I’m taking a break today from my usual routine. I had a mixed day, yesterday, which started out excellent after my good evening on Friday. Saturday morning, I went to the chiro, ran some errands, and then headed home for a nap. All good.
It got hot, though, and that puts my spouse on edge – big time. We both have a bunch of things we’ve got going on, and not nearly enough time to take care of it all. Or so it seems. After I woke up from my nap, we had a bit of fireworks, as we were both feeling pressured and inadequate and totally behind the 8-ball.
Basically, what went down was that my spouse had some things they needed to get done. They had not planned well with their time (even though they knew that they needed to take care of these things — and they’ve known they had a deadline for weeks, now, but they waited till the last minute to do anything), and they suddenly wanted me to go out and run all sorts of errands for them, to pick up the slack.
My spouse has a lot of anxiety issues, and it’s quite soothing for them, when they get to boss me around. It’s kind of funny, actually. I can tell when they’re feeling antsy and insecure, because they give me a long list of things to do, and they complain constantly. But when they come up with all these things I “have” to do and they send me out to do them, they feel so much better. They also like getting me out of the house so they have the place to themself.
Yesterday, they were really nervous, so they came up with this long list of items they wanted me to take care of. I, however, had my whole afternoon planned out, to take care of some work things I need to finish up. I didn’t have time to go on an extended shopping trip. Besides, I’d already bought a bunch of things, earlier that day when I was out and about. I said “No, I’m not going shopping.”
Well, when I refused, you’d think the earth had shifted off its axis and everything was sliding into the oily Gulf of Mexico. I got my head chewed off, big-time. But you know what? I wasn’t going to take it, yesterday. So, I chewed back. I didn’t just tuck my tail between my legs and slink away, when they got nasty and obnoxious and started in with “that tone” that sounded like they considered me a form of life lower than slime, and who was I to question their infinitely wise judgment?
Okay, so you wanna play that way? Let’s throw down, then.
And I did. I stood my ground and didn’t just quit and leave. I said my piece and didn’t let them just run roughshod all over me. Throughout our relationship, my spouse has often talked to me like I was an idiot — like countless people have over the course of my life, and my parents did before everyone else. Same old same old. And I’m sick of it.
So, I told them that I was sick of them treating me like I’m brain damaged and saying that because I behaved one way in the past, that’s how I’m always going to behave. I told them I’m tired of feeling like I don’t exist in this marriage, that I’m tired of just taking orders from them and being treated like crap if I don’t just hop-to and do their every bidding. All the while they were looking at me like they hated my guts and they were completely disgusted that I had anything to say at all.
But I said my piece. I felt like a miserable little piece of you-know-what while I was doing it, but I did it anyway. I didn’t let them dismiss me, and I didn’t let them run the entire conversation. The whole experience felt… well, wrong… but I knew in my heart that it was right for me to stand up for myself. It was just an unfamiliar situation, with me using new skills that aren’t second-nature to me (yet), and that unfamiliarity was what was making me feel terrible.
Of course, the fireworks weren’t the worst thing. The worst thing was the aftermath, when I proceeded to beat myself up for losing it. But in retrospect, some of the things that pushed me over the edge are “old stuff” from years gone by, when I would capitulate to every single demand, not ask any questions, just do as I was told. And it’s understandable that I would have a bad reaction to them.
Since I started out on my active mTBI recovery, the road has been a bit rocky. Understand, for years — decades, even — I was compliant and agreeable and went along with pretty much what anybody said. That was especially true of people who I thought cared about me. I trusted their judgment and their ideas more than my own — after all, if left to my own designs, I often got things completely screwed up. And I was game for just about anything that someone else suggested I should do — even things that I instinctively questioned.
I just gave in. Went along. Didn’t make a fuss when people called me names or talked to me like I was an idiot. My spouse has done that quite a bit over the course of our marriage. They would just flip out on me when I wasn’t following what they were saying, or if I messed things up, I was “pathetic” or “stupid”. I never spoke up in my own defense because I pretty much agreed with them. In fact, if anything, I had an even lower opinion of myself than they did.
But over the past few years, as I’ve learned about the true nature of my issues and how to deal with them, I’ve been less able to tolerate nasty behavior towards me. I’ve stopped just shutting down and blocking off unkind words as though they didn’t matter. Words do matter.
And over time, they take a toll. I never gave much thought to how people have treated me, until about three years ago. I just took it in stride as one of those things that makes life more challenging. I never wanted to let on that all the bad treatment was affecting me in any way, shape or form. But the truth is, it has — and not for the better. Indeed, the most hurtful thing for me yesterday wasn’t my spouse’s tone or the words or the general sense of being attacked. Yesterday, one of the things that made the fireworks so uncomfortable for me, was my thinking that I didn’t have a right to defend myself.
For anyone reading this who lives with or deals with a traumatic brain injury survivor, rest assured, although it might not look like we “get” the mean things you’re saying to/about us, we actually do. It might take a while to sink in, and we might not be able to defend ourselves in the moment, but there’s still no excuse for verbal abuse.
No matter who/what the target of your attack is, it’s still an attack. And it can be very hurtful.
The last part of yesterday was pretty rough for me. I felt terrible, really “hungover” from the emotional outburst, and I didn’t get anything done that I’d been planning to do. I felt terrible about missing the cues in my spouse’s tone and words that were setting me off. I felt awful about having stood my ground — crazy as it might seem. And I felt like I’d been the bad person. I also regretted some of the things I said, which were hurtful and just slipped out. Derailed. I hate that.
But when all was said and done, after I got another full night’s rest and spent some time meditating this morning, I got a lot more clear.
Basically, what I’ve realized is that the terrible feeling I get from these kinds of fireworks is more physiological than mental or emotional. I feel physically ill from the biochemical cascade of the stress hormones that flood my system when I’m on high alert like I was yesterday. I was really on high alert. Freaked out. Flipped out. Anxious. Angry. Assertive in unfamiliar ways. And yes, a little aggressive at times. My body bears the brunt of the experience, and the feeling I have after the fact is a biochemical one — it’s not actually a mental or emotional state. It’s a physical state. I realize this now.
It’s important that I realize this, because last night I didn’t. I let my body get the better of my brain, with me thinking that the bad feeling I had was an emotional one, or a mental one. I thought about that feeling in terms of coming from my broken brain – that I was having it because there was something wrong with me. But the fact of the matter is, I was having that bad feeling because my body was doing its job (protecting me from the “threat” to my schedule of yet more things to do and the attack from my spouse, when my time was already limited), but it was doing it a little too enthusiastically.
In fairness to my spouse, they’ve had some neurological issues, themself, and they were also not fully awake after their extended lie-in. They were on edge, under pressure, and feeling boxed in by life in general. It doesn’t excuse their behavior, but at the end of the day they realized their part in things and they promised they were going to look at that and do better in the future.
So, there’s progress. I do believe them. There’s a lot of love between us, and we’ve been together for almost 20 years. Neither of us is going anywhere. We just need to work through this and not give up. We’ve been through worse.
And I need to cut myself a break, when I stand up for myself. It’s unfamiliar to me, and unfamiliar things make me uncomfortable and start that fight-flight biochemical cascade. It’s not a defect of my personality or character. It’s my body doing its job — and sometimes overdoing it.
In the end, what is really needed is just open communication and openness to the situations of others. To understand where they are coming from, and take the time to step back and be gentle with one another. To not let my sympathetic nervous system take over when things get a little dicey. Life is full of pressures for both of us, these days. We have some pretty significant money issues, and I’m starting a new job shortly. We have logistical issues, as my spouse expands their business and takes on new clients. We just have a lot going on, and we have to (re)learn how to let each other BE. Especially when things are heating up.
The last thing either of us wants to do, is tear each other to shreds, just because we’re tired and have a bunch of things we need to get done. It’s important to be bigger than that.