A reader alerted me to an article about the children of a mentally unstable parent.
Just when I think I have a handle on all the reasons I am who I am, I read an article and another vein opens.
It sucks, you guys. This is hard and unpleasant. I don’t like examining pain. I don’t like having to find ways to change.
But here I am. Ready to tackle the next goddamn thing.
I understood every word of this article. I saw myself in every sentence. I am hyper aware.
I’ve written about this before, but in a completely different context. I wrote about the exhaustion of constantly looking for the next awful thing. I didn’t write about how my hyper awareness affects people around me.
If I had to guess, I would say the one thing my sons and Randy would say is the most annoying thing about me, it’s that I constantly ask them if they are okay. I don’t think a single day passes that I don’t ask one of them “are you okay?” or “what’s wrong?” Usually, more than once a day. Sometimes, more than once an hour.
Mostly, they are kind about it. But they also sometimes let me know that I’m bugging the shit out them. But I don’t stop. It has never occurred to me to stop. How can I stop when something might be wrong?
The article talks about magnifying nuances because it was often the little things that would cause our mentally unstable parent to lose their shit.
The article said it differently and with less cursing. I’m paraphrasing.
So, I learned at a young age, to read the cues. To pay attention.
Paying attention would at least give a little warning when everything was about to turn south.
The thing is, if this is what you do, then this is what you do. I never stopped magnifying every eye twitch or body shift. I never stopped listening for a slight tone change when someone speaks. I also apply this scrutiny to every person in all situations.
I’ve been in meetings where someone melted down and I knew it was going to happen well before it happened. In every case, I find myself looking around thinking “Holy shit…don’t they see what is going on? And why in the fuck would they say that when it’s obvious he’s about to blow a gasket?”
I am very good at reading emotional weather.
I can sense tension without any problem. When people attempt to send non-verbal cues to each other, I almost always intercept them. I see every set of drumming fingers and hear every single sigh, no matter how subtle.
The author writes about how this behavior is toxic to him and damaging to his relationships.
I physically feel those lines. Yes. Yes, I can see how this behavior has been toxic for me. It never makes me feel better. Trying to constantly gauge emotional weather only causes me anxiety. And no matter how many times I have asked my family those questions, “Are you okay?” “What’s wrong?” regardless of their answer, I’ve never changed the situation at all. Not once.
The most I’ve done is get on their nerves for badgering them. For years.
I took a few moments and considered their perspective. First of all, how many times can you hear the same goddamn questions and not lose your shit? I also never considered how terribly intrusive it is. Just because I am constantly scanning for change in emotion, doesn’t mean that the people I’m scanning want to share. Do I want to share every fucking feeling I’m having while I am having it? No. No I do not.
I have no idea what I am going to do with this information yet. I don’t know how to go about undoing this, other than just forcing myself to not voice those questions.
You have no idea how hard this will be. Just considering giving this practice up makes my throat tighten up a little. I don’t know if just swallowing the words will help my mental health, but at the very least, it will give my family a break.
Does “fake it until you make it” work in all situations? Because so far, that seems to be my go to for personal change.
Photo courtesy of Kat Jayne