How do I deal with extreme emotional sensitivity due to Asperger?

Emotional meltdowns are a common problem for those of us on the spectrum. You have already taken the first crucial step to dealing with it: using introspection to understand what happens to you in these situations, especially being able to feel the meltdown coming on. Almost all strategies for dealing with meltdowns hinge on being able to see them coming, and that kind of emotional introspection is very difficult for many of us. Kudos!

That being said, I see four main strategies for dealing with over-sensitivity.

1) Change your environment. Generally, eliminate meltdown sources. I, for example, only visit FB on a schedule, and very rarely post anything, after many experiences like yours. (I have also almost eliminated talking on the phone). Another example would be to have someone who will help you leave a gathering if you start to feel overwhelmed. Spoon Theory, if you’ve heard about it, is a system for measuring the stressors that can lead to meltdown and avoiding a boil-over. I highly recommend you read up on it.

2) Change yourself. This is framed by therapists as toughening up. The idea here is that what causes your meltdowns is a form of anxiety, and exposure therapy is generally accepted as the best treatment options. The hope is that by slowly exposing yourself to things that cause you to melt down, you will become more resistant to meltdown. This is a valid method, but the practitioners I’ve met don’t care about spectrum issues and tend to frame their therapy as cultivating strength from weakness, which I don’t think is a good way to look at it. For example, it conflicts with Spoon Theory.

3) Drugs. I self-medicated for many years, and I honestly believe that a lot of the addicts on the spectrum are using this to try to manage this kind of overwhelming meltdown anxiety. The side effects are life-destroying, though, so all I can recommend are Dr. Prescribed drugs. And the sad truth there is that what drugs you will be prescribed depend almost entirely on the Dr. you go to, and what you’re already taking. Anti-depressants and anti-psychotics are both being used to treat people on the spectrum. They take a long time to kick in, the effects are often subtle, and the side effects suck. Benzodiazepines, (Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, ect) will stop your meltdown in its tracks, calm you, and immediately reduce your anxiety enough to get you some distance from it and increase your functionality. Unfortunately, many doctors see it like a street drug, and will refuse you on the grounds that it can be addictive and has serious, (but vague) consequences associated with long term use. I say that as a heavy metal Lithium has very severe and well established side effects, but they were never a reason to stop taking it. And I’ve been on Ativan for five years, without messing up my dose yet. So try for Ativan, (usually seen as the least harmful of the benzos, but you may have to argue for it, and if you do, you might just be labeled a junkie.

4) Radical Acceptance. Yes, DBT has become something awful in the name of cost cutting, but it comes from solid roots. If you can take the ideas of mindfulness and radical acceptance seriously, (and for that, try learning it from someone from a religious tradition that practices it, or at least a lifelong practitioner – if they think you can learn mindfulness from handouts, you’re in the wrong place. Whatever else you’re doing, cultivating these two things is the best way I know to improve one’s control over one’s own thinking.

And most of all, remember that a lot of us are fighting with you. As Temple Grandin said: “The primary emotion experienced by autistic people is fear.” Do your best, honor yourself for doing your best, find peers, find help, don’t ever let them tell you there’s something wrong with you, and good luck. I’m rooting for you.





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