Austistic people have meltdowns. The condition is famous for it. Sometimes things get so overwhelming that the part of us which copes with life and regulates our behaviour just shuts down, and the result is usually something akin to a temper tantrum or emotional explosion.
I have what I’ve learned to call meltdowns from time to time. But it seems to affect me a little differently than many autistic people.
I don’t (usually) fly off the handle. I don’t physically collapse into the fetal position and cry or scream. What I get is a cold rage that burns inside me, and that wants to do harm. To someone, to something, anything.
The things that trigger this in me are many and varied, and there doesn’t seem to be much consistency. Feeling out of control is one common factor though – if I can’t control my environment or circumstances, I’m at more risk, I know that much. And if someone causes something to happen in my life that I think is unjust, that also heightens the risk.
I’m not a violent person, and I think my cultural inhibitions against physically harming someone are far too strong and deep-seated for me to lash out physically. I’ve never hit anyone, ever – despite being physically abused as a child (or maybe because of it).
But when a meltdown happens, I’m still acting on a visceral subconscious instinct – I have no way of stopping myself doing what I do. And what I do is normally self-destructive in some way – either I find myself making social media posts that are likely to lose me friends, or I verbally abuse someone who could easily harm me if they chose to, or I destroy a possession that I would never normally want to lose, or I act out of spite against someone who has never given me cause to, or make an irreversible decision that will harm me in the long run, etc.
It seems my rage, when it erupts, is always directed inwards, whether directly or indirectly. When I do these things, it’s me that gets hurt by the consequences in the long run. And on some level, while I’m in the throes of such an incident, I actually do know this. But it doesn’t stop me. It’s like I have to let it play out until I’m calm and back to myself again.
No doubt a psychiatrist would have a field day with this, and would find causes in my childhood – quite aside from the fact that I’m autistic. And I’m certainly aware that I have a lot of unresolved rage against my parents.
I do consider from time to time whether I should start up again with regular counselling, like I had for a few years after giving up alcohol. But the only counsellor I trust is now living abroad, and it’s harder to properly connect via Skype rather than being in the same room.
So I’m hoping that by writing this post, and forcing myself to examine what happens in a meltdown, maybe I can start to find ways to ‘head it off’, or handle it better somehow. I never want to have a meltdown, and I always hate myself after it’s over. Maybe one day I’ll find that I can control it better. I hope so.