Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The consequences of a meltdown at work

We had a fire drill at 12.20pm today.

This was a rearranged one from last week - I had been told the original date/time and left the building 10 minutes in advance to ensure I didn't get caught in it (as I am allowed to do by our H&S officer) but when it got rearranged due to an unavoidable issue my only information was that they 'hoped to have it next Tuesday' - no confirmation, no time, and the first day back after a 4 day weekend . . . (I spent most of today thinking it was Monday, despite knowing yesterday was Easter Monday!)

So, its 12.15pm and I'm knee deep in a particularly tricky report I'm working on and quite frankly feeling fairly below par already as the weekend (being a family orientated one) was fairly tiring and I hadn't managed to get enough sleep Monday night as my brain kicked into overdrive at about midnight and didn't turn off til gone 3am!

12.20ish and the siren suddenly wails through the building.

Now, I'm actually pretty good at the first reaction part - I can compartmentalise my base reaction and squash it viciously whilst dealing with the 'getting out of the building' part but once outside all the rush of panic, sensory overload, claustrophobia (from coming down the stairs with a dozen other people) and general anxiety comes out in the form of hyperventilating and pre-meltdown behaviours emerging.

Its worth noting here that I'm incredibly lucky in working for the same organisation as my mother, and by sheer luck we were both working in the same building today so she was able to take care of me when I needed help with my recovery process.

The fact that my colleagues still don't seem to understand the implications of things like fire alarms on me is disappointing. Co-workers I encountered over the course of the afternoon seemed surprise that I was still suffering 2-3 hours after the drill, not realising that a post meltdown recovery can take hours. I actually never progressed into full meltdown as I retained a level of control during the incident but I was certainly on the very limit of my capacity for control and came very close to toppling over the edge into full blown meltdown at least twice.

It took me until nearly 8pm to feel fully 'normal' again this evening; only after eating junk food (dominos to the rescue) and taking a 2 hour nap on my sofa did I finally feel back to my baseline levels. I still don't know how I'll wake up feeling tomorrow - that will all depend on tonight's sleep quality.

The hardest part of the whole afternoon for me was trying to verbalise my pain to people - I have a multitude of different categories of headache but explaining the difference between 'dull top vice' and 'consistent mallet' to people can be interesting - especially when I'm tripping over my own tongue as exhaustion robs me of some of my fine motor control. I also lose control of some of my external 'masks' and allow my autism to show through more, become more abrupt and harsh with people and a lot more demonstrative of my displeasure - when you're in pain other people's feelings/opinions become a lot less important!

The tiredness is also a shock to a lot of people, they seem to think I can just 'shake off' a reaction and be fine 20 minutes later, they don't seem to understand that, a lot like a burn, sometimes the initial pain isn't the worst part and that the damage can still be developing over time. I'd like to see them moving at full pace when they have a brain that's occupied with self-preservation and healing.

The sad thing is that one day they will all realise what its like because a lot of what I describe my recovery process to be like is how my grandparents describe ageing - the frustration of not being able to think/move/react as quickly as before, the slipping of hand/eye coordination and motor control, the verbal mistakes, the brain 'blankness'.

Maybe one day research into Autism or brain conditions such as dementia or strokes may shed some light on how to help people like me in meltdown recovery. Until then I'll keep doing what I'm doing and try not to get myself fired in the process!

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