Overload, Honestly.

I returned to work after months of my work being closed due to the pandemic. It was a rough quarantine for me. It began with being sick with COVID-19 for nearly two whole months (likely prolonged due to my autoimmune conditions and immunocompromised status), then my cat, who I’ve loved and cared for since the very day he was born, cared for through illness and nursed back to health after injury, passed away suddenly. I had him for twelve and a half years, my entire adult life. I don’t think my heart will ever heal. He was an indescribable source of comfort for me. (Going through that loss is a subject for another post—one I feel is important to discuss because of the ways my Autistic brain processed the grief in its acute stages—yet another subject there is close to nothing written about.)

With the stress of living through a pandemic, falling ill, losing my fur-child/my entire heart, being forced to return to work full-time with zero notice, with a significantly weakened, already-compromised immune system, in a hotel, serving guests who feel it is safe to travel and who treat the state and county laws of wearing facial coverings like mere suggestions or political games, and I’ve lost complete track of this sentence by now. The length and content is overwhelming, and I do mean that in more ways than one. With all of those factors, my ability to function has drastically suffered. The threshold for what I can handle before experiencing overload has lowered by a significant amount.

I come home from work every day and experience a full-blown meltdown. I come home so overloaded I cannot even stand being talked to or touched by my fiancé and it is hard. He is the most caring, understanding, supportive man, and I am so unbelievably lucky, but watching me suffer is incredibly hard for him. Especially when there is nothing he can do about it, because nothing helps. By the time I get home from work, all sound hurts. I have synesthesia, and sound causes me to see flashing lights and experience physical sensations (like electric shocks) all over my body. The more overloaded I am, the more pain it causes. So, not only is the sound overloading, but the flashing light and the feeling from the sound is overloading, so the amount of overload I experience increases at an exponential rate. It’s hard to break the cycle once it’s that far gone.

For me, a meltdown can happen a few different ways. Sometimes it’s hysterical crying, sometimes its hysterical anger.  Usually, it’s the angry type. Interestingly, I’ve spent my life in therapy learning coping mechanisms for my meltdowns, it’s just no one ever knew what caused them. Most of the time, I am able to exercise some amount of control. I scream into pillows at the top of my lungs, punch pillows, throw pillows, kick pillows, pound on the bed with my fists, use a pillow and beat it against the wall, or the floor, or another pillow… most of the time. These last few weeks my pillows have taken an incredible beating, but there were a few times I lost control. One night I collapsed to the floor and started hitting myself on the head with my fists. Another night, I started pounding on my legs while I sat on the couch. In these moments, I don’t even know that I am doing these things. I only become aware of it because my fiancé says “HEY! Stop!” In these moments, his voice brings me back to myself and I can start pounding something softer, like the mattress, or a pillow, or a couch cushion. 

Though my fiancé is as supportive as they come, I hate that he has to see me like this. Prior to the last few weeks, throughout these 32 years my meltdowns have happened on occasion. Now it’s daily and I feel broken. I want to be clear—I am not inherently broken, but I feel like the outside world is breaking me. The outside world has always seemed brutal. There were always certain challenges I faced. It just wasn’t hitting me as hard before the pandemic—before everything I’ve gone through since March. Before my heart was shattered, I had more strength. Now when I get home from work and I need my kitty, I have to go into my bedroom and lift his little box off of its spot on my nightstand. Ill lay on my bed and let his ashes rest on my chest the way he used to, and stroke the spot on the box where his name is engraved. I lost him three months ago, but somehow it hurts even more now because I just need him so much right now. He was always there for me no matter what. Really, solidly there. I haven’t learned how to function without that yet.

I’ll say again: I want to be clear. I didn’t write this post to throw myself a pity party. This pandemic has been hell for me, but I know it’s been bad (or worse) for others. I thought I would start to feel better and more like myself once I could get back to work. Heck, I was actually really excited to get back to work. But given the pandemic and my new additional challenges with illness and loss, it turns out returning to work has only taken me to the next level of hell—one from which there seems to be no escape. But, still, I am moving forward. I am continuing with my new therapist/specialist, and I have reached out to a few psychiatrists to see about getting an assessment. (That is a first for me. I’ve never seen a psychiatrist. But from where I am sitting… I think it’s time to try.) I just can’t do it on my own right now.

I want to be honest here. I want to be honest in my experiences, even when they are not great ones. Because that is what I want to read. I start writing every post by asking myself “What do I feel like I need to read about right now? What would help me in this moment?” My assumption is that I am not the only one who has ever looked to others’ experiences for help and not been able to find them. I appreciate all the positive stories. All the success stories. All the encouragement. All the everything that’s out there. I love reading about the good moments, but I need to read about the bad moments too. That is why I am writing this. I am writing this for the others who are sitting in the dark, feeling battered and broken, and in a constant state of overload. I want whoever finds and reads this to know that they are not alone. That we are in this together. And that we have nothing to be ashamed of. Prior to my diagnosis, I spent a lot of my life ashamed. Since my diagnosis, I reject that feeling. It’s a feeling that is hard to beat, but I will beat it (with a feather pillow, if needed).

I returned to work after months of my work being closed due to the pandemic. It was a rough quarantine for me. But coming out of quarantine has been rougher.