I had a good day yesterday.
I also had a meltdown in public yesterday.
Holy oxymoron, Batman!
On Sunday, it was the charity gala screening of Cars 3 at the Vue Cinema in Westfield. The event was aimed at families that are supported by disability charities, and as a staff member of and someone who is supported by such a charity (as well as an utterly unstoppable Disney superfan), I had tickets for me and my mum.
I adore these events, as you may have seen in my previous post about the autism-friendly performance of The Lion King. I love the freedom of being able to be myself – to be able to be autistic with no hint of judgement from anyone else in attendance. But I was also nervous. I was nervous because it was a big event. But I also had a niggling anxiety that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It felt like something was going to go wrong.
The journey was fine. I was ready on time; we were early for the train; I didn’t forget my tickets; even my make up went on fine, despite being in a moving train. We arrived at the location, and we had time to pop into the nearest Starbucks for a croissant and a hot chocolate. When we got down to the cinema, however, there was an eerie lack of other human beings. The little anxiety-worm that had been wiggling in my stomach began to thrash.
‘Something’s wrong,” I kept saying to my mum, my voice getting higher and more and more hysterical. “Something’s wrong, something’s wrong, something’s wrong…”
After meandering around for a bit, double- and triple-checking the tickets, I asked my mum if we could find a toilet. She was also anxious, I could tell, but she was trying to put a smiley spin on it to stop me from completely boiling over. Once locked in the cubicle, I fumbled with my phone to check through the lengthy email I had been sent about the event.
My stomach dropped.
She could see it on my face when I emerged.
The floodgates opened and I began to cry. I could feel my face growing hot, even hotter than it already was in this heat, and my eyes filled with tears. My phone, email still glowing on the screen, was still in my hand; I began smacking it against the side of my head, until my mum caught my arm to stop me. I felt so stupid. I didn’t know what to do. It was now 9.50, and the ‘fun in the foyer’ part of the event had started at 9.45.
How was I to know that there was another Vue Cinema, at another shopping centre called Westfield, on the other side of London?
Not all meltdowns are created equal. And this one had sprouted out of self-hatred and panic. This creates a lovely concoction of crying, muttering, shaking, rocking and, the pièce de résistance of this particular meltdown combination, hitting myself in the head, arms and legs.
The journey across the city was horrible. My mum, who was now absolutely panicked, was struggling (understandably) to manage her own anxiety alongside the meltdown of her 25 year old daughter. I could feel her getting frustrated, and that fuelled my downward spiral. Everything was going wrong and it was my fault. I still had an almost full hot chocolate in my hand, which spilled all over my fingers as I tried to jog to keep up with my mum’s pace.
Once we were on the train to take us to the venue, we could relax. Well, try to. The train was full and scorching; I could feel sweat running down my nose and pooling at the corner of my mouth. I was still shaking and crying, gripping on to the nearest handrail and muttering ‘I ruined it I’m sorry I ruined it I’m sorry I’m so stupid so stupid so stupid so-‘.
My mum, having had the chance to calm down and seeing that we were going to be at the venue well before the actual film itself started, clicked into action. She stood in front of me, blocking the other people on the train from getting too close to me. This also stopped them from staring, protecting me on two separate levels. But she also kept her space, waiting for me to initiate any contact. I felt awful. I had wanted this to be a good day, an amazing day for me and my mum, and I felt like I had thrown it all away by not properly reading the damned email. She reassured me that we weren’t going to miss the film, and that everyone makes mistakes without the world ending. She got me breathing steadily. She encouraged me to get out my phone to look through my strategies.
At this point I was coming down from my meltdown, and my shaking, my clenched fists, and my short sharp bullet breaths were replaced by a gentle sobbing. I knew my face was bright red; I could feel it throbbing, feel the ache behind my eyes where I had been tensing all the muscles in my head. I also felt ridiculous. I always feel foolish after a metldown, but one in public is worse. I feel like a public spectacle, hearing the out-of-place sitcom audience laughter in my head. I wanted to curl up into a ball and huddle away from the eyes.
My mum wouldn’t let me though. She started talking about other things. She started being silly. She started making me laugh. She started doing all the things she knew would work to make me feel better. It didn’t feel like the eyes were on me any more. The eyes were on both of us because we were both having a good time.
This could have absolutely destroyed my day. But it didn’t. I had a lovely time.
The event was wonderful. We got there half an hour before the film was due to start, so we had the chance to look around. I held my mum’s hand in the crowd, knowing that no one there was going to judge me for it; I joked that I had my ‘post-meltdown face’, red and tear-streaked, and could joke about it because no one cared.
Meltdowns are exhausting. This one was no different. But the cinema rooms were spacious. The chairs were comfortable. I could stretch out, curl up, lean on my mum, do whatever I wanted without bothering everyone. I began to feel more relaxed. I was still tired, but I no longer felt like a zombie. There was even air-conditioning, so my post-meltdown face had miraculously vanished by the time the film was done.
And when the film came to its end – and it was a fabulous film, a coming-full-circle kind of tale in the vein of Toy Story 3 – I was smiling. I was happy. We got a goody bag, we went and had a crepe, we talked, we laughed, and we headed home.
My meltdown didn’t ruin my day.
That’s not to say that meltdowns will never ruin my day again. I’ve had good days despite massive meltdowns in the past; equally, I have had plenty of meltdowns that ruined my entire week. To have an entire day thrown into the rubbish bin off the back of a meltdown does not mean that I have failed. Whilst I live in the world as it currently turns, I will have meltdowns. Sometimes, I will recover. Sometimes, I will not. I prefer it when I can pull myself back, with the help of the strategies I have worked hard on and the family that has worked hard with me, but I don’t want to beat myself up if I can’t.
It’s not a failure to have a bad day.
But yesterday, and the amazing time I had with my mum despite one of the biggest public meltdowns I’ve had in a while, have reminded me that it isn’t the end of the world if I fall apart.
I can have a public meltdown and a good day.
And they are absolutely, definitely not an oxymoron.