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The ice cold meltdown

We all know about the aspie meltdown, that complete lack of control, loosening of inhibitions, the inability to hold back all the feelings that must get out and now. Yes, the meltdown is familiar territory. But what about the aspie at the other end of the scale? What happens when you have had enough of something, just enough, no more will be taken, nothing more will be said, but you follow a different route from the traditional meltdown? What happens then?

It's what you might call the emergence of the ice cold meltdown. Let me explain.

If something is bothering me, then it's bothering me. There are no shortcuts to peace of mind, I can't 'just ignore it', I can't 'get over it' and I sure as heck don't feel like talking about it. Not after the other times I've talked about it and been told I'm over-reacting, or everyone goes through this or, instead, had to hear about how I've always been this way and it's about time I learned to deal with things.

Faced with an on-going problem - and I mean a big one - those of us who internalise and tend to feel trapped in situations, do have the choices. As said, we can wait until it becomes explosive and meltdown, we can rumble along, becoming more mired down in it all until we crack in some other way - or we can do something about it.

Now, when I say do something about it, don't get me wrong. I don't mean that we resolve it in some sane way that other people would see as a resolution. I don't suggest we face it head on and calmly negotiate ourselves through this rocky patch. No, I'm talking about direct action.

Whether it's a full-blown, short-acting plan, such as a tremendous exit from work, or a longer, plotted course that takes in all the variables and presents us with an alternative, I know there are other aspies like me out there, who plot their way out of trouble.

For those of you without this streak of reckless self-endangerment, let me explain. If I'm in a part of my life where every step feels like ten, I look around for solutions. This is rational, yes? But I'll usually be in overdrive when I'm looking for those solutions, so the ideas I come up with sound great to me, but are usually on shaky ground. I guess we're talking about justifying things to yourself, so that you have a good excuse to stop putting up with an upsetting situation.

It's rather like the lifestyle version of a Get Rich Quick scheme. It all sounds great on paper, there doesn't seem to be a way that it could fail and, like the people who sign up for these (I've done it, I know how it feels), you don't want to see any pitfalls because that would mean going on as you are and having to look for another way out.

So, the aspie is in the role of the salesman of the scheme, determined to sell its benefits and push aside any possible flaws. As the salesman and the buyer, we aspies are adept at seeing things as we want them to be seen. We tell ourselves we're being sensible with this grand solution to our problems. Yes, there might be difficulties, but they'll be so small, it won't matter. This will work; we'll get out of trouble and we won't be hurting any more.

Then, like the scheme, money is handed over (sometimes literally, sometimes we're handing over a part of our lives, like a relationship, or a job) and we wait for the magic to happen. Does it? Well, at first it feels like it does, as the anticipation of change brings the illusion of change itself. Then reality sets in and we see we've swapped one problem for another. Again.

It wouldn't be so bad if these plans were small scale. I don't know about other aspies, but I don't generally do small scale plans. If I have a small idea, it quickly grows to a humungosaur idea and tramps around, roaring that it can take over the world. It never does, but, as usual, it feels like it's going to, this time.

The ice cold meltdown shows itself as the plotting and planning part of this new solution. I don't just fling myself in and plan later. Even though I rush into things, I do a lot of planning first and as I'm rushing along. I look at it all as if it's a beautiful problem to be solved and, again like magic, the solutions line themselves up. Never the problems, only the solutions.

Like a meltdown, the ice cold meltdown is a response to trouble but lasts longer and is calculated.

Shall I tell you how I think this approach started? It's an exciting story, terrifying really, and I feel wary of sharing it. But as I've already shared so much here, why not go for one of the big ones? I'm sure some of you have done, or attempted, worse...

As children, we're powerless. I was the same, a small, bespectacled girl with fluffy hair, unfashionable glasses and scuffed knees. I didn't know how to get on with other children very well, they always seemed to be talking about things I didn't understand. Looking back, this was partly the school I went to, as when I changed school and the teachers made an effort to integrate me, I made friends right away.

At my infant school, I was in the final year, waiting out my time before I could leave the dreadful place behind. I had been bullied all the way through the year. I'd told my parents and my teachers. No one took it seriously, all children name call, you just have to ignore it. A very lonely place for a little girl with no friends.

Every day I would go in and get through it as well as I could. My teacher liked me, one of the dinner ladies was a kind neighbour of my aunty. And that was it, frankly, the two people at school who would be pleased to see me. There may have been children who were potential friends, but I was unable to see them or work it out, so I was alone.

At the age of seven, I knew I couldn't bear it anymore. I could not keep going into that school, day after day, listening to the words they called after me, seeing their faces turn ugly as they looked my way. The closest I ever got to playtime was joining in group games and still I couldn't get it right and would be left standing as the others ran away.

I used to have daydreams about someone, some hero, crashing in through the school walls and taking me away from it all. The hero changed, the story changed but always I was rescued and taken away.

A few days before it happened, I decided if no one would help me or rescue me, I would do it myself. I could see no other way. As a seven year old, I had tried all other options. Now, it was down to me.

I thought hard and saw, clearly as anything, that if the school wasn't there, then I wouldn't have to go. Simple. From here it was a small jump to deciding to burn down the school. Yes, your read it right - your friendly blogger was a seven year old, wannabe arsonist. Actually, I wasn't. I was a seven year old victim, desperately looking for a way to make it STOP.

My parents both smoked and it was a simple matter to steal some matches. I put them in my bedroom cabinet and waited a couple of days, so that when the school was a steaming pile of junk, they wouldn't connect the missing matches with me and the school.

Then, when I thought they had forgotte, the fateful day came round and I took out the matches, hid them behind a big book, told my mother the book needed to go into school with me and off we went.

I must have been very calm. I don't remember worrying once I set off. I was driven to school, so must have looked okay all the way there. In I went, hiding the matches again once I was inside.

My plan was to wait until lunchtime break, when everyone would be out of the school and set fire to it then. I didn't want anyone to get hurt. It never occurred to me that the school wouldn't be empty, that the staff would still be inside and some children too.

When no one was looking, I sneaked back in, found my matches and looked for things to burn. I started with a big A2 sized sheet on a noticeboard. It burned well but the noticeboard didn't catch. Then, (oh reader, look the other way), I tried to burn some books. I felt very bad about them, but it was a means to an end and as they'd go up with the school anyway, I thought I might as well use them.

Then I ran out, into the playground, confident the school would be burned down by the time we had to go back in.

There's a blur after that. The school did not burn down, the fire was quickly put out and a full assembly was called. As they talked about what had happened and asked who had done it, my face told them all they needed to know and I was hauled off.

Sitting in the classroom, surrounded by teachers, all asking me how I did it, why I did it, what I had thought would happen. My distinct memory is of the kindly dinner lady looking at me from across the room, shaking her head sadly and saying to her friend that she'd thought I was such a nice little girl.

The teachers wouldn't believe that I had planned it all and acted alone. They simply wouldn't have it that I was capable. They also didn't see the bullying as a good enough reason. In my panic, after being asked over and over who else was helping me, I named a boy in my class. Ashley, I said, he helped me.

They were content with that. I didn't know Ashley, but they seemed happy to think he was the other one. I don't know how much trouble he got into, but the guilt of falsely naming him plagued me for years, long, long after any worry I might have had about trying to burn down the school. I'm sorry Ashley! :'(

The outcome was slightly unexpected. My parents were shocked but also ashamed they hadn't listened to me. The teachers may have felt some of the same, who can tell? The children were wary of me and slightly in awe. I don't remember getting bullied again after that.

I was grounded for a few weeks and didn't get to go on the school trip. Like a true aspie, when trip time came around, I'd forgotten about not being allowed and went to the teacher, in front of the class and asked why she hadn't given me the letter about it. She had to remind me, in public, why I wasn't going.

The day of the trip was fabulous. I got to stay with the younger class, with a lovely teacher who spoke nicely to them and gave them fun things to do. I spent the day drawing and writing stories and playing games. I remember wishing all my school days were like that one.

So, there we are, the beginnings of my own attempts to change my life when it refuses to change for me. I feel sure that I would always have been the sort of person to do strange things in response to life events, but this early, desperate experience contains all the hallmarks of my many misadventures since.

I planned, I was calculating, I was very calm. All of this as the end result of months of anxiety, nights spent lying awake, dreading going into school. It's an ice cold meltdown because you've gone through the fire of temper and stormy reactions, right to the calm within the storm where, finally, you can hear yourself think and plan what to do about it.

It's the same as a meltdown in that it holds a destructive quality which can seriously impact your life and others, but unlike the traditional meltdown, however mad the plan, you feel like you're in control.

I would like to reassure you, readers, that I haven't taken any violent or drastic action like this since. It was explained to me how many people would have been in the school if it had burned down and I was horrified at what might have been. It informed all future decisions in those two vital ways: never cause physical harm to someone and don't blame other people for your messes.

For those of you who plan their own salvation, I salute you. I know how it feels to be so desperate, you'll come out from under the blanket and take action. I also know that you'll have some understanding of how far I had to be pushed before I acted in this way.

For anyone who thinks I was a terrible person, look at me as I was then, a small child with no one to help me. I often look back and wish I could slip a hand through time and take the smaller version of mine when she was at her lowest ebb.

In our adult lives, we don't tend to set fire to things to make them go away, but we should be wary of the virtual blaze we cause by leaping into new decisions, without having full possession of the facts. I would never say don't do it - I still do it all the time myself. I would say, be careful how you do it, because you never know if you have missed something, or someone, in your planning. You may think you know all the answers, but there is always something you'll miss.

The most we can ever do is our best at any given time. Take charge, meltdown, hide under the blanket, cuddle the cat - do whatever it takes to get you through the hard times. Do that, always with an eye on yourself. There is no way for us to reach out through time to help ourselves, but you can reach out to yourself, now, as another person might and say,

'I know it's hard, we can get through this. Take my hand and I'll keep you company as we go.'


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