I was on a date with my tennis racket and ball at a campus practice wall when another meltdown started brewing. There are six practice wall cages and when I arrived, I was by my lonesome. Then someone showed up with a DVD player and my opinion of their music was: you call that music?
Seriously, the DVD was letting out a strong bass tone that felt like someone thumping at my ears. I felt a meltdown coming on. What does that feel like? A rumbling volcano comes to mind.
I knew if I remained in the cage, I would feel like a caged animal and so I walked out of the cage. At least, I had the luxury of walking away from a meltdown trigger with a mile’s worth of walking trail out of earshot range. The internal rumbling stopped somewhere along the trail. Eruption averted. After walking the entire lap, the tennis player with the DVD player had left. I didn’t return to the cage because the humidity and walk had done me in.
Of all the symptoms I deal with living on the Spectrum, the meltdowns are the toughest. They are the volcanoes. Sometimes they just produce a rumble; but oh, my goodness, there are those that spew out lava (aka tears).
I usually know when I’m having one, but I don’t always know what the trigger is. Before I learned I was on the Spectrum, I used to have peculiar and frightening meltdowns at night. This went on for many years and I didn’t know what was behind them. They would come on me suddenly and would feel like my bed pillows and sheets were conspiring against me. I would get up out of frustration and throw the pillow down as if it was a bully. I’d sling the sheet/bed cover on the floor as if it was my worst enemy. The picture that came to mind was behaving like a cat with its tail caught underneath a rocking chair.
After this happened enough times, I knew it was something I had no control over and I just had to “rock” my way through it. The rocking was “stimming” but I didn’t know what stimming was at the time. As surely as it came over me, it left me after minutes passed. The minutes, however, seemed much longer than that. Fortunately, I haven’t had one of those in a couple of years. I’m guessing that my antidepressant medication which has helped me sleep much better have something to do with that.
However, I do still have “daytime” meltdowns. Those haven’t stopped paying me visits. Sometimes they come upon me without any obvious trigger, but most of the time there is one. It can be a sound or smell that rises the tension in my body. It may be a pet peeve and my reaction is way out of bounds with it. If I can walk away from the annoyance, the odds improve of a lighter meltdown or not having one. If I can’t, it’ll be Mount St. Helens all over again.
There were three of them who lived about 600 years before Jesus was born. They lived at the time King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon overtook Jerusalem and took captive many Israelites. Among those who were forced to leave their home were the three young men and their friend and leader of the pack, Daniel, whose story is told in the Old Testament book of Daniel. Their names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. After they were taken into Babylon, their names were changed to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Daniel and his three co-captives excelled above their peers in wisdom and knowledge. So much so that they got the attention and favor of King Nebuchadnezzar. The King engaged them to be his counselors. God blessed Daniel with the talent of interpreting dreams. That talent won him a promotion when he was the only man in the kingdom capable of interpreting one of Nebuchadnezzar’s nightmares. Daniel was in charge of Babylon and at Daniel’s request, the king appointed the three as administrators under Daniel.
The King had built a huge golden image and commanded all the people to fall down and worship it. The routine was that whenever his musical Herald was played, the people were to bow down and worship the image. There was no such thing as freedom of worship in the King’s realm. The stiff penalty for anyone who refused to bow and worship the image was a blazing furnace.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faced with a choice that was not of their own making. They did not ask to be exiled to Babylon. They probably would have traded all they had in Babylon, including their positions in the King’s administration, to be back at home in Jerusalem. But it was what it was and they had to decide to follow the King’s command and avoid the furnace or worship the one true God only. By faith, they stood up to the King and bowed to God’s wishes. They left it in God’s hands as to the outcome of whether they lived or died.
According to Daniel 3:16-18:
16. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
17. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
18. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
Their statements did not melt the King’s heart any. Nebuchadnezzar got along well with those who did what he expected of them but had no tolerance for those who didn’t. It didn’t matter to the King what the three’s reason was for not bowing to his order. The King whose ego had been bruised was so angry that he commanded the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than normal. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were bound and cast into the flames. The furnace was so hot that it even killed the soldiers who had escorted them.
But as King Nebuchadnezzar gave in to his curiosity and peeked into the furnace, he got an unexpected surprise. The three he had put in the furnace were there, but their bodies were not charred. They were walking around in the midst of the fire as pretty as they pleased.
If that wasn’t startling enough, there were four instead of three. Who was the extra person? The King noted the extra one looked different than the three. The fourth had the appearance of the Son of God. Upon seeing the seemingly impossible, the King called the three to come out of the furnace. The three emerged without a single burn on them, with not even a strand of their hair singed or the smell of smoke on their person.
It was too incredible of a miracle for even King Nebuchadnezzar to deny. He had a change of heart about the three and their God. He admitted that God had sent His angel and delivered the three who had put their faith in God by worshipping only Him. The three and the rest of the Israelite captives were granted freedom to worship and protection from harm by the king’s decree. The actions of these three resulted in obtaining religious freedom for their fellow captives, but at the moment when they had to make a choice, it was their choice alone to make.
Who can relate to the story of the three? I think most of us can. Life affords us opportunities to sometimes make difficult choices. I have never walked into a fiery furnace, physically speaking; but I have felt at times like I have, emotionally speaking. A fiery furnace can be a literal one, or it can be the day-to-day grieving over the loss of a loved one. It can be living with a debilitating illness or that of a loved one. It can be the loss of a job and the ongoing, up-and-down roller coaster ride of finding another. It can be living up to the conviction of one’s heart, such as heeding a call to go into the ministry or some other calling and receiving less than enthusiastic support from one’s inner or outer circle.
On the autism spectrum, a meltdown can feel like walking into a fiery furnace. For most of my life, I didn’t know what they were. I just knew they came like a storm cloud over me and then left. I knew the cloud would visit again and again. I’m thankful to the Lord for the diagnosis so I am no longer in the dark about this storm cloud. I can’t keep it from coming, but I can pray my way through it instead of bowing down to it.
I don’t know how much control we have on a fiery furnace coming into our lives. If it were up to me, there’d be no fires to put out but I know that’s not realistic. I do have a lot of say of how I cope with them though. I can lean on the Lord or myself.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego looked to the Lord as they faced the furnace and came away from it untouched. It gained them the freedom to worship God and freedom not to bow down to any man-made image. Oh, and by the way, they got a job promotion too.
The nightmare happened on a day near the end of the school year for a 6th-grade boy with autism. There was something different going on at school that day. A break from their regular routine to attend a gym competition. For him, any change in routine, good or bad, can be another nightmare.
The competition was among the older grades. I was taking part by helping the coach take score. I noticed him coming in with panic written all over his face. He looked around as if he had stepped out of a car and found himself in a far away place. His world had been thrown off kilter. I felt empathy because I had been in a similar boat many times. Routine is essential to me too. I just have coping skills he doesn’t have. I don’t think it was just the crowd, but the hustle and bustle of basketball shooting, frisbee throwing, and relay racing. There were whistles blowing and kids roaring with boos and applause.
The teacher aide recognized he was in sensory overload. She had him sit down with some of his classmates who were taking all the commotion in stride. In no less than a minute, he got up and stepped out on the gym floor spinning in circles. He made an indescribable sound but a familiar one to those in his inner circle. This is his own unique distress call when he is potentially in meltdown country. When he almost ran into a student who wasn’t steady on her feet, the teacher brought him back to the sidelines. He sat there for maybe five minutes. That was as long as he could take before getting back up and spinning once again on the floor.
This time the aide brought him back but she sat down on the floor with him. She gently rubbed his arms and hands to soothe and reassure him it was okay. Her idea worked and he calmed down enough to remain seated.
Although he could pass for a high school football player, he is a gentle soul. Even in meltdowns if he physically hurts anybody, it is himself. After the last contest, she had no problem whatsoever getting him to go back to the classroom. He was the first one in line as his class walked back. He was more than ready to return to the familiar place and resume the routine. His crowded nightmare, at least the one that day, was over.
It was a relaxing afternoon since Fridays are most welcomed by school students and staff alike, more so the staff I suspect. I was subbing in a special ed class. The youngest of seven students was a kindergartener who was quite a pickle, but cute as a button.
Like so many little and big kids, she takes a fancy to the tablet. She knows how to use her fingers to switch from one view to the other and with one finger touch the icon that suits her fancy. She knows what button to push to pull back up the home screen. We didn’t hear a peep out of her until she let out a scream. She was giving the tablet a talking to with a face that could kill.
The teacher and the regular aide did the right thing in admonishing her to use her voice and ask for help instead of throwing a tantrum. It is a message she has to be told each time it happens. I think that day it happened about a half dozen times.
I whispered to the teacher that there were many a time I wanted to do the exact same thing. In my private moments, I have thought or spoken a few choice words to my tablet, desktop, laptop, or other devices. I couldn’t tell the kinder I had done what she did since I didn’t want to discourage her from following the teacher’s instructions.
The teacher chuckled since she knew what I meant. Most any of us have wanted to scream at a device that has gone haywire. Such as tossing whatever out the window. Most of us don’t because we’d have to pay for it and the window both. Even worse, when it isn’t our device or our window.
The regular aide was asking me how I had been doing since my autism diagnosis. I told her about my meltdowns and how I went about coping with them without damaging property. She said, “At least, you know what they are and have coping skills. These children don’t yet.” She had a good point. Those who occupy a different spot on the spectrum who can’t communicate what is going on suffer tremendously. They don’t know what to do about it other than scream, kick, cry, etc.
There was one moment when she was playing on the carpet. We don’t know what went wrong but she started screaming again. But this time, she was rocking back and forth on her knees. Now that I relate to since I rock too when I want to scream. And I admit there have been times I have screamed at my tablet.
My meltdowns are at varying degrees. One can be in the 30’s (a short upset), in the 60’s (a longer teary-eyed fit), or in the 90’s (when hopefully the only thing I’ll throw around the room is a pillow).
My foremost coping skill is a talk with Jesus. Just telling him whatever is going on inside of me is the best place to start conquering the meltdown. Oh, I could talk to someone which is not bad advice, but I seldom take that option. It carries the risk of the person advising me to calm down. Telling me to do such when I’m in meltdown country is like holding a red flag in front of a bull.
Sometimes I walk into situations where the odds of having a meltdown increase tremendously. Such as going to the $1.00 store a few days before Easter. That was a bad idea.
Easter decorations were flying off the shelf. I don’t like to shop anywhere where there’s a crowd. However, since I needed some items in that store at the affordable price of a dollar, I took the meltdown risk. I’m a miser at heart too.
There wasn’t that big of a line when I walked in, but it seemed like when I went to get in line, there had been a cattle call to get in line. I stood waiting while three ladies who were together separately purchased oodles of Easter bunnies, baskets, eggs, etc. Now I knew, rationally speaking, they had every right as I did to be there. But sitting through their purchases raised my odds of a meltdown.
Before I got out of the parking lot, I had to wait for cars to slowly, and I do mean slowly, back out of their parking space. That’s what one should do when backing out, but I wasn’t thinking rationally at that point. I started having one of those short meltdowns. No tears but tension running throughout my body. My steering wheel got a beating. I shouldn’t have been driving but it was too far to walk home.
My next stop was what I call my “toy store”, Best Buy! It was on my official “Saturday Morning Shopping Plan” that was written in my mind before I embarked. It is my favorite store because I possess a common “autism” trait of collecting things and what I collect is in that store.
While browsing inside my “utopia”, the crisis passed. My anxiety level shifted downward. I came home feeling extra tired because a meltdown, even a short one, can be draining. There won’t always be a Best Buy around when I need one, but on that day, I coped as best I could at Best.
I was subbing for a teacher’s aide in a special education class on my list of favorite hangout spots. Some of the students I have known since I started subbing back in late 2014. There are a couple of boys who are recent additions and have through no fault of their own have turned the class upside down.
I admire tremendously the teacher and her two sidekicks for coming to school day in and day out to maintain some sense of order in the midst of chaos. The teacher is often holding one student in her lap while another aide is trying to catch the other one on the loose. The remaining aide is trying to help the other students to ignore the commotion and concentrate on their classwork. They didn’t have much luck in doing that the day I was there.
After I got home from the long school day, I needed to decompress. Although I remained cool, calm, and collected through the class time, the tension was building up. My home computer was not cooperating and my banging on the keyboard wasn’t just about my computer’s slowness. I needed to get away by myself before I exploded on people and things around me.
I went on a tennis date with my racket and ball to the practice wall at a nearby college campus. It felt good to be outside and walk the campus trail by myself. I hit the wall with the tennis ball for about a half an hour. After my tennis date, I was able to go back home feeling calm instead of a live wire.
The class is still high on my list of favorites. The boys who require extra attention are special in their own right. They have their sweet moments. At the end of the school day, I walked one of the students to his daycare. I have a connection with him since knowing him for the last two years. He took me by the hand and we walked hand-in-hand until I dropped him off. It was the bright spot in an otherwise day where I had to go hit a wall to help melt a meltdown.
My meltdown began with music coming from a computer. I was well within earshot. Even if my life depended on it, I couldn’t explain why the sound of someone singing on a video triggered a magnitude of agony. I don’t know if there are words to describe this meltdown; if there are, I don’t know them.
I left the area to an adjoining room but I could still hear the sound. I didn’t know what was being sung on the video and why it triggered an eruption in my soul. I could not tell someone to turn the volume down or turn it off. That would not have been socially acceptable.
I was alone so I curled up in a fetal position, held my hands over my ear, bounced my leg up and down, and silently sobbed. What seemed longer than a few minutes, I went elsewhere to pace the floor in another empty room. When I was certain the music was off, I could start breathing again as if I had been sinking and was able to come back up for air.
The meltdown left me utterly exhausted! I sat down and rocked for comfort. Before my diagnosis a few months ago, I wouldn’t have known it was a meltdown. Just me acting crazy. I wouldn’t have known my rocking and pacing was “stimming” and how such is essential during and after meltdowns. Such repetitive behavior is the insulation from a meltdown’s cold and cruel wind that sometimes blows in from seemingly out of nowhere.