TOO MUCH – Calm to Nuclear in 10 Seconds!
It would be a lie if l said that l was without stress each day every day – that would be a downright lie – in fact ask anyone on the spectrum of autism how they feel about daily stress and l can pretty much guarantee a 95% response that stress and anxiety is literally like the air they breathe.
So therefore it is safe to say sadly, that literally with regards stress – it’s in our everyday genes!
Over the years and especially so since my diagnosis with Aspergers’ Syndrome I have learned what l can do, and what l cannot do – my limitations and my boundaries – the good, the bad and the ugliest of my confines – the how to survive in this big world of ours.
This doesn’t mean that l don’t hit glitches …..
I still have meltdowns despite knowing how to stay ‘calm and controlled’ [he says], but l don’t have as many as l used to have prior to diagnosis and post diagnosis. The ones l have these days are relatively quiet in comparison to the ones of yesteryear. Sedate would not be the right word but they are – long gone are the days when l was like a little Vesuvius exploding! Now, l probably can count volatility moments on one hand over the course of a year, in comparison to 10 meltdowns a day back in 2012! So in the last five year l think it would be fairly truthful to say that l have only experienced twenty or so really explosive moments.
It is a gradual build up of continued stress which causes me to simply snap in what some class as ’10’ seconds, but the reality is that whilst l can go ‘nuclear’ in that time frame, it may have been down to a build up over several days.
The last one of any huge enormous frightening calibre was March this year, although l have had a couple of ‘mini’ moments since then, but not to the same scale thankfully.
What caused the explosion in March?
It was the result of an out of control situation which was garden weeds, continuous rain and not enough free windows of opportunity to resolve, as well another bout of sensory overload stress to do with Twitter!
Yes, Twitter was an application that took a lot of getting used to for me – now l am very used to its speed, but l had never ever used Twitter previous to January this year when l created my account.
It was just so horribly fast – there were more people present in any one moment there than l would have actual physical contact with in a year and so it proved to be quite overwhelming at first.
Sometimes people view those of us on the spectrum and simply think that we explode on the moment at the moments and it’s not that way at all many a time, it is the result of a continued build up and overloading of our hyperactive sensory abilities. Albeit, occasionally, what people see, is usually the piece of straw that broke the Camel’s back and hence forth we then implode explode at what they consider nothing!
I needed Twitter for the promotion of my business, and l needed the speed of the application in comparison to the slowness of Facebook – so l had very little choice in truth, l had to ‘man’ up and combat my fears! It all sounds so remarkably stupid and fickle doesn’t it? But as l said earlier each person’s stress is relevant to them.
I had to sit down and configure the judicial ins and outs of the situation and then try and justify whether my explosion was warranted? That is what my therapist used to tell me … “Rory can you justify being angry about this?”
These were the results of that sit down:
1] Accept that the weather WILL get better and make the most of the situation at the time and lower my own expectations of achievement.
2] Stop being so brutally hard on myself, l am after all only human.
3] Recognise that it is NOT needed to say thank you to every new follower and try and create an individual message to them – that’s enough to burn anyone out!!
4] Working on the designs in the business and being truthful as to what is/was going to prove popular – it was time to be clinical and not emotional. The end result was l extracted an entire collection out quite probably never to be seen again. It was one of the biggest collections – but it was no longer market viable nor productive so it had to go.
5] Make the necessary changes over a period of one week so as to not stress myself further.
6] To take some of my own motivational advice and take baby steps!
7] To remind myself of my OWN limits and boundaries.
These days l am very used to the speed of Twitter, it doesn’t affect me – however l do follow a simple strategy. I create a couple of “Good Morning” Memes for those followers who RT me on a regular basis, and tag all of them into the panel [easier now there are 280 characters] and post those. I follow a few DJ’s and specifically tag those who l know appreciate that style of music, and then l will place in an advert for the Designs which l repeat every 3-5 hours pending what else l may be doing. Some mornings l stay a while and chat and banter. In all during the course of one given day at 24 hours, l am active on Twitter for literally perhaps 2-3 hours a day, mostly 2.5 hours.
This strategy allows me to remain calmer, l do not place any serious expectations of my time and or my obligations at risk of stress.
So, most of the time now, l am much calmer – of course l still hit the occasional glitch, but that results usually in a mini break and not something which resembles the Dark Riders. Of course with stress, there is always the further risk of the flakes falling and either creating a blizzard or an avalanche!
For ten years in my early thirties l suffered a major mental breakdown – one of the most dreadful times of my life if l am honest – each day rolled into the next day, the ten years at times just seemed to be one long day. I experienced during these years at times four to six meltdowns a day, never mind the blackouts or the red rages, the shutdowns or the muting attacks when l simply couldn’t speak as l didn’t have the energy to – l was constantly in burnout – stress was relentless and l had to take measures to control my composure and some of these were not pretty.
Strangely, l remember when l was a youngster of perhaps thirteen or fourteen and long, long before any knowledge of the autism spectrum let alone a diagnosis was formed l was considered for sectioning by my parents. Back then, with a head filled with confusions, anger and pain, l sometimes wondered if they were right. I used to have fits, or temper outbursts or ‘tantrums’ and that’s when my self-harming began. l would find broken glass or sharp objects and scrape them along my arms to make myself bleed – and l felt gratified for having done so.
During the full breakdown, cutting was my only form of release, it served as a stimulant it woke me up. It brought me back down to earth. In truth for ten years l just cut deep continually to drive away the shame, the guilt and the anger of being different to everyone else. Fitting in to what society classes as normal is a tough expectation to live up to.
Running the blades on my flesh became a very lethal routine to me – it became a companionship that would not leave me until l was in my late forties when l finally managed to stop. It was the cutting that was used as a tool back then to attempt to alleviate the raging, it sometimes was able to subdue the pain inside.
There are many different types of meltdown, and equally as many trigger styles for those who suffer from the experience. For me there are two distinct aggressors;
1] Anxious Stress
2] Sensory Overload
As to what can provoke these aggravations to ignite well that can be anything if the day to day ‘normal’ stress has reached its capacity – unregulated noise, disturbance, change, routine breaks or frustration and or anger.
Meltdowns themselves also vary to each individual – personally l think l have had everything the emotional discharge can release from one’s mind – but you have emotional meltdowns, to full mute shut downs, red mist rages and blackout rages and they are emotional vexations rather than just another temper tantrum.
No two are alike, and that is because no two individual people are alike, they are a complex organic mixture made up of their own feelings and identity – and their stress is relative to them. So whilst one might be triggered by one thing another might take that in their stride but become uncontrollable at something else.
With my breakdown l experienced mostly anxious stress meltdowns but equally sensory overloads and sadly if both combined then the results were catastrophic and ballistically fuelled red mist or black rages in which a wanton path of total destruction and obliteration followed till l both peaked and troughed. The rage had to expend itself before l could even hope to calm down. Upon waking from that moment and by this l mean, it was not that l was unawares to my surroundings but l had lost control within them – l would then look around and see the damage l had caused. Broken furniture, blood smeared walls from repeated punching and in short carnage from a man who had lost his identity and a primal and raw naked fury had entered the room.
During the rages when life had basically got on top of me and pounded my head till l submitted – l had a sense of being in a terrifying limbo, a constantly loud screaming pounded in my ears – an angry hostility that was my own tormented mind instructing me to basically stop kidding myself that l was anything worthy and that l would never fit in.
It was truly frightening to know that l could be calm one moment but literally in ten seconds l could be nuclear! Similar to fits of absolute hallucinatory frenzied hysteria when nothing would soothe my spirit, or ease the intellectual madness – trust me when l say that atomically fuelled and powered thunderous eruptions are not in any way shape of form pleasurable!
It is the result of when you have completely lost control of your inner being, ‘out-of-control’ is an understatement – l cannot describe it any more clearly – but imagine if you can, that your brain has simply ceased to exist and that deep inside, the vaults have opened and demand your survival and escape – you have become a rogue loose cannon – society doesn’t own you, you don’t own you – mind wrath owns you!
Sensory overloads were with me even as a youngster l lived in constant fear of my Father and his expectations of my ability to perform in school, or to overcome my acute shyness or to become less of a hermit or an outsider and be more social. I was always ‘less’ to him, never just allowed to be me. The terror of not fitting in to a society that really was quite alien to me was horribly frightening. It proved quickly that everything was simply TOO MUCH!
Life was TOO MUCH!
Society demands, environmental pressures to live a life of cohabitation were TOO much! People were TOO much, the noise was TOO much! Movement was TOO much – everything that breathed or had a pulse was TOO MUCH!
If l was lucky l would try and walk away from the surroundings if l felt an exit demand calling to me, sometimes l was hemmed in and panicked as l was never too sure how l might react if someone tried to assist my hyperventilation’s – would l respond similar to that of a cornered rat and lash out – l had to survive, that is all that mattered!
Everything was heightened at those moments – l could hear the tiniest of noises and they became louder deliberately, touch became intolerable, l could smell that much deeper – my breathing became sharper and shallower and the blood would race to the top of my head – charging and racing to get there like an exocet missile eager to cause the utmost ballistic damage! I could feel everything, the vibrations of the air that surrounded me, everything was alive around me – time slowed….
At this point it’s the flight or fight instinct that cuts into thinking – what could l do to minimise the damage?
If l was lucky there were no people nearby, and l could duck out and attend to the moments like Clark Kent and attack the fury head on in whatever form l had at my disposal …
– The red rage was upon me – the demons were running amok – the screaming at its height, the blood boiling over, and the damnations at their strongest! The punching of walls, kicking out, and a totally wanton destruction path would emerge – a thousand thoughts of death, hatred and obliteration were within my mind – there is NO control – what there is – is TOO MUCH! During the red rage misting, the mental adrenaline has started to stir your body – there are just moments when there is nothing there – your brain and mind desperately scrambling to retrieve the data of identity – to endeavour to grasp a foothold back onto reality and drag that back into actuality – that’s is the truism of the black out! You are trying to survive and any means is acceptable – for me and others l should imagine we needed something sharp to pull us back into tangibility – so l would cut, slash, and hack – gratuitous bloodletting to return to what ‘I’ classed as normal measures.
Other times l would simply melt down and most of these were the humiliations of public display – when younger l simply couldn’t control how the surroundings affected me – for society was not designed with my sensitivities in mind – if it was then we each would have a giant sound proofed bubble and the walls of the buildings would be padded. There would not be a cacophony of hustle bustled noises attacking us continually and there would not be a million – Yes – a million and one distractions – causing our eyes to take on board not just the detail you do, but the intrinsic detail you don’t even care about, colours within colours, numbers within colour, words within numbers, numbers within words and smell, patterns within the very essence of the air we breathe – it is the ultimate hallucinatory acid trip without the drugs!!
Everything is just TOO MUCH!!
And am l right to use the term ‘humiliations of public display?’ Too bloody right l am – do you honestly feel that l want everyone witnessing this overwhelmingness? Do you think that l have a pleasure with having that many unwelcomed voyeurs at my party? Think on, if you knew what we tried to cope with in order to not release the imps of hell, you would come to finally understand the bravery we have venturing into this world of yours, this oh so perfect society you crave! Like you we want to belong, we already feel alienated by everything around us when our Yoda is present!
We don’t want your petty judgements and chastising on our Ying and Yang’s because we are trying to cope with the world you have created for you and your society alone! We are not melting down for your pleasurable merriments you know! We don’t need the tuts and the ‘must be bad parenting’ comments or the ‘what an asshole’ jeers if the sufferer is older! These do not help the situation!
It isn’t easy to not be noisy or seen as inappropriate or challenging, or dancing like a demented punk rocker whilst we are trying to regain our dignity and many a time we have to wait till our energy dies down and we are reduced to a sobbing lifeless heap.
Just so you know, yes it happens to adult’s as well and not just children – but next time you see a child – try and remember the pressures they are under to conform to your perfection and conventionality. Don’t sneer at a struggling Mother or Father, or smirk or ridicule – no, try to understand – even if that is alien to your normal code of conduct – try to understand that life isn’t the same for everyone else as it is to you and yours.
Only last year l experienced a public meltdown in Canterbury, Kent – it only consisted of hyperventilation’s, profuse sweating, the creeping panic and a wanting to simply sob out of terror of being in a street filled with colourful noisy holiday makers and students! My partner managed to steer me out of the hustle bustle like a veteran presidential secret service agent. I made a mistake, l thought l could cope, but came to realise that l couldn’t! You see, it isn’t just children that become over whelmed but adults too – meltdowns don’t discriminate equally as much as stress or depression, mental health and anxiety don’t – they don’t care – they simply lash out.
Meltdowns, raging, burnout and or total crash is a threefold event – stands to reason – what goes up must come down right? No different to us, except we need recovery time – otherwise known as downtimes.
Breaking down is the most tiring thing going, your mind travels at warp speed and ricochets off everything it touches and sometimes it can do that for hours, not just the moment many witness when the explosion has occurred – there is always the stress present that led to that moment of TOO MUCH – and that may have been for days in some cases, just a slow to build up but quick to finally react to pressure combustion.
The down times are beneficial to recovery for everyone – society life and environment can be taxing to everyone, not just those of us on the spectrum or experiencing mental health issues. Anyone can experience a seriously bad day when everything proves just too much.
Again each individual will use whichever method to calm down is relevant to them, some might have a few drinks, others might smoke a joint, some might listen to music – others again just switch off and try not to think of anything which can be hard to the minds that never stop.
These days, for me prevention is better than cure – l restrict people contact and social events, l limit my use of music as it can trigger me and l try and keep myself calm – but sadly it’s not always possible – but l try to reduce the stimuli that l encounter.
Adult Meltdowns are different to children’s – for starters they have a different emotional impact upon our loved ones, be this parents, friends, carers or partners who struggle to try and do the right thing.
What to Do –
First recognise the approaching signs:
• Rage, fury, heavy anger
• Inability to see reason, apply logic, general agitation
• Stress build up
• Short Fuse, irritability
Second look for the triggers they may not always be easily visible.
• Sensory Overload: [Movements/people/noises/unregulated noises]
• Anxious stress
• Routine Changes
• Fight or Flight path triggered
• Rising Anger or continued vexation
Meltdown durations vary from person to person – this can be ten to fifty minutes pending the severity of the issues leading to the meltdown itself. But also to take into consideration is – is it a ‘one off’ or part of a cluster? For the latter can mean that the meltdowns themselves may last longer.
The meltdown itself is a very different beast to each sufferer, but can take on the following behaviours:
• Aggressive behaviour may surface and will be out of tune with regular behaviour.
• Outbursts of anger – breaking stuff, throwing things around
• Head banging
• Yelling, screaming
• Walking out
How to help as a partner, loved one or significant other?
• Leave them be, as long as there is nothing in harm’s way
• If you feel there is a danger to yourself or children, then extract yourself from the situation
• Allow them to calm down naturally
• Don’t place yourself into a provocation position
Many a time, the meltdowns are not directed at anyone bar the sufferer, but this doesn’t mean take unnecessary risks with regards your safety. After the incident, then again just leave them be, shutdown recovery can take as little as five minutes to a day, and sometimes longer.
From experience personally, l know of very little successful therapy treatments regarding these meltdowns, although l found that just by addressing the triggers in my life and identifying what caused meltdowns was l able to understand better how to deal with them.
Rory Matier – The Tee Shirt Blogger
#Ps: These posts are my views on my autism/Asperger’s, they may not be everyone else’s who is on the spectrum.