January 20, 2014

What Does A Meltdown or Shutdown Feel Like?

Meltdowns are not fun for anyone, so while it's great to get an idea for what it feels like from the inside, it's best if we can prevent them completely. You may also like to read, How To Prevent A Meltdown.

A meltdown, to me, is an incredibly complex experience that I am going to do my best to break down and describe. The following is what a meltdown feels like for me. There are other accounts (and here's another example). It's not like there's a right way to have one! So if you're looking to understand the phenomenon, you should try to find more first-hand accounts.

Meltdowns happened to me mostly in my teens and early 20s. I would say by 25, I stopped. That's not to say it won't ever happen again, but I hope not. By then, I presume I'd gone through enough therapy and maturing that I have better awareness and control over what is happening to me. As I've gotten older, I have gotten better at not getting myself to that state (or just protecting myself and getting myself out of situations to prevent things from escalating). That's a really important point.

Children do not usually have the power to escape from situations that are triggering, so as a parent, you have to facilitate that for them.

What happens to me now periodically are shutdowns, which are just as frustrating, but quieter and can even go unnoticed to the untrained eye. I still have the occasional passionate outburst, and I can cover that briefly also. My outbursts are mostly harmless and I don't put it in the same category.

Both meltdowns and shutdowns leave me feeling drained and like utter crap. There's really no sugar coating it.

Meltdowns are scary because to get to that point, I have totally lost control. The ones I remember most were caused when people other than my parents were dismissive of me. I learned to tolerate the abuse of my parents, probably just to be able to survive, but I could not tolerate it from anyone else. In my case, when others did it, it really was abusive. I would say, "no, stop that" repeatedly and they didn't listen. They were purposely poking at an open wound. That caused me to totally lose it. These were the only times in my life where I lashed out physically. When it happened, I literally saw red. I cannot see. All I can see is red light and nothing else. It's as if blood has dripped into my eyes and is blinding me. When people say they were so angry, they blacked out and did not even know what they were doing, I think that is what I experienced. Once I raised a chair at my teacher to throw it at him. I was so angry, I could not see. The only thing I remember was the voice of my best friend yelling, almost screaming, "KELLY! KELLY!" until I snapped out of it.

I actually have no regret for scaring that teacher and for whatever reason, I never got in trouble for it. Maybe because it was so out of character for me, who was normally very quiet and on the Honor Roll. Meltdowns are shocking to the person experiencing them because there is really nothing you can do about it. It's out of character and I was capable of hurting people I did not necessarily want to. It can be over as quickly as it started, which makes it strange for on-lookers also. Afterwards, I am left feeling like I've run a marathon - heart beating in my ears, drained, feeling sick and confused.

antony gormley art work of swirly black wire in the shape of a human body
This looks a bit like a meltdown to me. From http://josiemaysoptionsblog.blogspot.ca/2012/12/antony-gormley.html
Check out this artist's other works. They are very good. 
Shutdowns, on the other hand, are not as outwardly expressive for me. They rarely involve anyone else. In fact, I usually retreat until it's over. A shutdown occurs after a long period of stress. For example, in the months following the death of my father. It's a cumulative thing that I call, "running out of cope." It starts like a panic attack and spirals into the absolute worst anxiety attack you can ever imagine. When it hits me, I actually don't even know what I'm feeling. I often feel like I should cry to let it out, but I can't. I want to scream, but I can't. I feel trapped inside my skin and get anxious, dizzy and nauseous. Sometimes I shake/shiver uncontrollably. Sometimes I gag and retch, but I don't usually actually vomit. Other times I have cried uncontrollably, but that's not as common. What I usually do now is take a Dramamine and an Ativan and just go to bed. Sometimes I will play a repetitive mindless game like Bejeweled Blitz to take my mind off of my thoughts. It is worse for me if I try to pretend it's not happening or to talk to anyone. I have tried going out for fresh air and walk and that doesn't help either. Right now the only solution I have is to drug myself and sleep it off. I usually wake up the next morning feeling totally drained and empty.

It should be noted that I only seem to fall apart like this when I know it's safe to fall apart. In other words, when I am sure my husband is able to care for the Little Man. I feel like my subconscious is saying, "ok, you've held it together long enough, now it's ok to let it out!"

Obviously, daily stress management is an important part of keeping these shut downs at bay, but the amount of cope I have at any given time is variable due to well, just life. This is why I put a lot of work into taking care of myself. It is essential I get enough sleep and eat well. It's even more important during times of high stress. This is difficult because when I'm stressed, I don't usually want to sleep or eat. It's tough because it's not about being on a fad diet or frou-frou lifestyle choice. I will simply not be able to be a functional member of my family or society if I don't take care of myself every day. I can't take a day off from self-care without paying for it later in some way.
(Not a complaint, just making people aware of being non-judgmental when you see someone avoiding a certain food or activity. It's not always for the reasons you think.)

If you have any questions about my experience, please feel free to ask. I am an open book. No matter which one it is, both feel really bad to the person going through it and if there's anything you can do to help them not happen, that's greatly appreciated.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to hear from readers. Thanks for your comments!