I blogged about Meltdown in the previous post. I want to continue to explore into the deeper layer of meltdown and how it impacts both the person in the bubble of his or her meltdown; and the person waiting by the sideline.
My keen interest (or obsession, I have Asperger’s, and it is only ‘natural’ that I will continue to ruminate on all angles of a topic) in meltdown is primarily due to the emotional stress that I experienced on both ends of an episode. My Aspie weakness (or strength, either way, it can turn against us or reconcile with us) is a need to relentlessly seek rational reasoning about difficult question – particularly in relation to human behaviours in relationships.
I want to try to explain what happens during a meltdown, so that people who are not on the spectrum, and/or people who are close to the person who is having a meltdown, can better understand, or at least try to understand.
I created two animated gif files to better illustrate the situation.
The person who is caught up in his meltdown and overload, time moves very slowly for him. He understands the concept of time, but rationality is thin, and emotions overload causes him to dispose negative emotions more slowly. Mental processes are snail slow, if not on standstill.
‘Time Dilution’ is a borrowed term from my Aspie friend.
For example, if you tell him that you need him to bring the mug to you. The message comes to him in a very delayed mode. It may sound like, ‘Bring…. me…. the….. mug…’. By the time the message is received and deciphered in his head, two hours may have passed, and he doesn’t realise it. Many times, the message gets lost in transmission too. By the time the whole sentence is received, the first part of the message may be lost, so he ends up wondering what to do with the mug. The attempt to reconnect the dots requires a huge amount of brain resources, but during meltdown, such ability is masked with a protective shield to prevent further overload – survival instinct, if you may.
We also experience a numbing effect. It’s like a burnt tongue, all food taste bland and different. It’s the same protective shield that is guarding us, as a last resort to save the very bit of sanity left in us.
During this time, you can throw angry words at the person, he may understand the emotions, but he cannot feel the full effect of it. It’s like watching a muted movie, the actor looked furious, but the words were silent.
In a more severe meltdown, it is similar to ‘out-of-body’ experience. We could see everything playing out around us, but we are looking from outside our body. It is as if everything that is happening has nothing to do with us.
The Waiting Partner
Now, I will talk about the person who waits. Time moves in a regular speed, or faster.
NT Partner (to Aspie partner in meltdown)
While the person in the meltdown seems to be taking his own sweet time in regulating his emotion overload – which I have just explained why time stretches during this period; time moves in a regular speed for the waiting person, and days and weeks may pass and the person he or she is waiting for is still not recovered.
* 2 weeks have passed: Aspie partner in meltdown feels as if only 2 days have passed vs NT waiting partner knows that 2 weeks have passed.
Aspie Partner (to Aspie partner in meltdown)
We may think another Aspie partner would understand better. In my experience, it can possess a different challenge. The Aspie waiting partner’s time concept can move twice as fast as the NT waiting partner. Remember, being on the spectrum, we are equally prone to meltdown and anxiety as our aspie partner (who is in the meltdown first). Anxiety would be the determinant of the speed of time.
* 2 weeks have passed: Aspie partner in meltdown feels as if only 2 days have passed vs Aspie waiting partner feels as if 4 weeks have passed.
Challenges in Relationships
Although I seem to be circling the explanation around romantic relationship, because it is a more intense form of relationship, but the same challenges are experienced in all sorts of relationship – between NT/Aspie parent and Aspie child; between NT/Aspie friend and Aspie friend etc. The tolerance level may vary slightly, but the phases would be similar.
I have taken very heavy falls in love, and in friendships. I have come to realise that meltdowns are most detrimental to relationships (of any kind).
Parent and Child Relationship
I have had gone through countless of meltdowns throughout my life. My mother had a hard time with understanding a child who didn’t seem to belong in her world. In more severe meltdowns, I would hum my way through – it can be a full day episode. She just gave up trying to quiet my annoying hums; she thought that I would stop when I exhausted myself out. It must have been heart breaking for her, even though she had never expressed it verbally; she expressed her worries through bringing me to temples and fortune tellers. It was probably a way for her to find answers – act of desperation to help this child with eccentricities.
It’s a vicious cycle. Friendships were one of the main causes to my meltdowns; my meltdowns attributed to distancing from friends; the cycle repeats.
With NT partners, eventually they expected me to be normal and be better at socializing, like their friends’ girlfriends or wives. There is only so much tolerance they could give me, because honestly, meltdowns are ‘inconvenient’. For example, my sensory overload can sometimes lead to a minor meltdown; when we were out with a group of friends, I can be quietly dealing with my overload because everyone was talking at the same time, by opening up all ‘valves’ of hearing ability, I exposed myself to every sound in the environment. My brain was constantly trying to shutdown, and I had to struggle with maintaining a normal front, while clenching my fist to filter out the noises in the background that was blaring into my ear drums that caused throbbing migraine. Very soon, my normal front broke and I stopped responding appropriately. Eventually, I needed to go home prematurely, even if it meant leaving before dinner. I would be talked about as rude and arrogant; they didn’t know I save them the frightening scene of my meltdown that they cannot handle.
With Aspie partner, ok, to be fair, I have only dated one Aspie partner, so it may not quantify to be a sound feedback, but I am giving it anyway. Convenience would not be a problem. The partner would understand, and we don’t care if our partner’s meltdown and responses will inconvenient other people. We will also be able to deal with some minor meltdowns, or have prevented sensory overload to happen, to begin with. The bad news is that between two Aspie partners, meltdown is only more manageable when the Aspie partners live together. We lack the ability to develop ToM (Theory of Mind), and there is no bias as to whose mind we are trying to understand. Remember that as much as we understand the very essence of meltdown and effects of it, Aspies in love means forming an unbreakable link together; but meltdown can break that link.
Ideally, we think Aspie and Aspie relationship will yield better success. We must not confuse understanding with responses. If you refer to the time concept between one meltdown Aspie and one waiting Aspie; the drastic difference in time speed can be the reason for the waiting aspie to jumpstart on the anxiety engine.
Try to visualise this. The meltdown Aspie is not responsive; the waiting Aspie is anxious. When the waiting Aspie gets anxious, he or she moves around too much to cause the meltdown Aspie to shutdown more. When the meltdown Aspie shuts down completely, the waiting Aspie’s time concept reaches 5 times faster than it already was. It’s only a matter of time that it is too much for either or both Aspies to handle. A timeout can become permanent.
It is made worse if they don’t live together. We cannot understand non-verbal cues, even though we understand meltdown. Adult Aspie would have experienced abandonment (or at least we perceive it that way) by friends and lovers at some point. Abandonment can mean people leaving our lives without explaining the causes to us; many people just leave assuming that we ought to know why. The truth is, we usually don’t. Gradually, either we grew to be fearful that people leave us for reasons we will never know; or we resigned to it that people WILL leave us.
When the Aspies don’t live together, the silence of the meltdown Aspie will eventually be the killer shot to the relationship. The waiting Aspie starts to experience the exact same feeling of being abandoned. Then, the fight and flight response kicks in. The waiting Aspie fights the negative feelings and depended heavily on the rational reasoning to justify the silence as an effort of self-assurance and protecting the relationship; but this will thin because it’s a ‘norm’ that people (NT or Aspie) leave us without saying goodbye. We didn’t know the person was not coming back until someone told us he or she was seeing someone else.
Victims of Circumstances – Prisoners to Meltdown
When a relationship ends due to prolonged meltdown that leads to a complete shutdown, instead of pointing accusing finger at anyone, I would say that both parties become the victims of circumstances. Like the prisoners to meltdown, the meltdown Aspie couldn’t do more and sooner to save the relationship; the waiting Aspie could no longer handle the complete silence. A love without reciprocity is a love heading to an end.
I want to highlight on this because it’s a real pity if a potential lifelong relationship ends under such circumstances have to result in any blame or hatred. I feel that it’s important to understand that it’s an undesired outcome, and it is also to illuminate the importance to minimise overload, which in turn reduces frequency of meltdown. Bear in mind that meltdown can be very damaging, and every meltdown can be potentially the last one because there is no telling if we can find any strength to cope with another meltdown.
It’s no wonder we all crave for Aspie Utopia – depending on your scale of Utopia, mine is relatively small because it turns out, Aspie can drive Aspie crazy too!
Free Will vs Determinism
The recent lecture – first lecture in that unit actually, the concept of Free Will and Determinism leaves me thinking a lot about meltdown. So, is meltdown deterministic or is it free will?
As a person on the spectrum, who goes through (too many) meltdowns, I will tell you that meltdown is involuntary. It’s determined by the circumstances and nature of the disorder that eventually lead to a meltdown. It’s very logical, because when it happens, we feel paralysed, like it or not. Giving this a zesty twist, take a walk down my sci-fi fantasy of werewolf turning on full moon. It’s a biological and genetic reaction. There is no stopping. It’s like the fainting goat (aka myotonic goat) that freezes for 10 second when in panic, it’s genetic, not optional.
Free Will Perspective
Well, you can also argue that we have some level of free will to what and who we are going to respond to. I concur with that, to a certain degree. During a meltdown, we have very limited room to accommodate and manage things and people. It’s proximity relevant (hence, my argument that Aspies living apart is a lot more challenging during meltdown). We tell people it’s not a choice, but it is actually a choice that we make. During my major meltdown (oh well, you know, something like an anniversary vacation turned into a divorce, and when my reality changed overnight, that kind of thing) whereby 95% of the time I was in complete malfunction mode (you know, like rocking back and forth, not talking to anyone, not eating, that kind of malfunction); but when my mother asked me to fix the light, I would still fix the light, but that’s all I could do. No talking, no emotions.
That is free will. I decide to risk a longer meltdown to fix a light because if I didn’t, she may ask too many questions, she may think I was depressed, she may this, or that.
If I have painted a grey picture of love for you, perhaps it’s because that’s how I see it. Here I am, back to not looking to date again. When an NT partner breaks us, we harness on the last hope that an Aspie partner will surely appreciate us. When an Aspie partner breaks us, we resign to solitude.
It’s not a depressive ending, if that’s what you were thinking. It’s been invaluable experiences which better define my needs. I suffered from extremely low self-esteem due to some (unspeakable) abuses and years of suffering in silence. I understand now that I accepted promises too easily; I give myself away too quickly.
I am still a true believer of true love. I am still a hopeless romantic. That have not changed and I don’t plan to change that, but I will be more selective now, because I am worthy of efforts and hard work. No man should pursue me unless he (and there is absolutely no room for change of mind at any point of time, because it is unforgivable) knows for certain that he deserves me; even the slightest doubt disqualifies him. Give me enough respect to only pursue me if you are capable of hard work and untainted affection. I am very stupid and stubborn in this department (or in many departments, it’s part of my Aspie makeup), any agenda would taint the purity of love, and of course, I have superiorly high regard for that.
Remember, we, Aspies, don’t fit into your standard world frame. I don’t know about other Aspies, but I lack self-preservation skill. I keep things really simple, either I don’t love at all, or I love fully. So, I don’t have that emotional-brake that many people have. That’s why it’s a precautionary measure you ought to take if you are pursuing an Aspie. When I fall in love, it’s rapid, and there is no reservation. I firmly believe that it will lead me to a life without regrets. In the end, I always give my best and all. That, is my way of living a passionate life, a full life. Bite me.