We all have that family story, the one that new friends hear as a part of their friendship orientation package, and this is my story.
We have also probably all heard stories or seen the struggles of individuals, family or friends struggling with the meltdowns of someone with autism. Well, this story is that for me as well.
I had a temper. A nasty one. More importantly, an inexplicable one. A quiet person by nature, I yelled with the best of them and for no apparent reason. I had no real idea why I was yelling. I wanted to stop. Control alluded me. Where in the world did these moods come from?
Having a meltdown is truly horrible. Being aware that you are having one and being unable to stop it, even worse.
I prayed about this issue, sought counseling, and scheduled quiet time for the middle of the day. You name it, I tried it. Nothing helped (let me qualify that and say that prayer probably got me to the solution, just not the one I was after!!).
Well, as the result of health problems, my family is on and off diets intended to correct some of our issues. While I was on one of these diets, I experienced peace. My mood did not shift; my anger did not rage out of control. How amazing!!! Amazing it was, too, until I ate a diet-compliant brownie. OOOHHH….
A Fire-Breathing Dragon
I love chocolate. Who doesn’t? You can tell someone you love them with chocolate, you can warm up with chocolate, and you can apologize with chocolate. It is multi-purpose! Not only that, it is for every occasion; it is for every day!
So after years as a chocolate lover and years of buying into the (for-me) myth that chocolate can be a calming food – a healthy food (check out this article on Psychology Today about the benefits of chocolate), coming to the realization that ingesting chocolate actually turns me into A FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON was a bit of a disappointment to say the least (now check out this article also in Psychology Today about chocolate and rage – who knew!!!)
Anyone who has been near me after I have eaten chocolate would confirm that this statement is not an exaggeration. Chocolate makes me lose my mind, or to say it more accurately, my temper. I literally (well – a figurative “literally”) breathe fire – sometimes a steady stream, sometimes balls of fire. Either way it has the effect of upending my life and the lives of those around me.
A Thorny Pantry
Now, the pantry is a thorny subject at our house. I desire to open the doors and see the cans neatly lined up and in order, stored by category (alphabetical order would be cool, but is not a must-have) and no sign of uncontained food.
That to say, I can generally tolerate a messy pantry or at least, a less than perfect one on a normal day. Hyped up on chocolate, however, not so much. When a chocolate-induced, fire-breathing dragon meets a disorderly pantry, a battle rages that even the knights of yesteryear had no hope of winning.
One day after erroneously (I won’t go into whether it was intentional or unintentional here) ingesting some chocolate, I opened the pantry doors to a mess of epic proportions. Loose cat food in the bottom of the pantry (as if offering an explanation for the happy cats who had just sauntered by). Stray macaroni noodles had migrated to every shelf. Gross. Flour and sugar coated the contents of the pantry like a fresh dusting of snow. Pretty outside, not so much in my pantry.
On a normal day, I would have called my girls in to clean up the mess, or I would have just cleaned it up myself. On this day, however, I had eaten chocolate.
Enter the fire-breathing dragon.
Out of the pantry came everything. Some of it flew, some of it was slammed, some of it just accumulated in my arms. I removed, cleaned, and sorted everything in that pantry. Anyone nearby heard the full play-by-play of my actions and accompanying emotions about the mess and the need for organization. Loudly and unceasingly. I am ashamed to admit that after emptying the pantry, I required my kids to restore it.
“Mom-of-the-Year” went to someone else.
A Chocolate Meltdown
This story probably sounds familiar. Whether you have autism or not, moms lose control, moms get mad, and sometimes, unfortunately, moms fail. For me, however, that loss is exponentially worse if there is chocolate involved.
If you have autism, that feeling of losing control, of being totally overwhelmed or consumed by something that you cannot stop is life altering, sometimes literally if you incur consequences as a result of behaviors you exhibit during an episode otherwise known as a “meltdown.” (You can read more about meltdowns in my post, “Are Meltdowns of Someone Who Has Autism Really Abnormal?”)
We argue at our house about whether this constitutes an autistic “meltdown” (hhhmmm…the term meltdown makes me want to melt down some chocolate and put it between some graham crackers and a marshmallow…), or whether it should fall into the food intolerance bucket. We agree that those with autism are ultra-sensitive. I have lots of issues that others don’t commonly have. If you read about this chocolate-rage thing, you will see it is fairly rare. Personally, I think that had we not discovered the reason for the outraged bursts, we would have easily considered it a meltdown, so I am not sure why knowing the cause reclassifies it.
An Extinguished Fire
I really wanted to keep chocolate in my life. Eating chocolate when alone maybe would have worked had my cell phone not been handy. Eating chocolate and then going to bed also fell short as the fire-breathing component of the ingestion lasted into the next day. Sigh.
Once the chocolate goes in, everyone has to just wait until the fire dies down before life returns to normal. There is no stopping it, no controlling it.
We (by that I mean me and the poor souls I exposed to me on chocolate) learned the hard way that the time to control the problem is before it happens. You control a biological problem by not engaging in the behavior that triggers it. To permanently extinguish the fire of the dragon, I had to give up chocolate. Such a shame.
As a result, I never eat chocolate. Ever.
We laugh about this event now, and the kids can often be found retelling the story to family and friends, but at the time there was nothing funny about it. I imagine that it could have been like either a really funny or truly sad scene about a crazy family member in a network sitcom or drama, respectively.
At the time, it was miserable for everyone.
A Peaceful Home
What have we learned at our house? When you are struggling with anger management, behavior control or interpersonal relations, etc., look to biological causes first. The answer won’t always lie there, but it is a great starting point. (Looking at the way you do things is another great place to explore, see my post, “How My Autism Diagnosis Helped Me Communicate More Effectively!”)
I did not change my attitude toward my kids or expend any effort on anger management once I learned of my chocolate sensitivity. Rather, I stopped eating chocolate. (I also may have had a chat with the Big Guy about why the issue had to be chocolate….)
Have you ever held a crying baby? I bet you went through a check list (diaper, feeding time, tummy ache, earache) to determine the source of discomfort. That method of irritant identification works clear through adulthood. Biology first.
My meltdowns? Largely under control. My yelling? Disappeared like magic. My mom outbursts? More like a “normal” mom. Such a relief!!!
I have lots of things to which I am sensitive and a good many quirks and particularities, but once I came to understand that there are certain things that are just off limits to me, life got a little bit easier.
If it makes me a better person, more importantly, a better mom, I can accept the loss of chocolate. What a tiny price to pay for peace in my home. We have lots of problems and issues we are working through, but this problem was me and the solution lied within me. I had to control my own actions and behavior to improve my relationships and my life.
Work to be the best you can be with Her Autism!!!
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