Have I been experiencing meltdowns and shutdowns?

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Emu Egg
Emu Egg

Joined: 20 May 2018
Age: 33
Gender: Male
Posts: 5
Location: UK

25 Jun 2018, 4:16 pm

For the past few years I’ve been trying to work out whether I’m on the autistic spectrum or not. Finding out about meltdowns is really opening my mind when thinking of my past.

I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder when I was 23, and diagnosed with depression, OCD and anxiety when I was 14-15. So, naturally, panic attacks have been a thing I’ve had to deal with for all this time. However, the more I find out about meltdowns, the more I’m wondering if what I experienced sometimes were these instead because there was a point in my teens I started calling some of my panic attacks “anger attacks”, where I’d become almost enraged, and out of absolutely nowhere or over seemingly the tiniest things.

I’d never experienced them before the age of 13-14, before my panic attacks started, so I know many people would put it down to depression and anxiety mixed with puberty and hormones… but I don’t believe it was that simple. A panic attack wouldn’t make someone end up behaving like I did. Having grown up being a typical child that had bratty tantrums now and then, from what I’ve read and experienced, I understand the differences between a tantrum and a meltdown now.

When I’d have an “anger attack”, I’d feel a strong sense of anger and frustration that felt like an internal itch I couldn't scratch, I usually couldn’t/wouldn’t talk, my muscles would tense, I’d feel very frightened and on edge but invincible, and I’d feel rushes of adrenaline through me as though every sense had been turned up to the max and my brain was overloading, so someone trying to touch me or speak to me (my mum, usually) was painful mentally and physically.

Other things that would happen would be: I’d make humming noises, I’d shout and scream almost involuntarily, I’d rock violently back and forth or to-and-fro, I’d flinch at nothing but the mental pain I felt, I’d tic a lot, I’d repeatedly slap or hit a wall or the floor (sometimes I’d be on the floor having them), and I’d punch my thighs.

I’d also get the typical panic attack symptoms such as short breath, hyperventilation, the sensation of pins and needles, I’d feel very alone and confused, and it’d feel like it’d never come to an end. Which leads me to believe the panic attacks triggered them sometimes, because I couldn’t gain control of them and they escalated.

Also, my mum made me worse. She became violent with me if I didn’t calm down when she told me to. She’d get inches from my face, restrain me, punch me, slap me, pull my hair, etc. and said nasty things to me that I was “mental”, “crazy” and “mad”, and threatened to call the police and/or a mental hospital many times to have me “taken away”. And this went on for over a decade.

She would also keep on and on at me, having a go at me, talking nastily to or about me to others in the family if they were there at the time, and wouldn’t stop, despite watching me and hearing me going through it all. I’d tell her/them to leave me alone and let me calm down in my own time, but they just wouldn’t, which made me continue to suffer.

Some of these attacks would build up within a matter of seconds or minutes, sometimes over the course of a day. They’d stay for up to an hour sometimes, then disappear; the stress lifted off me like someone turning off a switch in my brain, it was that sudden. It wasn’t a gradual calm.

I’d then become a deadweight, uncontrollably cry, feel exhausted and often fell asleep straight after, or I’d seem to regress into a childlike state; I’d be even more unresponsive, I’d stare into space, wouldn’t make eye contact, and sometimes I’d suck/gnaw on something, like my hand, for comfort.

I’d not always remember things that’d happen during these attacks either, in-fact there was one incident my brother told me about once when we were in our teens, where I’d climbed out my window, onto the roof and wouldn’t come back inside. My brother had to phone our uncle to help get me in. I don’t remember this happening at all, which is kind of weird and scary!

What’d set these attacks off would be anything. Either something minor like burning some toast, to the pressure to go to school.

I had a lot of issues going into school from the age of 13 due to so many different, difficult things going on in my life all at once, and my mental health gradually got worse until I had a breakdown. I guess I reacted to that the most, being made to go to school. I haven’t had one of these attacks for a few years, but the last one was very traumatic and, yep, my mum made it worse again!

So, then we come to shutdowns.

With these, I've only read about properly in recent weeks, so I don't know a lot about them still, but I can relate to certain symptoms of those too. Where I thought it was simply depression coming over me for 24-48 hours, it might have been a shutdown instead.

I’ve recently gone through one of these moods. It built up on the Thursday and ended on the Monday. I’ve realised, now looking back in my life, this has happened a few times before, since my teens/early 20s, and they’ll come out of the blue when I’ve had enough and there’s too much going on either in my life or in my head.

During these moods, it feels like an effort to talk and move, everything in my body feels heavy. Not painful or achy, just heavy and numbing, sort of. Also, when I try to talk, it's very simple words that I’ll use.

These moods are harder to describe than my “anger attacks” because I don’t really feel or do anything during them, whereas in the latter, I’m feeling everything at once.

That’s basically all I can really say about what I’ve experience, and I’d be interested to learn whether or not what I’ve described could potentially indicate that I’ve had meltdowns and shutdowns. I will make another thread about why I feel I’m on the autistic spectrum, but I wanted to get this thread out first.

I just want to understand myself better, why I think and act the way I do, why I don’t quite “get” things, why I don’t “fit” anywhere. I’m here to learn, and if I’m perfectly honest, having researched many different mental health issues and disorders and all sorts, Asperger’s Syndrome is the last thing to rule out. So, if I’m not on the spectrum… I really don’t know why I’m the way I am.

Thanks for reading. Sorry it was a gigantic post! I look forward to reading some replies. :)


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Joined: 2 Feb 2016
Age: 49
Gender: Male
Posts: 3,050
Location: Yorkshire, UK

25 Jun 2018, 5:02 pm

What you describe as your "anger attacks" certainly sound like my experience of meltdown. I've had anxiety/panic attacks, and like you, I feel they are distinctly different, but unless I recover very quickly, they can easily lead to a meltdown. To me, your description of sensory behaviours (rocking, humming, hitting etc. which could be read as stimming), amnesia, hypersensitivity and how you are afterwards (unresponsive, sleepy, sensory seeking) definitely strike me as more typical of a meltdown than a panic attack.

The other behaviour doesn't sound so much like a shutdown, which I experience as having a similar rapid onset, after-effects and recovery as a meltdown, but it does sound a lot like what is often called "autistic burnout". Burnout is similar to a shutdown, but is where the cumulative effect of stresses over time cause a less acutely disabling, but more persistent, state of reduced brain functioning. The causes, as with a meltdown, could be any combination of emotional stresses, over-stimulation due to sensory sensitivity, or just the strain of keeping up a facade of expected social behaviour. In effect, it's the brain insisting on a break by trying to force us to lie low for a while with only vital functions ticking over. You might find this article about burnout <click here> a useful read to see if it matches your experience; from what you've said already, I think you'll find at least part of it familiar.

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