There is one thing in life that is inevitable and also the cause of most of my anxieties and frustration. Change. Not the stuff you keep in your pockets though, I am referring to change as in a situation changing. There are changes to everyone’s lives that can ruin an entire day. Like if you were relaxing at home on a day off work then you get a phone call saying you need to come in. It’s understandable why a change like that might affect you in a bad way but what happens when the change is good?
Good changes include getting presents at Christmas and birthdays, being told you are going to the seaside today, an impromptu meeting with a friend or acquaintance or in my case last week, being told I could fill the space on an autism friendly college course. I got told on Wednesday that I could do the course on budgeting on Thursday. I was really excited because I haven’t really been out doing much since the last course which ended in December also because a friend from the last course would also be on this one. The trouble was, as the change was so last minute, I had inner turmoil. I enjoyed the day and managed to stay calm throughout but when I got home I started to feel anger inside me. Suddenly the change had taken it’s toll and Thursday, which is usually a very dull day indeed, had been disrupted. All of Wednesday evening and Thursday I was raging on and off in a massive meltdown.
The following day when I had calmed down and recovered from the prescription medication which knocks me out in such an event, I was with my support worker. When she asked why I was so upset the day before I explained it was because of the change. She then said ‘But why? It was a good change and you agreed to it.’ I found this hard to explain! So here is the explanation:
I have a mainly pictoral memory, so when I plan my days/weeks, I see images in my head to represent each step of the day. Once each step is completed, I am able to move on to the next, and so on until I reach the end of the day. My brain on Wednesday had fixated on the idea that Thursday would go like this:
Wake up. Have Breakfast. Get dressed. Feed rabbits. Play Sims3. Read a book. Have lunch…. etc.
Wake up. Have Breakfast. Get dressed. Feed rabbits. GO TO COLLEGE *****^%”*^(“*^(%”
The random punctuation marks represent the confusion that follows going to college. I am unable to re-program my pictoral routine to fit college in and I end up feeling ‘swirly headed’. *Swirly headed is the way I describe how I feel when too many unnameable emotions are all shooting round my head, kind of how laundry swirls round a washing machine.* This usually results in one of two kinds of meltdown, depending on whether I enter fight or flight mode. If I enter fight mode I end up in my bedroom, adrenaline pumping, screaming loudly, smashing things, swearing, banging my head, biting myself and generally being destructive and disruptive. Thankfully the staff now know to leave me alone when I am in this mode as I have become aggressive in the past. When I am in flight mode, I go very quiet and withdrawn. I have a tendency to lock myself away in my bedroom, become very teary and I feel as if I am unable to speak properly. Either emotional reaction can take from three days to a week to completely recover from and it causes me great distress, whichever type of meltdown I have.
So next time you get an autistic person a present and they react in an unusual way, just remember that they too might be feeling overwhelmed by the unexpected change and that it is not them being rude or ungrateful. .