Meltdowns

I’m sorry for my long absence. In the first little bit of the year, I’ve had an extremely rough time.
I’ve had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life. I cut off all contact with my dad. I can’t explain in a single blog post why that was necessary; I’d have to tell you my entire life story. After a lot of thought and analysis, I realized that I simply can’t be mentally and emotionally healthy while having a relationship with him. Since then, I’ve been mostly recovering and trying to keep up my schoolwork as well as I can. I’ve had little energy for anything else, thus the lack of activity here.

I started this post a few days after the first meltdown. I couldn’t finish it then, so I’m coming back to it now.


Meltdown 1

Boyfriend and I come home after a terrible visit with my dad. After being picked apart, disrespected, mocked, invalidated, and made to feel like a worthless mess, I stand up and demand to be taken home. My dad drives us home in silence while I internalize all of the messages I’ve received, both explicitly and implicitly, that I’m a useless and ungrateful failure.

We get home.

I sit down, in silence.

Then I start telling boyfriend what I think. I’m a failure. I’ll never amount to anything. I’m not really autistic, I’m just a lazy girl who doesn’t want to be responsible. I’m a liar and a fake, and I’ve been fooling us both all along. You deserve someone better, and you should leave me before I ruin your life. We’re going to be poor because I’m useless. None of the things I’m feeling are real.

He counters. Calmly, he uses logic to refute my statements. You couldn’t possibly fool me so completely – you’d have to be a genius at acting. We’re not going to be poor, because I can work and you’re going to college and you’re good at what you do. Besides, we don’t need a lot of money. You’re amazing and you’re exactly what I want and need. You really are autistic, and your thoughts and feelings are real. I can see it. There’s no way you could pretend to be autistic this well. You’re a good person, and we’re going to have a good and happy life.

I sob uncontrollably. Sobs that feel like being turned inside out.

He holds me with firm, even pressure. I begin to quiet. But I’m still very conflicted. I ask again. Am I a failure? Am I really autistic? He answers all the questions I can think of, with his calm and patient logic. He tells me how much he loves me and that he thinks I’m amazing.

I feel a bit lighter. I squeak and bounce. This feels good. I do it more. I squeak and bounce and flap around the house. Then, I sit in my office chair with my knees up to my chest and rock back and forth. “I’m a (my name) ball”, I say. Then I say it again, and again. I sing it in various tunes for a time, while rocking and twirling my hair. Boyfriend encourages my stimming.

I start to want to talk about what happened again. I want to process it. I try to ask boyfriend what he is thinking, but the words won’t come out. They’re in my head, neatly ordered in their sentence, but when I try to speak them, all that comes out is “think think”. I can’t make my voice do the inflection that indicates a question. I pull up a google doc, and write that I can’t talk and need to type instead. He asks if he should type as well, and I type that it’s okay if he just talks. We carry on a conversation like that for quite awhile, trying to make sense of what happened and trying to regain my grip over my own reality. It’s hard, and I have to fight for it, but I begin to be able to think rationally again.

Eventually, I just start talking. I don’t really think about it; it just happens. My boyfriend asked me something, and a word popped out of my mouth. I’m not totally okay yet, but I’m beginning to feel like me again. I keep stimming all night and end up calm enough to sleep.

 

Meltdown 2

Only days after the first meltdown, boyfriend and I are awoken at 8 in the morning by an unceremonious knock at the door. It’s Friday, and our day off. Boyfriend scrambles out of bed to get the door, and we find out that our landlord decided to install all new windows in our apartment that day. Yes, without sufficient notice and in the middle of winter.

At first I start panicking. I hyperventilate and pace around the apartment while waiting for the workers to arrive and begin the installation.

They arrive, and I run into the office to hide. I feel numb at this point, and sink into myself.

Then the noises start. I don’t know or care what they’re doing; all I’m aware of are the painful noises bursting into my head and invading my consciousness. The cold slowly creeps in, and soon our entire apartment is freezing.

They begin working on the office window. I run to the bedroom, only to find a gaping hole and searing bright light.

I try to go back to the living room, but it’s not safe either. It’s filled with strange men and pounding noises and vicious light. Our furniture is moved and the room is unfamiliar. There is no safe place.

I freeze in the hallway. I am a scared animal with nowhere to run.

My eyes dart everywhere, avoiding the light and looking for a place to hide. I feel the workers looking at me, and am dimly aware that they probably think I’m crazy. But I can’t look at them, or even acknowledge them.

I realize then that our kitchen has no windows.

I dart through the hostile living room to get to the kitchen. I might’ve nearly run into someone, but I’m not sure. I couldn’t process what was going on around me.

In the kitchen, I sit in a ball on the floor with my knees pulled tightly to my chest. I plug my ears, close my eyes, put my head down, and rock back and forth. After a little while, my boyfriend finds me and brings me a blanket (which I promptly put over my head) and ear plugs. He sits down with me. We stay like that for awhile, I don’t know how long.

Finally, the job is done and the workers are leaving. I’m cold, disoriented, angry, and sad. I begin to realize I’m hungry too. My boyfriend and I decide that the best thing to do was to get our environment back to normal, and then eat our normal breakfast. We did, and then we were mostly okay.

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Echolalia as Comfort

On a recent trip to the grocery store (which is often a stressful experience for me), this happened:

When we got to the checkout and started unloading our things onto the conveyor belt, I noticed that we forgot to put our lemon in its own little bag. There was a moment of inward shock as I realized this and worried about what I should do.

I said: “Oh, our lemon isn’t in a bag.”

Boyfriend said: “It’s not bagged.”

We figured there wouldn’t be much point in running back for a bag, so we just put the lemon on the conveyor belt as is. And then I proceeded to repeat “it’s not bagged” softly to myself. It’s not bagged. It’s not bagged. It’s not bagged. After doing that for a bit, I felt much calmer and was actually kind of enjoying myself. Boyfriend was having fun too, and was also occasionally saying “it’s not bagged” back to me. If the cashier noticed, he didn’t let on, and he certainly didn’t treat us differently because of it.

Later, when we got home, I would sometimes just start saying “it’s not bagged!” while bouncing and flapping. It ended up being one of the better grocery trips we’d had, and neither one of us was particularly drained afterwards.


Echolalia is the verbal repetition of words or phrases.

When I say something echolalic, my mind goes into a state of pleasant blankness and focuses just on the words. I feel light, airy, and far away from my worries. The situation feels simple and factual, and I’m able to be calm.

Usually, I repeat a word or phrase I’ve just heard (or said) that I like, either because of the way it sounds or how it sums up a situation or idea. In the case of “it’s not bagged”, it was both. Repeating a simple word or phrase is reassuring and comforting. In the above example, it helped me process something unexpected (the lack of lemon bag) in an already trying situation (the sensory overload of the grocery store), and turn it into something fun.

Even now, when I think “it’s not bagged” I get that pleasant blank feeling and remember the positive experience grocery shopping. It also reminds me of the wonderful feeling of acceptance when I realized that my boyfriend really didn’t mind me echolaling in public. He actually found it endearing and fun.

For me, echolalia also often overlaps verbal stimming (which I do a lot of, like really a lot). I first heard this adorable Korean song “I love Egg”  [watch the Korean version. Warning: flashing colors at the beginning of the animation] when I was about 16. In it, there’s a phrase that sounds to me like “ung pung pung” that I just love even though I don’t know what it means. Now, at 23, I’ll often say “ung pung pung” in the same cute voice as in the song when I’m happy or excited about something. Not only does it help me express the feeling, it also helps me experience the feeling. When I say it, I feel more immersed in my own happiness and excitement. And if I say it when I’m not particularly happy, I’ll actually feel a little wave of happiness.

So, in a way, both “it’s not bagged” and “ung pung pung” are about increasing comfort. The former comforted me in a stressful situation and now reminds me of that comfort, and the latter expresses and amplifies my comfort. Simply put, echolalia makes me feel better.