THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE.
“I always wanted to be able to do more and what I finally realized was that I couldn’t… I had to accept that. You cant fix it or hug it away. You have to learn and prepare and take care of yourself.”
This is how a friend of mine expressed what she felt during one of my meltdowns. This article is for all of the friends who want us to feel better, but don’t know where to begin.
Chances are good that you are a person WITHOUT mental illness. However, chances are just as good that you KNOW someone who does (you know me for one, and I like to party). If either of those is true, then you should know how to handle a mental illness meltdown from the outside.
In part 1 you learned about what a person melting down is experiencing. You also learned what is likely to happen during one. That’s all great, but what you really needed to learn was what to do BEFORE a meltdown. If you forgot, that’s ok, I’ll remind you. All you have to do is ask questions. Talk to the person about possible warning signs, triggers, and outcomes. Ask them how they’d prefer YOU to react, because in any chaotic situation, the only thing you can control is you, and the first moments of a meltdown are critical. Don’t be a hero.
About 6 months ago, I became totally transfixed on death. I was desperate, scared, crying, lost, and paralyzed, thinking about my ultimate demise, but more importantly, everyone’s demise, seemingly around the clock. I know I think about death more than most. That’s a fact. Most people compartmentalize this aspect of life effectively and push it to the side. I do not. I vividly remember being 5-years old and crying for a whole day about death. Sobbing. Unrelenting. Inconsolable. That same feeling began creeping in again.
What’s funny is that I’m not scared of much really, except completely irrational things like scary movies. I can easily speak in front of people and not get nervous. I can get in a cage wearing next to nothing and fight another man, and not really be bothered by the experience. However, I get extremely sad when I contemplate what comes next. I’m an atheist, so I know for a fact that when I go in the ground, that’s it. That’s it for at least the next billion years until the Earth explodes, freezes or gets smacked by a comet. I wish I had your silly belief of eternal salvation, but that’s just not the case. I can’t un-ring that bell. If you want to read some of my pieces on atheism, go for it. They’re searchable on the site.
So anyway, this thought about death lingered and lingered. Ultimately, I had a meltdown. Then another. Then a third. Now a fourth. I was asked about my inspiration for writing this. Basically, it was these meltdowns, and my experience being handled poorly. I’m not blaming anyone. They didn’t know. The person/s attempting to intervene during the meltdowns were making classic mistakes. It’s not their fault. I hadn’t written this yet, LOL. So let me fill you in.
Classic Meltdown Mistakes
- Doing too much
- Asking questions during
- Making suggestions during
- Using baby talk (it’s ok, it’s all gonna be ok, daddy’s gotcha, goo goo gaa gaa)
- Attempting to take my phone (or whatever) from me
- Coming at my physically trying to restrain me (I’m not a danger to anyone but me, I promise)
- Making threats
- Getting too many people involved
- Making demands
- Calling parents
- Calling the police
After listening to the Invisibilia podcast (ep. 6) I mentioned in part 1, It occurred to me that I know what to do because I have mental illness meltdowns, and I’ve been trained to be on the other side of one. I have a shit load of experience here. Most people do not. So, what do you do if you’re the one around when one of us is freaking out? Step one… Freeze. Just like if you’re playing the outfield in a baseball game and a fly ball is hit at you, your first step is always backwards. Same here. Step back, and pay attention. It’s time to make a play. Here are some strategies:
1) Talk to the person before it happens.
“Hey buddy, I know you sometimes struggle. What can I do if I’m ever around and that happens?” I wouldn’t be offended if you asked me that. In fact, I’d rather everyone around me understood beforehand what could go down. I can sit here and rationally explain to you how to handle me, but if you ask during, you’re fucked.
What’s odd is that I’m able to be rational and tell you how ridiculous all of this is now. I’m embarrassed that this ever happens to me, but it does. When I’m inside of a meltdown, there is nothing rational going on.
2) Clear the area.
Get anything potentially dangerous out of the way. Make sure I’m not eyeing something up to grab because I’m a grown man with badass fighting skills, and taking something from me now is not going to happen. And your stupid self-defense Krav-Maga class is useless against my actual MMA fighting skills which I developed FIGHTING IN A FUCKING CAGE REPEATEDLY FOR YEARS. Have you done that? No? You just mimicked eye-poking and nut shots on some dork dressed as a Spaceman down at the YMCA one Saturday? Ya, best not make this physical. Sorry. Not to bury self defense classes, but come the fuck on.
I only make that comment because I’ve seen full grown adults who were “trained” to do a “physical restraint” get tossed around like the Incredible Hulk putting away laundry. Don’t attempt this. You will get rag dolled. What people forget is that adrenaline is a drug, and the meltdown has caused a huge dump. Don’t worry, it will subside in 15 minutes. You may want to duck and cover until then.
3) Proceed with pharmaceutical interventions quickly.
“Hey, I see you’re getting upset, should I get you a pill?” Some people can rebound quickly if they take their medicine, maybe something like Xanax. I know that if I miss my morning medicine just two days in a row, that day three is going to be bad. I don’t intentionally skip, but it happens. Remind me. It’s possible that a quick dose of something could curb the outburst. People who respond to medicine usually carry it, so ask.
4) Don’t create an audience. If possible, get one other person but be very careful who you choose, and extremely certain before getting the police involved.
We do not want to escalate the scene, and police don’t like to play the waiting game. Usually, when cops arrive, people end up in the back of a patrol car, or worse, and just a single incident of having to be detained based on mental health can fuck up your life forever.
Yes, sometimes it’s necessary, but use this as the very last resort. Get another rational adult. As we learn daily, police officers are fucking morons. This could easily get violent if they arrive. I’m not afraid to punch a police horse in the mouth.
5) Don’t dance!
This is the most important part. Do not engage in my self-destructive thought patterns. “It’s all pointless!” I scream, “What is?” My friend asks… wrong answer. You cannot attempt therapy during this time span. Do not expect rational thoughts. Just be available, and real. Don’t turn into the super sweet voiced mom patronizing me. That act just irritates me. Just be real, and try not to talk much. Don’t stoke the fire.
SUMMARY: Be harmless, not helpful. Don’t be a hero. We don’t need another body. When you’re witnessing a meltdown, remember, this too shall pass. Know that I love you. Know that I know you mean well. We can talk later. But for now, I just need you to get the fuck out of the way.
Action Steps Cheat Sheet:
- Prepare ahead of time by asking questions.
- Clear the area and make it safe (no need to go overboard here).
- Got meds?
- Get help.
- Don’t dance!
Those 5 Action Steps should be enough for you. Notice that I never mention attempting to put out the fire. That’s not your job. That’s mine, and that’s what I’ll be addressing in part 3.