Anger Notes: From mountain to molehill

I had a little difficulty this morning, getting into the day. I go through the same routine every day — wake up slowly… give myself time to wake up enough to get out of the bed without tripping or falling… get up and brush my teeth… go downstairs to put water on for coffee… do my morning workout while I am waiting for my coffee water to boil… think about what I need to accomplish today while I am working out… finish my workout and make my coffee and cereal… and then get into my morning.

Most days, if I have had enough rest, the routine goes like clockwork. But I recently started lifting heavier weights, and I also had a chiro adjustment yesterday, so I’m a little sore and stiff, and I need to get more sleep. Under normal conditions, getting the 7 hours that I had last night would make me very, very happy. I actually slept through till the sun was coming up! And I would feel like enough. But I am still recovering from staying out all night on New Year’s Eve last week, and I need to get even more rest than usual, so I can get back to my regular sleep schedule and get over being stiff and sore from the increased weight and also the adjustment I got yesterday.

Now, for most people, being behind on their sleep and having a little stiffness and soreness in the morning is no big deal. For a lot of people, it’s actually a way of life. They don’t get totally thrown off by lack of sleep. They just muddle through the day somehow. They don’t get all tweaked and freaked out over every little thing, with hair-trigger temper outbursts over every little thing. They just go through their day, like it’s no big deal. And they live their lives like everything is relatively normal, popping Advil or Aleve or having a few drinks at the end of the day to chill out and sleeping in, in the morning.

The people who don’t have issues with sleep deprivation and pain clearly are neurologically intact. They probably have not sustained traumatic brain injuries. They probably don’t have post-concussive syndrome, and they probably haven’t sustained brain trauma/head injury.

I, on the other hand, am not in that “space.” When I am behind on my sleep, it introduces a whole host of issues that make the most basic activities into challenges. When I am in physical discomfort, I tend to push myself even more, perhaps because doing that relieves the discomfort for me. But pushing myself tires me out even more. And when I get over-tired, I have a hard time relaxing and going to sleep… which makes me even more tired in the morning. And then I have all sorts of cognitive-behavioral problems. It’s a vicious cycle that’s very difficult to break.

That’s that cycle that started with me last night. I should have gone to bed around 9:30, but then I had some stuff to do, and I needed to talk to my spouse, who was out at a late meeting till 9:30. By the time they got home, I was ready to go to bed, but the sleepy part of me didn’t want to go to bed, so I stayed up and talked with them about this-and-that.

Finally, they packed me off to bed, seeing that I was pretty much wedged into the couch, and I was making myself comfortable for a long stay-up. It was 10:30, by then, and it took a focused, concentrated, concerted effort on both our parts to get me up off the couch and upstairs to bed. Then — being as tired and as contrary as I was — I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and inspected myself, studying my double chin and looking for gray hairs and trying to make my hair stand up straight by tousseling it and trying to spike it straight out from my scalp. I know, it’s strange. But this is the kind of stuff I do when I’m really, really tired and I don’t want to go to bed.

After about 15-20 minutes of this… and deciding that yes, I am still a handsome individual with good bone structure and not to much saggy skin in the wrong places… I finally got my ass in bed. Then I remembered I needed to stretch and take Advil (my bedtime routine), so I can better relax. I did that, and I then did my progressive relaxation exercises to get myself to sleep, which went really well — even better than I expected. I got to sleep around 11 p.m.

Happily, I slept through till 6 a.m., which is a wonder, because I’ve been waking up around 4-4:30 or so — which sucks — and that felt pretty good. I gave myself some time to wake up, before I got out of the bed. If I roll out of bed right away, I tend to stagger around a lot, which is loud and also a little dangerous. There are plenty of hard surfaces and sharp corners I can hit my head on. Plus, my spouse doesn’t like to be woken up by my clunking around, bumping into stuff — which happens, when I get up too quickly.

I got myself up and started getting into the day. But man, I was clumsy this morning, right from the start. I had trouble holding my toothbrush, had trouble holding onto the water spigot, and it was really really getting to me. I am definitely foggier and more out of it this morning than I’ve been in a while. It’s probably due to the adjustment I had yesterday — the chiro went pretty deep.  And when I’m foggy and clumsy and out of it, I get really, really agitated. Every little thing gets to me, and I have a harder time with those spikes of anger that come up when things go wrong for me. They seem to come out of nowhere, and when they show up, they can be intense — and the intensity makes them even more confusing and frustrating (and damaging) because my mind knows that my reaction to what is happening is wildly out of proportion to what is going on, and I feel like something is terribly wrong with me, that I feel this way. And I start in with calling myself all sorts of names, telling myself I’m a damaged idiot loser who can’t keep their shit together, etc. etc. ad nauseum.

I’ve written about this temper flare stuff before in my posts Flash in the (brain) pan and A constant restlessness (and elsewhere), and it still holds as true as ever.  And this morning, when I was just trying to brush my friggin’ teeth, already,  I could not seem to keep my act together. I had trouble holding the toothbrush, and when I put it down on its rest, something about how it was positioned bothered me intensely. Then I tried to turn off the water, and my hand slipped, and I hit the side of my hand on the edge of the spigot, which hurt.

And that old temper flare jumped out again, like Old Faithful… that geyser that comes up regularly at Yellowstone. Or maybe a better analogy would be, like one of the geysers that erupts periodically without warning. Tori Amos has an album I love called “Little Earthquakes”. Maybe I’ll do an album called “Little Geysers.”

Anyway, for a few minutes, as I stood there nursing my aching hand, I was

absolutely furious!!!!

It was all I could do to keep myself from hitting something or slamming something down. I was angry with the spigot for having hard edges. I was angry with my hand for being so weak that a little bump would hurt so much. I was angry with myself for being so uncoordinated and not being able to simply turn off the water like a normal person would. But most of all, I was angry with myself for getting so bent out of shape over something so simple. “I know better,” I told myself. “Why can’t I act better?

I was really getting whacked-out over this, and it literally threatened to derail my morning. When I get going like this, I descend down into a pit of ugliness, and the whole day can be tainted by my temper outbursts, whether they are internal or external. In fact, sometimes the worst ones are internal, that no one but me sees or hears or knows about, which makes my crabby, short-tempered behavior all the more confusing for people around me. It makes no sense to them — how could it? They don’t know what I’m experiencing, and I’m doing everything in my power to shield them from that.

I could feel that rush of anger, that temper flare, that wild spike of emotion… it tore through me like one of those microbursts I’ve seen on the Weather Channel… and I was starting to get freaked out… and go into one of those wild rages that’s like a forest fire tearing through my head.

Then I checked myself. Something in me — the something that has been observing myself with increasing knowledge of TBI over the past few years — told me to take a break and just give myself time to catch up with myself.

So, I stopped and took a breath and thought about what was happening. And when I took a break from my downward slide, I realized:

  1. I am still tired. I did not get enough sleep, and I am groggy.
  2. When I am groggy, my neuropsych has told me that I am more prone to agitation.
  3. When I am groggy, I also can be uncoordinated. I don’t need a trained expert to tell me this. I have observed it countless times.
  4. When I am uncoordinated, I tend to bump into things.
  5. When I am groggy, I tend to propel myself through events on adrenalin — because I need an extra “pump” of energy — energy I  don’t have from regular sources (like getting enough rest). When I’m fatigued, I have to pump myself up just to do the basic stuff… because otherwise I can’t get going.
  6. When I pump myself up, I move faster.
  7. When I move faster, and I am uncoordinated, I hit things with greater force than I would, if I were rested and had full motor control.
  8. When I’m fatigued, my brain’s constant restlessness and agitation is worse, it makes me snappier and more extreme in my reactions. I am also more physically sensitive, and I feel everything more intensely.
  9. And finally, I remembered — from what I’ve read and what I’ve been told by my neuropsych — this type of reaction from me is actually quite typical of TBI survivors. It’s just what my brain does, when it has to operate on too little sleep/energy.

So, there it was –this drama I was experiencing, standing in front of the bathroom sink, freaking out over hitting my hand on the spigot had everything to do with my brain/body AND it had NOTHING TO DO WITH ME.  It wasn’t me being an asshole loser who’s emotionally inept and a worthless use of space. It was just my brain and body doing what they did, when I am tired and out of it and I am moving too fast.

I did NOT need to make a big deal out of it — just recognize what was happening… And I also realized that it was actually my brain sending me warning signals about what was amiss in my day, thus far. I recognized that this little snap of mine was like a gift from the gods — a hint about where I was at, that day, which I could use to inform the rest of my day to make better choices.

I also realized that if I didn’t take steps to stop this flash in my brain-pan, I was going to start the day on a really BAD note. Temper flares with TBI survivors tend to be quick-on, quick-off affairs, instantaneously coming up out of nowhere and disappearing just as instantaneously for no apparent reason. I realized I just needed to occupy my attention long enough for my system to calm down, and then I could get on with my day.

So, I took action. I kicked into gear and did something with all that agitation and energy — I channeled it into a constructive activity. I looked at the spigot that I’d hit my hand on, and I realized that it was slippery with soap on the handle. I studied the handle and felt where the slippery soap was, then I ran the water and rinsed off the handle, until it wasn’t slippery anymore. That made me feel a lot better. Then I dried my hands and went downstairs to make my breakfast.

Again, I had more trouble with uncoordinated blunders downstairs. I was off-balance and I was clumsy, getting my coffee stuff together. But I remembered what I’d noticed upstairs — I’m tired. I’m uncoordinated. This is not about me, it’s about my brain and body. When I am this tired, it’s perfectly normal — for me — to be agitated and restless and make mountains out of molehills. But it has nothing to do with me and my character… Forget about the supposed stupidity and ineptness and all those other words I use to attack myself. It’s about my slightly broken brain which has trouble when it’s tired, and I know what I can do to make it better — take it easy, take things slow, don’t push myself like crazy, and cut myself a friggin’ break, already.

So, that’s what I did. And by the time I got done with my workout, my day had re-booted nice and fresh. I’m still tired, but I’m not wiped out like I could be, because I made changes to how I was doing things. I had a good solid workout, and I lifted shorter sets with fewer reps, because I realized my body needed to catch up with the heavier weights. I also focused more on my exercise — I had been letting my mind wander more, over the past week or so — and I didn’t lose track of where I was with my workout, like I had been, in the past few days. And as I was planning my day, I made a point of scheduling just a fraction of the number of activities I’m prone to schedule for my day, which takes the pressure off, right off the bat.

AND instead of checking email from friends first thing in the morning, as I’ve been doing for the past few weeks, I am waiting till later in the day to do that, because there is a lot I need to get done, and I cannot be distracted from the work that’s waiting for me to finish it.

All in all, even though the day started out on a rough note, it was for the best.

Because I stopped and thought about what was happening. I learned about the experience as it was happening. And I used my tools. I used the info I got from my neuropsych, and I used the knowledge I had of myself. I used the opportunity to stop and think to really appreciate what was going on with me. I cut my brain and body a break.

I am also planning to lie down for a nap later today. I’m working remotely, plus the weather is not good right now. I can get a lot done, if I focus on what I’m doing. And with the appreciation of how tired I am, I can make the extra effort to take care of myself, take my time at what I’m doing, and manage my energy with intention and discipline.

All because I stopped for a moment and thought about what was really going on with me.

This is progress.

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TBI Survivor Loved Ones – Don’t Put Up With Our Crap!

If you are a friend or family member or a significant other of someone who has sustained a head injury, you definitely have a unique set of challenges. Head injury is a terribly intrusive and disruptive condition to deal with — it can be extremely difficult for the survivor to deal with, and it can be utterly maddening for the people around the TBI survivor.

They got hit on the head, sure, but it wasn’t a bad injury, from what the doctor said. They weren’t even admitted to the hospital! They were foggy and groggy for a little while, but that passed. As far as anyone can tell, they should be back to normal, no problem. But all of a sudden, the person you once knew and loved — who may seem perfectly fine on the outside — is changed. Their temper is shorter. They forget things. They make stupid decisions and don’t even seem to understand how dense they’re being.

Subtle little differences can sneak in from out of the blue, and you sometimes can’t quite put your finger on it. They seem… different. You know they’re the same person they always were. But they’re not quite themself. And no matter how long you wait, no matter how patient you are, no matter how much you try to reason with them or walk them through things, they don’t seem to be getting any better.

Or, you can definitely see how they are different. They fly off the handle over nothing. They freak out over stupid things. They sleep all the time. Or they can’t seem to get to sleep or stay asleep more than 5 hours or so. They complain of constant headache. They complain of that blasted ringing in their ears. They suddenly grow aggressive, even violent, and they just “go off” for no good reason. They can’t seem to keep their act together and they keep getting in trouble with authorities – teachers, bosses, the police. Nothing anyone says seems to make a difference, and they don’t seem to learn from any of their mistakes.

For a loved one of a TBI survivor, standing by and watching someone seemingly self-destruct… or at least struggle terribly with things that used to be easy for them… must be terribly frustrating. And dealing with someone who used to be so sweet and loving, who’s now a pure terror when they’re tired or stressed, can be quite frightening. I, myself, have frightened lots of people I loved over the course of my life, due to my quick temper and a sometimes violent streak. I’ve never struck anyone I loved or lived with, but I have thrown and broken things and given people good reason to feel very afraid.

As a TBI survivor myself, I really feel strongly about what an important role loved ones can play in helping a head injury survivor not only recover from their physical injury, but rehabilitate behaviorally. True, the inside of our heads — our fragile, sensitive brain — has changed permanently, and some abilities we may never get back. Some of our cognitive challenges just can’t be helped. But when it comes to our behavioral issues, something can be done. I’m convinced of it. I’ve managed to overcome some really serious behavioral difficulties, and because of my relative success in this area, I’m able to find and hold down regular work. In this economy, you can’t put a pricetag on that capability. And most importantly, I haven’t done it alone.

Perhaps the number one TBI issue I have, is my temper. The inner storms that come up for no good reason really tear the crap out of me, at times. For the most part, I can keep my act together. 7 out of 10 times, nobody knows what a hard time I’m having dealing with something as simple and basic as dropping something or flubbing up. But it’s the 3 out of 10 times that get me in trouble. And it’s not good.

In my case, I am blessed to live with someone who is  pretty demanding. They are that way by nature — they have very high standards, and they expect people to live up to them. I have been constantly pushed and prodded over the years to improve myself as best I can, to not misbehave, to not be lazy, to not be lackadaisical, to not just give up. They have “ridden me” very hard, over the years, sometimes nagging and nagging and nagging until I thought my head was going to explode. But at the end of the day, when I did what I promised I was going to do, or I finished a job I’d started, or I’d done what I was supposed to do, or even when I’d tried and failed, the fact that they’d stayed on me turned out to be more good than bad.

Their encouragement has sometimes been gentle, sometimes strident, sometimes impatient, sometimes overly demanding. But even when they’ve been too hard on me and have given me all kind crap about things I couldn’t control – like my difficulties with remembering things, or hearing them when they were talking to me, or being slower on the uptake than they expecte me to be.

One of the things that’s made our life together more challenging over the years is that we didn’t factor in TBI in our interactions and my shortcomings. But when they started to learn more about TBI, they started to change the way they interacted with me, and they have been far more helpful than ever.

Once upon a time, they pushed and pushed and cajoled and nagged and cursed and hounded… with different levels of success. Now, they understand that patience and encouragement can go a long way. But they — and I — also know that sometimes I do need to be yelled at, in order to get my attention. Sometimes, I’m being so slow and dense, I can’t “get” what’s going on, unless it’s expressed at the top of someone’s lungs.

I don’t take the yelling personally, when situations are tight. I actually need to be yelled at. Or I’ll miss an important cue, I’ll run over that pothole, or I’ll do something that can get me hurt. The important distinction for me is that the yelling happens before an event, not afterwards, when it’s too late to do anything about it. If someone is yelling at me, because I am being dangerously slow and they’re trying to protect me, well then, please, by all means, yell at me.

For me, it’s important that people not handle me with kid gloves. My brain has been rattled a number of times over the course of my life, and in some ways, I’m really, really dense. I can’t be coddled and accommodated and treated like some victim by the people in my life.  And I also can’t be given carte blanche to just do and say whatever I damn well please, ’cause I’ve had bunch of brain injuries. It doesn’t help the people I love, to let me run roughshod over all of them. And it makes me feel terrible, when they let me do that.

Like it or not, there are sides of me that need to be disciplined, that need to be kept in check. And they need to be called what they are — unacceptable — by the people who are affected by them. Including myself. There are certain sides of me that need to be called out and stopped, before they do damage. My temper is hot and precipitous and often flares up with out my realizing how or why or that it’s in the process of happening. And when I’m going off over something that doesn’t warrant my level of rage, I need to be told to be quiet. I need to be told to calm down. I need to be told that my outburst is not appropriate, and I need to step away and calm myself down before I can be around other people. I need to be called on my crap, and I need the people around me to refuse to accommodate bad behavior.

There really is no excuse for bad behavior. There are plenty of reasons for it and my TBIs have not helped, but there’s no excuse for letting myself get out of hand and stay that way. Left unchecked and unstopped, temper tantrums, yelling fits, being snappy and course and crass and obnoxious is disruptive to everyone, hurtful to others, and it’s embarrassing to me. After all, I have to live with me, too. It’s not just about my loved ones. It’s about me having to look myself in the eye every morning when I get up. It’s about me being able to hold my head up, having self-confidence that comes from knowing I can manage my behavior, and having the pride of knowing I’m in charge of my own fate, even if my brain doesn’t always cooperate.

But I need help managing. I need help from my partner, who constantly amazes me with their patience and their intelligence and their willingness to stick with me — as well as their strength in keeping me from running roughshod over them. I need help not only with encouragement, but also being pushed to see what all I’m capable of, to see how far I can go in life, and to keep tabs on my inner situation as I go. And my partner has given me that regularly over the yeras.

Most of all, they’ve helped me by keeping me honest, by refusing to tolerate my bad behavior, my laziness, my eagerness to just give up. They have “kept on me” about so many, many things that I wanted to just let drop. They have prodded me to do right, when I wanted to just quit or do wrong. And they have flatly refused to put up with my crap, threatening many times to leave my ass if I didn’t get my act together and stop being such an a**hole.  They have told me in no uncertain terms that the tone I was taking was verbally abusive, or that I was frightening them, or I was getting out of line with my snarky comments. They have yelled at me, cussed me out, made me sleep in the guest room, refused to cook me dinner, given me the silent treatment, taken away my credit cards, and nagged-nagged-nagged me till I did what I was supposed to do, anyway. And I have never once doubted that they loved me, and they were doing all of that not because they were mean-spirited or wanted to hurt me, but because we both have standards to live up to, and they weren’t going to let me off the hook that easily.

Now, sure, there have been plenty of times when I’ve railed against their behavior. I’ve moaned and bitched and fussed over their demanding streak, and how hard on me they could be. I’ve wept bitterly and angrily over things they’ve said and done, and I’ve yelled back plenty of times. But in all honesty, I have to credit them and their unwillingness to tolerate my TBI-induced stupidity, aggression, and stinkin’ thinkin’ for much of my success.

And I also have to credit myself. Because frankly, I wouldn’t be with this person — and I wouldn’t have stuck with them for 18 years — if I didn’t have standards of my own. If I didn’t agree with them about the range of acceptable behavior, and what is and is not allowed in our marriage, I wouldn’t be able to tolerate their level of demanding-ness. Rather than finding their standards annoying and aggravating, I find them good and positive reminders of things I already know, but easily lose track of.

Of all the things that make successful TBI recovery possible for me, standards of behavior — and the enforcement of those standards — are some of the most important. Understanding that some kinds of behavior are good and allowed, while others are not, is key. Having a code to live by. Having a set of internal guidelines. Agreeing upon rules about what is and is not okay. And submitting to the discipline of being policed — both from within and without — is key.

And my partner has played a huge role in all of this. If they had been inclined to hold back and not engage with me… to be the silent suffering type who just let me go off as much as I liked, and didn’t challenge me… to put up with my crap and then go talk to friends about how hard I was to live with… to not face me down and make me behave myself — or else… to do like so many people I know, who don’t understand what’s going wrong and don’t want to make waves and piss other people off, so they do nothing besides take the brunt of their loved-ones’ anger/rage/temper/sharp tongue… If my partner had been like that, I would not be as well-off as I am today.

Now, make no mistake — my life is no bed of roses. I’m really struggling, these days, with job stuff, learning difficulties, job performance issues, and extreme fatigue. I’m almost beside myself with frustration and agitation, and I am having a hell of a time sleeping. But I have no doubt that all these things would be catastrophic for me and my career and my living situation, if I didn’t abide by very strict guidelines about what is and is not acceptable, what is and is not okay to do/say/outwardly express. If I just cut myself slack, or if I lived with someone who suffered silently while I went off on tears all the time, I probably wouldn’t be here.

I’d be in jail.

Or on the streets.

And I would be alone.

I’m not kidding, and I’m not being facetious. I don’t say any of this lightly.

So, it may sound a bit overly controlling to some, and it might sound like borderline BDSM, but discipline is one of the biggest keys to my success. I’m not advocating loved ones of TBI survivors being strident harpies who give no quarter and drive their brain-injured loved ones to the brink of madness with an unending string of impossible demands. But there is something to be said for demanding that people do/be/talk/relate better than they are at the moment — and better than they think they can.

Ultimately, I think that we are all capable of far more than we think we are. And the first step towards being/doing/living better, is refusing to be/do/live worse than you have to.

Flash in the (brain) pan

Perhaps one of the biggest and most persistent issues I’ve had with MTBI over the years — and I mean all the years, starting when I was a kid (I had my first TBI when I was 7) — is uninvited and unexplained anger.

Like a storm it comes, barrelling across the plains inside my head… like a tornado dropping suddenly from a swirling dark-cloudy sky. Touching down unpredictably and tearing across my inner landscape, ripping up trees and houses as it goes… sending cars and cows and tractors flying through the air… snaking and twisting and turning and doubling back across its own path, a demon in flight…

Like a wildfire, it flares up. A late summer California brush fire that needs only a shift in the winds to send it screaming voraciously across the proverbial fields inside my head. When I am tired, when I am frustrated, when I am out of resources, the inside of my head — and heart — is like a dry grassy field that’s seen no rain for months. The tall grasses are parched and just waiting for a spark to burst into flame. The sappy pines are ready and waiting for heat to make them explode. And the wide steppes inside my head roar and rush with the winds that kick up at a moment’s notice.

When that spark comes — something as small as a dropped potato peeler, or something as significant as being pulled over by a police officer — it touches to the kindling in my head, and flames shoot out in every direction. And when the winds of my thoughts kick up, the fire can flare up with maddening speed and race up-down-left-right, flames finding their way into the nooks and crannies of my psyche. And there is nowhere I can feel genuinely safe. There is nowhere that I can know others are safe from my sudden sharp tongue.

“Anger” is too simple a word for it. “Temper” hardly does it justice. It’s a force of nature. And when it’s at its worst, it’s a natural disaster.

It’s insane. The smallest thing can set me off, given the right conditions. I might be tired. Or I might be confused. Or I might be feeling vulnerable and stupid and slow. I might feel threatened. I might feel nothing in particular. But suddenly, without warning, there is something else in the room with me that I know I need to control. Manage. Keep on top of. Not let get out of hand. Yes, control.

So, I dig in trench lines. I set bounding fires. I do what I can… and pray for the winds to die down and this sudden fire to pass.

Hello, Officer… A Temper Flare (Almost) Gone Wrong

What a beautiful day it was! The mid-winter sky was bright and blue, and the sun was finally showing its shining face after days of inclement weather. Driving home from work, I gazed around me at the gorgeous landscape. A thick blanket of fresh new snow covered the fields on either side of the back road home, softening the stubble-covered terrain. Intermittent stands of woods were silent with insulating white, trees sleeping silent beneath a delicate frosting that broke loose in passing breezes and showered to the forest floor in a sparkling cascade. Babbling brooks flanked the country road, here and there, cascading cheerily down rocky beds, icicles dangling from sticks and grasses which hung close enough over their splashing course to catch — and instantly freeze — splashes from the snow-melt swollen streams.

I was on my way home from my new job to my new house, and as I gazed around me at the beautiful scenery, it felt as though my life were being made new again. The stress and strain from the recent move from the suburbs to the country had tested my endurance sorely, and all but exhausted my strength. The transfer from my old job had not been without some challenge, as well. Change is never easy for me, and adjusting to not only a new home in a new place with new neighbors, but also a new job with new responsibilities and new coworkers, had turned my post-holiday season into a see-saw of elation and despair.

But after weeks of settling in, getting acclimated, developing my new routines, and finding better ways to drive to and from work than the freeway filled with aggressive drivers, I was finally starting to feel my balance returning.

That day, as I motored happily across the countryside, making it home before dark (for once), everything seemed like it was falling into place. I had the radio on — loud — and my spirits rose with the energetic dance beat. My little car — a late model hatchback with a funky heater — had finally warmed up, after running for 10 minutes. I was making good time, and I’d be home soon.

Or was I? I suddenly looked up at my rear-view mirror, and lo and behold, there was a local cop with his lights flashing… coming on fast. I instinctively took my foot off the gas and glanced down at the speedometer. The needle drifted quickly south from around 45 mph… and I looked up as I passed a sign that said I was in a 20 mph speed zone. Shit! I had been so busy listening to music, and thinking about getting home, I hadn’t even noticed the speed limit. Maybe he was after someone else, I thought for a moment… But no, as I slowed down, so did he. I braked, signalled, and pulled over to the side of the road, and he pulled in right behind me.

*&%! I thought to myself. How could I do something so stupid?! I knew that this stretch of road was where the local cops hung out. I’d passed them plenty of times before, as they lay in wait of commuters taking the back way home. A wave of angry frustration welled up in me, and my head began to spin as the officer got out of his car and approached. I could feel my pulse quickening, a roar in my ears starting, and my gut churned as I started to build up a head of steam. All I wanted to do, was get home. All I wanted to do, was get through this town. All I wanted to do, was put the tough day behind me and relax in front of my fireplace. I didn’t ask for much. And I didn’t mean to speed through this town. I just lost track of how fast I was going! What the hell was this cop pulling me over for? Didn’t he have other real criminals to catch? What the fuck?!

I could feel the indignation rising in me, with every approaching step of the cop. Strings of profanity coursed through my head, and my gut continued to constrict as my hands tightened around the steering wheel. I couldn’t believe I’d been stupid enough to speed. I couldn’t believe this cop had been that stupid to pull me over. Everybody was a fucking idiot. Jesus fucking Christ.

The cop reached the side of my car, and I rolled down the window.

“Do you have any idea how fast you were going?” he asked.

“Too fast?” I heard myself say. It sounded smart-assed, and he didn’t like that.

“License and registration please,” he said, and I pulled my license out of my wallet and handed it to him. Still seething, I reached into the glove box to find my registration. I always kept it in the same place — in a long sleeve that held my insurance papers as well. But as the crashing ocean of agitation crashed in my head, I had trouble finding my papers. I couldn’t find my registration. I couldn’t find my insurance stuff. I couldn’t find anything… and I started to lose it. The cop at my window was getting impatient, and when he prodded me to come up with my papers, I snapped at him that I was looking as fast as I could. I finally just pulled everything out of the glove compartment and spread it across the passenger seat.

“Is this your car?” the officer asked, with a wary edge in his voice.

“Yes, it’s my car!” I barked. “I’ll have the registration in just a minute. I know it’s in here somewhere…”

My vision was getting cloudy and blurred, as I sorted through the mess on the seat beside me. Finally, I found the sleeve, pulled out the registration paper, and handed it to the cop. But after taking a look at it, he handed it back to me.

“This isn’t current,” he said. He sounded like he was talking to a criminal.

A wave of resentment washed through me, pushing to unleash some crack or curse.

I took the paper from him and examined it more closely. Sure enough, it was from a few years back. Consternation welled up in me, and I bit back the curse that sat on the tip of my tongue. I ran through the rest of the contents of the sleeve — there were plenty of registration papers there, but none were current.

The cop pressed me for the papers, and I snapped at him again, “I’m working on it!” I couldn’t believe this shit. I rummaged once more through the pile of stuff on the seat beside me — ice scraper, breath mints, tissues, various receipts, notepads, souvenirs, tools, more papers… where was my goddamned registration!?

“Are you sure this is your car?” the officer asked.

“Yes, it’s my car!” I snapped. “Just give me a second…!” I cringed at the edge in my voice, knowing — from past experience — that police officers don’t respond well to aggressive disrespect. I’ve had several run-ins with cops over the years that escalated when I spoke out of turn or got verbally aggressive with them. A few times, I came close to being arrested, and I couldn’t afford to have something like that happen today. Not when I had this new job and a new house. I just couldn’t afford to get on the bad side of the local cops.

If only he would give me a second. Just one more moment…

But he wasn’t having it. I heard him turn and go back to his car, and when I looked up in the rear-view mirror, I saw him back in his car punching something into his onboard computer. He kept looking at my license plate and then back at his computer, and it looked like he was talking on his radio, too.

What the hell…? I couldn’t believe I’d gotten pulled over… I couldn’t believe I couldn’t find my registration papers. I distictly remembered renewing my registration just a few months before, and I distinctly remembered putting the papers in my glove compartment. Where the hell were they? Where the fuck had they gotten to?!

Suddenly, as though by magic, an envelope from the Registry of Motor Vehicles appeared before me. Inside was my current registration. It wasn‘t in the sleeve where I always put it. It wasn’t in the one place I was sure to find it. Like an idiot, I had just tossed it in the glove compartment. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I pulled out the paper and double-checked the dates to make sure I wasn’t going to make an ass out of myself — again. Then, I waited for the cop to return.

He did… with a citation in hand.

“Here’s my registration,” I said, using as neutral a tone as I could muster. I handed him the delinquent paper.

He took a long look at it and then took a longer look at me and my license.

“You should have found this sooner,” he said, handing them back to me, along with the ticket. He sounded like he wasn’t sure what to do with me — let me off the hook or cuff me and haul me into the station.

I shrugged, biting back words that I was afraid might provoke him even more.

“I had to run your plates, so now I have to have a record of this stop. I’m just giving you a warning, this time, but it’s on your record.” He sounded a little regretful, but also irritated with me. “If you had gotten your registration, I wouldn’t have had to run your plates.”

I wanted to say, “If you hadn’t been in such a godawful hurry and had given me a minute or two, I might have found it in time!” But I held my tongue and just nodded.

As he drove off, I started to shake, my stomach in knots and my torso damp with sweat. I felt like I’d just dodged a bullet… a bullet I’d stepped right in front of.

One Potato, Two Potato… A Tale of a Temper Flare

It was such a small thing. It was no big deal. So, I dropped the potato on the floor. So it slipped out of my hand and got away from me. I didn’t really need to flip out and slam the potato peelings into the trash can and curse a blue streak. I didn’t need to startle my partner and frighten them with the intensity of my reaction.

But from the way I lashed out after I dropped the potato, you’d think it was a huge deal. My temper flare was totally out of proportion to what happened, and I was totally unable to stop it. And that’s what drives me crazy.

Once again, I have overreacted extremely to a seemingly minor annoyance, turning a proverbial molehill into a mountain — no, a volcano. My partner is steering clear of me for a while, till I simmer down. My blood is pounding in my ears, I’m sweating like I’ve just run a hundred yard dash, and my head is spinning with the sudden crash of waves of unexpected emotion on my once-staid interior. Dinner might turn out okay, but the evening is pretty much ruined.

And I am humiliated.

It started out so simply. I had a long day at work, and I was looking forward to just chilling out, making my signature dish for supper — meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green peas. I don’t have the biggest cooking repertoire, and my partner usually does the cooking, but for some reason I make a killer meatloaf. After the long day I’ve had — no, a long week — tonight I need some serious comfort food.

I had intended to take off early and get home at a decent hour, but I got tied up at work with some last-minute things I needed to take care of. Running later than expected, I called my partner to say I was running behind, then did some shopping on my way. I picked up the 93% lean ground beef, egs and milk, and some extra celery, then waded through late-rush-hour traffic, and finally got home. Not bothering to change out of my work clothes, I rolled up my sleeves, chopped and mixed and patted together a pink loaf of beefy joy that would soon enough brown to perfection. I was running behind where I had hoped I’d be, but in another hour and a half, all would be well.

While the meatloaf was cooking, I turned my attention to the potatoes, and I suddenly remembered I’d intended to pick up some fresh spuds at the grocery store. A sudden flare of irritation rose in me, but as I picked through the potatoes we did have on hand, I found enough that were still in good enough shape to eat. As I rinsed them under cold water and shaved off their skins, I was having trouble hanging onto them. I could tell I was pretty tired from the day. The oblong shapes were slippery in my hands and I had to really concentrate at keeping hold of them, when I didn’t have rough potato skin to grip for traction. The peeling knife was slippery in my hands, too, and I struggled a bit with carving out the eyes and removing skin from tight crevices and wrinkles in the flesh.

As I turned away from the sink with one of the skinless tubers in my hand, suddenly it jumped from my grip. I tried to catch it as I felt it slide from between my fingers, but it escaped and landed with a thud on the linoleum and skittered away from me, as though it had a will of its own.

In an instant, my whole system was flooded with a sudden cascade of intense emotion. I could feel the blood rise in me, an adrenaline cocktail of volatile biochemicals boiling up at a moment’s notice, and I saw red for a split second. I felt something vicious in me coil and uncork like a thunderclap, and all I wanted to do was stab that fucking potato with the peeler I was wielding. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself stab it viciously, without hesitation or remorse, till it lay in shredded fragments before me.

“FUCK!” I fumed. “GODDAMN IT TO FUCKING HELL. MOTHERFUCKING PIECE OF SHIT! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!” I cursed the tuber. The unnamed thing that had coiled and unsprung inside me started to thrash, like a wild animal caged and prodded with an electrical probe. My gut churned with fierce lust for vengeance, and my head suddenly cleared of everything but a cold, cold drive to annihilate. Reaching for the nearest thing, I snatched up a handful of potato peelings from the sink and slammed them into the nearby trash can. Some of the peels slipped from between my fingers, and I pounced on them like a ravenous predator. I dropped to my knees — work clothes and all — and with tightly closed fist, I pounded them on the floor, as the inside of my head roared with rage. “STAY THERE, YOU GODDAMNED COCKSUCKING PIECE OF SHIT,” I hissed at the inert piece of vegetable peel. “DON’T FUCKING MOVE.

The potato peel obliged me and lay still on the floor in front of me. The inside of my head howled with frustration and rage, and I snatched up the offending object and threw it violently in the trash atop the rest of the peelings. My breath was heavy and ragged, and my torso was tracked with rivulets of sweat that descended from my chest and armpits to my belt. The whole kitchen seemed to shift and sway before me, and the overhead light became unbearably bright.

Behind me, I heard a sound, and my partner appeared in the doorway.

“Are you alright?” they asked, as I picked myself up off the floor and crossed the room to pick up the potato that had slipped from my grasp.

“I’m fine,” I muttered, as I snatched up the maverick spud and turned back to the sink to rinse it off. The rage that had torn through me just moments before suddenly receded with the presence of another person in the room. The part of me that knew that losing my grip on this slippery vegetable didn’t warrant the firestorm I’d unleashed perked up and pulled me back from the brimstone brink of my outrage.

I felt my partner’s eyes on me, but I couldn’t make eye contact. Their gaze followed me back to the sink, with an all-too-familiar sense of apprehension and defensiveness. This was not the first time I’d blown up after a long day at work, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be the last. I could feel the recrimination in their eyes — What are you getting so upset about? Why did you freak out over just dropping the potato? What’s wrong with you? Why are you so … violent? I knew all the questions, but I didn’t know the answer. All I knew was, I had been overcome by a wave of emotional overreaction that — once again — had blindsided me and reduced me to a big baby — pitching a fit over some stupid little thing and making me look like a raving maniac. For nothing.

As I ran water over the potato and I nearly lost my grip again, another smaller wave of anger welled up in me, but I held it back. I could feel my partner’s eyes still on me, watching to make sure I wasn’t going to get out of hand and break something. I’ve broken things in the past, slammed things, thrown things – the cracked dustpan that we keep in plain view in the kitchen is a constant reminder of how intensely my temper can flare, and how violently I can become as a result.They needed to make sure I wasn’t going to wreck anything in the kitchen.

Again.

I willed myself to act as though I were once more calm, and as I systematically went through the motions of cutting the last remaining potato into quarters, my partner’s wary curiosity was satisfied, and they disappeared again into the living room. Quiet… they were quiet in that way they get when they’re afraid of me and unsure about how the rest of the evening is going to go. I was quiet, too, willing my system to chill and not radiate the white heat of unprovoked rage that my partner can instinctively sense.

But though I seemed fine on the outside, inside part of me was still writhing. Still smarting. The crash of the rage felt like it had cracked something in me… as though a heavy anvil had fallen onto my foot, cracking and breaking bones… bones I needed so I could walk the rest of the way through my day. Something in me felt bruised and battered, but the hurt had come from inside my system, not outside me. And I had been defenseless against it. If the attack had come from someone or something beyond my own skin, I might have been able to defend myself. But this attack came from the inside, and it hurt as much as if I’d been jumped in an alley and beaten by thugs.

Yes, this attack had come from inside. From the depths of my being, the core of my character. At least that’s how it felt. I felt damaged and inept. Useless and beyond help. My insides felt sick and worried. All this drama over a little potato… All this rage over some stupid couple of minutes of me losing my grip… in more ways than one. “What’s wrong with me?” I wondered “Why can’t I deal with something that simple? My partner doesn’t seem to have this problem. Why do I?

Keeping quiet, keeping to myself, I adjusted the setting of the burner beneath the boiling potatoes and headed upstairs to change my clothes. The best I could hope for, was that my meatloaf would redeem me, and that the food I was preparing would be more comfort for the one I loved, than my own self was, that night.