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Inside My Meltdown

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Today I had a meltdown. Today’s meltdown wasn’t as dramatic to witness as the meltdowns I have suffered in the past, but nevertheless it was hard for both me and my carer. She struggled to understand what it was like for me, so I tried to explain. I said it’s a bit like a bottle of fizzy drink. Every time you shake it, the pressure builds up. Eventually the lid will shoot off! It gave me an idea, though. Maybe I should write about what it’s like to have a meltdown from the inside view.

Let’s set the scene for today’s meltdown. Stress has been building up for a couple of weeks, starting with various health issues, a gastroscopy done under general anesthetic (which made me unwell), my landlord refitting only half of my windows, a new fridge arriving and finally an accident in which I ripped the linoleum in my kitchen. By themselves each of these things may not be such a big deal, but like the bottle of fizzy drink, every event has shaken me up inside.

I knew I was going to melt down at some point today, I just didn’t know when. I lose the ability to talk first, which for anyone who knows me means that something is really wrong. Words stop making sense. Every time my carer speaks to me, it feels like she has punched me in the head (I will point out that this is not an actual punch!). I can hear construction at the building site across the road. My mind is racing, but I can’t make sense of the information clogging up my brain and making it feel foggy. When I talk, the words come out wrong, and I feel like I am trying to talk with a mouth full of peanut butter.

By this point I am aware that just one more little event could set off the meltdown. I start to self-stimulate by flapping my hands, rocking, shaking my head side to side, slapping the back of my hand over and over again and biting it. These “stims” send good information to my brain to try and counteract the stress hormones flooding my body. I feel tense, like my body is caught in a vice. My head feels so full. Just as I am starting to regulate myself again, the phone rings. It’s someone from my care agency’s office telling me that my landlord said I have to replace the whole linoleum floor in the kitchen. It’s the final shake…

My body starts to tremble. I feel electric-like jolts shoot from my head to toes. The room feels like it has been pulled away and I am in a blurred bubble of rage. Aside from some angry shouting, words fail me. I start to scream out of complete frustration and inability to express my feelings. I start to viciously attack my own body, a desperate attempt to bring myself back from the top of the meltdown.

Thankfully, I was able to take myself to my bedroom. This is something I have only learned to do in the past year or so. Before my meltdowns would have lasted a lot longer, been a lot more dangerous both for me and my carers (not to mention anyone or anything else in the room) and would have ended with a sudden drop of energy, followed by a long sleep. Today, the techniques I have learned over the years came together and allowed me to safely remove myself, put myself in a safe space (namely my bed) and allowed myself to let the emotion out just long enough to feel better before rocking violently from side to side for half an hour. This last thing can look like a loss of control from the outside, but the violent rocking brings the focus back. Slowly the fog begins to lift, my body releases tension and I become aware of my surroundings again.

Although this was a much less serious meltdown than previous ones, I give myself plenty of time to recover. Luckily my carer had an hour-long break, and after she checked I was safe, she could leave me to recover alone. As tempting as it can be to confront or check on me constantly during a meltdown recovery, leaving me is actually the best thing as it stops further unwanted input confusing my already-fried brain. Eight hours later, I still have a “meltdown hangover.” It could be two or three days, possibly even another meltdown or two before I fully recover.

So that is my inside experience of a meltdown. It is a scary thing to witness, but trust me, I am terrified, too.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: February 10, 2016
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