Springingtiger's Blog


Heathrow Meltdown
December 9, 2014, 11:04
Filed under: Parenting, Travel | Tags: , , , , , ,

On Sunday Neelam and I flew back to Glasgow from London Heathrow Airport. I have never liked flying, I find it extremely stressful. The problems begin with packing to meet the rules of the airlines, sizing bags and weighing them, but on a return journey with no shopping there was no cause for worry. They continue with the anxiety induced by having to get to the airport on time, on Sunday that presented no problem at all. The biggest anxiety for me is an irrational dread of not getting through security. On Sunday I successfully ensured I did not set off metal detectors, I should have been able to relax, but Neelam both set off the detector and activated a bag search. Then as I replaced my bits and pieces in their proper places about my person I discovered my favourite ring was missing, my stress was beginning to build.

We were to fly at 21:00 and our gate should have been announced at 20:10, we waited for the announcement until 20:35. I was beginning to be anxious, I don’t like my schedule to be changed without prior notice, actually I just don’t like my schedule to be changed. At last we were directed to  gate A6, but while we were queuing the gate was changed to A4a. When we reached A4a we discovered we were actually leaving through A4b. We were in a confined space full of people, some of whom were very apparently upset, most of whom seemed to be talking. The circumstances were conducive to meltdown.

I could feel my body’s tics beginning to become pronounced. I pushed through the press and got to a seat. I put my earplugs in and closed my eyes to try and block out stimuli. Then came that moment I always dread, when my body and my mind separate and I find myself looking on impotently as my body weeps, shakes and makes strange noises and there is nothing I can do. Were I insensible it might be less terrifying, there are few things, if any, I know more terrifying than being trapped powerless in my own body. Fortunately this time, as on some other occasions, my conscious closed down, in itself scaring, but insensibility provides a relief from unimaginable horror. I don’t know how I would have managed had I been travelling alone, but fortunately Neelam was with me, she took my ‘Autism Alert’ card and took control. She got me on the plane and then home.

As I come out of the meltdown I am confused. It is as though as I gain control of my body, I lose control of my mind. My speech becomes jumbled, my emotions confused and my ability to process information is drastically reduced. However after a meltdown I am totally exhausted, all my energy is drained. I just wrote Monday off and slept. Sleep is the only thing that brings my recovery, which is fortunate, as I am usually incapable of remaining awake. It is now nearly thirty six hours since my meltdown, I am awake and able to write, but I am still incredibly tired. I don’t think, unless someone has experienced a meltdown themselves’ anyone can appreciate the mental or physical toll of meltdown. Mentally it is terrifying, physically it is so draining that it can take days to recover.

Are there lessons to learn from meltdown? Firstly, If you are autistic carry an alert card! We never advise the airline in advance because I so rarely have a problem; after Sunday I know that, should I ever fly alone, I will advise the airline of my possible needs in advance. I am grateful that none of my fellow passengers had any objection to staff getting me on the bus first, not that I was aware by that point, but I would ask that people do show forbearance when someone is in meltdown, trust me it is far more upsetting to experience than to watch. I think thirdly, recognise that the person who has experienced a meltdown may need time, peace and quiet to recover; if you are the one recovering, take as long as you need and to everyone else, please be patient.

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