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Experiencing an Autistic Shutdown in Front of My Partner

I had my first shutdown in front of my partner.

The last 10 days have been full. I started a new job, we’re moving to a new house and things have generally been very random. That, combined with my partner (thankfully) getting some more work lined up, has meant things have been a bit all over the place.

Although I’d been finding it tiring, I didn’t feel too out of sorts. I even wondered if I was beginning to cope a little better.

Then we got to Friday night.

My partner had been at work all day, I’d worked longer hours than normal and was feeling a bit overtired and overwhelmed. The day before we’d signed our new lease on a house in Wales and I was tired from all the travelling and having to interact with more people than usual.

I cooked us dinner, we opened a bottle of wine and I still felt OK. Wired and tired, but OK. Afterward, we decided he would clean up while I had a bath. Before I got up to move, he put his arm around me and within seconds I was sobbing. I had no idea where it was coming from. For a few moments I felt as if I was on the outside looking in. Then I realized it was me I could hear crying and I’d no idea how to stop. He didn’t know what to do other than holding me. After a while, it was apparent I couldn’t stop, and he gently sent me upstairs to run a bath and lie down. The trouble was, by this stage I realized (too late) I was in shutdown mode and didn’t have the language to explain I’d struggle turning the taps on and getting undressed.

Somehow I managed it, but I don’t remember anything until I found myself sitting on the edge of our bed with my boyfriend’s arms around me. I had no idea when he came up or how long I’d been sitting there.

All I remember was saying, “I’m sorry” over and over again.

He asked me if I wanted a drink. I didn’t know. Did I want water? Tea? I had no idea. I couldn’t even form sentences in my head, let alone speak.

He asked me if I wanted to sleep. I didn’t know. I thought I could remember how to shut my eyes but I wasn’t sure if I could remember how to swing my legs around and get into bed.

None of my limbs were working. My head was thumping. I felt shaky and worn out from crying. I could still hear myself saying “I’m sorry” over and over, but that was all I could manage.

In the end, I remember the light going off in the bedroom and him leaving, but nothing else.

I slept in a sort of fitful way. Comatose for a few hours then plagued by nightmares. When I woke up in the morning, he was lying next to me. His arm reached over and touched mine.,”How are you feeling?” He asked. “Tired,” I said.

It took a lot to raise myself up, get dressed and make tea, but I did it. For the rest of the day I felt out of sorts. I felt I was functioning one minute and the next I’d forget a word, or realize I was too tired to make a decision as to whether I wanted a cup of tea or not.

It was important for me to talk to my boyfriend about it. He asked, “Was that a shutdown?” And I said, “Yes, but I hadn’t realized until it was too late, and then I couldn’t articulate it.”

“Is that as bad as it gets?” he asked.

“No. I’ve been much worse than that.”

I couldn’t lie, as shutdowns go it wasn’t nice, but it wasn’t the worst. It felt bad because it had happened in front of him and even though we’re solid as a couple, there’s still always that bit of me that bristles at showing any vulnerability or emotion.

Again, I felt I had to say, “If you feel you can’t handle it, you can walk out and there will never be any hard feelings on my part.” I always feel I have to add this as a disclaimer.

The next few weeks will be tricky and he knows as we progress with the move things might get worse. If he’s handled the first meltdown OK, I hope it means we’ll get through the next ones, too.

I’m used to coping with shutdowns on my own, so to have one in front of someone — and someone who is as important as my partner  feels like the ultimate challenge in laying myself bare and exposing my frailties.

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Thinkstock image by Archv