Recovering after a Meltdown
Sunday, 31st May
Last night J had quite a bad meltdown. It was longer than usual and there was no way you could speak into it. So I thought I'd write about what it was like for me, as her mum.
I find the emotions a meltodown can trigger range from irritation and impatience, to anger, then flicking to compassion and sadness, and back to anger, or even fury. On a good day I can actally feel calm throughout and I can see the meltdown for what it is - a child struggling and unable to do anything else, at her most vulnerable. On a bad day I'm internally screaming, every part of me tense and wanting to explode. On a bad day there's self-pity and resentment too. Last night was one of the bad days.
I won't go into detail about what triggered the meltdown, but it started around 9.15pm and finished just before 10, when J fell asleep in my arms. No doubt tiredness was a part of it. The problem was, when it started, I could already feel my batteries were depleted and my nerves on edge and frayed. So I was not 'in the mood'. I found it hard to stay 'adult' and not resent this intrusion into our evening. A couple of times I had to leave the room becuse I knew that saying 'stop it' wasn't going to help and I could feel the voice coming from low in my stomach, which showed me it was anger and I needed to calm down.
At a couple of points I knew the thing to do was try and rock J or pick her up. This was hard to do, because I felt so frustrated and agitated. I didn't want to be affectionate or compassionate; I just wanted it to end. So I fully empathise with the parent who doesn't feel they have it in them to support their child in a meltdown. There are times when it's best to leave the room and come back after a cup of tea. Or phone a friend.
So, back to the end of the meltdown. I often find that, when it's a bad one, I want physical and mental space afterwards. For me, this means switching off, or talking it out, depending. Writing can help, if that's your therapy, as it is mine. But last night I turned to The Last Dance, about Michael Jordan, and wanted to zone out and be in a different world. If I'd had chocolate there, I would have eaten the lot. I think that's the impact of the stress. It lingers in the body after the incident is over.
Another tendency can be to forget how bad it felt during the meltdown. My body can feel very stressed during a meltdown and every inch of me feels like a tightened piece of elastic. And then when it's over, I feel like a different person and almost forget - or perhaps 'block out' - the toll it takes. I can speak normally and laugh again, but there's no way I can do that during it. Even on the good days when I can remain outwardly calm, I probably wouldn't be able to speak reasonable to another adult or to be able to be calm with my husband. That's why it can be such a strain on us.
The day after a meltdown, like this morning as I write this, I can see it with more clarity and often identify the triggers. It's always a reminder to try and avoid every trigger: lack of food, tiredness, an unexplained change in the routine. It sounds strange to say it, but it's a reminder of the autism. Sometimes it feels like it isn't there. I think every parent of a child with 'high-functioning' autism will know what I mean when I say that.
So my advice? Keep your batteries charged, as much as you possibly, possibly can. This might mean getting a cleaner or getting an early night, hitting the gym or paying for extra childcare. It might mean widening your support network, or playing more guitar. Whatever it means for you, do it. It's easy for me to dispense that advice and hard to take it. I forget that a meltdown can hit at any point and it's vital to be emotionally and physically charged, as much as is humanly possible, to deal with it.
The best thing you can do for your child is take breaks, so you're ready to stay calm. I know this isn't always financially possible, to I'll be writing more on this and providing links to organisations out there that can help.
You are not alone!