February 13, 2019

Before learning about autism, I used to have mysterious meltdowns. Well into adulthood, I would sometimes break down crying without understanding why, then apologize shamefully for the tears that I couldn’t justify.

I still have meltdowns occasionally, but less often, because now I understand what triggers them. For me, it’s a combination of sensory overload and cognitive overload, especially when both are surprising.

Once, at a birthday party, I spilled tea on my lap. At the same time, someone brought out cake and everyone started singing.

Once, at work, people were yelling about something. At the same time, someone wanted me to answer a difficult question quickly.

Both times, I ended up bawling on the bathroom floor. Both times, I knew that’s what I needed. I gave myself permission to cry, and I gave myself time to recover.

Meltdowns are harder with the pressure of shame. Recovery is smoother with the safety of self-acceptance.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.