I struggle with maintaining friendships and the biggest reason is because I’m too busy for friends. But I don’t mean busy as in not having time to be a good friend or to be there when they need me. I’m a really good friend. I am very passionate about friendships I do make and I feel connections very deeply. When I say I’m too busy, I mean I’m too busy isolating myself in a dark room because social interactions overstimulate me and cause me to shut down. I’m too busy wanting to be alone because it’s more predictable. I’m too busy cocooning myself in my sensory swing to stay calm. I’m too busy sorting some of my sensory toys to help organize my racing thoughts and keep myself from having a meltdown. I’m too busy being frozen in place because transition and initiation of tasks is very difficult for me. I’m too busy melting down because I can’t always keep myself together. I’m too busy balancing between under-stimulation and overstimulation and trying to find a middle ground. I’m too busy giving myself squishies and smacking my belly and thighs because I feel like I’m floating away. I’m too busy crying because I feel like a burden when my friends make a big deal about me being distant. I’m too busy repairing and healing the traumatized autistic little girl within me who grew up abused and neglected. I’m too busy teaching myself how to communicate in other ways when I suddenly lose my ability to speak because I never received speech therapy as a child. I’m too busy trying to follow a schedule and routine and by the end of the day, I’m too drained to commit to anything else. I’m too busy covering my ears because this world is too loud. I’m too busy with my special interests because it’s the only consistent thing in my life and I don’t want to disrupt that. I’m too busy giving my autistic children everything they need and getting emotional because it’s everything I never had. To all my friends, I’m sorry I can’t always be present because I’m too busy being autistic.
A lot of people seem to be confused between meltdowns me shutdowns. In this blog I will explain how they’re similar and how they’re different.
Meltdowns are more of a physical or external response to too much sensory input. It may look like screaming and crying, sometimes throwing objects, squirming around and doing self injurious behaviors. It’s a more obvious sign that an autistic person is in distress. It’s actually what most people are used to seeing. You’ll mainly see this with autistic children but autistic adults still have them too.
Shut downs are more of an internal response and it’s not always so noticeable to other people. It may look like the autistic person is dissociating or zoning out. They may seem more quiet and disengaged and may hide away or distance themselves.
I tend to shut down way more than I have meltdowns because I was abused as a child for having meltdowns so it’s one of my autistic traits I had to suppress and mask. I still have meltdowns but it comes with a lot of shame and embarrassment especially when others have witnessed it. I also have this constant feeling that people see me as immature and childish when they do witness me meltdown.
With my shutdowns, if you don’t know the signs of it, you can very easily miss me experiencing it because it’s so subtle. People just think I’m not paying attention and they move along without taking into consideration that I’m in distress. Then I feel all alone and abandoned because at that moment I don’t always have the words to express how I’m feeling and may not even feel 100% safe to express myself. I always fear others invalidating my struggles and emotions which makes it much worse for me so I just shut everyone out to avoid that kind of hurt and gaslighting.
Meltdowns and shutdowns are very similar because they’re both triggered the exact same way. They’re both triggered by sensory overload. It’s just one is more obvious and the other is more subtle. Both require attention in order to be able to function better.
I’ve experienced many situations where I shutdown instead of having a meltdown and the person around me says I seemed fine when I later try to express that I was in distress at that specific moment. I’m sure this will be a shocker to most people that know me, but I have shutdowns daily and sometimes several times a day. Most times when I say “I’m fine”, I’m really not. I’m just scared to express myself. I bottle up a lot inside to protect my feelings while at the same time breaking myself down even more. It’s very overwhelming for me to always have to go through this and not always knowing who is the safest person to communicate with. It’s also very hard to feel safe in general in a world that wasn’t made for me and my specific needs and when I’ve already experienced so much trauma throughout my life.
Now before I end up trauma dumping on this blog post, I’ll end it right here.
As an autistic person, I’m going to try to describe to you what a meltdown feels like for me. This is my own experience and it may differ from person to person. Remember that autism is a spectrum disorder so therefore not all autistic people present exactly the same.
I’m going to start out with letting you know some of my triggers.
Too much sensory input
I don’t process or regulate sensory input very well. If my brain is receiving too much information, it causes a meltdown. Examples being too much bright lights, too much noise(even background noises going on at the same time), even too much touch when I’m already sensory avoidant. To resolve this, I prefer to hide in a dark or dim room away from any sensory input.
Not enough sensory input
Because I’m mostly a sensory seeker, I tend to feel like my body is floating away if I don’t have weight or deep pressure to keep me grounded. I always jump from feeling way too much to feeling nothing at all and both can trigger a meltdown. On days I need to seek sensory input, I may stim more, I love crawling in my sensory swing, I crave tight hugs and cuddles and I love watching my sensory night light glow and play calming sounds.
Too strong emotions
I can’t regulate my emotions so strong emotions can trigger a meltdown. Having to battle major depression also doesn’t make things easy on me.
Change is very hard for me especially if it’s in the last minute and no warning. If I spend days or weeks mentally preparing myself for the plan, it can’t just change in a blink of an eye. I need enough time to process the change so please give me fair warning way in advance to decrease any chance of me melting down.
When I’m having a meltdown, my whole body is literally in physical pain. My brain goes blank trying to process the thing and it being unsuccessful. My nerves in my body go haywire and I can’t tolerate any kind of input. I feel like I’m suffocating. I tend to hit myself in the head, I may violently squirm around, I’m crying and screaming, I can be destructive and this can go on for a few minutes or more than an hour. At this time, nothing really helps me. The meltdown just need to run its course and once I’m finally settled down enough to speak, that’s when my loved ones are able to intervene and make me feel comfortable and secure. This is the time when deep pressure works wonders. It is not a good idea to ask me any questions when I’m actively having a meltdown because my brain absolutely can not process conversation at that moment. I can’t hear you over all the background noise that’s excessively loud in my ears. Also don’t make it worse by trying to argue with me or saying something you know will upset me even more. Also, please don’t tell me to calm down. I’m trying really really hard and you can’t possibly understand if you don’t have sensory processing issues. My meltdowns are not intentional. I can’t just flip a switch and make it stop once it has started. Also, please don’t raise your voice at me, because I will get aggressive and fight off the trigger. As I already stated, I can’t tolerate noise at all during this time. Please be patient with me while I try to recuperate. Meltdowns are so draining and my energy levels drop drastically for the rest of the day. Sometimes it can take me a week or more to fully restore myself from a severe meltdown.
I absolutely hate being seen during these vulnerable times, especially by the public. I’m not a brat or defiant. My brain just receives way too much information and I can’t fully process it all the same way others can. I always feel ashamed and filled with guilt every time because I always feel like people have a negative view of me and I always fear abandonment from my loved ones. I was made to feel like a burden most of my life so I still have those past traumas internalized in me. After a meltdown starts to subside, I still feel afraid, lonely, dissociated and tired. I do tend to shut down, which I’ll go into further details about in another blog. I may or may not have a seizure. I also may or may not go nonverbal due to being burned out from that meltdown. It really affects me mentally and physically.
I really hope this blog helps you all understand what it’s like for me having a meltdown and also to let you know that even as an adult, I still do have meltdowns. Thank you for reading this blog.