Today we are talking about narrowing the gap of the meltdown, with some thoughts about approach, and some thoughts about techniques, and how we might practice this.
Narrowing the territory of the meltdown
Let’s begin where we are (right here)
I am still thinking about the ongoing theme (of many) that came up while talking shop in my mind with Neal Caffrey, fictional con artist, and someone I am always drawn to.
Not the con artist part, obviously, but the getting out of a tight spot part. Embodying that wits-about-you, always ready to improvise spirit.
There’s something about this character who is so creative, inventive, and embodied. Someone who trains hard, trusts their instincts and wears the hell out of a hat, and so this is what I’ve been exploring.
But as Spike pointed out a couple weeks ago in the comments, the main takeaway from communing with Neal Caffrey is that even if (aka when!) you’re in a meltdown, you can always narrow the parameters of the meltdown.
It’s an option. It’s a great option!
You can always narrow the parameters of a meltdown
You can slow it down, narrow the scope, make the gap smaller, make the passage more navigable. Make it easier to pass through.
What do we know about this? What else is there to learn about this?
And where do we start?
Other than with this knowledge that a meltdown can be narrowed, the gap can be narrowed, safe passage is here for us…
Where do we start?
With Acknowledgment & Legitimacy, of course.
That’s the practice, and we keep practicing.
In part because they are a part of life — things don’t go as we expect or hope, that’s so real!
In part because there are so many extenuating circumstances, and in part because the game is rigged.
There’s always more to do, there’s the mystery of the ever-lengthening list, there are interpersonal challenges and boundaries being crossed, and the whole damn human condition, combined with the zeitgeist.
And, even for people who aren’t neurodivergent and constantly under a barrage of sensory overload, you are still dealing with being a person in this world, and all the [everything] that goes along with that. The anxiety-stress-tension combined with all the expectations, real and perceived.
Existing is fraught, friends
Existing is fraught, friends.
I am saying that in the exact same tone that my chiropractor says, “Bodies are weird, dude”, which they are. They really are.
The hard things are hard! And there are so many of them! In the micro and in the macro, in the home and in the news.
It is so deeply reasonable to have a meltdown, or several meltdowns. As many as you need, and then some. No judgment here.
To extremely paraphrase Oscar Wilde, I often have six impossible meltdowns before breakfast.
What do we even mean by existing
I’m not even just talking about existing or surviving inside of the confines of capitalism, or in a terrifying pandemic, or in the climate crisis, or the political unrest, or any of the big things.
Just being a person in a body in a culture, it’s a lot, even before any of those other stressors, which are, you guessed it, also a lot.
We are all going through so much. And now that many of us more or less live online, we are also picking up on even more ambient energy than before, so everyone else’s big feelings can start to feel like our feelings.
So yes, it’s a lot, and if it feels like A Lot heading into Too Much heading into Overload and The Bad Place, I get it, and that’s so real. It’s not fun. It’s extremely understandable and reasonable, and also it remains really, truly not fun.
You’re doing amazing, sweetie. And it is a reasonable meltdown.
Applying the balm of Acknowledgment & Legitimacy to a meltdown is, of course, not even slightly the only tool we have to narrow the gap of a meltdown, but it is one that we can keep practicing and repeating, layering on more of it.
If I were going to draw my X Step Process to shrinking the meltdown, between every step I would just repeat the step of Acknowledgment & Legitimacy.
Meltdowns make sense! Sometimes it feels like they are required and the only possible answer or response to too many stressors. It’s honesty so reasonable and so understandable.
And I wish the world we live in could be infinitely kinder towards all of us. In the meantime, can we be a little kinder towards ourselves? Maybe…
A clue for me, and possibly also a clue for you
My meltdowns often take the form of rage and fury, and maybe underneath there is grief, pain, sorrow, a deep well of sadness. And before I get to any of that, I need to make room for the anger to just exist.
I try to remember the wise words of Karla McClaren, and I am paraphrasing here, but it’s something like, “Anger is a messenger that only ever has one message, and the message is that a boundary has been crossed and needs to be repaired.”
So yes. I acknowledge my anger, I try to make room for the anger, I remind myself that my anger-feelings are a reasonable, understandable and legitimate response to what I’m going through. (To be clear, I’m talking about the feelings themselves, not talking about behavior, that’s its own topic.)
And then, assuming my anger is a messenger who always delivers the same message, I want to tend to the edges, the boundaries of my domain: my physical body and physical space, my emotional self, etc.
The tending questions
This is the time to ask: How am I doing, am I giving myself what I need, am I trying to take care of other people’s needs and forgetting about my own…?
Have I forgotten to rest? Probably!
Have I forgotten to tend to myself, have I given up on what’s important to me because all the [crises & situations] are demanding my attention and energy…?
What do I need? What do I need right now?
What would help the most?
What would help?
What would restore my sense of peace, my sense of self, my sense that my own needs in my body as well as my time and my space are vitally important actually, and I don’t want to neglect them or forget about them…
So often I perceive people or situations as trampling me, when also I have forgotten to preserve my space, I have forgotten how to say no, or that I get to say no, or that I can say, “hey this doesn’t work for me, let’s figure out another way”, and so on.
Thanks to the messenger (my anger), I know what I’m probably upset about. Boundaries, again.
So what do we try next?
Whether or not this clue about anger as a messenger resonates with you, and whether or not you can relate to my own sense that it’s too easy to take on the mood of the internet or the outside world…
Either way, here is a practice that I do several times a day, and more when I’m in meltdown mode. It starts with a question:
How much of this [anger / emotion / meltdown sensation / energy] is mine? How much really and truly comes from me and belongs to me?
And for me, personally, the answer has never been more than 9%, but quite often it’s more like 3-5% at most.
So if the rest of it is not mine, that’s useful information, because, check this out, I am not obligated to carry the moods, emotions and energy of the world! Or of the people in my life, for that matter
I can love them and support them and still not be a repository for their feelings.
At the Playground, my former retreat center in Portland, Oregon, there was an old, closed-off elevator shaft, and we would practice whooshing all energy that didn’t belong to us into the elevator shaft and down into the earth to be deconstructed and healed, all energy just returns to energy.
If you don’t have a handy elevator shaft, real or imaginary, you can give it or imagine giving it to the mountains, the sea, the sky, to a higher power if that’s your thing.
Return to sender! Or return to the earth…
May all energy that is not mine and does not belong to me return to sender!
Or may it return to the earth, break down into its most basic components and be released as pure possibility.
I make room for whatever anger and hurt feelings are mine, and at the same time I do not agree to carry or hold onto any angry or other emotion that does not belong to me.
Whoosh! Whoosh, goodbye, all the energy & [big feels] that isn’t mine and doesn’t need to be hanging out in my body-mind.
If right now, 5% of the emotions in this meltdown belong to me, then I hereby release the other 95% into the ether.
I keep doing this with big exhalations (lion’s breath, if you’ve ever done that in a movement class), as loud as I can if I’m alone.
Otherwise, you can always do what the late and beloved Barbara Sher called silent screaming, where you scream ten screams in a row but they don’t make a sound. This is a good practice you can do in a bathroom or somewhere no one is watching.
Generally speaking, you’ll feel some relief around the seventh one, but keep going, do all ten!
And with each lioness-esque (how’s that for a fun word to say) exhale or silent scream, I am releasing that 95% that isn’t mine…
My anger feelings are legitimate, my meltdown is legitimate, and also all the parts that are not mine and do not belong to me can find their way out of my space.
Do you feel a little better?
Sometimes I also try to figure out how much of the Big Feelings are from now, and it’s usually almost none of them, so we can practice Acknowledgment & Legitimacy for the feelings from Then.
And we can also practice whoosh-breathe-release with the Then feelings, because now is now, now is not then.
The then-feelings are legitimate, their message is useful, and also we are right here, right now.
The part that is a now-resonance of then is so reasonable!
And the part that is truly from Then can be met with love, and also we don’t have to hold onto it, we can put it in a beautiful museum exhibit of things we have been through, or any other solution that comes to you.
As you know, I feel very strongly about not forcing or requiring gratitude as a practice, I actually think it’s super violent to make people find the good before they’re ready to.
And, also, in my own experience, there is often enormous treasure inside of a meltdown.
Often the meltdown reveals to me what I am upset about, where I am hurting, what I need. And sometimes thinking about how to meet that need offers up a delightfully unexpected, simple, elegant solution to whatever I’m melting down over.
Or at least an idea of what to try next.
No forcing, just wondering and clarifying…
So without forcing, without requiring myself to feel thankful, I can also ask:
Where is the treasure in this meltdown? What is useful or informative about this meltdown?
And maybe that’s something I can journal on, a stone to skip.
I will never advocate for forced gratitude. And also, sometimes this gentle question, asked with curiosity and love, reveals so much.
Sometimes there is treasure for me, sometimes I’m able to shift my focus to what is working as opposed to what isn’t, and sometimes that list of what is working is so much longer than I realized.
Sometimes looking at what is working, while giving legitimacy to what isn’t working, gives me some idea sparks about what to try, or where to begin.
Either way, interacting with a pattern changes the pattern, and interacting with a meltdown shifts the meltdown.
Good job! You’re doing amazing, sweetie. Braver than the marines.
At least, this is what I tell myself when I’m in a meltdown and when I’m interacting with it, narrowing the gap, shifting what is.
Okay, let’s review
Here are all the things we tried!
- Applying acknowledgment & legitimacy
- How much of this is mine?
- Whoosh! Big exhale!
- Return to sender / return to the earth
- What would help?
- What do I need?
- What is working?
And then, of course, we just keep applying acknowledgment & legitimacy as we go. The step between all the other steps.
Can you try other things?
Of course. Always. You live in your body and I live in mine, and people vary, different things work for different people. These are just ideas and starting points.
Maybe what helps you is Legs Up The Wall. Maybe what helps you is a mini dance party and a replenishing glass of water. Whatever works, I support it.
Try anything we are talking about here, try other things, feel out what works for you.
And hey, in case this helps…
A friend recently texted me about feeling bad (upset, embarrassed) about a public meltdown that was simply unpreventable due to the circumstances.
And I was like, Oh, not only are you talking to an autistic person but specifically one who is not allowed to go back to the Apple store in Tucson. Like this is safe space.
Obviously, in an ideal world, we want to have good tools and good self-knowledge, and the ability to use these to our benefit in such a way that we are able to either not get into the external situations that set off a meltdown, or the skills to extricate swiftly.
Here’s to all the self-extricating superpowers! Here’s to allies who have our back.
And also sometimes it happens.
Sometimes it happens ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
So if anyone out there needs the reminder that this has happened to me, it has.
Sometimes I really, truly publicly fall the fuck apart, especially when there are loud noises and bright lights and sensory overload gets the best of me.
What helps, again
You know what’s not helpful? Shame and self-critical mechanisms. All the monsters monstering, all the stories we tell ourselves about how badly we fucked up. The persistent blame-laced narratives about how we just need to be more zen and stay calm, how we should be able to cope better than we can.
You know what is helpful?
Of course. Acknowledgment & Legitimacy. Exhale x10. Whoosh goodbye, energy that is not mine.
Asking the kind, curious, compassionate, loving-clarity questions. How much of this is mine? How much of this is from now? How much of this is supportive? What do I need? What would help most right now?
And then doing what helps. The practice of We Do Grounding Things. Get on the ground, or legs up the wall, or silent screams or rolling around. Whatever helps that doesn’t harm anyone, I support it.
We practice. We take notes about what works or what’s helpful, what we might want to try next time.
We practice releasing judgment, and giving ourselves more credit.
We remind ourselves that meltdowns happen, and the extenuating circumstances are many, and the external energy is loud, and there are a lot of simultaneous disaster situations we’re dealing with as a collective, as well as in the personal and interpersonal. It’s so much.
One of my August wishes is to give myself more credit, tend to myself with more sweetness and care, make allowances for circumstances. We Do Grounding Things, and we give ourselves credit.
Yes, let’s give ourselves more credit and keep going
We give ourselves credit and we keep going.
We narrow the gap.
Honestly just recognizing that this is an option is the epitome of You’re Doing Amazing, Sweetie, and so we try to remember that too.
We’re trying things, and we’re doing it together.
Come play in the comments, I love company!
Share anything sparked for you while reading, or add anything you’d like to into the pot, the healing power of the collective is no small thing, companionship helps.
Bonus materials! Coming soon…
Update: I am preparing new bonus materials about time and how I prepare for and relate to the different quarters, more about this to come, but anyone who gives to Barrington’s Discretionary (see below) will get these by email this summer…
If you received clues or perspective or want to send appreciation for the writing and work/play we do here, I appreciate it tremendously. Working on some stuff to offer this coming year, but between traumatic brain injury recovery & Long Covid, slow going.
I am accepting support (with joy & gratitude) in the form of Appreciation Money to Barrington’s Discretionary Fund. Asking is not where my strength resides but Brave & Stalwart is the theme these days, and pattern-rewriting is the work, it all helps with fixing the many broken things.
And if those aren’t options, I get it, you can light a candle for support (or light one in your mind!), share this with someone who loves words, tell people about these techniques, approaches and themes, send them here, it all helps, it’s all welcome, and I appreciate it and you so much. ❤️