This week I had my first meltdown in a really long time.

The cause was poor communication from an organisation. It included unclear plans, a changing schedule, not being informed of those changes, and concluded in a social lie that is supposed to be an acceptable way of communicating, but is actually really painful.

There’s no need for details, but the social lie was – I believe – a way of letting me down gently. Instead of saying “Your services are no longer required”, it said, “We are hoping to organise a series of regional events next year and we were thinking that it would be great if you could come and speak at our event in [X Location which is as yet unorganised and has no theme] instead of at the event [you were invited to speak at over a year ago that is about inclusion]” (brackets contain my interpretation of each venue).

It is difficult for non-autistics to understand why this communication method is so difficult. It appears to be a kindness, a way to let you know that you’re not wanted, without telling you that you’re not wanted. Unfortunately, for me, it does the opposite. It combines rejection with uncertainty.

Reading back through it, at no point does it actually say that I’m not wanted for the current event anymore. Which leads to these thoughts; perhaps I’m mistaken; perhaps I’ve misunderstood; perhaps it’s a misinterpretation on my part. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve misunderstood someone else’s communications style. Unless people state things clearly, it can be really hard to decipher.

Analysis of meaning is complex. I have never met this person. I don’t know what type of communicator they are. They are probably lovely. I would probably like them. They’ve probably been landed with the task of offloading the speakers who’ve been asked by previous organisers. A year is a long time when organising something; teams change.

It was supposed to happen in May, then June, then September, and I hear on the grapevine it is now happening in early December. Even the most optimistic interpretation has to take into account the facts that no one has given me that information, and that all suggests I am not wanted.

All this analysis sounds like hard work, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. This is what I have to do to work out what you mean. This is my communication disorder revealing how I impose order on your chaos when you are not explicit.

I had waited patiently, I had chased at times, I had done the right things, but no matter what, I know I will not have communicated in a pattern you will have recognised. If I contacted you every time your lack of communication bothered me, you would feel pestered. If I leave it too long, you think I’ve lost interest.

The ideal is that I can trust that you will tell me when something has changed. You will tell me as soon as you know, and I can safely assume that unless I hear from you, all is as it was. This has not happened here. Most changes have been told to me last minute, and many not mentioned at all until I got in contact to ask. There is no trust in communication methods.

It was the social lie that was the tipping point between mild disappointment, and nagging confusion, a feeling of being manipulated and trapped into someone else’s social rules, and pain.

I ultimately decided to break the social rule and asked for some clear communication. I am aware that this will be interpreted as blunt and rude. I cannot always be responsible for the recipient’s reaction; after all, no one is taking responsibility for mine.

But I couldn’t stop the headache that built until my eyes wouldn’t focus properly; The thudding pressure between my eyes and at my temples.

My thoughts started swirling like a Jackson Pollock, and I kept finding myself stuck in loops of fragments of sentences. I started unconsciously tapping my forehead with the knuckles of my right hand, whilst my left firmly held the back of my neck.

I felt overwhelmed, and ashamed by that feeling. I felt lost and embarrassed. Thoughts were reduced to feelings (despite feelings being thoughts) I found it hard to do anything beyond feel pain.

It was an unintentional pain. No one meant to hurt me. Only a few days ago, I was stopped whilst getting on a train by someone who wanted to tell me how much I had helped them: The same organisation who caused my meltdown, was responsible for arranging the talk that I did that led to that reaction.

That’s why I speak. That’s why I share my experience, because it helps. Because it makes the world better for people like me.

Sometimes the consequences for me of arranging and planning those talks, are not good, which could make me want to stop; if only they weren’t always evidence of just how much these talks are needed.

The annoyance is that clarity and good communication is the cure for that pain. It was unnecessary. At no point did I have to feel that, whether needed or not. Being told what will happen in a timely and clear manner changes lives. It’s such a small thing.

The problem with large organisations is that the first thing you lose is accountability. If no one person is responsible for getting in touch, then everyone can hold up their hands and say, “Wasn’t me!”

Assigning this responsibility to individuals would give that accountability; there are always solutions for those who want them. Reasonable adjustments are all about being reasonable. A system of clear communication for all creates a culture of honesty and trust.

The irony that I have just been excluded from an event about Inclusion in Leadership, will one day amuse me enormously, but not today.

I may also raise a smile at my patience throughout a year of uncertainty and poor communication, and the fact that once the event was finally fixed and would suit me far better, it was assumed that I would be happy to change it back to an unfixed and uncertain future event, to lurk in the corner of my consciousness for another year.

No. The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. As much as I want to change the world, as great as this opportunity might be, it is not good if it does not respect who I am and how I work. It is not good if it damages me and makes me feel that shame that I feel when I cannot function and my differences become stark and problematic.

Today I am hunkering down and existing. Today is for battening down hatches and shoring up defences. Tomorrow I’ll go over the top.

36 thoughts on “Meltdown

  1. You know, not giving information about change in proper time etc is not just bad communicatin – it’s rude. Yes, things can change over a period of time and, yes, a year IS a long time, BUT that only makes it more importent to give good, and clear, information. It’s not like they didn’t had time for it…
    It dosen’t matter who you are everyone needs good and clear information. Not giving that says more about the person giving it then it does about you. To me the info you gave in your blogpost says to me that the person who wrote you that letter either A) is afried of conflict or B) simply haven’t got the needed info them self, and therefore give you a fluffyblurr of nonsense to keep all doors open. Just in case…
    I might be totaly wrong about all this but thats how I would feel and think about it if it had happen to me. And I would probably bee quite angry and phone that person and ask them what they ment with all that nonsens… I hate talking on the phone but I hate being keept in middle of nothing even more 😡

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think that reaction is all perfectly valid and you could well be right.

      “In the middle of nothing” is exactly the right way to describe it.


  2. The problem is that those in charge believed they were communicating clearly; they fail to appreciate that we don’t read between between the lines, because they always do.

    I’ve had many similar experiences. It’s always so frustrating.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It certainly is frustrating. It’s gotten me in trouble so many times over the years. I’ve been told not to over-analyse, but if I don’t then I risk misinterpreting the meaning where there could be doubt. People who I can trust to tell me what I need to know are worth their weight in gold.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I understand you fully and as you state clear communication is so important and as someone commented not doing it is rude. I am sorry for the meltdown, and I understand it too. Too much to deal with especially the social lie something I also fail to understand. asking for clarity is necessary and sometimes people actually welcome it, others manage to wiggle their way and not give clear answers. I cannot live with no clear answers and it leads me to withdraw once more. Thank you for sharing your experiences, please continue it is a breath of fresh air because you say things as they are. Sending you hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sometimes I feel like the majority of people are contented with vague communication and they don’t dwell on it when a miscommunication occurs, they can easily shift or deny responsibility. Even when they acknowledge that it’s inefficient communication, somehow they just live with it and not bother to change. This made me feel bad when asking for clarity, like somehow it’s my failure for not being able to read between the lines, like I’m creating extra work for them by asking for clarity. I know I shouldn’t feel this way but the way things work, I feel like I’m the one at fault.
    I hope writing about it makes you feel better 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you. My view is that things can only change by speaking out – even when that’s difficult. It’s really hard asking for clarity, it would be so much better if it was a standard communication technique. We don’t want more than any one else, we just want to understand.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I think it is entirely reasonable to be confused over communication that is unclear. And vagueness and indirectness is only the tip of the iceberg as it also illustrates how so many people reason and the grounds on which they function. (This is worrisome to me as these type people are also the ones cranking out research studies based on vague and incorrect terminology which produce obviously faulty conclusions and a great deal of negative impact on down the line.)
    I’m really not qualified to comment on such as I often flop spontaneous outgoing conversation. Just 2 days ago, a lady said to me she was an art teacher. A person nearby added that the lady taught in a pretty bad area. So, I brilliantly blurted out: So you teach art and martial arts. (Apparently that was subtly not appropriate to say.) So I often ruin my half of communication BUT at the same time, others’ communication and actions often makes no sense at all. The last restaurant job I worked, I quit because they literally ran out of spoons (I didn’t know about that phrase then). Seriously, I took a lady her soup and discovered the hosts hadn’t given her any silverware, so I went to see if any had just come out the dishwasher only to discover a host was hoarding them all and they threatened anyone who tried to take any until they were done rolling them. I told the manager, who said let the host finish rolling the silverware (which would be a good 20 minutes) and I got so absolutely confused as to what to say to the poor lady (that I could no longer put together a single sentence) or what to do to fix the problem that I up and quit.
    I’ve recently read somewhere that something like only 10% (or so) of communication is done verbally. It occurred to me that maybe normal people develop as intellectually average as they do because they spend all their time ‘listening’ to silent chatter rather than thinking. If that’s true, then it isn’t really their fault. But, at the same time, average is neither best nor even good. It is merely just common. And it especially doesn’t at all prompt any improvement or progress.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences with me. The spoon story shows a complete lack of sense from those making the decisions! I’m not surprised you walked away.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It is so hard for me to find the balance between pestering and possibly indicating lost interest in so many situations. Formal situations like this and even within friendships. I always wonder if it’s just me that doesn’t know how to communicate without doing either but also feel frustrated at how unclear others are when they are communicating. So I really, really empathize with what you are saying here. I hope you are feeling better and I’m glad that you are willing to organize these things in order to speak about autism as an autistic person. It’s more than important, so thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think being prepared to say “enough” is such a valuable point to be at. It’s okay to say no. I’m sorry you went through similar


  7. I totally get this. Thank you for articulating an issue which many of us find difficult to put into words
    I found myself nodding in agreement all the way through your post.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. You are not alone with the problems on lack of communication. I recently was not-included in a series of art fairs that I’ve been in for years. When I asked whether my application was even received (though there was an email response that I realized it had been), I was told I hadn’t been included for economic reasons – I’m just not a top income-generator at that location. But this promoter had never given me a rejection until I called to say I’d never gotten the email with my booth space for next week’s show.
    I have something somewhat unrelated to tell you – yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting a young man who has Asperger’s. He was at the art fair (I got into another fair at the last minute) with his Mom, who I figured is neurotypical. His Mom had to remind him to look at my face while shaking hands, but it came across mostly as shyness. They showed me some of his art and I gave a few pointers, especially that selling work online overcomes the stress of in-person interactions. I can see that his drawing ability is intuitive, but also so the heavy hand that you have said you have (you mentioned about holding cups really hard) in his work.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah yes. I am definitely heavy handed!

      Thanks for sharing your experience with me. It would all be a lot easier if people communicated more clearly, and didn’t make assumptions about others’ understanding. I’m sorry you’ve had problems too 💐


  9. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It made me feel less alone. Not being understood is a total bug bear. But it doesn’t necessarily make so-called normal people bad, just misguided and misinformed. I’ve had melt-downs in the past until I realised it was doing no good to me or anyone. Now I retreat into a silence that should speak volumes, but is probably seen as sulking. (“Oh, she sulks and I can’t stand it.”). Plenty of neurotypicals are champion sulkers all on their own.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely, I really believe that it’s a miscommunication and not an act of malice. To avoid confrontation, many will do anything to avoid offending. It’s just unfortunate that when that happens, the communication techniques used often have the opposite effect on autistic people. It’s completely unintended, but has to be pointed out to make it stop. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.


  10. Creative people, and especially autistic, creative people, are generally not understood by non-creative people; the creative mind works in a different way and is usually misunderstood resulting in poor communication. Thank you for your candid expression which is so very helpful to others who share your disappointment; it is immensely creative.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. One thing I can’t help noticing about creative people (particularly the most talented ones) is that they tend to be the most troubled.
      This is regardless of whether the creative talent is autistic or not. Still, it’s not good when autistics fall victim to depression due to lack of support, not just from society
      but from their own families (one aspect of “The Good Doctor” which I did find accurate- unaccepting family members. Killing Shaun’s pet rabbit was awful, too). If our families won’t even accept us (this is true about my father’s
      family), then how can we expect society to do the same? One thing I do believe,
      having loving, supporting relatives in your corner makes life easier.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hear hear to every word. A communication disorder or as I heard it put yesterday- autism is brilliance that that can not be communicated to humans. Thank you for sharing and when the force returns may it take you far.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I’m sorry for your difficulty with all that you mentioned in your essay. Despite me being quite confused trying to understand what your message was or ‘is’ (I still don’t get it..sorry.) One thing I will mention is…you are ‘not alone’ with respect to ‘rejection’ or ‘not being included’ in things. I have been thrown away from family (since dad died) hated and thrown away by former school friends (those who I’m connected with on social media…but i wouldn’t really call them ‘friends’ either etc….) and am treated like shit just about everywhere else. That being said – what I’m about to say, is somewhat harsh….but I’ think its a fair statement still nonetheless …and that is: when people mistreat us or harm us…whether physically or emotionally…in the end, there is only one loser: us! (not them!) One thing I do get…and that I sense your ‘struggle’ is *real*! I wish I could say; people care and will try to do better. But I can’t. The fact is…they don’t care! They don’t give a shit! And so, its only up to us (the victims) to choose how we react… I wish you luck – keep writing – even if idiots like me don’t understand what you are saying – I’m sure all I write about, tons don’t understand nor ever will – but that’s life. Good Luck – and hope 2019 is better for you!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I relate to this in a big way! I understand exactly what you’re talking about. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s a few years ago at age 28. I recently started blogging myself and focus on adult women on the spectrum. I look forward to your future posts! =)

    Liked by 2 people

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