It’s commonly known in the Autistic community that a meltdown is nothing like a tantrum. It’s a total loss of control, a need to get emotions out, to find some stability by exploding and getting rid of the pressure building up inside. Everyone knows you cannot reason with someone when they are having a meltdown, they are unreachable. Meltdowns don’t all look the same though, every person’s meltdowns look different.
My meltdowns involve me screaming, that’s usually how they start, when everything just becomes too much that I have to let it all out and that usually happens through screaming. If that isn’t enough though, I move on to shouting, swearing and letting out a stream of incomprehensible noise. During a meltdown I often lose my words, I can still talk but the words don’t come out right or nothing I say makes any sense. I can still have a conversation with people though, but I’m on edge and whatever I say with be hurtful and incredibly sarcastic. You don’t want to get involved with me when I’m having a meltdown, it takes a lot for me to control what I say when I’m in this state (and yes, I do still retain some control, especially at the start of the meltdown, but if pushed I can quickly lose that thin control and this leads to a tirade of insults and nonsense).
When in meltdown I have this overwhelming need to destroy anything and everything. I can throw objects, crush them with my hands, stamp on things or just stamp my feet, I will hit things with my hands, kick and even scratch my face. It all depends on where the cause of the meltdown is coming from and what emotions I have inside me. If there are people around that I don’t want to hurt then I may (unconsciously) change what I do. When I’m frustrated I tend to hurt myself more but when I’m angry I tend to focus on other objects or people. At the beginning of a meltdown I still have some control so I try to get my anger out without hurting or completely destroying things, but sometimes the anger is too great, or the meltdown has reached a certain no turning back point, or the meltdown comes on so suddenly that I can’t direct my anger, and things get destroyed. I have broken phones, bins, plastic boxes, cups, toys, books. I have smashed my hands into furniture and on walls, I’ve bashed my head against walls, I’ve stomped my feet onto the floor and kicked walls and furniture, I’ve pulled my hair and dug my nails into mine and other people’s flesh. I rarely attack other people physically and only attack others verbally if they try to stop my meltdowns or make it worse by mocking or insulting me. I prefer not to hurt others, I’d like to be left alone when meltdown strikes but some people just don’t get it.
Sometimes a meltdown can be over in a flash, sometimes it can last all day, seeming to stop and start, other times there’s no break and it just goes on for hours. Sometimes a meltdown leads to a shutdown and I become unresponsive, other times I return to ‘normal’ though more tired and on edge.
The most intense part of any meltdown is the desire to just destroy everything around me. It’s like being possessed by a mad monster. No matter how much I destroy it’s never enough, I always need to destroy more. I have noticed that if I do destroy things then the urge to do that again becomes greater, like the need gets fuelled, so for me, stopping myself from destroying things is important so I don’t need to destroy as much in the future. This means adapting my life to ensure as few meltdowns occur as possible. This isn’t always possible though and is a constant work in progress.