You know that pesky fight or flight mode that some of our autistic kids are known for?
Well, they aren’t the only ones.
The Electrician got a taste of what happens to me when I reach my sensory/anxiety/holy-crap-its-all-too-much threshold this past weekend on our first getaway as a couple (meaning, NO KIDS, WOOT WOOT).
We went to a semi-local tourist trap-ish area to spend a few nights in a bed that wasn’t at our house with alarm clocks that were banned from being turned on. Now mind you, this was a sorta last minute planned trip where we looked at our options and said, “Here. It’s not too far away and we have a few things to do while we’re there.” without thinking too hard about what those things were and what time of year it was and how unbelievably hot it was going to be over the weekend.
Now, as the title of this post hints at, I’m more of a flyer than a fighter. I can panic-run better than most people you’ve ever met and I can escape a crowd in break-neck speeds and be found in the least likely place anyone would look for me (because who would expect someone to want to plaster themselves against the side of random building like a crazy window peeper, right?).
I’ll give you the set up so you understand what someone in general sees versus what it is that I see when I end up in these situations. NP is your “normal person”…
NP: Pretty heavy traffic but I totally expected it seeing as how it’s a Saturday afternoon in a busy tourist trap. Oh, well. We only have to make it this many miles before we’re there!
Me: Death. Cars here. Cars there. Cars, cars everywhere. It’s hard for me to make my eyes focus properly because of all the moving objects around me. The stress of trying to get through a bazillion cars and make it to a safe parking spot without getting injured in all these unpredictable drivers is giving me a massive headache and I may be slightly panicking inside because I don’t know the area and I don’t have a map and I hate getting lost and I don’t like driving in lots of cars. (As a side note, one of the worst fights I ever got into with my Mom was when we got lost on the parkway around Washington, D.C. and I freaked right the fuck out. FYI)
NP: There’s a parking place up here in this parking garage. The spots are kinda tight but we can make it work.
Me: Parking garages are THE DEVIL. People back out without looking. They put poles and concrete barriers in the WORST places imaginable. No one can manage to park in a single spot to save their friggin lives and then there’s the whole trying to walk out without getting killed thing.
NP: It’s pretty hot out here but that’s July for you. Guess we’ll just tough it out.
Me: Tough it out?!? You’re kidding me, right? I’m sweating profusely which is causing a sensory crisis of sorts inside my head because my body is freaking the hell out about my clothes all being stuck to me in all the worst ways. My hair is getting wet from sweat, which is in turn making me freak out about it sticking to me as well (plus lets not forget about how appearances are everything and sweaty pig is not the go-to look for any season).
When I get too hot, my brain shuts down and goes into survival mode where I search incessantly for any source of randomly blowing air and fluids. My skin is screaming at me because every second I spend in the sun is one more second closer to a sunburn I won’t be able to sleep with later on that night. And don’t even get me started on chaffing while trying to walk around in this crap.
NP: Looks like the sidewalks are full of tourists. We’ll just have to walk through/around them.
Me: OMG, STRANGER DANGER!!! STRANGER DANGER!!! People are touching me and I’m NOT EVEN OKAY with it. Someone just smiled at me. Do I smile? Do I glare? Do I look at the sidewalk and hope no one runs over me? You’re trying to talk to me in this mess of people???? What?!? I can’t even concentrate because of all the other conversations going on around me.
At about this point I reach my threshold. My heart is pounding out a rhythm that even Shakira couldn’t shake her ass to. I’m sweating. I’m tired from walking because when you throw in all the side effects of Fibromyalgia into the mix, I don’t travel far without feeling like I’ve been beaten with a huge brick. I’m not particularly sure where I’m at because I got turned around after we came out of that last shop so now I’m panicking about being possibly lost. I’m on the verge of crying which makes me panic even more because I DO NOT cry in front of strangers because then someone wants to offer me help and I can’t communicate when I get to that point and then it just gets super awkward which just makes me cry more SO…I default to my next option.
What’s my next option you ask? Flight. I get the hell out of Dodge before I completely lose my shit. At this point I stop moving and start searching for a familiar landmark that will lead me to freedom (or the car as it may be). When I find it, I’m off like a bloodhound tracking a deer. I am hell-bent on getting to the car no matter how many women, children, elderly people, and grown ass men that I have to run over to get there.
I basically turn into a short, angry woman who will cuss anyone who prevents me from reaching my final destination. This is not something that I’m proud of. It’s just something happens to me that I don’t really have the capacity to control once I’ve hit my threshold of how much I can handle. (Side note: It’s not a good idea to let me drive or operate any form of heavy machinery when I’m like this. I’m pretty sure my picture is beside the definition of agressive driver.)
Now, I’m sure you have a pretty good idea of what happens when I get like this. I basically look like the chick from the Exorcist minus the vomit (most of the time) and I don’t say or do very nice things. This may also be where the fight part of fight or flight comes in. I have angered/pissed off/upset/hurt-the-feelings-of/caused-bodily-harm to multiple people when I get to this point. In this case, I hurt the feelings of The Electrician unintentionally. I do not have a filter at the best of times and when I’m like this and I feel like I’m under attack by everything around me, I will say some very cruel things.
Again, I’m not proud of this fact. It is what it is when I lose my shit. A loss of control is still a loss of control, no matter how many times you try to rein yourself in, no matter how many times you hear the words you’ve just said ringing in your ears and you can’t take them back and you can’t stop yourself from continuing to say mean stuff either. It is a vicious cycle that will continue until I get to a place where I can calm down and I don’t feel like I’m still under attack by everything and everyone around me.
I’m pretty sure I’ve spent half my life apologizing for things I’ve said or done that have had a negative effect on the people around me. I’m sure I still owe apologies to a lot of people even now. The only thing I can do is ask for forgiveness and hope that it never happens again.
I try to learn from these experiences so that I don’t put myself in these types of situations again but some times it can’t be avoided. I can’t lock myself in my house and avoid every possible moment where I’m going to be in a sensory-hell type of situation. I can’t possibly be familiar with every place I will ever go in my life to avoid getting lost unless I never go anywhere else in my lifetime. My routines will have to be disrupted for various life occurances. There are a infinite number of things that are outside of my control, among which is how I react during a meltdown.
So, to those who have bore witness to me in a meltdown, I’m sorry. To those who have children who share the spectrum with me, be forgiving and have patience. We all have limitations and they are all different. Be willing to recognize those limitations and work around them using our strengths. Be prepared for the fight or flight because when we finally stop fighting or crash from our flight, we’re gonna need to know we’re still safe with you.