Storming back to my car, every fibre of being struggling to maintain some semblance of control of my body, control of my words and control of my action. In the driver’s seat I sit, steaming with anger, breathing, trying to maintain autonomy and an ability to not totally lose control. Already I have somewhat failed, already have I raised my voice and allowed my bodily actions to make inappropriate gestures and to knock inanimate objects from their position in the world.

As I sit and turn over the events in my mind I am conscious of many mixed emotions raging through me, of injustice, of shame, of guilt, of anger to name a few. Could it really be just a system error causing a card declined message to occur on the point of sales system?

Surely not. Surely such a small occurrence could not be a catalyst for a meltdown to occur.

Of course it’s never that final situation or circumstance that leads to such strong responses. It’s never just a card declined. Well not in my experience anyway. It’s always much more complex. It’s always that final circumstance or situation that is, as they say, the final straw. The thing that tips it over the edge.

Most often that thing that tips over the edge is a culmination of sensory overload. Of course, it’s quite difficult to see it coming, to recognise it is on its way. Suddenly it is just all too much and personal autonomy over one’s own actions becomes a severe challenge.

I find myself suddenly yelling, screaming, storming, stomping, throwing, gesturing and breaking. I don’t see it coming. I don’t even really know if I am capable of seeing it coming. What I do know is that afterwards I can analyse it and see it perfectly with 20/20 hindsight vision.

Of course, that helps not a bit at the time.

I don’t absolve myself from my behaviour. I know very well that in the throes of a meltdown I do indeed behave in unacceptable ways. The internal agony I put myself through over this is intense. No, I don’t excuse myself, however, it is a reason, an extenuating circumstance. It doesn’t excuse but it can explain.

In the above situation I had asked too much of myself, I had attempted to accomplish too much, to complete too many errands in a chunk. Not that the errands themselves were all that difficult or all that complex, in fact they were in reality quite simple and mundane. The issue was in fact the level of sensory input that I experienced in accomplishing them.

Many meltdowns can be and are averted by autistics learning there triggers, knowing what it is that is likely to be a catalyst. But, knowing the triggers is only step 1. The key is that action has to occur too. Action to remove oneself from a potential situation before the devastating meltdown is, in fact, triggered.

This is nothing new, and many autistics already are aware of this, as I am sure are many parents who care for autistics too. What can’t be known in advance of course is if that last little thing to be done will involve a trigger.

Could I have known that the card declined message would be the final straw for the day. Perhaps. My thinking at the time, I recall, as I drove to the drive-thru, was that I was a little on edge, that I needed to get home and take some refuge, recharge and recoup from the days actions.

In fact, my thinking was by grabbing something at the drive-thru that I was in fact caring for myself. What could possibly go wrong.

Portrait of a laughing man looking down

Portrait of a man looking down over gray background

Card Declined.

Yes I lost it.

I lost it Big time.

I was wrong.

I was out of proportion.

But here’s the thing.

You just never know when that little thing is going to be that little thing that tips one from just coping into the land of overwhelm.

And when the land of overwhelm strikes, meltdown is a highly probable outcome.