I have to sit with this. This feeling that I’ll never accept and that will always frustrate and ruin what would otherwise be just fine.

I am overwhelmed. I have been overwhelmed for a while, but I’ve been in denial about it. Denial is always worth a try.

As with all-things-autism, it’s not as simple as just being in denial. Denial implies full knowledge of what is happening and how I am reacting to it.

It always starts off with being fully unaware that anything is wrong. This is usually characterised by having less energy to do the things I find energising, gravitating towards retreating to my duvet whenever I can – even if it’s fifteen minutes snatched in the middle of the day – and finding it difficult to hold what it is I should be doing next in my head.

Days start to bleed into each other: I get up, go to work, stay later than I should, eat something put in front of me – because if it wasn’t put in front of me I would have nothing or a bowl of cereal – and then go to bed again.

I hold a list of things to worry about, and recite them at regular intervals; you haven’t dealt with making that appointment (ongoing a month ), you haven’t planted all the plants you should have planted by now (ongoing three months), you didn’t get everything you wanted to get done before taking time off (ongoing a week and a half), you haven’t responded to emails that needed a response (ongoing forever), you haven’t scripted for tomorrow (ongoing forever), you haven’t had time to find routine in your day (ongoing two months)… There are many more but they pop in and out as they choose.

Then a couple of weeks ago someone who had always been in my life wasn’t there anymore. She died – but people don’t say died, they say moved on or passed away or we lost her. She wasn’t lost. She died. She was old and was fed up of not being able to live the life that she wanted to, and she passed on that message to her body, which eventually agreed and stopped. She had an excellent life and a dignified death and I loved her enormously.

All those low-energy moments rolled into one high-energy meltdown. I had been reading Fern Brady’s brilliant new book, “Strong Female Character” – which you should read too – and she mentioned that we don’t talk about meltdowns enough. She’s right.

I don’t have meltdowns often, and if they’re in public then I twist them and they tend to make me look like I’m just energised about something really specific, and I talk when I shouldn’t and am repetitive and loud and unwieldy.

But when I’m in private and they’re full blown they fill me with a terrible sense of shame. I have shutdowns more often, because I have used that shame to squash myself into a neat little package that doesn’t bother anyone.

A shutdown is silent and staring and looks like a benign-blob of a woman staring out into infinity. I’m always amazed no one can hear the scream that I have become, because it fills everything.

A meltdown is getting stuck in a loop. There is a problem and I can’t solve it without breaking the rules, because of who I am. I get caught on it, like skin on barbed wire, and I know that to get off that fence it will hurt and I will tear something. So I hang there unable to move out of that moment. Stuck in the pain and the furious terror, knowing I cannot keep my balance.

I repeat something, over and over and over again, and my energy is Tasmanian-Devil. I have broken things and torn to pieces objects I loved and cherished. They are gone because I couldn’t keep them whole. Because I wasn’t whole.

I have hit myself in the head to interrupt that loop and break that cycle. I have felt like I have lost my mind and it will never come back. I have felt so completely alone and broken and weird beyond words that it’s hard to imagine connecting with another human ever again.

I know writing this won’t help me. I’m an employed-person now. I live in a post-apocalyptic world where working from home has made employment a possibility for me.

I know that there is no way to communicate a meltdown to someone who does not experience them, in a way that keeps their respect. I am also a fully grown-up human, I’m only as childish as I let myself be, but here is another side of me that is not neat and tidy and sanitised for your viewing.

Why mask so much and then go on to offer honesty?

I’ve been holding off writing things lately, because I’m employed. I’ve been holding off reaching out for the support of my peers, because I’m employed. I’ve been less myself, because I’m employed, and that needs to stop. I am a whole human, I am good at my job because of the mind that I have, I’m a considerate co-worker and a hard-working colleague, and I’m also autistic.

No one has asked me to change who I am, but I’ve been employed before. I’ve been treated badly and bullied and left out of things because I was too weird and arrogant and cold to be included.

These are the rules I have imposed upon myself to keep me safe, but they are harming me, and so I’m undoing them. I’m burning a bridge. I’m putting this out there.

I am good at my job, but I do not work the same ways other people do, and I shouldn’t be ashamed of that.

I also know that these words could be used against me. In my private life, in my public life. Just imagine what a field day someone who wanted to hurt me could have with all this honesty? I’m already ashamed. It’s an easy win. I’m giving you the power to hurt me and convince the world I’m not a proper person despite appearances. You could suggest all sorts of terrible things about me by taking pieces of who I am out of context.

I had a meltdown last week in the corner of my kitchen and then I moved several tons of soil in the rain, until everything ached as much as my head did. And as I dug I looped that sentence over and over and over, until I found a solution to the unsolvable problem.

You see I couldn’t make my grief and my grieving fit with a non-autistic-socially-acceptable-version-of-myself. So I made the decision to grieve my way – to not attend the funeral. I shall plant a tree and remember and smile and cry at odd times instead. I shall work to my rhythms, not those that the world thinks are right.

I am not leading a life of balance right now. I keep telling myself that I’ll just get through this week and then it will settle, but the weeks roll on and there’s more and more and more, and my list of things I haven’t done keeps growing.

I cannot change the world, all I can change is how I respond to it, and I refuse to live a life where I do nothing but exist and hold on. That path leads to autistic burnout and wasted time.

No one else can regulate my life but me. That’s what it comes down to. Diagnosis didn’t give me a support-system, it gave me the answers to how I work. I changed everything for the better and found routine and stability, and all the pressures I am feeling are because I’ve been neglecting to do the things that I know I need to do.

I need to do some woodwork, and I need to write some stuff, and I need to reach out to the people who have always reached back, and I need to tell Fern I loved her book, and I need to tell Joanne Limburg I loved hers too (Letters to my Weird Sisters) and I need to be with my people and feel normal for a bit.

I need to be me again before I forget how. Meltdowns aren’t me. Meltdowns are the consequence of not being me enough. They’re the extreme-stress response when I’ve been ignoring the signs that things need to change.

So now I’m slowing. I will make space and time for the good things. And I’ll publish this – employed or not, weird or not, because whilst I may feel shame that doesn’t mean I have anything to feel ashamed about. You can’t normalise things without airing them. You can’t air them without sharing them. You can’t make the world better for people like you by lying about the tough bits.

So here I am in all my glory – imperfectly, perfectly, human, and striving once again to find balance in a world that was not designed for me.

20 thoughts on “Meltdowns

  1. This post is the start of things settling down in your life again. You achieved something important today and it took immense will power. There is nothing you have written here that isn’t normal for people like us – you have my empathy and if it were possible, I would send you all the positive vibes in the world. Sadly, I can only offer my virtual understanding – but it is heartfelt. 🦆🌻

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a beautiful piece of writing, painfully beautiful. I have read it a few times now to make sure that I’ve taken it all in. I support autistic people who are employed and then end up completely ignoring my own advice. Its as if I’ve forgotten that I am autistic myself. Every now and again I find something that reminds me to be authentic and allow myself not to mask if I can help it … so thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, it’s too easy to let ourselves slip, and lose our own authenticity. We have to have that balance in order to support others too. It’s oddly comforting not to be alone in making these mistakes

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for helping to normalize this. It’s so hard to be employed because it takes all our resources and there’s left for the stuff on the lists so we can’t regulate. My condolences on your friend’s death.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you so much for this. As someone who experiences the “outside” of the meltdowns of a family member, it gives me more perspective of what may be going on internally during those times. Thank you for articulating your thoughts and for your courage in sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Rhi,

    What you have written has made me weep with a grief that resonates to my bones with each word you bravely release.

    To hold that stifled composure any longer; at a time when it threatens your ability to even keep breathing is indeed too much to withstand.

    The self honouring of its expression is the most ironic beauty and rewrites every rule and definition we have ever been taught about value and endearment.

    To know that another human spirit understands the internal wailing and the feeling that being human really is this painful, is a clean shard of light in a howling maelstrom.

    Your honesty invites me too, to stand in self confession of my oftentimes brokenness and unapologetically express and expose it.

    Thank you for the inadvertent invitation I find in your words, to confess my own fracture and take my own path of rest, even if that be in a glare of public judgement and exposure.

    I too know that I have ‘a family’ whose affinity with my ways and my sadnesses invites welcome, and place to rest, in which there is no judgement.

    Thank you Rhi…just thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Lizzie, I very much appreciate everything you have shared. Thank you for meeting openness with openness. It all helps so much


  6. Sending empathy for what you’re going through. I lost my best friend 3 years ago and while I’m doing better now than when she first passed, I definitely have my moments. I also know I have a list of things I know I need to do that I haven’t done yet so can relate on that too.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Difficult feelings to express but so well put together, just like I feel from time to time. I wanted to paint all my life but didn’t have the opportunity, now I’m retired it has become my haven of peace and normality, a blessed interim before coming back into the real, or rather, unreal world. Thanks for shareing and your encouragment in helping us realise we are normal.

    Liked by 1 person

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