The Train Ain’t Even Left the Station

The crappy speakers in the crappy smart TV in my office at home, where if I’m honest I sleep more than in my own bedroom with my husband, are blaring O Children by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on endless loop at full volume, which is honestly mostly distortion and fuzzy backing chorus. 

Concealed by the distorted music, I am screaming. 

“I’m happy Ma I’m having fun. The train ain’t even left the station…” growls above my agonized wails of all-the-emotions.

I am a bag of ants. Agitated spiders. The angriest of demons. The most terrifying of angels. To be completely on the nose, a runaway train.

Stress and tears and age have blurred my vision so much that I can barely see what I’m writing. My reading glasses slide to the top of my head – there that’s slightly better but not good enough – it will never be good enough if I can’t stop screaming.

Even in those moments where I’m silent, in my mind, my heart, whatever that thing is that is me, is this wail – this ragged scream of extreme distress. 

I am autistic. I am having a meltdown.

I am rocking back and forth on the fulcrum of my hips, with increasing violence that only the effort of writing this can limit. 

I feel a knot of pain I cannot describe or control. It is just a scream. A continuous scream that my breath and my vocal cords cannot sustain, and so it happens in my head. 

I am having a meltdown.

I struggle to remind myself: This is not my fault. This is a common experience. I will learn to manage it.

Being alive at 56 having failed so much at things ordinary people can do without thought has produced this intractable mass of grief and anger and pain that will not ever leave. At this point in my life every trauma is about all the trauma. Every distress encapsulates all the distress of living this many years failing to live up to the potential I was told I had, all these years of the same failures – money, communication, love, comfort – over and over and over. 

I am autistic. 

Most of the people in my life don’t know this. They don’t know that I go through this. Only my husband knows. Only he sees this monumental distress, this near-fatal inability to find my center. He knows the screams that I allow out – maybe 10% of the screams I feel internally, but all I can sustain out loud. He knows the slams of doors and the objects thrown against the wall and the deep frustration of living with someone who cannot articulate her pain. 

But he doesn’t really understand because how could he? He’s not autistic. 

(He’s also not the point of this.)

(The ten seconds between repeat on this song is excruciating. I need the drums to come back. I need the repetition of the guitar strum. I need the solid mass of the chorus in the background. I need Cave’s gravelly painful lyrics, the voice that sounds like it hurts, because it’s like my voice after I’ve screamed into the pillow until I’m exhausted – into a pillow because it’s a beautiful summer day and my neighbors are having a party and I cannot have them hear this.)

The point of this is to record what this feels like. This nearly-weekly meltdown. This thing that happens when the thing I care most about – using words to connect with people I love – fails. As it does. Repeatedly. Consistently.

And the pain of that repeated failure is killing me. Every time it’s bigger, more painful, more like someone is dragging my soul out of my body with a dry thick ragged rope that cuts my flesh and tears at the remaining fragments of my self. I am shreds. Shards. I am bloody. Every time, this tears me down more. Every time communication fails, I am left more lost, more hopeless, more terrified.

And yet, by what you’d see of me in public, what little you’d see of me in public, at my job, on the street, you’d think I’m just an old woman. Nothing special. Nothing dramatic. Pretty good hair. Worry lines on my forehead. A bit of a limp. Did I mention pretty good hair?

I don’t want to tell you what caused this meltdown because it isn’t important. And also, maybe more importantly, I don’t think I could explain it. I got frustrated, my husband misunderstood me, there was a conversation… and now I cannot breathe, still, even while writing this. I cannot sit without rocking back and forth. I cannot open my mouth without today’s mantra – “I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t” – exploding out of my face like the pressured and foul and bloody contents of a pustule. 

(This song. I don’t even understand what it’s about. It has the shape of my long-abandoned childhood religion – we were fundamentalist-adjacent – but it is darker, more hopeful, more painful, more ragged.)

“I’m hanging in there don’t you see, this process of elimination…”

It’s been about fifteen repeats of the song since I put it on. I am starting to be able to breathe. I still feel like my chest is ripped wide open. I still feel so much pain – but it’s quieter now. 

And I am calm enough to reassure you – I am not a victim of some unimaginable Hulu documentary-style trauma. I am simply autistic…

…and because the realization that I’m autistic came so late (at 56, less than a year ago) I never had a chance to understand how I work, who I am, to put the continual trauma of just being fucking weird and wrong all my life to bed. I haven’t healed anything yet. I am only just at the point where I understand where my failures have come from – my unsupported and misunderstood difference from the rest of the world – and not at the point where I can do anything to make it better. 

And in the middle of a meltdown I cannot even imagine how to make it better, but I understand that it’s possible. I have seen in other people the transformative effects of self-awareness and community, of self-forgiveness and grace, of rest and understanding and research and reframing. But I’m not there yet. 

Where I am is that I have words for this pain – it is an autistic meltdown – but nothing that will make it better. 

Except the endless repetition of Nick Cave.

“We’re all weeping now, weeping because there ain’t nothing we can do to protect you…”

I don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about. But I feel myself, recognize myself, my ragged self, my beaten and disappointed and broken and lost self, in his damaged voice.

“They’re mopping up the butcher’s floor of your broken little hearts…”

I am starting to be able to breathe more deeply now. 

I do understand it. I understand that the small differences between how I process the world – take in information, use patterns, deal with collaborative and collective experiences, manage emotions – and how it works for most people… those differences are small but over time have become profound. 

Profound because of how much unrecognized trauma I’ve taken on cumulatively. 

Profound because every incident where I didn’t understand or manage what was happening around me has metastasized into an uncombable mass of ugly rot. 

I do understand that it will get better. I mean… I have a word for this experience now. Meltdown. And I have a whole community of other late-diagnosed autistic women who can validate me and add data points and share what they’ve learned. And hold space for me while I catch up. And raise their voices in a comforting chorus behind me while I wail out this …these … all of this … 

Words fail me. I don’t have all the nouns yet. 

My marriage may not survive this. My confidence and sense of who I am are already casualties. I have friendships that won’t ever be resurrected. 

But I know now why. I know that I’m genuinely different from the person I thought I was. And I know from watching people I’ve learned to trust that it gets better. That there are skills and lessons I can master. That there is hope. 

“I was held in chains but now I’m free. I’m hanging in there, don’t you see…”

And so I sit here rocking, feeling the music wrap around me resolving and unresolving and re-resolving over and over just like me, tears slowing a little, breath deepening.

My voice, damaged from decades of screaming in crushing pain, joins the chorus. 

“Rejoice. Rejoice. Children, lift up your voice.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: