I am autistic. I have meltdowns.
When I was younger, I was not diagnosed as autistic. I had an explosive temper. I had anger management problems. I was a problem.
I have multiple memories over my lifetime, especially as a teen and young adult, about how my moods were making other people feel. “We are all entitled to our emotions, but we have to consider how they affect others.”
As if it were that easy.
I spent half a century trying to fix a problem with an incomplete toolset. I came to believe that my explosions were solely the result of being raised in an explosive household: Both of my parents were emotionally unstable as well. My father told me that he used to use his belt to spank us until the day he pulled back, the belt slipped, and the buckle fractured against the wall. It was only then that he realized how violent he was being.
In my 20s, I went to a therapist to get treatment for Intermittent Explosive Disorder. It helped, quite a bit. It took a lot of the edge off. I began to take much more responsibility for my explosions, and management got easier. The flame of the fire went down considerably.
But it didn’t go away. I still struggled with feelings of anger when I got overwhelmed. More therapy didn’t help.
“Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage.” — Smashing Pumpkins
The missing piece of the story was my autism. That would have offered a set of management tools to help mitigate those feelings.
Telling me I need to moderate my emotions for the sake of others doesn’t help much when I’m in the middle of an autistic meltdown. Reminding me that my feelings, while they feel real, are the result of a maelstrom of misprocessed reactions… that does help.
I had multiple friendships in middle and high school end over my meltdowns. I got the message, both from my age cohort and from the adults around me (including my parents) that I was Too Much, that I was Out of Control, that I needed to be far more considerate of the people around me.
That I needed to be tossed out for the good of the group.
This message persisted into my adult years. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy loop where I would ostracize myself before I could be kicked out, and nobody would come after me, thus reinforcing the rectitude of my decision.
I’m still struggling with this today. I see myself as a problem, a nuisance, someone that other people struggle to be around. I hold my emotions close, walking around masked most of the time, because I don’t want to alienate people. I can be intense.
Knowing that it’s because of an information processing issue, that I process information differently than others, that I’ve been blamed my whole life for this without knowing why, that there’s nothing wrong with how I process information, just different in ways that others can’t understand… all of that helps. All of that is information I wish I’d known earlier.
I have those tools now, so I can better manage going forward, but now I have the added layer of false messages that have been programmed into my brain.