It doesn’t Always take a full on stress filled day at work to trigger a meltdown. Today proved that.
I’ve been fighting a sinus infection since last week, and that is physical stress on the body, as well as work related from simply dealing with the sheer massive volume and pressure of my job.
The night prior I’d managed only 2 hours of sleep, nowhere near enough, and very little the night before that. So today when I finally arrived home, I absolutely collapsed. I’d been struggling with the effects of sleep deprivation all day, literally my eyes felt like they were shaking side to side in their sockets, I felt dizzy just sitting down, and don’t ask about the drive home.
Once I reached the safety of my “haven”, my home, my sanctuary where I feel 100% secure and safe, the mask dropped, and the flood gates opened.
Many women manifest their stress differently from men. Autistic men can become physically reactive, seemingly aggressive and lashing out when they’ve reached their meltdown point. Many autistic women on the other hand, exhibit an overly labile effect, in other words crying.
It is the sheer force of the stress exploding outward from us through emotions and tears. It’s the mother of all “ugly cry” clichés. I curled up into myself, as if I could physically hold myself together somehow, as if I could in that way stop the body shakes.
It feels like chaos expanding outward from your body, and you feel if you can’t hold yourself all in, then it won’t ever stop. I can’t talk during these episodes. My brain feels scrambled and I can’t seem to make my lips form words. It takes a tremendous effort to form even one or two syllable words.
It took awhile for me to get myself calmed down enough that I could crawl into bed, holding a death grip on a pillow to help me. Eventually, I calmed down just enough to the point where I could take emergency anxiety medication, calm my breathing, and begin speaking again.
What do you do if your autistic woman, wife, daughter, is in the throes of this type of meltdown? I can’t speak for most, but tight hugs, help me hold it in, as silly as it sounds. The comfort helps, but more than that, wrapping your arms around her tightly (outside her own arms) seems to have a calming cocoon effect, much like the benefit we have seen reported from the use of weighted blankets in children and adults with ASD.
That, and time. Honestly most of the time, just taking the time to be present with them, physically close even if your ASD partner doesn’t tolerate touch during such episodes, and not pushing them to talk, means more than you will EVER realize. That alone means the world to us.
Please, don’t EVER try to force an ASD person to verbalize if they seem to be struggling, or silent. It’s not the lack of desire to communicate, it’s a total inability during that time. Be patient with us, I beg you. Trust me, we’ll internalize and beat ourselves up emotionally far more than you ever could, out of sheer frustration.