I am starting to realise that autism is a lot about patterns. I’m not talking about the pretty patterns on a wall that distract people, I’m talking about behaviour patterns. Understanding what they are and what brought them on is key to me for developing coping mechanisms. Even if you have support, it can be very difficult to do well, as much of the information about autism appears to be more aimed at parents/carers of younger people than adults with a late diagnosis. The coping mechanisms adults have often developed naturally over time, regardless of how useful they may be.
The process is slow for me. Understanding the difference between being tired and suffering from an autistic burnout, is not easy. Recognising a breakdown/meltdown and its cause is often something I am not able to see until days afterwards. The important thing is that I am slowly starting to see the patterns. With help, I will be able to find ways to deal with them. Ideally, I would like to be able to avoid a breakdown in future by recognising the signs at the time and putting in place practical steps I have developed that can minimise the impact on me and others.
As far as patterns are concerned, I have become aware of how I use social media. Usually I’ll post once or twice in a day, and pretty mundane things at that. When I am going through a meltdown, I tend to tweet almost every thought that goes through my head with very little editing. This is particularly noticeable when I am stuck somewhere (on a bus or at a shop, for example). My thoughts will be available in a series of tweets for all to see. This isn’t a problem as such, although I can guarantee that I have been muted by a number of people. I suspect it is a form of coping mechanism. It does no harm to me or others and is a way of expressing my feelings at that moment. It is also a way of reaching out to friends for support. Not the most useful way, a Direct Message would be more practical, but it allows me to not have to wait for a response.
Another thing that caught my eye was the way I often let things pile up, physically and emotionally. When I am struggling, there is a higher than normal chance that things will be put off or just not done. This tends to cause a backlog. While a backlog of dishes can be easily managed, an emotional backlog is much more difficult to bring under control. The pile up effect seems to be more of a burnout thing than a meltdown, although the two ultimately have similar effects on me.
The coping mechanisms? That is the tough point. In some cases, I struggle to recognise that I need to implement something. Other times, I just don’t notice that I could have taken steps until after the event. There is also the challenge of actually developing coping mechanisms. What is best for my “style” of breakdown? Does breathing actually work? Is going to sleep until it is all over useful? Time will tell. In the meantime, I have to work with what I have and not get disheartened when something becomes too overwhelming.