When Autism and Anxiety Go Hand in Hand

Adapted from The Mighty

Which came first? The anxiety or the autism? For me, was always classified as a “worry wart” as a child before receiving my Aspergers Diagnosis at the age of 13. My anxiety manifests in many different ways. I have a lot of trouble driving anxiety as well, especially when I’m going through a difficult time. It can cause me to become disassociated and make me feel unsafe.

When I get anxious, I can get really fixated on things. I need to complete the task or find the object before my anxiety can go away. This can lead me to do the same things over and over again, even when I know it won’t work. I can usually tell when something actually needs to be worried about vs. my irrational anxiety, but I don’t have the capacity to stop the irrational anxiety.

My social anxiety is another difficulty for me. I struggle going to do something that’s new or at a new or diferent place than I have been to in the past, and getting there is the hardest part, although oftentimes once there I am really glad i did  I also have to psych myself up pretty hard to make or answer phone calls. Recently, I went through a highway pedestrial underpass in my town a few blocks from my home that I feared my entire life. I might have looked like a queen running through it,  but I did it and the end result paid dividends.

My biggest tip for coping is to not diminish your anxiety. My anxiety about all the little things might not make sense or seem important to you, but that doesn’t mean it’s not 100 percent valid and real to me.

 

Coping with anxiety as an autistic person means knowing your limitations and how to help yourself. I always have my phone with me because those are two things that can help my anxiety level go down quickly. I also know the grocery store ofetntimes  is way too much for me, thankfully the local grocer offers home delivery. I’m able to plan ahead and make sure that when I venture into the outside world, it is as easy for me as possible. Humming helps me alleviate my anxiety as well. I can pour all my nervous energy into my fingers twitching. I also make sure to have an emergency plan in place for social situations I have never been in before, just in case I misjudged my abilities.

Nothing is going to make my anxiety go away or even get better. I’ve learned how to cope with anxiety and not let it rule my life. I have my supports, both human and objects to lean on. I’ve even gotten to the point where my body is displaying the panic attack symptoms but my brain is not on board. That is a huge leap forward for me. I am so proud of how I deal with my anxiety every single day.

 

Reflections of a Meltdown

Note: Adapted from the article from the Aspergian and related to my last meltdown

It wasn’t a bad day, in fact it was pretty good. I had worked out earlier in the day and it stormed in the morning, later I would learn that my parents had issues with their broadband service.

They had called our provider, who by far is the best in the region. They came out and had seemed to repair the issue. Later, we discovered that the Internet was not working after my mother was told that she needed a new router.

In the process of reconnecting, we discovered this and as such had to call the broadband provider again, which they are very nice. After troubleshooting, which when they are over 100 miles away they do their best given all the advances in technology a small provider has, although because of one thing or another we were not having success.

But lo and behold, they put it on and I started getting irrate. I couldn’t even feel it coming on.  I was cursing, I was stomping around slamming doors. I said irrational things like “I needed to cancel all my serice (although I don’t live with my parents) and that the person on the phone needs to “pay.”

Of course they scheduled a service call, but the damage had already been done.  I was crying, cursing, screaming…  I was having what many autistic people described as a meltdown.

After the fact, I could reflect a little more about why that event was so triggering.  Because I had mentioned the “Time Tunnel”  and then being told it isnt true, I was continuing to be mad, however I spent the rest of our visit telling the truth about the past year.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines a meltdown as a breakdown from fatigue or overstimulation.  It’s a good starting place to describe what exactly is happening.  The Interactive Autism Network describes a meltdown as an “instability.”

Think of it like this: you’re working with a computer, and you’re giving it too many commands at once.  What does the computer do?

At first, it kind of shuts down.  It doesn’t respond to any of the input that you’re sending to it.  But then something interesting happens: everything starts flashing, windows start opening and closing all at once, maybe keyboard strokes from moments ago start appearing on the screen.

You can say the computer has reached an instability and is responding as best it can to all of the input that it has received.  That’s kind of what it is like in the autistic mind when a meltdown occurs.  The whole system– not just the brain– becomes overwhelmed.  This can happen for many reasons; for instance, in my situation last week, it happened because I had the best intentions and had planned something to happen.  What actually happened was totally contrary to what I expected…  thus: meltdown.

It can be very difficult for neurotypical people to understand exactly what’s going on during a meltdown.  They can also be difficult to describe as every autistic person experiences meltdowns slightly differently.

When I feel one coming, it’s like mental pressure building, my movements become more agitated and jerky.

CIRCUITRY OVERLOAD

The fact is, meltdowns are not something that we choose to do.  These aren’t just emotional reactions to not getting our way.  They’re not tantrums, not even in children.  They are very much an overloading of our mental circuity.

What is the way forward?  What is the best way to deal with meltdowns?  It’s all about putting more tools in your tool chest.  Knowing your own personal signs and triggers, knowing what it feels like before having a meltdown, will help you be able to prevent them.

If you’re autistic, you need to know it’s okay to to set healthy boundaries for your loved ones by making it clear that you might need to wear ear plugs or sun glasses, stim to help regulate your nervous system, decline some invitations, or take social breaks during events.

If you are a loved one of someone who is autistic, be gentle and kind while the person is having a meltdown and after.  Often, they need space.  When the person is calm and having a good day would be a good time to talk about how you can best support them when they feel meltdowns coming on, during a meltdown, and afterwards.

Also I think that practicing radical acceptance is key–not only for autistic loved ones, but for those of us on the spectrum, as well.  I am autistic and just as much as my ability to pay attention to details is a part of who I am, meltdowns are also a part of who I am.  I can get better at avoiding them, but overwhelm will still happen.

It doesn’t make me a bad person, it just makes me autistic.  I tend to be a spiritual person, so I see myself exactly as God planned me to be.  Learning how to accept and embrace my autistic self– that is my life’s goal.

The Coke Can Effect

Recently on Facebook, I seen a post where a picure of a child was pictured laying on the floor underneatht table, it mentioned ADHD and Anxiety, which alot of times go hand in hand with individuals on the spectrum, however it is referred to as the “Coke Can effect” and while the majority of behaviors occured for me decades ago throughout childhood and adolescence, it too occured when I would come home to no one to let me vent when I got home at the end of the day well into my adulthood.

As caregivers may know, individuals within school and work systems are oftentimes bullied, abuse, mistreated and so forth. As for myself I was not told to express my concerns or what or assert for what I felt what I was right, as such I would “bottle it up” until I got home, then I would release all the negative thoughts so much that I would hyperventilate and become overly nauseous.  That I would just want to lay down and relax, let alone the former sleep issues prior to having the proper medications 20 years ago,

While until about five years ago, my mother worked diferent hours that I would be at school or programming, however my father worked the same job for almost 20 years of his life until he retired, as such I had him as a support, but oftentimes I couldnt open up to him for some reason or another, therefore when my mother would come home and usually at the dinner table, I would let the feelings and expressions flow then I would lay low foe some time because It would burn me out especially from school the need to just rest, and if I have a busy day, I still do to this day.

In summary, there are times that indiduals on the spectrum need to take a breather and oftentimes, I use music, we are not ignoring you, we just need a break to regroup and finish our day without making it worse.