure on any wire, and the bomb we call meltdown will set off.

Difficult? Yes.

Unmanageable? No.

But it'll a take a few years of thorough practise to get the hang of this thing we call autism.


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