Trust me when I say that I have had plenty of meltdowns. What stands out most is the excruciating and overwhelming physical and emotional pain that occurs every time. The meltdown experience is like the stages of a volcanic eruption: It begins with pressure beneath the surface. With the added pressure of outside circumstances, or stimuli, the chance of an eruption grows—until it blows.
Just before a meltdown occurs, observable signs are like the rising smoke and tremors of a volcano shortly before it erupts. These signs, to name a few, include heavy and fast breathing, body tightness (curling up, clenching, and so on), and change in tone and level of voice.
The stimuli most often include the following:
• unreasonably high expectations and my inability to meet them
• social exclusion
• out-of-routine or out-of-order activities
• unnecessary punishment or discipline
• unpleasant surprises
• misunderstandings, especially those that feel derogatory
• confusion and helplessness
When an eruption does occur, I experience many emotions, including rage, confusion, fear, paranoia, anxiety, sadness, self-deprecation, isolation, helplessness, and hopelessness—all at the same time!
Fortunately, my experience and life lessons have given me ways to decompress before I melt down—and even after. Here are the seven steps that I take to prevent and remedy meltdowns:
1. Cultivate a strong sense of self-awareness.
2. Prepare for the worst, and expect the unexpected.
3. Learn all that I can before I go somewhere new, and acclimate myself by becoming familiar
with the environment and the people I’ll be with.
4. Make sure that others know what to expect and how they can help (or hurt) me.
5. Devote myself to daily forgiveness and mindfulness practices.
6. Constantly monitor the emotional impact that the environment, activities, and other people
have on me.
7. Find the lessons to learn from each experience and the best measure to prevent and treat
Sun contributor Reese Eskridge is an autism advocate who’s currently employed as a food science technician at United Cocoa Processor in Newark, Del.
This text was edited for consistency of language and message and appears in the summer 2018 issue of the Autism Delaware™ quarterly newsletter, The Sun.