How to Cope and How to Help
A meltdown is an intense response to an overwhelming situation. It happens when someone becomes completely overwhelmed by their current situation and temporarily loses control of their behaviour. This loss of control can be expressed verbally (eg shouting, screaming, crying), physically (eg kicking, lashing out, biting) or in both ways.
Meltdowns are exhausting and are often as the result of overstretching yourself or others who take advantage of your ability to mask.
When I am upset by something (for example in a meeting where someone says something to me I was not expecting) I will remove eye contact and go mute. I will be very uncomfortable and very aware of what is happening but unable to cope with the situation. In these instances I will find it hard to respond to any further questions so will often agree to everything to make the meeting end quicker and give short responses.
I need longer to process verbal information and sometimes I will laugh or use humour to cope. This can appear like I do not care but it is my other coping mechanism.
When overwhelmed with demands I will often cry, become unable to focus and feel a loss of control.
Meltdowns often happen at work but rarely as I do get a 1 hour lunch and if I have had a bad morning I will use the hour to go for a run or escape home and come back a bit more reset.
The only way to describe what a meltdown feels like is pure panic and loss of control of your emotions. I have in the past left rooms and punched brick walls, slammed doors just anything to release the emotion.
I know when a meltdown is about to occur as it is like a bottle of pop being shaken up. So if something unexpected happens that will cause me stress. I will then try to calm the stress but if something else happens it will shake the feelings again. Now it is harder to settle then one more minor thing will tip me over. It will be the most minor thing as well but add everything together and if the few days before were stressful it becomes a catastrophe to the brain.
In an office you obviously can't scream, shout and lash out to to help these are things you can do:
- Give the person an exit. Allow them to leave the building
- Make a person available that the autistic person trusts. When an autistic person trusts someone they can become a source of comfort and confidant to the person.
- Ask them if they are OK if they ask to be left alone then just leave them alone. Maybe get them a water or cup of tea but you do not need to go over the top.
- Do not make a big deal of it. Just leave them be. They will come to you.
- Be kind
- If they seem anxious or unable to focus on a task tell them to take a break.
People gossip and things get said so having a meltdown in public or in the office is the worst thing that can happen as they have to continue working there so will put a lot of stress on themselves to not let that happen.