Asperger's,Autism Spectrum Disorder

What My Meltdowns Feel Like

Meltdown are impossible to escape, even though I often wish I could. They can come out of nowhere, just suddenly hitting you like a bucket of cold water in your face. My body starts shaking, starting with my hands usually. Not so much that people notice, and if they do, they generally just think I’m nervous. The shaking is really the least of it.

After the shaking comes everything else. To me, the ground feels safer somehow, so I usually try to sit down. Not on a chair or a bed or anything like that. It needs to be a hard surface as far down towards the ground as possible. Generally, that means the floor or the actual ground, if I’m outside. If there happens to be a conveniently placed table, I’ll try to get underneath it. Corners are good too, or leaning against walls, if there is nothing else available. I need as many hard surfaces around me as possible. I have no idea why, but it makes me feel better and safe.

Then it really starts, if it hadn’t already. The tears. They just flow, like when you open a dam and the water breaks free uncontrollably. Funny thing is that I don’t remember crying when I was sad. Of course, being sad can provoke a meltdown, but then I would say it’s the meltdown and not the sadness. I do cry (like others cry and not the meltdown crying) when I see something beautiful. Never when I’m sad though.

Before, I would never correct people when they thought I cried because I was sad. Why would I? Crying when sad is normal, so I assumed I looked more normal that way.

Anyway, I cry either silently or loudly. If I don’t make sounds when I cry, then it’s a good sign. When I cry like that, I know it’ll be over soon. I might even get over my meltdown and feel okay while continuously crying. In fact, most of the time, that’s how my meltdowns end. In any case, silent tears are good, because it means it’ll all be over soon. When I start making sounds while crying, then it’s bad. It means I’m escalating. I’m losing control. I don’t know exactly what I sound like, but I can feel the sound vibrating through my throat. I hear it’s not a pretty sight to see me like that. Of course, it can get worse. In that case, I make myself as small as I can, and wait it out with my hands covering my head.

Time feels strange during my meltdowns. It’s almost as if time is expanding and contracting at the same time. I feel like I never experienced anything but that meltdown, and that it will continue forever.

You may think that it over when the meltdown is over. It’s never like that though.

It depends on the severity of my meltdown, but it’s like it stays in my body for hours or days after. I’ll cry again and again for no apparent reason, sometimes a lot, sometimes almost without noticing myself. My body feels weak and fragile, I’m tired all the time, but don’t sleep at night. Food is difficult to eat and my senses are even more sensitive than usually.

Life, however, must continue. Sometimes, a long time can pass between my meltdowns, but sometimes my body barely recovers before the next hits.

I was embarrassed and ashamed of myself before I understood what they were. It wasn’t until my diagnosis that I heard that others had them too, and just knowing that I’m not the only one, it made me feel a little better. Now, I’m not even ashamed of it in the same way. Last time I had a really bad meltdown was in a train going home from a social event that had completely ripped me apart. I hadn’t been ready to go out and meet an old acquaintance. It was too soon, and I’d known, but gone anyway. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of friends and I was afraid I might not have any left one day. I don’t want to be alone.

She knew about my diagnosis, but I think sometimes people know things in their head, but they don’t understand what it really is. I didn’t understand that at the time. I thought once people know, that’s it. Knowing and understanding was the same for me, but I as you know from my last post, understanding is not just knowing something. I understand it better now.

What happened was that I broke down on the train, crying from behind small, black sunglasses and clutching my bag closely in front of me. I didn’t sit down on the floor, which made the meltdown worse, but I was trying to hide it from all the other passengers. The girl across from me noticed me sniffling and crying and pulled disdainfully away like I was a sick person. After a while her feet were so far under her it must have been painful and her face in such a strange grimace even I could recognise it as disgust.

I found a menthol hard candy, I use them to take away the smell, and popped it in my mouth. The strong menthol soon killed off most of my sense of smell and I felt a little better. Oddly enough, that was the first time I didn’t feel embarrassed. I don’t know what had changed, but something had. I got home in the end, let go of the last ounce of self-control I had left, and broke down, curled up on the floor by the dining room table. I felt it for over a week and broke down several times every day.

I have wanted to explain to my family what my meltdowns are like, but it’s a lot harder than I expected it to be. It’s like my body is reacting without my head. Imagine that your head is screaming so loudly on the inside, that your body is in great physical pain with no outlet. Then, perhaps, you are close to understanding what it feels like to me.

It’s unlike anything else in the world and not in a good way. It feels like the end.

The meltdown itself I can live with, but what really scares me is that it can happen anytime, anywhere. No warning. No cure. Nothing to do about it. Also, right after it happens, I have to get up and look around, move on and walk away.

I have to see the people who witnessed it, hear them whisper and talk about me. Most people react in similar ways, like it’s your own fault. They act like I should have taken better care of myself. Some even think I’m throwing a temper tantrum because of reasons they don’t know. Or, perhaps, I’m just plain crazy. But, when they feel sorry for me, that’s even worse.

I hate all the reactions people have, and I know it’s not fair of me. It’s not fair at all. I wish I knew how people should react to my meltdowns to make me feel okay, but I don’t. I understand that it can be difficult for others to see, but it’s difficult to experience too. The meltdowns are a part of me, so I must find a way to deal with them. Just like, hopefully, the people in my life can try to find a way to handle it too.

In my next post, I will tell you more about how I have found a way to deal with it. If you have experience with being on the other side of a meltdown, how did you deal with it?


Life with Autism Spectrum Disorder is not always easy, but it doesn't have to be impossible. Since I was diagnosed myself, I have been trying to raise autism awareness and share my own experiences and thoughts about life as well as my search for a happy and fulfilling life.

You may also like...