Meltdowns

When I told my husband I thought I might be autistic at the start of 2021 he told me to not be so ridiculous because I couldn’t possibly be autistic because I had plenty of empathy. (Don’t worry, we will get to this lack of public understanding about the differences between sociopathic narcissism and autism that means lack of empathy is perceived to be a core trait of both later.)

By the end of the day, after a bit of googling, he had fully accepted that I was autistic – he was more convinced than I was.

What changed his opinion so rapidly?

My meltdowns.

I have always had huge “temper tantrums” or “emotional outbursts”. At school I managed to keep everything bottled up until I got home. At which point I would explode everywhere. My family consider me difficult to live with because of it. After university I went to work at a publishing house that specialised in being the first to market with computer programming manuals. We were constantly checking manuscripts against alpha and beta code, routinely working 100-hour weeks and having our holidays cancelled. The stress was horrendous, and several colleagues were made ill (one book project went so badly it resulted in an editor suffering from a collapsed lung, another book project led to a suicide). With hindsight the work environment was toxic.

It was at this workplace where I met my husband. Needless to say long hours working in highly pressurised circumstances with huge open-plan offices is my idea of hell. I had so many workplace meltdowns I had a reputation. And not a good one. My husband nicknamed me the “small cute violent one”. My colleagues were afraid of me. I was afraid of me. Plus, my rock-bottom self-esteem was continually being damaged by my inability to control myself. Meltdowns are emotionally draining, in and of themselves, without worrying about the perceptions others will now hold of you as a consequence of witnessing your behaviour – adults are supposed to behave like adults and having (autistic) meltdowns is not allowed.

My husband assumed that my meltdowns were merely the result of the high-stress environment. He proposed, we got married. The meltdowns continued.

Not all the time. Not as frequently. But continue they did. Change the plans too many times and I might have a meltdown in Milton Keynes Central railway station (I’ve done that), change the plans one too many times and I might have a meltdown in the High Street at Christmas (I’ve done that). As recently as 2020 my husband angrily hissed at me that he would divorce me if I continued to have childish tantrums in public places.

So when my husband googled what autistic women actually look like, he realised he’d been misunderstanding my actions for the past 22 years. What looked like bad parenting, or manipulative behaviour, or self-centredness was just an overworked brain doing what overworked brains do when their ability to cope has been exceeded.

But my meltdowns are my central fear in going for assessment. When I discovered that I might be autistic I suddenly had an answer to all my problems. In fact, the bow it ties up is so neat, I worry that it’s too easy, too simple. What if this is all some hideous cosmic joke at my expense? What if I’m mistaken? What if I’m not autistic? The reality, if I’m wrong, is too painful to bear. I am just an overgrown, unlikeable, unloveable, spoiled brat and a burden on the whole world.

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