My Meltdown at the Bus Stop

Sep 18, 2022 | Burnout, General, Trauma

Oops I did it again…

If you read my blogs with any frequency, you may have noticed that there’s often music running through my mind. And it’s not always the music of my choosing. Sometimes it’s music that I would never intentionally listen to. And sorry Britney Spears, I have never, and would never choose “Oops I Did it Again” to play once, let alone to have as an earworm on loop.

Yet, that phrase is so relevant to what I experienced when it hit me (baby one more time), that I had ‘done it again’.

What is ‘it’? What did I do again?

I overdid it again. Even though I already knew that the previous week had been too much. Even though in my psychology session, when asked what I was experiencing, my brain’s immediate reply was “Too much, too much, too much…”

So I had already done too much the week of August 29, and before I had recuperated, I was doing it again during the week of Sept 5.

Oops I did it again meme

I think I’m breaking down again – at the fucking bus stop of all places

Fortunately the next earworm that would take hold was a song from an artist that I love. Florence + The Machine has a song called Breaking Down, and I kept hearing the lyrics Oh, oh, I think I’m breaking down again.

Unfortunately, I was really breaking down, or as they like to say in the world of autism, I was going into meltdown. My brain was now shouting “TOO MUCH, TOO MUCH, TOO MUCH” and begging me for mercy. But another part of my brain was telling me that I “just needed to” do what was left on my task list, and then I would absolutely take that much needed rest.

Can you guess which part came out on top? I guess the title of this section gives it away. Although I quite often can mask enough in public to keep from having meltdowns, I was just too fragile. Dysregulated. Overwhelmed. And yeah, crying at the bus stop isn’t the worst public meltdown that could happen. But it was a definite ‘barometer’ for my mental health status and a very potent reminder that there are eventually consequences to ignoring my needs.

So what was all this “too much” stuff?

My schedule looked like this:

Weekend of Aug 27-28: Prepare home for rental inspection. Even though I am tidy, once I start on a deep clean, it’s hard to stop. So I didn’t have a weekend recovery period.

Monday August 29:
9:30 – Home inspection by landlords (private rental)
10:45 – Psychology appointment (discussed a super difficult topic)
12:30 – Podiatry appointment (at a new practice with a new podiatrist)
2:00 – Grocery shopping

Tuesday August 30:
11:00 – Dentist (new practice, new dentist, unfamiliar drive/parking)
3:45 – Child’s support worker attends for in-home session
5:00 – Attend telehealth counselling appointment for child

Wednesday August 31 
9:30 – Zoom meeting for work
12:00 – Lunch with friend

Thursday September 1
11:30 – Osteopath appointment
1:00 – counselling appointment (I ended up cancelling due to fatigue)
1:00 – Roofer attends home to check on leak
3:30 – Take child to social skills group (gone from 3:30-6:15 due to length of session, distance, and traffic)
6:00 – Online course in Health Recovery (Did not attend due to fatigue)

Friday September 2
10:15 – Appointment with new therapist (required tram ride, finding location, meeting new person, and talking about traumatic, difficult stuff)
11:30 – Shopping in city area where appointment was, including lunch in busy restaurant
2:30 – take tram home; then take bus home
4:30 – Child’s support worker in our home

And in the midst of all of this I am also doing the ‘usual’ stuff. Getting kids ready for school, making meals, cleaning the house, doing laundry, paying bills, meal planning, taking care of the dog, working…

And the weekend brought no reprieve. Saturday I had a hair appointment that I had already rescheduled once so I had to wrestle with whether to go through the stress of rescheduling, or attending. I chose attending because at least there was a positive outcome. And then Sunday was Father’s Day. I had invited my in-laws over for dinner.

And the week ahead was not looking any better.

Burnout

Why did I think I could do all of this?

Sometimes when I am coping well, I think that I can handle more than I actually can.

Here’s the thing that I am still working on, and also coming to accept. There are going to be times where I miscalculate what I am capable of. There are going to be times when I can’t or don’t allow enough self-care and recovery time.

This morning, I learned that even Gabor Maté, a world expert on trauma, struggles with something similar. I was listening to Joe Rogan interview Gabor, and Gabor said “Every once in a while when I’ve been triggered I can behave like I’ve never learned anything at all. Sometimes when you’re triggered the circuits in your brain that can regulate you, guide you, ground you go offline. I can still go offline sometimes but much less than I ever used to and I come back to groundedness much more rapidly.”

One of the issues I’ve struggled with is the idea that I can ‘learn’ to be a perfect person. That if I just do all of the right things, I will be able to avoid fucking up. I used to really beat myself up for my inability to apply what I had learned. It was incredibly validating to hear a world expert in trauma admit his own ‘imperfection’.

 There is always going to be variability in what happens from day to day; week to week. There are hormonal inputs. There are things that will happen that are out of my control. And on paper, the following week didn’t look too bad at first. And if I hadn’t had such a crazy week the previous week, I don’t think I would have ended up crying at the bus stop.

But often I make my future plans based on my current capacity (or perceived capacity, or desired capacity). When I made those plans, I am sure I thought I could handle all of it. I thought that I would have the ability to give myself the self care that I would need to recover. That I would go into a bit of capacity ‘debt’ and then be able to repay it.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions

Ah, another earworm that burrowed into my brain. I am not sure who wrote it, but I can recall hearing a country song with this sentiment often when I was a child.

All of my good intentions of ‘getting shit done’ now and resting later led me into a personal hell.

The week of September 5 started to fill up with things that I hadn’t predicted or expected. I didn’t realise that my period would be starting. That I would have to get blood work done. That someone would want to set up a phone call to talk about potential new clients for my web design business (and that that someone would also miss the call time like it was no big deal. But to me, it’s a lot of mental preparation, rehearsal, and anticipation anxiety which would then be repeated if we rescheduled). Or that I would have my most important client needing a completely new project done within one day, which also happened to be my wedding anniversary. And so I had to just do my best to roll with it. All while holding the awareness of “Too much, too much, too much”.

By the time Friday rolled around I was beyond stressed and just thinking about how to get through the day. And the day started early. I was expected in the city for my appointment at 9am. My husband dropped me off by the tram. It was raining. The tram payment system was not working, so by the time the attendant explained this to me, the tram left. She assured me another one would be there very soon. But already things are not going to plan and I am stressed.

The next tram does arrive, and I will be on time. But I am flustered. As I get on the tram, I have too much on my mind and I cut in front of someone. He looks rough. He is wearing a blue bandana as his ‘mask’. He has a hood pulled up. You can’t see much of his face. He’s definitely someone who I am not comfortable with but I apologise and he seems fine. We sit down on the tram, and while we are not directly across from one another, he is in my line of sight a couple of rows away.

I don’t think about him too much as I adjust my headphone settings and choose music. But suddenly I can’t help but to notice him. He’s standing up and he’s shouting at someone behind me. He’s aggressively yelling at another man on the tram and trying to provoke a physical fight. The tram doors are shut. I have no way to get off the tram. It’s not very crowded yet, as we got on the tram at the first station. My nervous system, already dysregulated, goes into distress.

The other guy doesn’t respond. Blue bandana man eventually sits down. It looks like he’s drinking an alcoholic drink. I try my best not to look his way, so I am not sure. But now my brain is trying to figure out what to do. I am worried because I had cut him off earlier. Maybe he would follow me off the tram. Flight was my first instinct, but I worry about him following me off of the tram at a quiet station.

The tram keeps getting busier and busier, so I feel a bit safer with more people around. I decide to stay on the tram until my stop – the final stop of the tram line. He gets off one station prior. I go to my appointment, and afterwards head straight back to the station, and back to the town centre near home.

I had a couple of errands to do before I caught the bus home. I go into the pharmacy to pick up some medication for my child. It’s really crowded in there and the aisles are small. I am already stressed, and crowded places add to that stress.

But I am telling myself to just get what’s on my list, and once I am home I can relax.

how crowded the shops seemed

It seems that the universe had different plans for me

If I hadn’t learned my lesson in taking on too much, I was sure gonna learn it before I went home.

As I begin my shop, I get a call from my doctor’s office. I get that sinking feeling of dread because I am waiting on results from blood tests. They are really just typical blood work, not looking for anything crazy – but because of my medical anxiety, I have been worried about what the blood work would show. The reception on my phone is poor, so there are communication issues. But eventually I find out that the doctor wants to see me for a non-urgent follow up. So my mind shifts into worst-case-scenario mode. And I get even more dysregulated. But I keep on keeping on. Just gotta tick all the tasks off my list, you know?

As I am making my way down an aisle, there is a woman sticking her bum out while she looks at something from the shelf. The thing I need to grab is just past her. So I say ‘excuse me’ and she does not react at all. So I figure maybe she’s caught up in reading the package she’s looking at and I try it again. Still nothing. A third attempt is made. At this point she turns to me and starts berating me for talking to her. She tells me not to talk to her, and that she isn’t going to move. She is forceful and mean.

This is completely unexpected. I go right into freeze. I walk away. I pay for what I already had in my cart, and get the rest of what I need from another shop. But all the while I am really upset. I text my husband to call me when he’s not with a client.

By the time he calls a few minutes later I am already at the bus stop. When I start talking to him about what happened, the tears just start flowing. I can’t help it. I can’t stop them. I can’t tell them to come back later when I am at home. They just flow. I don’t even worry about how I look. I don’t worry about what people think of me. I just hurt so much and I just want to feel safe and regulated and I want to shut the world out. My husband helps me calm down. He offers to cancel his next client and to come pick me up. But I feel calm enough to make the short bus ride home.

crying woman covering face

Surrender

Once I get home, I decide that I am going to have a rest even though I have my child’s support worker coming over. I decide to rest, and that I will talk to the support worker at the end of the session instead of at the beginning.

I grabbed a weighted blanket, and a hot water bottle. I got out of my ‘going out’ clothes. I climbed into my bed and I fell asleep so freaking hard. And for the rest of that day, and all day Saturday, and all day Sunday, I pretty much just did the ‘must-do’ things.

I surrendered to my need to repay my capacity debt with some extreme self-care which was kindly supported by my husband who took the kids out on both Saturday and Sunday.

And I’d like to say that I spent this week feeling caught up, but I haven’t. I haven’t had anywhere near the amount of commitments. But repaying the debt is going to take a lot more time than I had hoped. My nervous system has been so heightened for so long that I find that it’s more difficult to relax. Although I’ve had a lot of ideas for writing, I haven’t written until today, aside from a poem and an email to my psychologist.

And while it’s possible that I’ll always find it frustrating that I don’t have the capacity that I would like to have, I am learning to surrender to it. That doesn’t mean that I bypass the frustration, or that I paper over how unjust it seems to have so much creativity and desire to do more – but not enough capacity to meet what I’ve been taught is my ‘potential’.

All of those feelings are still there. I acknowledge them. But I also accept that there are limitations and that those limitations will vary at times. Yes, at times my autistic brain wants to live in a world of all-or-nothing, or certainties, or consistent expectations – and this is especially so when I am dysregulated – but I am learning to surrender more to what is, and to adapt accordingly. 

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