It’s been years since I last had a full-blown meltdown.
And that’s pretty amazing. They used to happen frequently — say, every other week or so, when I was in rough shape… every month or so, when I was more stabilized. I had a rich history of meltdowns, from childhood on. My mother (who had her own set of issues) used to provoke and push and pick at me when I was younger, till I’d lose it and completely freak out, screaming and crying from overwhelm. She was so calm about it all… saying one thing after another that confused and frustrated me, and not stopping even when I was standing in front of her crying.
Overload. Complete. Effing. Overload. Verbal confusion. Trying to figure out what to say next. Unable to respond. All the words in my head turned up-side down and backwards. Trying to get the words out. Failing. Trying to understand what my mother was saying. Failing. Frustrated, at my wits’ end. Failing.
The weird thing is, my mother actually seemed to enjoy watching me lose it. I did my best to hold my sh** together, but I failed. Over and over, I failed. And each failure primed me for even more drama and trauma later.
Meanwhile, the rest of family is leaving the room, or just ignoring what’s going on. They didn’t know how to handle it. They didn’t know what to do. Either that, or they just figured I deserved what I got, since I was such a difficult case, to begin with.
Over the years, I’ve learned how to keep my mother from pushing me over the edge. I figured that out about 20 years ago, and the heavens practically opened up with light streaming down and angels bursting into song, when I was visiting my family and my Mom started picking at me… and I realized that I’d successfully avoided a meltdown from interacting with my mother. I’d deflected one of her classic attempts to “get at me” and push me towards a meltdown, and I’d actually been able to get out of the conversation with my dignity intact. I just didn’t take her proverbial bait. I just stayed cool and compliant and went along with every single argument and contradiction she tried to throw out there.
And I was free.
Of course, that was at my parents’ home. When I was away from the everyday. When I didn’t have to keep up my daily routine.
In my own home, under everyday conditions, it was a different story. Work was incredibly stressful, because I didn’t understand my issues, I didn’t understand my own needs, and I kept pushing myself to do and be what everyone else was doing and being. I burned the candles on the whole candelabra at both ends, as was expected of me. Full-time work, helping a partner who had persistent health issues, pursuing my own interest, keeping active, keeping busy, and not much quality rest at all.
Because I had no idea how to relax. Why would I want to relax? Ridiculous.
And I melted down. On a semi-regular basis.
My jobs were all pretty terrible, before I got into web development. There was always so much interaction. So much interpersonal dealing… So many “shifting priorities” (read: people running the businesses had precious little idea what they were doing, and thought it was good practice to make it up as they went along). I had some pretty decent successes along the way, according to others’ standards. But inside, I was dying. Seriously, I was dying.
And I melted down.
I feel so terrible for my wife, that she had to live with that for so many years. But neither of us had any idea about the Asperger’s factor, or that I could be anywhere near the autistic spectrum, with all that entails. Sheldon Lee Cooper wasn’t a regular visitor to our living room t.v. set, and as far as either of us was concerned, it was perfectly normal for me to drag myself out of bed, hours before I was ready to wake up, put on clothes that scratched and itched, commute to work surrounded by sociopaths in automobiles and self-absorbed narcissists on public transit, dive into a typical office environment, with fluorescent lights overhead and a constantly shifting flow of tasks and priorities that came at-me-at-me-at-me all day long, and then return home through all the commuters (who were even worse-behaved at the end of a long day) and finally get to decompress in front of the television.
As much as I wanted to do other things at the end of the day, like read and write and maybe do something social, the most I could do with my depleted energy level, was watch t.v. I can’t even count how many hours I’ve lost to the “boob tube” — and plenty of really stupid programming, to boot.
Every single workday, it was the same. And it was brutal. I somehow always ended up in these really social positions, where I had to deal with people — God help me. Until, that is, I went into web development. That changed everything for the better. And I was happier than I’d ever expected to be, for a number of years. But still, there was pressure. And the workload was intense.
And I still melted down. Lost it. Freaked out, crying and wailing for hours on end. Slapping and hitting myself and grabbing my arms so hard, I bruised myself. Banging my head. I had to get it to stop. I had to make it stop. I couldn’t take it. It was too much, and I was broken, defective, a waste of breath, for being so brittle.
Everybody else could do this. Why couldn’t I?
Why the hell couldn’t I?
A number of years back, I realized I was having some serious executive functioning (EF) issues, and I reached out for help. I came across websites that described the kinds of issues I was having, and I set out on a mission to fix those issues. I found someone who did EF rehab, and for about 8 years, we met almost weekly to work on my thinking process and sort things out. It really, really helped. And having someone to talk to on a regular basis, just to think through my daily / weekly routines and figure out how to order my life effectively, was a huge help to me.
And I stopped having meltdowns. I think the last time I had one was about 2010. I know I had one around 2008, but there may have been one later than that. Just having someone in my court to help me think things through and sort things out… it really helped take the pressure off. Plus, I was learning incredibly helpful thinking skills that gave me the tools I needed to manage my life and not get completely overwhelmed by little things.
Another thing that helped, I think, is that I went through an early menopause. I “finished up” about 10 years ahead of regular schedule — it runs in my family. And without the extreme monthly hormonal ups and downs, my life became considerably more serene. Delightful. Just delightful.
So, I’ve had a respite for a number of years, being supported and knowing there was somebody on my side. I really think having someone who could be there to back me up and help me make sense of things played a significant role in the meltdown subsidence.
Now, though, I’m dealing with a new EF coach, and she’s not nearly as experienced or as mellow as my old EF coach. My old EF coach moved on to another job in another area, and he couldn’t do sessions over phone or video (neither can I, actually — I hate them both). So, he recommended this new one, who is nice enough and is very well-intentioned, but she doesn’t have the depth of experience. And she’s pretty high-strung. High-powered. And she pushes me in ways that he never did.
Very different styles… I’ve got no problem with that. But now I don’t have the same sort of support that I had for years, and it’s stressing me. I’m feeling a bit abandoned — and exposed to the pushing of this new EF coach. She means well, she really does. She just doesn’t seem to get that I need a more measured approach. She also doesn’t know about the autistic piece of all this. She’s going off information from my old EF coach, who told me flat-out that I’m not on the autistic spectrum because I don’t fit the description of “Theory of Mind” problems. He pretty much shot me down, and since I’m prone to be trusting and naive and I’ve never been particularly good at advocating for myself with trained experts, I dropped my exploration of my spectrumicity, and focused on purely EF issues.
This new EF coach pushes. She presses me for answers, when I’m non-verbal and I just need to draw something, rather than talk. She pushes me to keep talking, keep talking… And it’s maddening.
And I’ve started to have mini-meltdowns again.
Not burning-up-on-re-entry kinds of meltdowns, but really, really emotional stretches, when I’m on the verge of tears. It happens to me at work. It happens to me at home. It comes over me when I’m lying in bed, some nights. It just comes up — the emotional whirlpool that used to suck me down into the abyss.
It’s happening again, and I don’t much care for it.
More to come…