Meltdowns: Chaos & the Neurodivergent Author

meltdowns, ND, Neurodivergent, Kristen Lamb, autistic meltdowns

Meltdowns, frequently referred to as “autistic meltdowns” actually happen all along the ND (neurodivergent) spectrum, meaning ADD and ADHD people are certainly not immune. And, if you read my last post Neurodivergent Authors: Not Lazy or “Broken,” I expressed my fairly educated hypothesis/concern that many creative professionals likely fall somewhere along the ASD spectrum.

What does this mean?

Probably a lot of folks who read this blog have spent years attributing their irritability, stress, and possibly even full on implosions/tantrums solely to being introverts, unaware there are other neurological factors in play.

Factors, that, for the record, are completely manageable once we become aware of them.

For years, I had people around me accuse me of having an anger problem. While there were certainly times in my life this might have been applicable (I AM human), it didn’t always apply.

I’d be fine, fine, fine, less fine, not fine, red-lining then BOOM!

Often it might begin as generalized anxiety/irritability then would shift into me getting curt and (seemingly out of nowhere) BOOM! Crying, hysterical, threatening to live in my blanket fort forever and ever and everyone sucked eggs and needed to leave me alone lest I leap off a water tower.

What? I’m a writer. We can be dramatic. And they ARE called “meltdowns” not “fluffy kitten pillow-downs.”

***Though NOT ALL ND people have the same KIND of meltdowns. Hubby is autistic and he just shuts down. Seriously. Ctrl Alt Delete doesn’t even work. He says nothing, does nothing and just goes into a mental cave that even DYNAMITE doesn’t work on.

Understand Introversion vs. Extroversion

Before we go any further, I would like to clarify a point because I see this misused all the time and it makes my left eye twitch. Social anxiety is NOT the same as introversion.

The ONLY difference between an introvert and an extrovert is how/where you gain/lose energy.


If you need to be around people to charge your emotional batteries and being alone too much drains you? Then you are an extrovert. And likely an author who really LOVES writing in bustling coffee shops #KillMeNow.

Conversely, if you require alone time to recharge and being around people drains you, then you are an introvert. Whenever I speak at a conference I am probably one of the most high-energy speakers you’ll ever see present. I love people, enjoy getting and remembering everyone’s names, want to hear all about your life, hopes, dreams, stories, setbacks, and brownie recipes.


Whenever I get home, I have to slip into something more comfortable…like a COMA.

There are people with severe social anxiety who love to hang out in mosh pits or stand with a drink in a crowd of five hundred people listening to live music.

And, as I just mentioned, there are people like me who never met a stranger and could talk the ear off a brass monkey…but we NEED downtime lest we crash.

Most people (who are not locked up in an institution) are actually ambiverts. It is pretty rare to have a pure extrovert or introvert.

For more on this, go to: Myth-Busting—The Real Difference Between Introverts & Extroverts & Meet the Ambivert

Meltdowns & Are You REALLY an Introvert?

meltdowns, ND, Neurodivergent, Kristen Lamb, autistic meltdowns

Again, most people will be some mixture of introvert and extrovert. The far ends of the bell curve usually cannot function in society. This said, if you go back to my last post I talked about autism.

To reiterate, “If you have met one autistic person, you have met ONE autistic person.”

To grossly oversimplify autism, it is a sensory processing disorder. For me, the world is brighter, louder, itchier, yuckier and far more chaotic than it is for “normal” people (a.k.a. Neurotypical or NT). NT people don’t have a fit wearing a headband, or go bananas because there…is….a…tag on their shirt…that…KILL IT WITH FIRE!

The sheer levels of energy it takes for us ND people to “appear” normal could power a small city. This is why, to a degree, I am all for CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). I “get” that the world cannot always accommodate me and I have to learn some workarounds and to TRY to fit in the best I can.

That said? The rest of the world can learn some compassion, too.

Hey, we did it with left-handed people! Just give them a special notebook instead of beating them with rulers and telling them they were demon spawn.


Where was I?

Yes, the world is a very over-stimulating place for ND people. Meaning, we “might” be extroverts and it is just the fluorescent lights, the traffic noise, the constant binging on the phones, the noises on the computers, the AC going on and off and on and off and WHAT IS WITH THAT GUY WITH THE LEAF BLOWER?

So, just a thought. You might be an introvert, might not. Doesn’t really matter after you read all of this anyway.

Meltdowns: What is Going ON?

Back when I struggled with what I didn’t know at the time were autistic meltdowns, I was VERY bad about being self-aware of a) how stimulated/overstimulated I was b) how tired/overworked I was and c) that I needed to do better pre-planning.

When I found out about autistic meltdowns, I also uncovered The Spoon Theory.

The theory suggests that people living with chronic illness, chronic pain, or disability have a limited amount of energy (represented by spoons) to spend on completing tasks on any given day. This means people living with chronic health conditions have to make many difficult, energy-consuming choices about how to spend their limited energy.

Michelle Pugle VeryWellHealth

Anyone who’s followed me any length of time knows that I am a giver. I LOVE to give. I’ll take a call, run an errand, help a friend, teach a class, crochet for the needy. You name it? SIGN…ME…UP.

Or not.

This could just be me (and I also can blame the ADHD and OCD) but I tend to have terrible self-awareness. Why? Because I am paying SO MUCH ATTENTION to the world around me.

Social cues? What are those?

I have to put so much energy into reading the room and “fitting in” that all my energy can end up directed outwards.

Y’all have NO IDEA how many sticky notes are fluttering inside my head.

meltdowns, ND, Neurodivergent, Kristen Lamb, autistic meltdowns

Kristen, let other people talk.

Take turns…wait for it….wait for it….

LISTEN to what they are saying to you.

Where is that leaf blower noise coming from?

Don’t say the thing everyone probably thinking but will get you in trouble (again).

Is that joke appropriate, or a good way to get a visit from HR?

Why did I HAVE to wear HAIR CLIPS? I can feel my BRAIN.

Use your hands to gesture so you don’t look like a robot.

BACK UP! ABORT! Too much hands! ABORT!

Her outfit is nice but not nearly as nice as the one she wore three weeks ago. It was blue and I normally don’t like blue….

Kristen, let them leave. Make friends don’t take hostages.

What was the topic? FOCUS.

Don’t be weird. Don’t be weird. Don—DANG IT! You HAD to talk about the Black Plague, didn’t you?

Maybe no one here can relate, but you can write characters who DO.

Only So Many Fu-Spoons to Give

meltdowns, ND, Neurodivergent, Kristen Lamb, autistic meltdowns

Moving on…

Though obviously I recommend the link above, The Spoon Theory applies to anyone who is dealing with chronic pain, a chronic illness, dealing with grief/loss, or who might have sensory issues like those of us in the Special Unique Snowflake Fruit Salad that is ASD.

To give you the gist, we only have so many spoons of energy and it is wise for us to a) plan how to use them b) be aware when we are using them and c) take time to get away to refill them.

For instance, I can be accused of a lot of things, but lazy is not one of those things. When I took a good look at my Things To Do List? Let’s just say it or I was just a little bit…insane.

Since I have worked from home for over 20 years, I had (and still have) zero idea what might be “normal,” let’s just say “normal” not my wheelhouse.

Those who know me will tell you I can be mostly dead and will push through anyway (frequently to the detriment of my health). At least this was the case until recently.

Before I realized what a flaming idiot how foolish I was being, I felt I just needed more willpower. I had no concept that not only was my list too long, and my standards to high, but that I needed to chill…the hell…OUT.

I was having meltdowns because I struggle with admitting I even have limitations, let alone living within them. The ADHD means I use lists and timers to stay on task and the OCD tells me I must do all the things…perfectly.

But, I am improving.

Example One (LIFE):

Yesterday, I recruited Spawn (14 year-old son) to help me detail the bathrooms. I had to clean out 10+ years of detritus that had collected under and in cabinets because the clutter was wrecking my ability to quickly and easily keep things clean and organized.

***For the record, the picture above is NOT my bathroom, merely how my demented/perfectionist mind THINKS my bathroom looks.


Not only did I ask for help (WINNING!) but I also stopped after the bathrooms. Normally, my ADHD self would have had to put something into the closet, seen THAT was a mess, pulled all of THAT out and…BOOM!


As I say often about writing:

Perfect is the enemy of the finished.

I’m learning that, if I wish to go more granular on my organizing/cleaning, I can. On another day. Trust me, the junk will still be there. And, if I pace myself, I can do a little every day and keep that junk from having babies.

Example Two (WORK):

Though I didn’t yet have an official diagnosis, back in May when I went to speak in Boise, ID, I operated off the idea that I was, in fact, ND.

My presentations often are slotted at either the beginning of the day or the end of the day. The reason? I put off so much energy, I get people HOPPED UP! I make people laugh and move and participate and it is a lot of fun.

That said, I attend other speakers’ presentations out of professional courtesy, and also because I don’t know everything.

I know! *shock face*

Anyway, on Day 2 of the conference, I’d been traveling and walking and speaking and paying attention and then lunchtime came. My presentation was at like 2:00 (when everyone needs a NAP, me included).

I walked all the way from the conference center to the bustling restaurant before it hit me.

I was exhausted.

Any other conference, I would have ignored all my sensors flashing RED, gone in and socialized with all the writers, despite the crowds, noise and lights.

***Refer to visual representation of Kristen in image above.

This time? I did what I’d never done before and told Troy Lambert (my friend and co-author of our anthology WTH Did I Just READ?) I needed a “time out.” I walked all the way BACK to the conference center then sat alone in my noise canceling headphones and regrouped.

This was the ONLY conference in 15 years that I made it home perfectly healthy. Since I kept a better eye on my energy levels, I didn’t tank myself.

Also, when everything that could go wrong DID go wrong in my presentation (with the technology)? I held it together and was able to stick-and-move. Had I not recharged, it would have been a disaster.

Meltdowns: Other Issues

meltdowns, ND, Neurodivergent, Kristen Lamb, autistic meltdowns

We might be having meltdowns because we’re overstimulated, overtired, etc. etc. Yet, here is another insidious problem we might have a harder time dealing with.

Learn to set boundaries and enforce them.

I tend to be far too accommodating for my own good. I’ll set a boundary then, when others stomp all over it, I tell them it’s okay.

No, it isn’t.

When I do that, not only am I saying my time/space/boundaries have no meaning and it is okay to walk all over me, but I am ALSO confusing those around me with mixed messages.

Say, I need to write and I tell my family to leave me be until noon. They keep walking in and out and asking for things and for me to make nibblies and to ask me a question and I am all, “No, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s….

*Kristen grows 25 feet, morphing into LAMBZILLA*


Unfair to me, and confusing and unkind to others.

And, if you’re ND, then wobbly boundaries almost guarantees regular meltdowns.

Meltdowns and the Holidays

Tis the Season to Go Psycho

The world is far more fast-paced than ever in human history. It is also unsustainable, but that is another post. In the meantime—until SkyNet comes for us—we are going to have to be intentional.

I still have a day job writing and editing. I’m also a housewife who does all the shopping, cooking and cleaning. Additionally, I homeschool a 9th grader. If Santa Claus came down my chimney any other year I might have set his beard on fire.


This year, now that I know better? I am only putting out so many decorations, only giving so many gifts, and instead of singing Fa-La-La-La La? I’m saying NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NOOOOO!

Sort and prioritize. These are the SUPER important things and worthy of spoons. This stuff? A maybe. That stuff? Only if I have enough spoons.

Lest I end up hiding in a festive blanket fort weeping, washing down raw sugar cookie dough and sprinkles with a bottle of real eggnog…

What are Your Thoughts on Meltdowns?

Meltdowns…not just for toddlers anymore. Did you understand what it really means to be an introvert/extrovert? Were you possibly blaming a bit too much on being an introvert? Do you SUCK at being self-aware/doing self-care?

If you do have meltdowns, are yours the thermo-nuclear-everyone-get-under-that-50s-school-desk kind? Or are you like my husband and just kind of short-circuit and need time to reboot? Maybe somewhere in between?

Have you ever heard of The Spoon Theory? Any other suggestions, thoughts, ideas?

Here is a video from a gal I watched before going through the official diagnosis process. Obviously not all ND people are the same, but what she talked about SO SPOKE to me (enough to where I made sure to get professionally tested).

Maybe this will help you or someone you love, OR hey we need more ND characters so here is a peek inside our heads…


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    • Maria D'Marco on December 6, 2023 at 5:59 pm
    • Reply

    Meltdowns? yes…and yes again… for years and years, until I realized that I could drop the stick with nails in it and stop bonking myself in the head with it. Took a move from a toxic environment (in KY where no one lets you forget you’re a damn Yankee) and back to the Midwest, which I had forgotten how safe I felt living in, and about 12 years to drop that stick.

    My meltdowns resulted in panic attacks that were agonizing. I lost family members and pets within the final 3 years before dropping the stick. I got divorced from a terrible person. I moved. I retired from my straight gig, going from 80 hours work a week to 40 — my freelancing business. I plunged into family, people I hadn’t seen in decades. Two years of trying to adjust and I learned it was best just to be the silent aunt and sister (whispers of ‘she’s a writer or something…’ at every family gathering), smile a lot, and cram the panic down into whatever organ could house it. Cried. A lot. Lost the last dog of 5. Spent 6 months telling myself I could live without a meow or barky critter. Dreamt of a dog wanting in my door at the 7th month and saw his stupid little face a month later in a local posting of pups being given away.

    I use observation to help me stay level — I know what can trigger the panic — it starts to creep into the brain pan and I recognize it and immediately trace it backward to the starting point. It’s amazing some of the teeny tiny things that have served as a trigger. Many are tied to other teeny tiny unresolved pains — usually mental — that were allowed to be taken in, without disemboweling the original asshat… Learning all those nearly hidden triggers don’t necessarily help me avoid them, but it does help me to disarm them and avoid meltdowns. It takes energy to go through that pulling of your own plug…and about 6-7 years ago I decided that my stock of spoons were really low and I’d better start hording some.

    It’s just so creepy to be in the midst of a meltdown and not even have the energy to right yourself…so you just lay on the floor and start at the ceiling and wishing you could use your last spoon to crawl into a little cave bed where someone just comes by on occasion and pats you on the head… My dog has it soooo made. :O)

    Thanks, Kristen. My therapist (a really weird guy, honest) mentioned something a couple months ago… He glanced at me and tapped his pencil on his nose, then said: “You know…you have permission to change.”
    I stopped in my mind tracks and sailed along on that for awhile —

    oyes — how many times have you been told you’re just ‘too sensitive’??? Not until freshman year did someone (the prof giving a playwriting class) tell me it was great that I was so sensitive…. For that matter, how many years were you told you were ‘too’ something or the other? Makes me want to do a silly walk for several blocks…

  1. I preached on Rethinking Christmas the last Sunday before Advent. My main point was that the angel said it was Good News of Great Joy for All People, so if the way we observe Christmas drains away our joy or others’ joy, we are doing it wrong.

    • Maria D'Marco on December 6, 2023 at 7:53 pm
    • Reply

    Do you think Deputy Chief Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) in The Closer was an ND character?

    • Roger L Nay on December 6, 2023 at 8:30 pm
    • Reply

    Another entertaining and thought provoking column from a talented writer/blogger. I’ll admit to frequent meltdowns on the golf course and tend to be overly critical of everything I do, including writing. My life moves at a slower pace these days. I get exhausted just reading about your busy life.

    • Amanda on December 6, 2023 at 9:50 pm
    • Reply

    I love this, thank you. Spoon theory changed my approach to life and enabled me to work a full-time job (on top of that full-time mum job!) for the first time in over a decade. Still working on boundaries though!

    1. Aren’t we all? The Spoon Theory has really helped me manage life better. I’m much more aware when I am overloading myself. Like my mom asked me to go shopping the day before yesterday last-minute. I was already shellacked and I told her I would have to do it another day because I was too drained. The old me would have pushed through and we’d have ended up fighting or I’d have gotten sick or whatever. It certainly is a process.

  2. I’m not on the spectrum, but I can relate. I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD from childhood trauma, plus I was born with a racing heart (still have it) and an overly sensitive nervous system. So I have my own triggers and issues.

    I lean strongly toward being introverted, but I can be as extroverted as needed (I have no fear of public speaking). However, I need downtime after a lot of social interaction.

    When I’m pulled in too many directions or when I’m overloaded emotionally, I can keep going for quite a while. However, if I don’t get a break, I have an internal “meltdown” with my heart racing much too fast, my mind spiraling out of control, and other symptoms others can’t see. When I find myself snapping at everyone and they snap back, I shut down and go into my cave. Eventually I detox and come out just fine.

    Like you, I’ve learned to recognize my triggers and know how to prevent meltdowns. Thank you for writing about this topic. It’s very helpful!

    • Mary Foster on December 7, 2023 at 12:23 am
    • Reply

    Oh, Kristen, I feel like giving you a big hug, then running a hot bath for you, and afterward tuck you in bed with your favorite stuffed animal.
    I’m glad you’ve been able take a good look at what’s been happening and self-correct. Thereby saving so much suffering. I hope 2024 will be a kinder place to live where you can collect all the spoons you need.
    Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to turn off the light, tiptoe out, and be sure not to make too much noise from the other room. Sweet dreams, Kristen.

  3. I really can relate, Kristen… and my head is full of sticky notes too…

  4. Kristen, I love this line: ‘Hey, we did it with left-handed people! Just give them a special notebook instead of beating them with rulers and telling them they were demon spawn.’ Ha, ha, ha! I’m left handed, and my 2nd grade penmanship teacher would slap me on the back of the hand with a ruler if I turned my hand upside down when writing. Though I hated her at the time, I have beautiful penmanship today, thanks to the very insistent woman who was more stubborn than I was.

    • Rachel Thompson on December 8, 2023 at 5:15 pm
    • Reply

    They told me I’m bi-polar with an anxiety disorder after the third suicide attempt. I had this since childhood but I didn’t know it until age 35. Also, I wasn’t able to face that I am gay until age 35. From there many meltdowns and hospital stays ensured. I’ve met a lot of nice people in psy lockups. I’ve been destroyed many times over, homeless, lost my kinds, motorcycle wreck, lost career, it’s a long list. It made me a writer. I wouldn’t change it. Meatgrinders are educational. My upcoming book has an autistic character and another with a mental illness. I’m sure they’ll feel authentic to the reader.

  5. You might like the work of Steve Asbell:
    Stimmy Kitty for the win!

    • Libby on December 9, 2023 at 4:21 pm
    • Reply

    It wasn’t until about four years ago when I had spinal surgery and went back to work three days later that I learned what burnout meant. It took me six months to get on my feet. Then we moved and I sat comotose in my new townhouse thinking of nothing but the outdated lights on the ceilings and the holes in the wall with fresh putty the old owners thought would be good to do. My daughters talk about spoons all the time. It can be a work in progress. Went to Austin two months ago and then stayed with daughter for a week. I hurt for almost a month. Now I know when I travel I need a day before and a least two days after to adjust or I’ll get sick or pull something. Thank you so much for your article!!

  6. Great blog piece, Kristen! Ironically, I have been working on a blog piece today about my wild, wooly, wonderful life that was so impacted by my ADD with MDD and GAD comorbidities. I was one of the lucky ones that got treatment for it. Two of my 3 kids inherited ADD. I think my dad had it, along with dyslexia. He managed to live it and became a successful civil engineer and then businessman.

    Despite being a D-F high school student and flunking out of my freshman year of college, I managed to go to night school and become an electrical engineer. I went on to become a principal systems engineer with NASA, NOAA, and DOD. But my teen years were horrible. I was suicidal and thought I had a very low IQ. In my early 20s, it was like a lightbulb came on. I could suddenly remember what I read. In fact, I developed a near-photographic recall. It was freaky when it first happened. I enlisted in the Navy and based on testing became a cryptologic technician. Who’d a thunk it.

    I finished my career in the executive ranks with two Fortune 500 companies and then became a serial high-tech entrepreneur. I’m 72 now and enjoy providing childcare for 3 of my 7 grandchildren. It’s the best job I ever had. I’m also writing a pre-apocalyptic thriller novel. I may need some help from you on it. It’s a good story and I need to execute it accordingly.

    Life turned around so dramatically for me when I started taking Ritalin and Prozac! I still take my meds. And, I still have an occasional meltdown. Mine are almost always driven by mal- or non-functioning machinery or electronics. 🙂

  7. The Spoon Theory has been *so* helpful in explaining my lack of energy to family and friends. I’ve learned to schedule *one event* per day (as often as possible) so I can make it to evening without crashing.

    I’ve never managed to pull that off at a conference, though. :-/

    1. Well, I have only done that successfully ONCE, sooooo…..

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