Just when I think that I’ve made great strides in my emotional regulation, I hit a speed bump. I have the tendency of taking the slightest problem, perceived or otherwise, and catastrophizing my way into wasteland of shattered opportunities. In my head, that is. If I’m not careful to notice this trap in its early stages, then the fall can generate some serious suffering for both me and those I love.
An example of this happened the other night. After dinner, I left the dishes in the sink trying to vacate the kitchen as fast as possible so that I wouldn’t continue grazing and putting food in my mouth that I really didn’t want. I’ve done this a couple of times recently, getting up early the following morning when cold casseroles or pork chops are decidedly less appealing. I really don’t feel like crushing those twice-baked potatoes at 5 am, you know?
With this in mind, my hubby and I had retired to the living room where we’d watched TV for an hour (The Last Kingdom and The Blacklist). I’d like to say that we are more refined and spend our evenings solving The New York Times crossword puzzles or listening to a Wagner opera, but nope. Except for the evenings we change it up with board games or coloring (don’t knock it ’till you try it!), we generally just veg on the couch, minds numb to the world.
At one point, My husband went to fetch a drink and I could hear him rattling around in the cabinets. The drinking vessels, cups, mugs, and novelty straws, are housed directly about the sink.
Now I have bat ears, I mean, my sense of hearing is preposterously sharp. So it did not get past me when I heard him mutter under his breath, “Seriously?!?”
I had a flash of anger, not irritation, but straight up rage surge inside me. I went from content and cuddly to Hulked out in about .3 seconds. How dare he comment or say anything about the kitchen?!? I work all day, too! He doesn’t make dinner, I do! If he doesn’t like the current state of the sink, HE can clean up the mess!
I didn’t say anything to him for the next hour but my emotions continued to spin out of control. Before I knew it, I was down an unchecked BPD rabbit hole. I had him hating me. I had him leaving me for another woman. I had family and friends shunning me for failing my traditional gender role (which, I might add, I don’t really buy into). It was out of control.
So by the time we headed to bed I decided I needed to talk this out–to deal with it and prevent the demise of our marriage and the subsequent collapse of society. I ambushed him while he was trying to read, all the while thinking I was taking the high road by not going to bed angry.
“Listen, Honey.” I blurted. “I heard you in there earlier. I heard you mumble about the dishes in the sink. I know I didn’t do them this evening. I’m going to clean it up first thing in the morning. If you have a problem with it, come and talk to me directly, don’t be passive aggressive. I’m willing to work on myself and my problems but how am I supposed to know what upsets you if you don’t tell me? How am I supposed to change something or deal with problems if you don’t address it? I can deal with conflict. I can handle it. I’m not made of sugar, I won’t melt. You should know that by now.” I hammered him with words and tone.
He had put his book down, taken his reading glasses off and was patiently enduring my haranguing. When I finally took a breath after saying, “Will you tell me? Will you please just tell me instead of muttering and being a jerk?” He responded without a trace of malice, “Yes, I will.” Then he said, “Do you want to know what that grumbling was actually about?”
My “yes” came out about two octaves higher than my normal register.
“I got a text from X. He didn’t follow up on the lead I sent him.”
“Ohhh.” I wasn’t hungry, but I had a large piece of humble pie to eat. “I’m so sorry.”
I was obviously the jerk in this situation, not my spouse. I reacted out of emotion. I made false assumptions. I failed to check the facts. I probably would’ve still initially felt the anger, and that’s not wrong in and of itself. (There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ emotions.) But where I went off the rails was not pausing to ask myself if it was appropriate for the situation. I could have very easily said, “Hey hon, is everything okay in there?” I denied my husband his voice all the while demanding that he listen to mine.
We’ve been married five years, and we’ve struggled through far more of these blow ups than I care to admit. The first year of our marriage, I had four psychiatric hospitalizations and countless hours of outpatient care. To say that it was a rocky start would be an understatement. But we started learning more about my diagnoses, and what practical tools we could use to manage my daily symptoms. My husband read books like Stop Walking on Eggshells. I discovered Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and the skills I’ve learned as a result of it have quite literally saved my life.
Living with mental illness, any kind, can be suffocating. Some days, weeks, and months seem hopeless and impossible. But the people who love us also suffer. We hurt those we love, especially those closest to us. I lashed out at my biggest supporter, cheerleader, and rock. Sure, all married couples have their spats. And on the scale of self-harm and psychiatric acuity, my little tirade was fairly mild. But those episodes still leave a mark, and memories best forgotten.
The dishes did get done and I had the kitchen spic and span before my better half (#truth) got up. I think loading the dishwasher, seasoning cast iron skillets, and scrubbing pans is going to look a little different to me, at least for a while. It’s one time during the day for me to reflect: to see how I feel, to consider what I’m thinking, to examine my interpersonal dynamics, and to be grateful for my tribe.
Here’s to dirty dishes and fresh starts. Seriously!!