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Stopping meltdowns

By simetra · Jul 18, 2020 · ·
  1. Yesterday was a subpar day in almost every sense of the word for autistic me. Days on which I change outfits more than once before leaving the house always end up like this (I often do this when my routine is messed up). I forgot something important to give to a friend I met up with, my shoes hurt, I was (unjustifiably) yelled at by a lady on the subway. I arrived first at a restaurant I had never been to before, had to enter the place and ask for the table that was reserved under not my name. Ran out of water to hydrate the brain™.

    Later met up with a family member downtown to do some shopping. Already on the way there, I felt like I was going to reach my limit soon. I missed my stop because I was “isolating” myself on the subway with my noise-cancelling earphones, not looking up from my phone. Missing the stop didn’t help, either. I then decided to go to a mall and lock myself in a bathroom stall for ten minutes. I just stood in there, breathing. My shoulders relaxed a little (I have constantly tense shoulders from stress). Familiar music playing from the one earphone I had in. An extremely unglamorous break, but the best I could do. It definitely saved me from losing control at that point.

    At some point shopping, I was getting so stressed and dehydrated that I would only reply to whatever my relative said with “I want something to drink”. Alarm bells. Incoming meltdown, again. We made it to a café and I was feeling hopeful again because the place was not too crowded and rather quiet. However, it took an unusually long time for the waiter to take our orders, which meant I had to wait for the water even longer. At that point, I had developed a headache. Tried to look up something online but I had close to no service in the café. Started getting frustrated and slammed my finger on the screen. Reaching the limit.

    My relative remarking “That is not gonna help” made me snap out of it before it was too late. I laid my hands flat on the table, fixed my eyes on a people-free corner of the room and just breathed again. Slowly in, hold it, slowly out.

    I got lucky; it helped. After that, I got to talk about things I cared about, felt understood (insanely important), got the brain™ hydrated, and kept listening to music all the way home which works miracles.

    Let’s break this down:

    1. I was approaching a meltdown more than once yesterday.
    2. I successfully recognized the signs of an incoming meltdown.
    3. I managed to adapt my circumstances to calm myself the first time.
    4. The second time, the meltdown was prevented by the intervention of my relative.

    This suggests that while I am capable of helping myself to some extent, I heavily depend on my environment. Without my relative’s remark and the comparatively quiet café, I doubt I would have managed to evade the second impending meltdown.

    A crucial factor was consciously recognizing my bodily reactions, and doing everything I could to alleviate the overload. I could only do this because I knew my environment well enough to know where to escape to in order to get a few quiet minutes. Had it been impossible to escape what caused the stress, I would have melted down big time. I got lucky, just like the time when I had a meltdown at work and only a non-judgmental colleague was there to witness (my rate for work is one per year on average in case you like numbers).

    How well can you control meltdowns? What strategies have you found work best for you? Out of all “side-effects” of autism, meltdowns bother me the most, so I am curious to know about your situation.

    Thanks for reading, and until next time!


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  1. Au Naturel
    Except for during sex, most neurotypical people aren't very aware of their bodies either. To be aware of your internal processes is an extremely valuable skill. Meltdowns and the like are signaled very clearly in advance by physiological changes. Things like blood pressure, shakiness, (a sign of adrenaline being secreted) increased heart rate, headache. Physiological stressors like dehydration, low blood sugar, hunger, fatigue, feeling overheated or cold, while not signs of a meltdown will certainly increase the likelihood and aggravate the severity.

    I don't get meltdowns that would be recognized as such. I just get lethargic, my brain goes into shutdown mode. I pay little attention to my environment and stare off into space. Of course, if someone sees me they assume I'm just goofing off and daydreaming.
  2. Giraffes
    Sounds like you are good at analysing your bodies responses and taking responsibility and action to control what you can, i had 'meltdowns' for over 2 years at work when i had to face staff meetings and training, i read a book on panic attacks and used some of the techniques to help these subside, also finding a person who made me feel calm made a huge impact in regards to how long they lasted.
      simetra likes this.