It starts so quietly, almost imperceptibly, almost sneakily. But even now it’s building. Slowly but surely building. From nothing it’s building, from nothing it can become an explosion of pressure, spurting itself out with such speed and intensity it can be likened to a steam escaping from a pressure cooker. Yes, it’s building, ever so quietly, ever so constantly, ever so consistently to the inevitable point of no return.
Meltdown is a completely appropriate term for it. It can conjure an accurate image of the high and low of the event, the high energy raw feelings, thoughts and words spewing out and the low, complete feeling of being utterly spent, feeling like an absolute failure as a human, palpable sense of shame dragging oneself lower and lower. The inevitable ending of escape into self, escape into solitude, silence and recovery.
It’s building. It’s always building. Without a release valve it keeps on building. It’s building and I’m not sure it can be stopped. It sure can’t be demolished, temporarily halted sure, but stopped in its tracks I am not so sure. It builds from so many different sources. Some clear and obvious sources some not so much. It’s never the same. It’s not the same time and again for an individual and not the same person to person either.
It’s building. Yes, it’s a sensory thing, an anxiety thing, a how grounded you are thing. But building it certainly is. And building it will continue to do. Really the only way to avoid it is to completely isolate oneself, to effectively wrap oneself in cotton wool, never to experience the ebb and flow of living life amongst other people, the ebb and flow of self-care, the ebb and flow of caring for others, the ebb and flow of day-to-day life. So we let it build.
It’s building and all we can do is try to manage it. Try to circumvent its progress, to temporarily derail its progress, to cushion ourselves from its effect.
I reckon every autistic has something different that builds into meltdown. That builds quietly, consistently and constantly to that moment of inevitable eruption. There are tools we use, earplugs, tinted glasses, noise-cancelling headphones, iPods, tables clothing, weighted blankets, weighted clothing. They are invaluable tools to assist in slowing down the building. But still it’s building.
It’s building, no matter where you are, it’s building, it could be in your home but it’s building, it could be the shopping centre and it’s building, it could be in the car and it’s building. It could be the local café and yes it’s building here too. No matter where you go and when you go it’s building.
It’s not a tantrum, it’s not a bad mood, it’s not an anger management problem, it’s none of those things, it’s building, constantly and it’s debilitating when it reaches finality. It doesn’t matter who is around, how it will embarrass those around, these things just don’t come into it. No it’s not like the toddler not getting their way and throwing themselves on the ground. It’s not that, it’s much more primal and raw than that. But it is something like a raw panic attack, or perhaps something like a psychotic break from reality, in that it is effectively an experience where rationality and control is lost, or at the very least extremely diminished.
Oftentimes escape is the only pressure release valve in my personal experience. Getting out of the situation before actual meltdown occurs. It provides a temporary release valve, a temporary reprieve. But yes, it is still building.
It begins in the home, too many people talking at once, struggling to filter and focus on the conversations that need to be followed. The building has started. A walk through the school yard right on as the bell goes and it continues to build as I struggle to keep my sense of where I am in connection with my physical world as people move en mass in all different directions, parents walking and talking, teachers leading lines of children, unpredictable movement and it’s building. A trip to the local café in search of a quiet cup of coffee and it continues to build as the occupants of the next table speak more loudly and continually than is comfortable, along with a group of people meeting at a larger table talking over one another, as I try to focus on the book I read, it keeps building. The longer I stay the faster it builds.
Yet somehow I find myself seemingly stuck there, unable to muster up the executive skills to realise how much it is building. How quickly it is now building. Now is the time to act, to get out of the place, to escape to solitude and quiet. It is in this situation, at this point that if I do not gather myself enough to get out of the situation that meltdown will occur. Yes it’s building fast and strong now.
What I have described is a picture of how it is for me, it is I am sure different for all, but perhaps there are some similarities. An important thing I have learned is that if I am thwarted from my escape, then a sudden and final building into a meltdown experience is almost inevitable. It will take just one small thing from that point to tip me over that edge.
And tipping over that edge is not a fun thing, it is not an experience I or those around enjoy, and it is not something to just get my own way in a situation. When I embarrass others I am devastated at that, when I hurt others with my words I am also devastated. I often feel extremely ashamed, and always am utterly exhausted.
Meltdowns are not fun. They are horrible, for the one having the meltdown and the ones around them. Let me assure you, if they could be avoided then they would be.
Meltdowns they don’t just happen the pressure builds to the point of no return.
Meltdowns, they are horrible, I don’t seek absolution from them but I do seek understanding about them.
Yes it’s building. And it will keep building…. and building…