Handling Frustration and Disappointment

cap_accuweather_01142013My hands were actually cold as I was typing this post. Well, partly because the temperature’s cooler than usual. (Wow, 26 degrees Celsius in Manila at daytime is quite unusual for me, and it hadn’t even rained. But anyway, disregard the picture — it’s just a representation on how cold it was.)

But today, it was mostly because I went through another series of events that left me upset and frustrated.

Some people would ask: How does an adult on the autism spectrum feel when faced with a situation that would leave them frustrated and upset? How would they handle frustration and disappointment, especially in this world where everything changes every time? And how would they cope with the innate reactions and feelings that they would manifest when encountering something that breaks their expectations in a negative manner?

Now, I want everyone to understand that how one autistic person handle their frustrations might not be the same with how their counterparts do so. After all, everybody’s unique in one way or the other, even among us autistics.

Defeating the Stereotype

Many people, specifically those who have not been oriented into what autism really is and how autistic individuals behave, would perceive the behavior of the latter as uncontrollable, spoiled brats who stop at nothing to throw tantrums and cause injury and damage to themselves and others. While our actions might seem like so to you, it isn’t usually the case.

We autistics have diverse means of dealing with frustration, given the huge challenges on our part on understanding social cues, expressing our thoughts and meanings, and coping with the world at large. What is common among us, though, is due to such challenges, we are prone to being frustrated and upset more easily than everybody else.

Double-Edged Sword

I would consider myself both more and less fortunate than my brothers and sisters in the autistic spectrum, in terms of handling frustration and the support that I get.

Why did I say so? In a way, I find myself quite in an advantage, since I developed communication in a manner that no one can actually distinguish my autism (which sometimes is also a dilemma for me). I had managed to acquire the ability to tell what I feel, especially in a supportive environment, and where people would listen to and understand me. Also, being a high-functioning autistic, I am in a way able to deal with frustration as close as neurotypicals normally would.

However, I am quite in a quandary at the same time when dealing with my frustrations. When I get into a meltdown, some would attempt to stop and restrain me, which only makes things worse for me. Well, such people either think I’m still the “normal” guy who is just crazy or something, but I’m not. And since I was not able to receive the support I needed as a child, I tended at times to lash out and snap at everything and everyone when I am frustrated.

We Don’t Mean It

Just because I lash out at (and even hurt) other people due to my meltdowns doesn’t necessarily mean I meant everything. Most of the time, I felt sorry that it had happened, and most of the time, either I would apologize, or simply not leave my room and talk to anyone until the fire dies down.

When an autistic individual experiences a meltdown, it is usually a last-resort mechanism when everything else in their capacity has failed. At that point, it can be quite confusing for parents, caregivers, and other people around the individual. Is it because of something that has frustrated the individual or is it something else? Or it could just be a mere temper tantrum, when they can’t get what they want?

Now some would attempt to stop the meltdown by either punishing or restraining the individual, in an effort to stop or at least mitigate the meltdown, especially in public places. That will never work, or if at all, it would just be a band-aid solution that would harm the autistic person in the long run. Pent-up feelings can be quite destructive, and it’s even worse for autistics who have been excessively restricted of their coping mechanisms.

How I Handled My Own Frustrations

Well, as I have already mentioned, I have my own means to deal with being frustrated and disappointed. In the past, when money used to be within my reach, I attempt to flush out my frustrations with food, and lots of it. I also resorted to blogging and social media, blurting out my feelings. But sometimes, negative forces come in, especially people who don’t really approve of my opinions. And when I do have a meltdown, the least I would want or need is to be stopped in a harsh manner. I would quiet down once I let it all out.

Just recently, I was met with a huge frustration, something that could throw me into a meltdown. While it is something I’d rather keep behind closed doors and dealt with in a professional manner, let us say that it has something to do with breaking my expectations. When I saw the results, I felt overwhelmed — not with awe, but with the feeling of being pissed off, because the outcome was the very least I expected. I tried my best not to lash out at those who made the changes, and the first thing I did was to actually approach some people I trust and communicate my disappointment toward the situation. Well, the issue has not yet been resolved to date, but we’ll see about it.

How did I manage? It was thanks to my experiences in life, and the support of some people around me, many of whom I learned to trust. I can tell you more, but whether it would work for other autistic individuals is something we have yet to know.

Outlook

Everyone is subject to being frustrated and disappointed, and being an autistic does not merit an exemption — dealing with frustrations is a huge challenge for us. All we needed is help, not by stopping us, but by looking for solutions on how you can help us — not with unorthodox means, but with basic understanding and genuine concern.

At this rate, all I can do is sigh at my current disappointments. Sigh.

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3 thoughts on “Handling Frustration and Disappointment

  1. Thank you for this. I’m not autistic but I often feel overwhelmed by my frustrations. I work extremely hard to make things go perfectly and I become extremely disappointed when I never actually realize what I imagined.
    There is something I have been working on for the past three years at the least. I spend an average of four hours a day trying to make it work right. It is extremely frustrating when it does not work right.

    Today, I encountered a scenario that frustrated me overwhelmingly. I spent about two and a half hours crying. I feel extremely powerless in this situation. Most people would not feel that way and this makes me feel even more like I can’t function right.

    Thanks for your article. Sometimes, empathy is the frustration half quenched.

  2. I’m three years late finding this post, but feel the need to reply anyway. I got labeled as a high functioning autistic very early in my life. And then literally nothing helpful was ever done. Much was done, in fact, that was harmful. My mother still makes fun of me for my childhood meltdowns. I never knew even what they were, only that periodically my world would collapse with wildly disproportionate grief. I’ve managed them better as I’ve gotten older, but have just assumed that at my core I’m a spoiled, selfish brat. Frustration is always hard for me, but I’ve avoided an actual collapse into a full nonverbal crying fit in years. A couple of things went wrong in my life in rapid succession this week and a prime opportunity simultaneously evaporated hours after I’d gotten giddily excited about it. Cue massive meltdown. With no idea what happened. Just grief and heartbreak all out of proportion to the issue. I occasionally lose words when I’m tired or stressed (my husband has learned that when his normally articulate wife says things like “thing there go to put in stuff and make dark happy” she means “please God, get the coffee prepped for me so I can go to bed.”) This time I lost words entirely. I could THINK in complete sentences, but nothing came of my mouth. It was awful. At which point my husband (who has a very autistic nephew and a mom that functions a bit higher than I), said “you’re having a meltdown.” Which made me try desperately to explain that only crazy people have meltdowns and I’m not crazy. So he explained that an autistic meltdown is an actual thing and not crazy. And then he went online and googled until he found your blog. Which I will now be reading religiously. So thank you. It’s really good to know that I’m not alone.

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