Another post by Firestorm. Read Firestorm’s previous article, A Relationship with Mental Health Issues here.
Mental Health. Those of us who have it, take it for granted. Those of us who have issues severe enough to require support, medication, and/or therapy wish it could be taken for granted. I’m in the former category. Unfortunately, my partner in life, is not.
In my previous article, I talked about strategies, tactics and how to be the supportive partner. This article will focus on what to do when everything does fall apart and a meltdown does happen. Yes. it will happen. I won’t lie, it was terrifying, frustrating, painful to watch, and I asked: “What do I do?”
My answers are based on consultation with my partner’s therapist, and also based on my personal experience. First and foremost is to accept that the meltdown has happened. Your task is to provide comfort, support and if necessary, damage control to gradually slow the downward spiral, help restore their equilibrium and help them rise up.
Help them, support them and be there for them, but you DO NOT have the responsibility of protecting your partner from every little thing, including themselves. Work with your partner (I did and still do) to make sure that I have guidelines on what I can do during a meltdown.
First Reaction: Control YOUR Reaction.
Your partner’s MHI have flared in full force, the meltdown hits. Armageddon is nigh. Everything is terrifying. Hands are shaking. Death awaits them the moment they open their eyes. Knees are weak. Everything is their fault.
How you react sets the tone. Take a deep breath and calm yourself. You panicking will not help. You stay calm, you stay focused. They already feel terrible. Do not make it worse by blaming them, or getting angry. The meltdown has happened. Focus on helping them regain a sense of normalcy.
First Reaction: You Make the Decisions
When meltdowns happen, making any decision can sometimes be beyond their ability right now. Whether its what to have for dinner, go and lie down, or even get a drink of water. Assume that all decision-making capabilities and faculties are now non-functional.
First Reaction: Take Control
You have a huge and terrifying responsibility here. Literally: – micromanage their next steps. Get something to drink. Take a shower. Have a snack. Put their mobile phone on Loud and charge it. Their decision-making ability is compromised, so in a sense, you do their thinking for them. If they say “NO!” or push back. Don’t fight them over it. Don’t try to reason with them. Just say ok, and suggest they do something else first.
First Reaction: Do NOT make assumptions
You partner probably cannot ask or even tell you what they need at that very moment. You are also, unfortunately, not a mind reader. But you do not have to be. You know your partner. Do your best.
Those are the “First Reactions” to a meltdown. What to do next, depends on whether or not you are there with them when the Meltdown happens or in separate locations.
You are There: Physical Contact
Before touching them in any way, ALWAYS ask for consent before touching someone having a panic attack. Answers will most likely be non-verbal. Watch for subtle cues and their body language. If your touch makes things works, back off, give some distance, and wait, then ask again. When things start to settle, they will most likely want that contact and comfort.
If you can touch them, then face to face and skin to skin is best. With my partner, it helps if I describe what I am doing. I start slow, often by just holding their hand and talking softly, just above a whisper. Rub circles on their upper or lower back. For my partner, some light head pets and running my fingers through their hair helps as well. Gentle kisses can work. The forehead, the back of the hands, the upper arms/shoulders. Avoid the neck, cheeks, or any other areas that are sensitive/ticklish.
If you can, cradle them in your arms. hold them gently but firmly, rock them back and forth slowly. whisper quiet words of reassurance. short sentences. positive words and phrases. combine this with stroking, petting or whatever physical contact works for your partner.
You are There: Quiet Down. Everything.
If you can, shut off the music, loud appliances, or whatever else that is making a lot of noise. Most people in a meltdown have shut down mentally because their brain is trying to process too many things at once. Reduce the amount of external stimulus. Literally. let the silence speak.
When you talk to them, keep your voice calm and even in tone. Soft and gentle in volume. Describe what you are doing. It can be a simple saying, “I love you, I am here for you. I’m rubbing small circles on your upper back. I’m going to run my fingers through your hair next.”
Breathing together can help. I suggest looking up simple calming breathing exercises, practice these and do them with your partner regularly before Meltdowns. When done during a meltdown, the familiarity, and routine breathing pattern does help regain calm and control.
You are There: Aftermath – The Clinginess
In the aftermath, when the meltdown has passed, and things are starting to move back to normal, your partner might become incredibly clinging. Remember that the meltdown has derailed their ability to think, make decisions and their anxiety levels are still very high. Keep your voice soft and even in tone, keep the volume low and gentle. Tell them exactly what you are doing, where you are going, why you are doing it. The clinginess will pass usually within the hour.
You are There: Aftermath – Nourishment
Yes. Nourishment. The mental demands of a meltdown are one thing. The physical demands are another. By the time the meltdown has passed, they will be mentally tired from it. Physically, their body has just taken a chemical and hormone hammering. Start with a glass of warm water. sip it slow, the move on to other beverages – nothing alcoholic, sugar loaded and creamy. I find black tea with a cookie or saltines best.
Double check when the last time they ate was. If it was more than six hours previously, you are going to have to put together a meal of some kind – something light, not too heavy. Porridge, some simple noodle soup or broths work best. Their stomach might be a little unsettled during this period.
You are There: Aftermath – Recovery Activities.
The crisis is over, and distractions can be the best to help them move forward and carry on with living. Avoid music – which can sometimes be emotionally triggering. The point of this is to “reset” if you will. so, go with light hearted and funny and easy-going stuff here: –
- Cartoons are good here or Anime – depends what they like to watch. Funny puppies or kitten videos. Cooking shows. Whatever works for them.
- Reading to them. Anything works here. Random elephant facts. Tell them about your day at work. Regardless of topic, don’t expect much involvement. But they are listening to you.
You Can’t Be There. All The Time.
Sometimes the shit hits the fan and you cannot be physically there for them. You’re stuck at work, an event or some other thing. There are still ways that you can help your partner to get through these moments.
First of all: – Find a quiet place, and CALL THEM. keep your voice calm, and gentle. They might not answer the phone, so leave a voice message. Simple reassurances work best as a starting point. If you don’t know what to say – which can happen – start telling them about your day. If you have Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp, record a message and send it there.
Send a photo of wherever you are, and what you are doing. caption that. This sends the message that you have stopped what you are doing, and are thinking of them. Get them thinking of you in the moment with you. Throw in words of support. it’s as simple as telling them that you love them. and that you are with them even now. Yes. it can be that simple.
When you get back to your partner, you’ve probably missed most of the meltdown. They’ve gotten things back under control. You are still their partner, so make sure that you are there. help them recover, and plan ahead so that in case this happens in future, you can both do you parts to overcome and keep moving forward.
At the end of the day…
You are both in a relationship with each other. I’m hoping that both of you are going to work together, to rise up, to overcome and build a long happy life together. It’s up to both of you to work together.
My relationship has its ups and downs. There are fewer meltdowns now than months ago, and even fewer now than a few weeks ago. Though we are struggling through this period, my partner and I remain committed to each other. We will make this work.
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