I hate them. I hate them so much. They hurt so bad, and they come on so quickly and so strong. I get them from extreme sensory over-stimulation and hunger, social overload, and during my menses. Crying happens swiftly, and the lever for the emotional dam is flipped. When I try to speak in between sobs, I sound panicked, unintelligible. The pain sets in my mind and I start screaming and hitting. The cyclone winds arrive and I become out of control. Writing helps me figure out what I need from that specific moment. Hold me, love me, understand me. Get away, I’m sorry, I need time. What never changes is the need for you to understand I’m not trying to hurt you. Common themes in my written art.
Most of the time I can keep my meltdowns under control, and I can use box phrases to communicate to those around me. I can restrain myself and keep my anxiety monster asleep.
When my monster awakens, the battle inside begins.
The electricity, the flame, the pain, the rage in my mind distracts me from being able to comprehend consequence. I feel like I’d do anything to get that pain to stop. Words start to mean very little. I can’t be threatened, I don’t understand what’s being said to me, I can’t focus long enough, and the rage becomes desperation to express just how much my head is on fire. I start clawing at my own face, grabbing and pulling my own hair, hitting myself. If I stop, I’ll start to scream and cry. I’m losing my grip.
Don’t come too close or grab me, I might hurt you on accident. I can’t control how hard I touch things, they explode in my grasp, and I feel like my life is in danger. I feel like something is attacking me from the inside out. I feel like if you touch me, I might mistake you for the attacker. I can and will hurt you. Please handle me with care.
I don’t want to hurt anyone. I want to have normal reactions and normal understanding. For so long I wanted to be a normal person. I had to learn how to accept my monster and my madness.
I feel like an animal when I meltdown this bad. If there are too many senses on, emotions running too high, negative environmental factors, I get like this. I feel unsafe and a danger to those around me. I start looking at something, anything, to make it stop. My mind starts working against me and thinking in extremes, turning me against myself, adding straws to my camel’s back. No one can say anything worse to me than what I’ve said to myself. I push those thoughts away, knowing that they aren’t real, and I have enough dominance to be able to differentiate what will hurt me and what will help me. Central Command functions like a dam, a filter, a barrier between me and the outside world. Central Command connects me to my body. In those moments, Central Command is functioning on a skeleton crew during a crisis.
I’m still hitting things around me, pushing them and throwing them away so I can’t hurt myself or others with them. I have rage jolts and I have to hit, so throwing, loud noise, screaming… those things help me. To not do them is torture, if I don’t spread my fire out, I’ll burn myself within. In brief moments of constraint, I can make enough sense to say I’m having an issue, but the window is so small. To small to last. I can’t fight my monster at the same time I’m trying to figure out why this is happening, at the same time I’m trying to communicate, at the same time I’m trying to stay alive.
I’m exhausted when it’s over. I feel remorse, but I’m unable to find the words. I process emotions completely different from normal people, which means in an emotional conversation I lose track, I get confused, I get lost. Words mean nothing, I just feel, and respond with the loudest response I have in my arsenal: silence. Raw emotion has finished it’s tremendous thunderstorm, and I have settled into a cranny of devastation. Every time I’m surrounded by the chaos I’ve created, I regret the firestorm I’ve caused and wish I could’ve burned instead. I desperately desire to explain myself, but how? I was over the edge because my disconnected body and emotions were running for the cliff while my mind was away from the reins.
I never know how to come back from these. I always feel shame after, when I’m holding the pieces of whatever I broke, or looking at the trash I’ve kicked everywhere. My worst enemy has always been myself. I’ve always been told I couldn’t act this way. I’ve always maintained I’m not acting.
Meltdowns feel nonsensical, and the emotional overflow needs to be met with compassion. When my emotions are out of control, I will say something. If I can’t handle a situation, I need to be respected. When I can’t explain myself, I need whoever is around me to know that I’m not being this way for no reason.
We need understanding and acceptance. People with autism are people too, with different perspectives and experiences. It’s a painful, uncomfortable, embarrassing experience.
What to do When Someone You Know is Having a Meltdown
The best thing you can do for someone with autism experiencing a meltdown is to remain calm and give them space.
Remember that they may or may not be able to talk to you, so be prepared not to receive a response if you ask them if they’re okay.
Reduce anything that might irritate the senses, turn down the lights and sound, help make the person feel physically comfortable.
For more resources about meltdowns in autistic people, please visit:
To read more about how I dealt with self acceptance, click here