Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Your Meltdowns Aren't Going Away

In the autistic community, we spend a lot of time talking about self-care and self-acceptance, and about how the two are impossible to separate from one another. We acknowledge our need to embrace who we are, and the majority of our work writing and advocating and pushing for change is based around the idea that what we are is a natural part of human diversity, an expression of the way it is to be a person.

At the same time, though, our self-care posts become frantic about the nature and consequences of our meltdowns. Many of the same activists who preach unwavering self-acceptance find themselves writing for support or writing to support the rest of the community when our self-control flees and we find ourselves staring down the long chute lubricated with stress chemicals that will eventually deposit us, bruised and tearful, into our next emotional state.

Our posts talk about radical self-expression and about the shame of melting down. They discuss how others should accept us for our range of uncanny affect, our interests, our methods of socializing. And then they talk about hiding the meltdown from the public, about mediation, about prevention.

Well, it's time you stop. It's time you stop hurting yourself. It's time you realize what self-acceptance means. It's time you realize what self-care means.

You are meant to have meltdowns

Your body processes emotions and thoughts through somatic processes. That is, up and down, how autistic bodyminds work. Different autistics have different meltdowns. Yes, some are dangerous. Yes, sometimes we should not be left to melt down alone. Yes, there is definitely a risk to simply letting go, and that risk includes incarceration.

But the fact of the matter is, you need to let yourself do it. I'm speaking from experience, and I am not only speaking to autistics who process like I do. If you focus on meltdown prevention, you will find your bodymind tiring, your social stamina disappearing, and your sense of self slipping away as you assume the performance mode, because mediating and preventing the natural outlets your nervous system needs will damage you.

Your meltdowns are your body's natural reset button, and they are as integral to who you are as your ability to learn everything about topics you love and your discomfort with constant sensory irritation. If you can not let yourself have them in safe spaces, they will eventually come out when your mediation and negotiation with your self fails. If that happens, chances are that they will be bigger than they would have been, more dangerous, and more likely to happen around people who are unsafe.

You must embrace pain to process pain

Your meltdowns are how you come to terms with a world that continuously hurts you. For some of us, it means throwing our bodies into things. For others, it means getting hit. For some, the meltdown is entirely emotional, a crying fit combined with flailing that can be quite harmless if you are clear of obstacles. It is different from person to person, but we all need it to function.

I am a pain slut. For me, all sensory input can lead to an overwhelming, orgasmic experience. That is not why I practice S&M though. I practice S&M for the moments that take me beyond my ability to convert pain to pleasure. I seek out tops who will be able to take control well enough for my words to safely flee. I signal to them to keep beating, and I know few will be able to cross my threshold, but when they do....

I melt down in peace. I thrash. I scream. I try to flail, but my arms and legs are secure, and it makes me panic, but even as I tear at the cuffs with my teeth I know: I am safe, and if I drop the Red card, I will be free.

And I flail.

And I thrash.

And I beat my head against the padded bench while welts rise on me.

And I am free.

Your meltdowns aren't going away, and you will never control them until you don't want them to.

Trust me. It has been a long battle, and I have many scars. But now I am free.

Athena Lynn Michaels-Dillon