Meltdowns, frequently referred to as “autistic meltdowns” actually happen all along the ND (neurodivergent) spectrum, meaning ADD and ADHD people are certainly not immune. And, if you read my last post Neurodivergent Authors: Not Lazy or “Broken,” I expressed my fairly educated hypothesis/concern that many creative professionals likely fall somewhere along the ASD spectrum.
What does this mean?
Probably a lot of folks who read this blog have spent years attributing their irritability, stress, and possibly even full on implosions/tantrums solely to being introverts, unaware there are other neurological factors in play.
Factors, that, for the record, are completely manageable once we become aware of them.
For years, I had people around me accuse me of having an anger problem. While there were certainly times in my life this might have been applicable (I AM human), it didn’t always apply.
I’d be fine, fine, fine, less fine, not fine, red-lining then BOOM!
Often it might begin as generalized anxiety/irritability then would shift into me getting curt and (seemingly out of nowhere) BOOM! Crying, hysterical, threatening to live in my blanket fort forever and ever and everyone sucked eggs and needed to leave me alone lest I leap off a water tower.
What? I’m a writer. We can be dramatic. And they ARE called “meltdowns” not “fluffy kitten pillow-downs.”
***Though NOT ALL ND people have the same KIND of meltdowns. Hubby is autistic and he just shuts down. Seriously. Ctrl Alt Delete doesn’t even work. He says nothing, does nothing and just goes into a mental cave that even DYNAMITE doesn’t work on.
Understand Introversion vs. Extroversion
Before we go any further, I would like to clarify a point because I see this misused all the time and it makes my left eye twitch. Social anxiety is NOT the same as introversion.
The ONLY difference between an introvert and an extrovert is how/where you gain/lose energy.
If you need to be around people to charge your emotional batteries and being alone too much drains you? Then you are an extrovert. And likely an author who really LOVES writing in bustling coffee shops #KillMeNow.
Conversely, if you require alone time to recharge and being around people drains you, then you are an introvert. Whenever I speak at a conference I am probably one of the most high-energy speakers you’ll ever see present. I love people, enjoy getting and remembering everyone’s names, want to hear all about your life, hopes, dreams, stories, setbacks, and brownie recipes.
Whenever I get home, I have to slip into something more comfortable…like a COMA.
There are people with severe social anxiety who love to hang out in mosh pits or stand with a drink in a crowd of five hundred people listening to live music.
And, as I just mentioned, there are people like me who never met a stranger and could talk the ear off a brass monkey…but we NEED downtime lest we crash.
Most people (who are not locked up in an institution) are actually ambiverts. It is pretty rare to have a pure extrovert or introvert.
For more on this, go to: Myth-Busting—The Real Difference Between Introverts & Extroverts & Meet the Ambivert
Meltdowns & Are You REALLY an Introvert?
Again, most people will be some mixture of introvert and extrovert. The far ends of the bell curve usually cannot function in society. This said, if you go back to my last post I talked about autism.
To reiterate, “If you have met one autistic person, you have met ONE autistic person.”
To grossly oversimplify autism, it is a sensory processing disorder. For me, the world is brighter, louder, itchier, yuckier and far more chaotic than it is for “normal” people (a.k.a. Neurotypical or NT). NT people don’t have a fit wearing a headband, or go bananas because there…is….a…tag on their shirt…that…KILL IT WITH FIRE!
The sheer levels of energy it takes for us ND people to “appear” normal could power a small city. This is why, to a degree, I am all for CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). I “get” that the world cannot always accommodate me and I have to learn some workarounds and to TRY to fit in the best I can.
That said? The rest of the world can learn some compassion, too.
Hey, we did it with left-handed people! Just give them a special notebook instead of beating them with rulers and telling them they were demon spawn.
Where was I?
Yes, the world is a very over-stimulating place for ND people. Meaning, we “might” be extroverts and it is just the fluorescent lights, the traffic noise, the constant binging on the phones, the noises on the computers, the AC going on and off and on and off and WHAT IS WITH THAT GUY WITH THE LEAF BLOWER?
So, just a thought. You might be an introvert, might not. Doesn’t really matter after you read all of this anyway.
Meltdowns: What is Going ON?
Back when I struggled with what I didn’t know at the time were autistic meltdowns, I was VERY bad about being self-aware of a) how stimulated/overstimulated I was b) how tired/overworked I was and c) that I needed to do better pre-planning.
When I found out about autistic meltdowns, I also uncovered The Spoon Theory.
Anyone who’s followed me any length of time knows that I am a giver. I LOVE to give. I’ll take a call, run an errand, help a friend, teach a class, crochet for the needy. You name it? SIGN…ME…UP.
This could just be me (and I also can blame the ADHD and OCD) but I tend to have terrible self-awareness. Why? Because I am paying SO MUCH ATTENTION to the world around me.
Social cues? What are those?
I have to put so much energy into reading the room and “fitting in” that all my energy can end up directed outwards.
Y’all have NO IDEA how many sticky notes are fluttering inside my head.
Kristen, let other people talk.
Take turns…wait for it….wait for it….
LISTEN to what they are saying to you.
Where is that leaf blower noise coming from?
Don’t say the thing everyone probably thinking but will get you in trouble (again).
Is that joke appropriate, or a good way to get a visit from HR?
Why did I HAVE to wear HAIR CLIPS? I can feel my BRAIN.
Use your hands to gesture so you don’t look like a robot.
BACK UP! ABORT! Too much hands! ABORT!
Her outfit is nice but not nearly as nice as the one she wore three weeks ago. It was blue and I normally don’t like blue….
Kristen, let them leave. Make friends don’t take hostages.
What was the topic? FOCUS.
Don’t be weird. Don’t be weird. Don—DANG IT! You HAD to talk about the Black Plague, didn’t you?
Maybe no one here can relate, but you can write characters who DO.
Only So Many Fu-Spoons to Give
Though obviously I recommend the link above, The Spoon Theory applies to anyone who is dealing with chronic pain, a chronic illness, dealing with grief/loss, or who might have sensory issues like those of us in the Special Unique
Snowflake Fruit Salad that is ASD.
To give you the gist, we only have so many spoons of energy and it is wise for us to a) plan how to use them b) be aware when we are using them and c) take time to get away to refill them.
For instance, I can be accused of a lot of things, but lazy is not one of those things. When I took a good look at my Things To Do List? Let’s just say it or I was just a little bit…insane.
Since I have worked from home for over 20 years, I had (and still have) zero idea what might be “normal,” let’s just say “normal” not my wheelhouse.
Those who know me will tell you I can be mostly dead and will push through anyway (frequently to the detriment of my health). At least this was the case until recently.
Before I realized
what a flaming idiot how foolish I was being, I felt I just needed more willpower. I had no concept that not only was my list too long, and my standards to high, but that I needed to chill…the hell…OUT.
I was having meltdowns because I struggle with admitting I even have limitations, let alone living within them. The ADHD means I use lists and timers to stay on task and the OCD tells me I must do all the things…perfectly.
But, I am improving.
Example One (LIFE):
Yesterday, I recruited Spawn (14 year-old son) to help me detail the bathrooms. I had to clean out 10+ years of detritus that had collected under and in cabinets because the clutter was wrecking my ability to quickly and easily keep things clean and organized.
***For the record, the picture above is NOT my bathroom, merely how my demented/perfectionist mind THINKS my bathroom looks.
Not only did I ask for help (WINNING!) but I also stopped after the bathrooms. Normally, my ADHD self would have had to put something into the closet, seen THAT was a mess, pulled all of THAT out and…BOOM!
As I say often about writing:
Perfect is the enemy of the finished.
I’m learning that, if I wish to go more granular on my organizing/cleaning, I can. On another day. Trust me, the junk will still be there. And, if I pace myself, I can do a little every day and keep that junk from having babies.
Example Two (WORK):
Though I didn’t yet have an official diagnosis, back in May when I went to speak in Boise, ID, I operated off the idea that I was, in fact, ND.
My presentations often are slotted at either the beginning of the day or the end of the day. The reason? I put off so much energy, I get people HOPPED UP! I make people laugh and move and participate and it is a lot of fun.
That said, I attend other speakers’ presentations out of professional courtesy, and also because I don’t know everything.
I know! *shock face*
Anyway, on Day 2 of the conference, I’d been traveling and walking and speaking and paying attention and then lunchtime came. My presentation was at like 2:00 (when everyone needs a NAP, me included).
I walked all the way from the conference center to the bustling restaurant before it hit me.
I was exhausted.
Any other conference, I would have ignored all my sensors flashing RED, gone in and socialized with all the writers, despite the crowds, noise and lights.
***Refer to visual representation of Kristen in image above.
This time? I did what I’d never done before and told Troy Lambert (my friend and co-author of our anthology WTH Did I Just READ?) I needed a “time out.” I walked all the way BACK to the conference center then sat alone in my noise canceling headphones and regrouped.
This was the ONLY conference in 15 years that I made it home perfectly healthy. Since I kept a better eye on my energy levels, I didn’t tank myself.
Also, when everything that could go wrong DID go wrong in my presentation (with the technology)? I held it together and was able to stick-and-move. Had I not recharged, it would have been a disaster.
We might be having meltdowns because we’re overstimulated, overtired, etc. etc. Yet, here is another insidious problem we might have a harder time dealing with.
Learn to set boundaries and enforce them.
I tend to be far too accommodating for my own good. I’ll set a boundary then, when others stomp all over it, I tell them it’s okay.
No, it isn’t.
When I do that, not only am I saying my time/space/boundaries have no meaning and it is okay to walk all over me, but I am ALSO confusing those around me with mixed messages.
Say, I need to write and I tell my family to leave me be until noon. They keep walking in and out and asking for things and for me to make nibblies and to ask me a question and I am all, “No, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s….
*Kristen grows 25 feet, morphing into LAMBZILLA*
I WILL THROW YOU IN THE ENDLESS PIT OF LEGOS AND SUFFERING IF YOU INTERRUPT ME ONE MORE TIME!
Unfair to me, and confusing and unkind to others.
And, if you’re ND, then wobbly boundaries almost guarantees regular meltdowns.
Meltdowns and the Holidays
Tis the Season to Go Psycho…
The world is far more fast-paced than ever in human history. It is also unsustainable, but that is another post. In the meantime—until SkyNet comes for us—we are going to have to be intentional.
I still have a day job writing and editing. I’m also a housewife who does all the shopping, cooking and cleaning. Additionally, I homeschool a 9th grader. If Santa Claus came down my chimney any other year I might have set his beard on fire.
This year, now that I know better? I am only putting out so many decorations, only giving so many gifts, and instead of singing Fa-La-La-La La? I’m saying NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NOOOOO!
Sort and prioritize. These are the SUPER important things and worthy of spoons. This stuff? A maybe. That stuff? Only if I have enough spoons.
Lest I end up hiding in a festive blanket fort weeping, washing down raw sugar cookie dough and sprinkles with a bottle of real eggnog…
What are Your Thoughts on Meltdowns?
Meltdowns…not just for toddlers anymore. Did you understand what it really means to be an introvert/extrovert? Were you possibly blaming a bit too much on being an introvert? Do you SUCK at being self-aware/doing self-care?
If you do have meltdowns, are yours the thermo-nuclear-everyone-get-under-that-50s-school-desk kind? Or are you like my husband and just kind of short-circuit and need time to reboot? Maybe somewhere in between?
Have you ever heard of The Spoon Theory? Any other suggestions, thoughts, ideas?
Here is a video from a gal I watched before going through the official diagnosis process. Obviously not all ND people are the same, but what she talked about SO SPOKE to me (enough to where I made sure to get professionally tested).
Maybe this will help you or someone you love, OR hey we need more ND characters so here is a peek inside our heads…