Fear and anger

One of the things I am most afraid of is making other people upset or angry. This tends to be a problem. When other people are angry, even if I know it is not at me, I am afraid. Even if it is something completely unrelated to me. If my sister is mad at my parents for not letting her go out somewhere with her friends, I am afraid.

The more tired or stressed I become, the less capable I am of distinguishing between actual threats and perceived ones. So things that would just make me minorly uncomfortable, like someone complaining about how their boss made them work over the weekend, or even things that on a good day wouldn’t upset me at all, like complaining about failed experiments, will make me afraid. And then I want to run and hide.

But of course, I can’t hide under my desk at work.

For several reasons.

Partially, the floor is disgusting.
Also, I know that if people saw me hiding, then they would be concerned and ask if I was ok. And that would lead to more human interaction when I do not want it.

When I am especially afraid, all questions are a threat.

I used to tell my parents to “Stop yelling” when they were saying things, without even a raised voice, when I knew that there was something wrong, maybe I was in trouble or a sister was in trouble. There’s something I don’t quite have the word for still. It isn’t yelling, because it doesn’t require a raised voice. It’s a-something-is-wrong voice and it makes me afraid, even though I know I should be safe.

I don’t know why I have this fear. I am not afraid of my parents. They did not unfairly punish me. Usually, they were pretty explicit about what I had done wrong and why it was not ok and what was going to happen as a result. The reasons were pretty explicit reasons, usually safety related or you-aren’t-allowed-to-hit-your-sister related. And the results were usually pretty reasonable punishments like apologizing to my sisters or going to my room to calm down or extra chores to make up for creating an unreasonable mess. There is no clear reason why I should have this fear of conflict.

I think part of the reason I am afraid is because I am never sure WHAT is wrong. Is it anger or tiredness or frustration? Even with boyfriend, even with my family, I can’t pick up on tired versus angry. It makes behavior unpredictable.

And lack of predictability is frightening.

And if I can’t handle the possibility that someone I know and trust and love might be upset, then when it is someone I don’t know, it can be especially terrifying. This is one reason why I try to stay away from all the activism and issues and current events and internet things that are always going on. Because I can’t handle them and they make me want to hide.

And that is maybe ok, to only float around the edges and contribute my personal stories. To share bits of happiness and some struggles. I should be good at floating around the edges by now. I’ve done it my whole life.

Because it is maybe ok to prioritize being safe and feeling safe.

Running Away

A while ago, I ran away from home. True, I am an adult. An independently living adult. So you might not strictly call what I did running away. You could call it “taking a walk to clear my head.”

But it was really running away.

It was a panic, that resulted in a pretty much nonverbal me running out barefoot into the neighborhood. After about half an hour, I was able to talk myself into going back to my apartment for shoes, a coat, and my phone.

Shoes, coat, phone.
Shoes, coat, phone.
Shoes, coat, phone.

Then I was off again.

I know to walk if I am able to walk instead of run. I know the ways to walk so no one asks you questions or if you are lost or asks for directions. I know how to wander aimlessly while looking like I am walking purposely. Because walking purposely protects you from the people that would stop and ask you questions that I would be unable to answer. (Admittedly, now that I live in a city, I suppose I am less likely to run into random people I know, or just nice other people who ask if you are ok, but that was a threat in undergrad.)

I knew to walk east and north. Always walk east and north. (This is a purely safety reason, because the neighborhoods south or west are not as nice of neighborhoods.)

So I walked east and north, aimlessly but with purpose, to get away, to escape my mind.

Eventually, I had calmed down enough to sit down on some steps and send a help message.

“Ran away but went back for shoes and phone so ok walking campus now not safe (physically ok) but cant go back home again tried once help maybe”

And boyfriend called and talked me through, even when I wasn’t talking, and talked to me about little things about the week until I had words back and was able to walk back home past the motorcycle crash and the angry people and the police back to my apartment back to my room and be safe again. And he stayed and talked me through to safety.

And that is why I love him.

If he hadn’t called back, I’m sure I would have eventually calmed down enough to get my words back. I am not sure where I would have been able to go, or hide. I would have kept walking east and north, until I hit the lake. And kept walking. Not into the lake, but somewhere. Eventually the cold might have reminded me to go home, but I’ve walked for hours while it was snowing before because of similar panic. (I usually loop around a relatively small area, though. So I won’t walk one direction for hours, but I would walk the same paths around campus for hours in the snow.)

When things get to be completely overwhelming, I hide or run. Hiding usually comes first. If there is nowhere to hide, then I will run. I’ve been in a hallway before for a professor-networking-dinner-event, then the next thing I know I am literally halfway across campus, running. At a certain point, it becomes something out of my control. That is why it is good I spent my first adventures into living alone in undergrad on a campus without a lot of streets criss-crossing it.

I am afraid that one day I will panic and run out of lab in the middle of an experiment. Or run out of a meeting or run out of my (in the far indefinite future) thesis defense. Most of all, I am afraid I will run out into the street.

So I look for hiding places, for safe places, for places that I can go in a panic. Ways to hide instead of run. I’ve found several of them. There are quiet rooms full of rarely used equipment. There are the wells under the desk (although people could find me there, but it is a small space). There are always bathrooms.

I wish that I could say definitively that one day I will grow out of the running. That I will be able to just stop it. That I will be able to manage things so that they are in control and so that it never happens. I’m afraid one day I might be watching my (potential far-distant) children and get so overwhelmed I run away, leaving them who knows where. I don’t think I will. I tend to prefer to hide, if at all possible. I want to be able to manage myself better, to know when I am close to overwhelming, to know when I can push myself and when I need to stop. I think I’m generally getting better. But these full-out-panic-don’t-remember-runnings didn’t happen all that frequently to begin with. (Possibly because usually I can hide.)

HAPPY

This weekend

boyfriend and I went back to our college
we walked around the lake
and I was distracted and happy
dashing around at daffodils and ducks
and the small purple flowers
and hidden spiderwebs

and stopped at our spot
the spot where we would go to sit out and watch the stars
the spot where we had our first kiss
the spot where he told me I was beautiful for the first time
(the first time anyone not-my-parents had ever told me that)

and we stopped and looked at the lake
and the ducks and the flowers
and then he got down on one knee
and asked me to marry him

And of course I said yes. And now it is the spot where we got engaged. Where we officially are going to tell people and start planning forevers. It’s full of overwhelming happiness, of bounces and bubbly feelings and everything amazing.

This weekend I learned that it is not only despair that makes me lose my words. Overwhelming happiness can also do it. But I don’t need words to express my happiness. There’s happy-flappy, jumping, spinning. There’s happiness everywhere. For maybe 10 minutes, I jumped up and down and flapped and hugged and spun. We couldn’t put the ring on for the longest time because it would have flown right off my flapping hands. There’s been days and days of “we’re getting married” scripting and he always responds back with the right words.

And now I can spend forever with the one person who always is safe. Who watched me flap and spin happily all day and smiled. Who talked to people for me when I was too happy for words. ¬†Who makes the world make sense. Who never stops watching out for me and making sure that I am alright. Who scheduled quiet breaks into the day so that I wouldn’t get overwhelmed. Who made sure when I got home that I slept and ate. Who drove home while I slept the whole drive because even overwhelming happy is exhausting. Who planned everything so amazingly wonderful. Who picked out a beautiful ring that I can wear underneath my gloves at work. With nothing poky, but with plenty of sparkly.

So right now my life is full of overwhelming happy.