To be honest, I’m still trying to figure out exactly how a meltdown manifests for me. Some situations are easy to recognize; those usually involve anger, with yelling, cussing, and sometimes, throwing things. Those are pretty clear-cut.
But what about the times in which I break down sobbing after prolonged period of stress, punctuated by an exceptionally stressful or traumatic event or situation? Like the time in which I dealt with idiots on the road in the rain for an hour and a half, only to come into the next bigger city, where drivers are even more aggressive and irrational, and to top it off, the roads were wet and slick with the earlier storm, and I damn near slid off the road. I hyperventilated and broke down in tears. Is that another/different type of meltdown? I’m not sure; that’s more ambiguous to me.
What’s becoming more clear to me, however, is a list of types of people or situations that may trigger a meltdown for me. They’ve been divided up into two main categories:
- The more-immediate triggers, which initiate intense fury fairly quickly, and
- The more-latent triggers (which I call “irritants”), which gradually shorten my fuse and may predispose me to a meltdown a little more easily.
I’m still new to the known-Aspie world, so I’m still in the “discovery process” stage, but here’s what I’ve been able to identify so far as potential immediate triggers (these are in no particular order):
- Any kind of harm done to any living being, whether the victim is 2- or 4-legged
- Criticism of characteristics or traits that I can’t do anything about
- Ordering me around (I’m almost 39 and fairly successful, dammit)
- False accusations or inaccurately-placed criticism of me in the office
- Finding out someone has talked about me behind my back
- Objects falling or knocking over, even after I’ve set them in place
- Temporarily-freezing or crashing internet browser or computer itself, or perhaps sluggish electronic performance
- Disrespect, personal attacks, especially when not warranted
- Financial infidelity, lying, dishonesty in relationships
- Chronological adults that behave like children
- Being interrupted from an activity that requires deep concentration by someone or something, especially when it/they could have waited
- Aggressive drivers, especially those who tailgate
- Those who drive too slowly in the passing lane
- Drivers who talk on their phone, dial, or especially text while driving
- Drivers who are otherwise egregiously inattentive, such as putting on makeup or reading something (I’ve seen it all)
- Children shrieking or misbehaving, especially if not effectively dealt with right away, and especially if the parents are inattentive or indignant
- Power outages, since they happen so frequently in our area, and they take away all of my stimming activities without warning
Here are some of the irritants (the more-latent triggers) that I’ve found so far:
- Borderline Personality Disorder-type drama kings and queens who are inconsistent, irrational, self-centered, clingy, and argumentative
- Babies crying, especially in confined spaces, such as on an airplane (my irritation is not directed at the baby him/herself, just the crying that won’t stop)
- People with an entitlement complex, especially if they needlessly complain, are ungrateful, difficult, unrealistic, or irrationally unsatisfied
- People with a “user” or materialistic aura about them, such as salespeople, “yuppies”, and those who pretend to be nice to get something from you
- Being “hit” with a bunch of different questions in rapid succession
- Being forced to task-switch too often, too quickly, or too drastically
- Uncomfortable clothing
- Thirst/dehydration, hunger/hypoglycemia, heat, lack of sleep
- Bad or strong smells (garbage, cat box, yard fertilizer, perfume, other chemicals)
- Flickering lights, especially old fluorescent bulbs or older-generation LED lights; this especially applies to those bright, obnoxious, moving LED billboard signs
- TV and radio commercials, especially when they use audio compression technology (which almost all of them do these days), especially of the exposure is prolonged
- People who are too easily offended (grow up and put your adult panties on!)
- Feeling overwhelmed by an extensive to-do list
- Nagging – this may come from people, or perhaps from incoming texts, Facebook/Twitter/Gmail “suggestions” to “find your friends!”, “boost your posts!”, “give us your mobile number!”, “update your browser/operating system!”, etc.
- Rush hour traffic and peak crowds
- The news (which is why I don’t watch it)
- Yelling (on the TV or radio)
- Sudden noises, especially if particularly audible to me, repetitive, and/or repeated-but-unpredictable
- Being around children (I do like children, but I find being around them extremely uncomfortable because they can be unpredictable and they naturally lack self-control)
- Physical pain, emotional pain (such as grief or victimization), etc.
These lists may make me appear to be some kind of anal-retentive ogre. I promise that’s not the case. My fuse is actually rather long. It’s true that I have plenty of triggers and irritants, and a wide variety of them; that’s part of being an Aspie, and there’s no shame in it. Most Aspies do have plenty of triggers.
Because everything gets through. Every sensory stimulus; every sight, sound, tactile sense, smell, taste, etc. Our nervous systems register every one of those, and every bit of their effects.
And we can’t stop it, filter it out, or “just ignore it”. And sometimes, we find ourselves in a situation that we can’t easily remove ourselves from.
I practice self-care as best I can. Here are some of the things I do (in addition to the advice given at the bottom of the previous post):
- Plan ahead. I realize that life can’t always be planned, nor will it always go according to the best-laid plans. But I can minimize the stress and the chances of a meltdown if I do my best. For example, if I have to go somewhere, I try not to wait until the last minute to leave. I try to give myself plenty of time. If it’s someplace that’s new for me, I give myself even more time and I’m sure to have looked at a fairly detailed Google Map first.
- Ask for help and support; delegate tasks as needed. Sometimes I just can’t handle something because I’m too overwhelmed or overstimulated and my brain is “on the verge”.
- Remove myself from the situation, if possible, and as quickly as possible. Sometimes that’s the only way. But sometimes that can’t be done.
- Resolve conflicts before they escalate. I try to keep on top of certain stressors, such as finances (since I’ve been burned by “financial infidelity”, in which I’ve been lied to about money before). Or I solicit communication, such as an opinion about something or the thoughts/feelings of someone close to me. I do not let people become too secretive or give me the “cold shoulder”. I also do not tolerate passive-aggression.
- Unjust criticism – I try to let it roll off as best I can. This is easier if the critical person is not personally close to me; it’s tougher if he or she is, because I value the latter’s opinion more.
- I (carefully!) disclose my condition when needed. This is especially helpful at a doctor’s office, a dentist, law enforcement, etc.
- Surround myself with understanding, supportive, and/or loving people. These may differ; people who love me may not be as understanding…but they do love me. Some who understand may not love me as deeply…but they understand. I’m lucky enough to have a few people who fit all three characteristics.
- If I’m feeling a conflict that is internal (with myself), I may write down my thoughts (usually on a computer, since I type faster than I write), or I may even talk to myself. I go through a mental checklist to try to identify the source of the discomfort or turmoil, and then I proceed to brainstorm for–and settle on–solutions.
- If I’m feeling a conflict that is external (between myself and another person), I try to talk it out with them before the problem escalates too far.
- I reach for a comforting item, if one is nearby. This could be the book or electronic device I mentioned in the last post, or it could be a Rubix cube, or even a pen. Something to fiddle with as discretely as possible.
- Exercise is an excellent outlet for me. This could be a low-key walk in nature, gazing at the trees and sky and hugging a tree, or it could be a visit to the gym so I can unleash my Inner Jock by pumping some iron. Or I might kick or punch a punching bag or pad. (It’s helpful to predetermine “safe”/acceptable targets during calmer times, before I’ve lost my temper!)
- Meditate or pray, or practice Tai Chi or Qigong.
- Practice creative imagery or visualization (sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t).
- Rest (this usually does work)
- Recognize my limitations, respect my boundaries, listen to my gut, and admit my weaknesses/non-strengths (everyone has theirs!)
- Be cautious about who I spend time with and surround myself with. I’ve noticed that the vibes of others tend to rub off onto me very easily, and despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to figure out how to “defend” myself, so I just have to be aware and cautious.
- Avoiding my triggers – Borderline Personality people, rush-hour traffic, obnoxious idiots.
- Muting the TV and radio commercials, the news, and other media-related stimulus.
- Talk to myself or, better yet, talk with a good friend. A good listener is best, because I usually end up dominating the conversation, despite my efforts not to.
- Creative outlets like journaling, music, painting, or blogging (!) can be excellent stress-relievers for me.
If a meltdown does occur, despite all of your efforts to prevent one, remember that we’re all human. None of us are perfect. It’s not a character flaw, anyway. It’s the behavioral manifestation brought on by an involuntary neurological response to excess stimulation or stress. Period.
Here’s what I’ve learned to do if a meltdown takes place:
- Do the best I can to get away from other people or valuable objects. I don’t want to break any hearts or any items. This minimizes the damage done.
- Spend plenty of time alone, giving myself ample time to process the meltdown properly and completely, so that it can run its full course and be over with.
- Spend more time alone to rest, recharge, and recover.
- When calm again, apologize sincerely to anyone who was caught in the crossfire. With my higher cognition intact once again, I can talk things out calmly and rationally, and perhaps explain my point of view and experience, while also being sure to get the other person’s. Ask for their forgiveness, in the form of a question (“will/can you forgive me?”)
- Above all, forgive myself and have compassion for myself; remember that I didn’t choose to do this or act that way. It’s not voluntary or behavioral in nature.
On a final note, I hope we all do that last suggestion: forgive ourselves and have compassion for ourselves. I think that many of us on the spectrum often forget to do that; we can be pretty hard on ourselves. The most important part is to avoid beating yourself up for something that you have limited control over, and to hold your head high after all of the amends are made.
I hope this helps someone else, too. 🙂
(Image Credit: “Make It Stop” by blayresalice)