*Below is an anecdotal account of what it's like to melt down. I have used information from autistic friends. However, I've tried to tell this in a first person narrative in order to keep my friends' privacy intact. Please note, I'm not speaking of aggression.
I'm really terrible with managing my emotions. For me, feelings fall into two categories- forced apathy and everything else. When I melt, I melt big.
Sometimes, I know it's coming.
There is a tsunami of emotions racing through me, maybe for an hour, day, week or even month. I'll congratulate myself inwardly for not blowing up, for not crying. I try to appear as "normal" as possible, but that add to the wave I know is coming.
I start to notice that sounds sound louder, textures sharper, emotions are "bigger." I feel like I'm in a pressure cooker and it scares me.
A meltdown can be described as peddling a bike up a big, slippery, and steep hill. It feels like a heavy load is attached to the back and front of whatever I'm fighting. I push and push to get to the top, battling my emotions and flight or fight reflex, just barely feel the crest, and then, I start to speed out of control and I fly down.
I cannot stop, it's all systems go. My brakes no longer work and any coping mechanism I've developed is tossed to the wayside. I might get hurt on the way to the end, or hurt others, but I know it's coming and, to a degree, that makes me feel better.
I can't stop until I crash at the bottom of the hill.
Pieces of emotions are everywhere I turn. It feels better to finally explode than it does to keep it bottled up.
Sometimes, I don't remember my melts accurately. I do and say things without any impulse control. I throw things, say things which aren't true, and cry a lot. I shake, I have millions of racing thoughts. I get dizzy, even.
My melts can last for hours. I try my damnedest to stay out of other people's way, lest they get hurt by my words or flying objects. Most of the time, I'm avoiding my triggers left and right, top to bottom. I'm trying to not fall apart.
When fight or flight have kicked in, basic instinct often takes over. Autistics lash out at the people around us because, often, they're safe. We know, though not in the moment, that our safety net will hold us.
You have to understand that, when you're on the receiving end, there isn't much a person can do to reign in the overwhelming feelings they're feeling. If we've reached the implosion stage, it scares the hell out of us. Nine out ten times, things are going to happen that would never occur under optimal or sub par conditions. We've tried and failed to keep things in check.
So, what can you do to help an autistic during these times?
Allow the storm to rage until it's over. Bottling up what's remaining isn't going to help anyone.
Ensure that they (and you) are safe, if possible. Don't chase them unless they're bolting into traffic or at a real risk of hurting themselves, chasing only heightens the "flight" in fight or flight. Speak calmly, no matter how hard that may be. Sometimes, being held helps. Applying deep pressure also helps.
Allow them to stim, to yell, pace, and cry. Don't tell someone, "Suck it up" because we can't. If you know the person's triggers, try to keep those at bay.
The best thing anyone can say, for me, is "I love you. It's going to be okay."
If you're autistic, how do you manage your meltdowns? What can others do to understand and help?