Priority Delusions and Autistic Meltdown
As I’ve explained elsewhere, and again without pretending to speak for all autistic people, (for me, at least) autistic meltdown always begins when I perceive myself to be trapped in some sort of hopeless jam — a true, high-stakes, predicament or “rock-and-hard-place” kind of scenario; damned if I do, damned if I don’t; where all available options clearly lead to failure; when there appears to be absolutely nothing, nothing, I can do to avert some sort of disaster; where it really seems to me as though I am simply doomed sooner or later to endure some manner or other of harsh punishment. For me, that general kind of scenario is the ignition-switch to what I call my thought-furnace. The moment I perceive myself to be in that kind of situation, that’s when meltdown’s countdown ends and blast-off begins.
Colorful imagery aside, what happens next is that I begin to ruminate relentlessly about how to resolve the crisis at hand. In a sense I become quite delusional, actually. Not in the traditional sense like I believe I’m Napoleon or that random coincidences are messages from extraterrestrials — but with respect to my beliefs about what’s important. We might call these priority beliefs — beliefs about what takes priority over what, about what matters and what doesn’t. Basically, whenever I’m undergoing meltdown it’s like I believe with all my being that the absolutely most important thing I can do is find a workable solution to the predicament that provoked the meltdown. Nothing matters to me more than that. My whole world — the very meaning of my life — becomes about solving that and only that problem.
I say this is like being delusional because when it happens I seem to be the only person in the galaxy who really gets that the crisis at hand is in fact a genuine crisis, and especially to the point that I believe it to be a crisis. And I also seem to be the only person who believes that resolving the crisis is the most important use of my time and resources, and everyone else’s too. Furthermore, I am never able to persuade anybody else that I’m right about the significance of the crisis, and believe me I always try with great exuberance.
But my utter failure to convince anyone in no way changes my mind about the crisis or how important I think it is. I am definitely not one to just believe things because everybody else does. In that sense I’m a true “free thinker”, but with the result that my priority beliefs during meltdown appear to be quite stubbornly impervious to all evidence and argument, which is to say that they appear to be wholly unreasonable.
I should clarify this: to my view these priority beliefs are absolutely not delusional in any sense. During meltdown, I definitely do not see myself as being out of touch with reality in any way. From my own perspective during these episodes, these beliefs actually do seem totally reasonable. Not only do they make perfect sense to me, but I am quite sure they would change in response to evidence. The problem is that the people who disagree with me and who try so hard to change my mind are simply unable to provide that evidence. They just seem to want me to believe them arbitrarily. But that makes me think they’re the crazy ones. How can they expect me to do that? Would they? But judging by their reactions to the kinds of decisions I might make during meltdown, it is quite clear to me that to them I seem like I’m the nutcase.
Priority Delusions and Autism-in-General
Another thing about meltdown for me is that it’s really just an especially extreme version of how I am even when I’m not having a meltdown. That is, autistic meltdown (for me) is not some extra way of being during which I am somehow “not myself”. Rather, for me meltdown is just an especially intense way of being how I am all the time. During meltdown I become very intensely fixated on one particular idea: how to cope with the particular rock-and-hard place crisis that provoked the meltdown. But the fact is that I am always more or less obsessed with something. It’s just that when I’m not having a meltdown, my faculties of attention become a lot more like binoculars that I can control and redirect at will.
However, an actual meltdown episode is so very, very extreme for me, and so very much more problematic, that in my opinion it just makes sense to parse it out and talk about it as if it actually were some totally different way for me to be. And although I hope it’s useful to do that, in the end, during an episode of meltdown, I am still just me — me in crisis mode.
And even when I’m totally calm and comfortable with my world, my priority beliefs still seem quite delusional, in the sense described above. Even during these periods most of what I wrote above remains true, although in a far less intense and problematic way. Even when I’m not having meltdowns my judgments of what matters and what doesn’t are largely out of whack with what everybody else in my life seems to think. Although during these times in my life I might not seem like a total nutcase, nevertheless I am clearly still living in my own little world.
Image Credit (solitary man looking at mountains): Pixabay