Autistic Confessions I Had a Meltdown at Work

The woman on the phone was not listening. I had called her for help and quickly realized that she would not be able to help me.

“I told her never-mind. I’ve made a mistake. I’m going to let you go.” She kept asking questions. Every question she asked I said – “I don’t know. I don’t have any more information. I am going to let you go.”

She kept asking. I told her again – “I need to let you go. You cannot help me.” Her overly helpful insistence that I not hang up the phone was about to make me blow up.

Finally, in a harsh tone I told her – “Look – I was trying to be nice but I am hanging up now because there is NOTHING you can do for me.”

I slammed down the phone and ran quickly out of our office in a panic. My heart was beating fast and my mind was racing. Everything was a blur. I wanted to scream, cry, and hit someone. More than anything I wanted to get away and be alone.

Run. Run. Escape. Escape.

Bursting into the hallway I frantically looked both ways – I wanted to go someplace without people. The bathroom? Elevator? Emergency stairwell! 

Hyperventilating I burst into the stairwell. It was dark and quiet as most people take the elevator. I rand up and down the stairs until finally I collapsed exhausted on the bottom floor.

I sat for a moment, curled in a ball rocking. Grateful for the moment alone – I sat breathing in and listening to my breaths.

Coming back to reality, feeling much better after my tiny explosion (this was a very small meltdown), I realized that I had left my key-card in the desk as I ran out in a panic, so I exited the stairwell and took the elevator back to my floor.

Back at my desk I sat down like nothing ever happened – as if I hadn’t just had a meltdown at work.

When an Autistic person is having a meltdown they are unable to think clearly. The flight or fight response is triggered so forcing them to engage with you can actually cause more stress.

We are all unique individuals but I like to be alone during a meltdown. If I get up and run away don’t chase me – this is flight and if you corner me my brain can switch to fight. I’m on autopilot and running has become the way I protect myself (and those around me).

If I’m having a meltdown please do not touch me. My senses are whirling out of proportion and I am not thinking clearly. I may become unable to communicate other than one word answers and trying to communicate makes me feel worse – so don’t ask me explain what’s happening.

If you are in the room with an Autistic person having a meltdown – turn off the lights, get them a blanket or pillow and some space. A favorite stim toy might also be a good thing to offer.

You can stay in the room if the person you are with does not mind, but give some space and sit quietly.  Accept that they can’t control what is happening to them. Sometimes we feel the meltdown coming but other times it hits without warning.

Once started the meltdown has to run its course. Just wait, let me meltdown and don’t try to stop it. We may feel tired after a meltdown but sometimes we may feel a relief as the pressure may have been building for quite sometime.

Remember – as hard as watching a meltdown may be for you having a meltdown is horrible for an Autistic person. The pain is mental and physical. Autistic people having meltdowns are in crisis mode and our brains are lashing out at us. We don’t mean to freak out and are often embarrassed after having a meltdown.

#ActuallyAutistic

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38 thoughts on “Autistic Confessions I Had a Meltdown at Work”

  1. I am sorry you had to endure that. I know all too well how terrifying and dangerous meltdowns are/can be. This is why I cannot work outside the home. I also can’t handle phones unless I know the person and they speak from a quiet environment as phones amplify things. My meltdowns have been so wild that I have been hospitalized for them. I’m not left alone, I’m screamed at by first responders and barked questions at over and over like I am a criminal. I’m not trying to minimalize what you went through, but I wouldn’t have handled it as well as you did. My rationalization ends where the meltdown begins and I lose control of reality until the meltdown ends. Maybe next time tell the person you have to go, thank them and hang up. Just a thought.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Questions like, melting? From somebody you know, Would help? Or is it kind of embarrasing/insulting to you? Because if I was a coworker my first reaction will be to tray to help you and for an NP probably it would mean the opposite and need a hug…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. P.S. I’ve had to be touched in the past by my mom to break the self harm. Sadly, sometimes I unwittingly hit her in the process. First responders need to take a mandatory course on how to respond to people with special needs in crisis, including autism.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love what you’ve written here. As a person present at many meltdowns but apparently doing some very wrong things, this is extremely helpful. Everything you’re describing here are things I have felt, just times 100. More intense and urgent. But my daughter feels them at this level. Thank you. Keep writing. It’s important.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. that me I can’t explain it like you did .but that what it like for me .i can’t talk I’m like in fight or flight an don’t no what I’m doing at the Monet .im told I almost regress to like I was when more severe that about ,the only time someone might get hit or pinch .dometimes I may start screening hand flapping other times don’t no .it like my autism the boss of me .but I’m allways with people who understand .an if I’m out by myself .i have a card an medical alert neckless say have autism an number to call

    Liked by 3 people

  5. You describe your experience so eloquently, and it is so very helpful for others to understand your situation and identify your needs. Each person is different so each person’s meltdown will be different, but this post helps to empathize with those who experience these situations and have patience to learn their individual needs during those times of crisis. Thank you for sharing your intimate details of such a personal experience. I hope to one day have the courage to share so deeply. Keep up the good work in spreading the word about autism and acceptance. You rock!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hey, thank you for following and bringing your blog to my attention. I’m sorry this is happening to you too. I think I’ve experienced something similar: I was working as a research assistant/interpreter for an international human rights NGO and I was trying to fix a meeting for my boss with the Law & Human Rights Ministry regarding child labour.

    But they didn’t want to meet with my boss because they don’t want to care about the cause (Indonesia is a very corrupt and classist country where nobody cares about domestic workers, even if they’re underaged). I ended up breaking down to tears at a hotel lobby at 06:00 in the morning over the very frustrating phone call. I’ve also nearly thrown tantrums several times.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I called to inquire about a bus service alteration for exam period, and when I realized there wasn’t one I went from zero to meltdown in about 2 seconds. I barely managed to get a “Thank you for the information, bye” out before I hung up on her. I was at home, but so I could freak out on the couch for a bit, but I know how much harder it is to do at work. I hope you feel better soon, and remember, everyone is a narcissist, so I doubt anyone even looked up to notice.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It sucks you have to be mean to get people to leave you alone. I’ve been on your side of it, and the side of the other person. I have a dual understanding, and with that dual understanding, and gained wisdom, your side was the more correct side. Mine ended disastrously; as I was the overly helpful person just wanting, needing to cheer someone up who I believed (not thought) should never have a bad moment in life. You had a meltdown, for you. Others would think you did the right thing, and later overreacted. Too many things are opinionated with belief, instead of being understood for that individual. You had a meltdown. It cannot be argued. Was it right or wrong is not up for debate. You did the BEST you could, and that was thwarted at every turn. How many times can someone get insulted before they lash out? That’s up to the individual. Don’t insult people. Don’t keep poking at them. Don’t get pushy when it is clear something is not wanted. If a meltdown happens, it’s often seen as the person melting down, that has the problem. People need to look in the mirror and think about their own actions, and not over simplify situations. “It was just a question and she blew up and hung up on me.” NO BITCH! How many times did you badger this person? How many time did this person try to END the situation in your favor and then, with understanding, and then with sorrow before losing it on your dumbass?

    Ahem…. Yeah. That’s how I feel about things. blush

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Meltdowns at work are utterly, utterly hideous. I’ve felt and reacted EXACTLY as you describe here. And my issue with phones is such that I have an agreement with my colleagues that my work phone is set to go straight to voicemail (as is anyone else’s if I’m the only one in), I NEVER answer colleagues’ phones, and I get back to callers in my own time and on my terms (often by email if there’s the option).

    I really feel for you – you describe it so well here.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. As the mom of a recently diagnosed HFA young man I can somewhat understand your frustration. Though as a teacher I have had to leave two jobs in my career because of HFA tantrums that were directed at me. Fists shaking, screaming to the point of scaring other students and colleagues who were present. One was a student and the other my supervisor. Both times came at me right out of the blue. I was not interacting with either one. Both have later admitted to being on the spectrum but I did not know it at the time.

    I truly hope that this does not happen a third time, but I was certain it would not happen twice, yet it did. Do you have any advice on how I can productive help or deal with it myself in the future?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you can back away and give the person space. They need to unwind and are often on a hair trigger before erupting. Allow them to take a walk if they are able some down time is the only thing that can help them or they need to let off the steam. That is why I chose vigorous exercise.

      Like

  11. This!……THIS.IS.AMAZING! Just to have insight. Just to have an understanding. My son has a “Safe Place” because he tends to hide during a meltdown, but this really helps me to better understand him and what is going on and what I am doing wrong…I emailed it to my husband too! How amazing, and brave and courageous, and wonderful you are!! Seriously!!! I want to give you the biggest sticker I can find right now because you are my new secret hero!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I know, but at seven he doesn’t verbalize much about his meltdowns. Generally speaking thought, just to get an insight that I would have to wait years for is very helpful on how I can approach him when he is calm and ask more specific questions about what he may or may not need from me to during a meltdown. We try to avoid them at all costs, but they are inevitable… And that’s OK, but my primary goal is to keep him safe. Thank you!❤

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Done this – and labeled as “creating a hostile work environment” for it. There are times I’d like to whip out a “get out of jail free” card to explain the behavior, but then that tends to label me as a freak because people don’t understand mental disabilities in the same way they understand physical disability. The latter is obvious; the former is considered merely “bad manners” or “lazy” or “too sensitive”, as if the brain is a circuit board, easily controlled.

    And even from many people who try to understand, we get “Oh, then I must be a little autistic / OCD / BPD too.” Well no – does it negatively affect your life every day? If not, it’s not a disorder. Do you think I CHOOSE to be this way? Hell no; regarding a previous post on “IQ”, I’d gladly trade 30 IQ points to be more “normal.” I’d still be smart but no longer have these constant social issues that prevent me from doing things.

    Nicely written!

    Liked by 1 person

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