Emotionally Unstable?

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Photo by Axel Naud via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons. (Photo has been cropped.)

As I’ve mentioned a number of times, I have often been called “emotionally immature” or “emotionally unstable,” usually by teachers or bosses, and always after they’ve witnessed one of my public crying meltdowns. Until recently I’ve just accepted that I am those things, and I’ve even referred to my meltdowns as “emotional meltdowns” myself. It seems obvious: crying = emotion. But I’ve just been struck by the realization that I don’t cry in public out of emotion. It’s not because someone hurt my delicate feelings. It is from sensory overload. My public crying meltdowns are always from sensory or stress overload. If someone has hurt my feelings, that’s just the cherry on top, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a public crying meltdown due to hurt feelings alone.

While I am an emotional person and I do experience hurt feelings sometimes, I think I deal with them in a reasonable way in most cases. Only my very closest friends ever know how I’m feeling and that’s because I choose to share it with them, not because I’m out of control. When I need a purely emotional cry, I can wait until I get home and have privacy. I also don’t lash out in anger at people, and I never hold a grudge. I try to treat others in a mature and fair way regardless of how I feel. And as for marriage, which is the most emotional relationship of all, mine is very happy and harmonious, because we both treat each other with respect and when we disagree, we “fight fair.” Unlike my parents, who used to have huge anger issues and petty jealousies, I am actually pretty good at being married. My husband especially appreciates that I don’t play manipulative games like some people do.

But sensory overload is another matter entirely. When I experience sensory overload I lose all control. Once I reach a tipping point, I can’t hold it in. I cry, I shake, I wheeze, right then and there. I’m usually not feeling any emotion except embarrassment, and that’s only because I know people are looking at me melting down and I’m making a public fool out of myself.

People can only go by what they see and by their own experience. And if someone’s never experienced a sensory meltdown, they can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like or what may have caused it. All they know is that for most people, crying is an emotional response, so they jump to the conclusion that I’m freaking out because of out-of-control emotions, when that’s not the case at all.

If other people are going to put labels on me, or if I’m going to put labels on myself, I think it’s helpful to at least pick the right ones.

Trying to Make it On My Own

Toronto

Photo by Kat Northern Lights Man via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to be old enough to live on my own. My dad had left just before I turned 14 and a couple years later my mom decided we needed a new start, so we moved to a small town of her choice a four-hour drive away. Unfortunately, I hated that town. This is going to sound really flaky, but I just got a bad, oppressive vibe there. Plus, it was really hard for me to make friends there, and it seemed like all the people my own age who were willing to have anything to do with me when I first moved there were heavy drug users. I drank alcohol, but illegal drugs were not my thing and being around them made me really uncomfortable. Meanwhile, I didn’t have a great relationship with my mom. She yelled a lot and was very critical. It’s like she took pleasure in pointing out things I was doing wrong and ways in which I was at fault for various things.

For example, sometimes my dad would phone and if I was friendly to him, my mom would scream at me, “How can you be so nice to him after the way he’s treated me? I’m the one who’s always been there for you! Where is your loyalty?” So then one time I refused to talk to him, thinking I was showing loyalty to my mom like she wanted. But then she yelled, “How dare you treat your father like that! No matter what he’s done, he’s still your father, and you have no right to disrespect him that way! If you keep doing this he’ll never come back to us!” This is only one of many examples. It was an ongoing pattern in our relationship when I was a teenager. I couldn’t do anything right in her eyes and I got yelled at for every little thing. It was unbearable. I don’t even have words to describe the pain and stress her yelling and criticism caused. Needless to say, home did not feel like an emotionally safe place for me.

I had dropped out of school when I was 14, but I was enrolled in a part-time education program by this point, and through that I got involved in a government-funded employment program for at-risk youth. They got me a summer job in an office, and when summer was over, I was kept on as a part-time employee. I was extremely good at not spending any money back then, so nearly every dime I earned went into my savings account. At 18, having saved up a small nest egg, and with my hours now being drastically cut at work anyway, I moved back to the hometown I desperately missed. Alone.

It never occurred to me that I might not be able to handle it. I had this boundless optimism (which is now long gone), and even though I had already failed at many things, it still never occurred to me that I might suck at life. I just thought anything would be better than living with my mean mom in that town I hated. And I was perfectly willing to work for what I needed. I assumed I was able to do that.

I initially rented a basement suite owned by a family friend. I assumed I would find a job right away, but it turned out to be harder than I thought. Part of the problem was the suite’s inconvenient location and the transportation issues resulting from that. I loved living alone, but seeing how quickly my little nest egg was diminishing just due to basic living expenses, I took a friend (the frenemy I wrote about here) up on her offer to share an apartment with her and her boyfriend. It seemed like a wise decision, as rent would be far cheaper and it was close to all amenities, making my job search much easier (there was no internet in those days; you had to pound the pavement, as they say). It actually went well at first, but then they broke up and my friend moved out.

Now here’s where I made one of my clueless social blunders. It didn’t occur to me that because my friend had moved out, I had to move out too. I liked the apartment and the location, and I got along well (platonically) with her ex-boyfriend. He was a really nice guy. It wasn’t like he had treated her badly; she had just gotten bored with him and wanted to move on, so I didn’t see how it could be a loyalty issue like when I was nice to my dad in spite of him treating my mom badly. But my friend got very angry at me for continuing to live there, and I was utterly clueless as to why. Now in retrospect I can understand that it was highly inappropriate for me to stay there, but I couldn’t see that back then. I was just baffled. I saw that apartment as my home. Why should I have to leave my home because of a decision someone else made? It was bad enough when my parents broke up and I had to go wherever my mom went, but I was an adult and could do what I wanted now, or so I thought. But it understandably led to a huge strain in our friendship.

And then a few months later my friend’s ex-boyfriend moved out too. He couldn’t cook and I certainly wasn’t doing that for him, so he found a room-and-board situation that included meals. And I couldn’t afford to pay the rent on my own, so after a disastrous situation resulting from placing an ad in the paper for a new roommate (which deserves its own post), I ended up having to move anyway.

The next couple years were spent moving from place to place and having roommate after roommate. In total I lived in six different apartments/suites with 9 different roommates. My living situation was a constant source of stress and worry. Some of my roommates were very unpleasant. One of them told me she thought I had a mental illness because I spent so much time in my room, but I was only doing that because being around her was a constant sensory assault.

I wished I could live alone again, but I just couldn’t afford it, even once I had found employment.

I was only able to find minimum-wage jobs (not surprising, given my lack of education). The first one was at McDonalds, where I started working a few weeks after moving in with my friend and her boyfriend, but I only lasted six weeks. The noise and the fast pace were more than I could handle and I ended up having a crying meltdown and getting labelled “emotionally unstable” by my boss, so I quit in a state of overload and humiliation. About a month later I landed a job in a mall bookstore and worked there for about 15 months.

I performed fairly well at the bookstore, despite the stress of dealing with customers, but I had a difficult boss. I got to be good friends with one of my co-workers (whom I’m still friends with to this day), and our boss became very paranoid about the friendship. She accused us of plotting against her (which was a completely false accusation; I wouldn’t know how to plot against someone even if I wanted to, and I have certainly never wanted to) and forbade us to speak to each other. One time, she saw us smiling at each other across the store and demanded to know what we were up to. We were “up to” nothing. We were friends, and we smiled when we saw each other; it was as simple as that.

I have always tended to get sick a lot (mostly bad colds/coughs and nausea/vomiting) when I’m in the workforce, so my choices are to either come in to work sick and get criticized for that, or call in sick a lot, and get criticized for that. During that time, I tended to call in, but then my boss accused me of calling in sick because of hangovers! She even wrote it in my employee record! Again, another completely false accusation. I have never called in sick because of a hangover in my whole life. I did drink socially, but I’ve never been falling-down drunk in my life and I have rarely had anything resembling a hangover. But I guess in her mind, there could be no other explanation for such frequent illnesses. It is odd, I admit, but I have always been this way and nothing I have tried has helped.

The work environment became increasingly tense, and soon the boss had become paranoid about the entire staff. Apparently another staff member overheard her telling someone that she intended to find reasons to fire the entire staff so she could start fresh with a new “uncorrupted” staff. This was because she thought one of the staff members (fortunately not me) was a troublemaker and was poisoning everyone else against her. It was insane; there was nothing like that going on. But she did start firing people one by one and I knew it would happen to me eventually. I dreaded going in there every day, not knowing if that day might be the day. One day I couldn’t take all the stress anymore and I quit. I knew it was unwise, as I had nothing else lined up, but I had reached a breaking point and I knew I would soon be fired anyway. Knowing that potential employers always ask why you left your last job, I knew it would be better to say that I left of my own volition than that I was fired.

In the following weeks, my former boss did indeed fire every last member of staff. In one case, she rummaged through a staff-member’s bag and found a roll of toilet paper, which she then accused her of stealing from the staff bathroom. My close friend was let go with the reason, “The length of time you have now worked here has made you overqualified for the position for which you were originally hired.”

For about three months I desperately tried to find another job, to no avail. Then some awful things happened with my roommate. I had come full circle; this was actually the same person who was my first roommate, the friend who had broken up with her boyfriend and moved out; we had since made up and moved in together again. She said she didn’t want to live alone because she had an ex-boyfriend (not the same one we had lived with) who had been violent with her and was continuing to threaten her, and she thought living with a roommate would offer some level of protection. It didn’t. She ended up getting assaulted by him and I was called to court as a witness (it turns out he had actually been on a bit of a rampage that night, so assaulting her wasn’t the only charge). But having reconciled with him before the court date, she lied in court to protect him and got angry with me for telling the truth. She moved out of our place and in with him (and eventually married him). We had been friends our whole lives but have not spoken to each other since that day. Her choice, not mine. I did not reject friends back then, no matter what, even when I probably should have.

Meanwhile, the guy I was seeing at the time was fast losing interest in me, dashing my hopes for something serious to develop there. A mutual friend he’d confided in told me he had developed feelings for someone else, so I asked him about it. I wasn’t angry (I never got angry about anything back then; it was almost like a weird deficit in my emotional repertoire), but I did want to know. He admitted it was true, but he got angry at the person who told me, which made that person angry at me. I apologized, but she said, “I don’t have time for this juvenile bullshit,” and never spoke to me again.

Emotionally, I hit rock bottom. I had tried and tried to make it on my own. I had been running on adrenaline for two years. I was exhausted, and I was getting physically sicker by the day (probably partly because I couldn’t afford to eat healthy food, or much of anything, really). I’d lost a couple friends, lost my boyfriend, had no job, my money had run out, I couldn’t afford rent on my own, and my mom had been calling me on the phone daily, begging me to move back in with her. I remember just sitting there thinking, okay, what are my options? Everything I had tried had failed, so I narrowed it down to two: I could either kill myself, or I could move back in with my mom. Killing myself would take a certain amount of courage and impetus that I just didn’t have. So I chose the latter. And it felt like a death of sorts anyway.

Friend Trouble – Part 2

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Photo made on Photofunia.

This is continued from my previous post.

Finding out on Facebook that one of my closest friends of more than 30 years got married and I wasn’t invited to the wedding hit me like a ton of bricks. I don’t know all the details. I don’t know what kind of wedding it was. Maybe it was a tiny wedding and they excluded everybody except family. I don’t know. And Juliane’s not communicating.

If it was a small, private thing, I can accept that I wasn’t invited, despite the fact that my own wedding had been a small, private affair and yet not only was she invited, she was the maid of honour. What really bothers me is that I didn’t even know it was happening. Not even so much as a text message saying, “I’m getting married tomorrow; wish me well.” I could have accepted that. But I knew nothing. And then I found out on Facebook of all places.

There was a time in our friendship when not knowing something like this would have been unthinkable. To me, it still is, and yet I did see the signs that we were drifting apart, I just couldn’t accept them. I am extremely loyal and can be downright deluded about things like this. I don’t ditch my friends, and it doesn’t occur to me that they might ditch me, even though this isn’t the first time someone’s done something like this to me. Now I have to accept the fact that Juliane and I are not as close as I thought we were.

My main problem in all of this is not what you might expect. It’s not the hurt. I can get past the hurt. The main problem is the stress of trying to figure out what to do about the situation. I have a Christmas present I’d already bought and packaged up for her. Do I mail the present? My normal rule of thumb is to err on the side of kindness, but this feels more tricky. I feel like if I send it, I’m making a fool out of myself, like some weak-willed little pansy who can’t take a hint. And I don’t know if it’s even kind to send a gift at this point. If she’s trying to ditch me, sending a gift is just a sign that I’m hanging on when she doesn’t want me to, which might be seen as stalkerish or something. It wouldn’t be the first time someone’s accused me of that.

But if she’s not trying to ditch me, and it was just a small, private wedding that no friends were included in, not sending a gift now when I always have before might be seen as petty and childish. Like, fine, you didn’t invite me to your wedding, so no Christmas gift for you! So there!

Another friend has advised me to confront her. But I really think if I confront her, she and her husband will just think I’m being a drama queen. They already see me as too emotional; any kind of confrontation would just further confirm it. They are both very stoic, tough, confident people who would have little time for such things. When someone screws Juliane over, she just washes her hands of them and moves on.

I really think I’m going to feel horrible no matter what I choose to do. I either feel like a weak-willed fool, a petty jerk, or an overemotional drama queen. Those are my choices. That’s the thing about something like this. Once something like this has been done to me, on an emotional level, I’m screwed no matter how I respond.

It would be easiest to just (to use the trendy term) ghost her. But is that the healthy, mature thing? Probably not. But then I don’t think the way she’s treated me is all that mature either.

And it all makes me wonder, why am I always the one who obsesses about whether I’m doing the right thing, and whether I’m healthy and mature, when other people don’t seem to give their actions a second thought?

 

The Aftermath of Writing About It

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I thought writing about all the evil that happened when I was 14 would be therapeutic or cathartic, but it left me feeling horrible. All last night my brain was in a fog, I was on the verge of tears that wouldn’t come, and I felt like I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I feel like I’ve lived through it all over again.

It’s not like I’ve never talked about it before. I’ve talked about it with my husband, with a couple of my friends, and of course my counselor had me go over all this ad nauseam, probably convinced that all my problems stemmed from it, when the fact is, I had issues long before it happened. I had already as a young child been labeled socially and emotionally immature, and I was prone to sensory overload and meltdowns. What happened when I was 14 didn’t cause it. What happened when I was 14 happened to someone who already had trouble coping with everyday life.

I’m trying to think of what I need now. What will help? I don’t even know.

We’ve all had a happy ending. I did end up furthering my education (albeit not to my potential). My parents are healed. Their relationship is healed. My relationship with them is healed. I have forgiven them. I have a healthy marriage with a man who loves me and we have a peaceful, quiet life. What more could I ask for?

Why is this still so raw?

 

Meltdown

Photo by Enesse Bhé via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Photo by Enesse Bhé via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

There may be times in my blog when I will mention having meltdowns. I’ve read that people with Asperger’s tend to have meltdowns, although I suspect it doesn’t always look the same for everyone. I’ll tell you what a meltdown is like for me.

First, I start to feel overwhelmed. This can be by external stimuli like being surrounded by people, lots of movement, hurrying, noise, loud voices, smells. Or it can be by my own emotions, triggered by people putting excessive demands on me, insulting or criticizing me, judging me, or (and this is the very worst) falsely accusing me of something.

Combine both external and internal pressures and it’s a recipe for disaster for me.

First, my brain gets fuzzy and it’s hard to think or concentrate. Then things start to get blurry, visually. My visual focus becomes narrow and I stop being aware of things in my peripheral vision. Then I start to feel a pressure rise up in my body, from my core, up up up, tightening my chest on the way, until it reaches my eyes. When that pressure starts is when I know I need to get someplace where I can be alone. If I can, the impact on my life will be minimal. If I can’t, like if I’m at work and can’t get away, it’s catastrophic.

There’s always this one moment that’s the tipping point. Once that moment passes, there’s no going back. Have you ever slipped on icy ground and tried to right yourself, but had this moment where you knew it didn’t work and you were going down? That’s what it feels like.

Once the pressure reaches my eyes I start to cry. Uncontrollably. I shake. Sometimes I have an asthma attack. Often I vomit. There is no way I can coherently explain my thoughts. People witnessing it think I’m immature and trying to get attention. I’m not. The last thing I want is attention at that point.

Eventually the outward behaviors stop. I go home, if I wasn’t already there (and I am usually not at home when it happens, unless my MIL is visiting). If it happened at work, I then usually quit that job. Seriously. I quit. In those cases I feel like I can’t handle doing anything different. If I don’t quit, I inevitably get “let go” soon afterwards anyway.

And then outwardly, I can seem okay. I carry on with my life. I talk, smile, eat, do errands. But for months after a big one, I barely clean my house, keep in touch with anyone, or even keep up with my hobbies. I am just utterly exhausted.

I get called “emotionally unstable.” I’ve never been diagnosed with any psychiatric condition though. I talked to one doctor about it, and also one counselor, but those discussions went nowhere.

When I feel like a meltdown is coming on, I try to avoid it, but my methods of avoidance usually piss people off, like walking away when it’s not appropriate to do so or blurting out something that other people take the wrong way.

One time when I was with my family in a restaurant and there were various other circumstances surrounding the outing like having house guests and having to drive in a city I hated with a car full of people, I could feel it coming. I said to them, “I really need people to not talk to me right now.” I didn’t know how else to say it just then to explain the overstimulation I was feeling. Fortunately, my family understood and gave me space, but a stranger (who unfortunately was in my direct line of sight, otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed) overheard me and looked at my mom and rolled her eyes, as if to say, “Ugh, what a drama queen.” That just about killed me, emotionally speaking. I do not want to be that person. I said to my mom, who was next to me, “How else am I suppose to say it when I feel that way? How should I say it next time?” My mom replied, “It’s okay. It’s okay how you said it. I knew what you meant.”

I should probably mention that my mom has not always been like this. My mom used to have huge anger issues and mood swings, and when I was a kid she could be downright verbally, emotionally, and even spiritually abusive. But she has changed and grown and is like a different person now. And she’s read things I’ve asked her to read so she does understand my issues now. I know I am fortunate to have that support.

But other people. Obviously other people are not going to understand the motives behind my words, actions, and outward signs of imminent meltdown, let alone the meltdown itself. And the fact that other people judge me for them makes them, and the fallout from them, so very much worse.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to not have them. I talked to my counselor about it and he offered suggestions for coping strategies, but they don’t always work. Either I don’t have the presence of mind to implement them, or when I do, other people thwart the things I try to do to protect myself.

It’s not like I have these meltdowns all the time. They can range from once every two to five years or so. (My last one was in March 2014, the one before that was in September 2010.) During the times I can get away with staying out of the workforce and not having my mother-in-law as a house guest (no one pushes my sensory and emotional buttons like she does), they’re pretty much nonexistent. But when they happen, they have a life-altering impact.

For the most part, I like the way I am, Aspergian ways and all. If I truly have Asperger’s as I suspect, I wouldn’t want to change that, because I like my gifts and interests and I wouldn’t want to lose those. But one thing I would change is my tendency to have meltdowns. They are horrible, humiliating, and debilitating.

Perhaps if the world were different. Gentler, quieter, more accommodating and tolerant of differences. But changing the world is a lot to ask.