August 21, 2021
I can remember a few times during my childhood, when my parents had a fight and instead of handling it like adults one of them would slam the door and drive away. Though the performance was dramatic, what they ultimately needed was some space to calm down and driving away was both a gut punch to the other person and a way to get space.
In my opinion, people generally handle conflict poorly. Our pride makes de-escalation hard, the complexity of our language can make it difficult to communicate. Still, one skill we excel in is running away. If fighting leads nowhere it’s never too late to switch to flight, and after my parents found themselves in stalemate with their verbal sparring, it was usually fleeing the argument that proved most effective.
As children, we are forced to run away on foot. When I did this as a child, my parents were never far behind in the car, waiting for me to decide I had proved my point and could come back home. As an adult you level up to driving. Driving can get you even further than walking and can usually take you to much better places. It’s one of the main things I miss out on as a non-driver (licensed, but with massive driving anxiety), that if I’m in a bad mood or even just sad, there’s no hope of a spur of the moment escape to the plant store, or thrift store, or even just the grocery store. It’s very hard to be spur of the moment when every outing you want to take needs to be planned ahead with a friend who can drive. Even so, if I were to get into a fight with Z (not that such a thing ever happens, but if such a thing were to somehow happen) I could walk downstairs and out of our building. I could escape on foot, as I’ve done since childhood, and get away from the situation. I could do this same thing if I were at a party I wasn’t enjoying, or someone was in the apartment who I was frustrated at.
Yet, the inability to level up my hissy fits by driving away makes me crazy, which got me thinking about how Z must feel. Z has even less capacity to escape than I do. As long as he’s in his chair he can get around our apartment, as long as the doors are open. He can’t leave the apartment or the building without help, even if the helper is the very person he’s trying to escape. Z spends a lot of time on his computer, the one place he says he is most able to escape to. He is able to hyper-focus on whatever he’s doing on there, something that drives me crazy when I try to speak to him and he doesn’t even realize I’m speaking. I used to think he was just a naturally bad multitasker, but I realize that his ability to shut out the outside world is something he has actually needed to cultivate. Z can’t walk out on a conversation; he can only be so brash with people because he always runs the risk that they could get upset and he’ll be left stranded. It’s scary to need people and also to not be able to escape people. Shutting them out og your brain space is the next best thing.
When Z’s not in his chair he can’t escape at all. In his more or less immobile state, I’ve noticed he becomes easily overwhelmed by other people’s emotions and pain. Laying there soaking it all in, he has nothing else to focus on and no hope of escape. He has panic attacks.
The other day an assistant was angry about some issue and expressed that anger passionately. I left the room. When I returned, Z asked, “Why’d you leave me? You left me stranded with them. You ran away into the other room.” I hadn’t thought about it, my natural inclination to run away from overwhelming situations, but I suppose that's what I had done. I hadn’t even thought about the fact that Z couldn’t.
Since Z has no choice in dealing with people and their emotions in his most vulnerable states, we’ve been working on techniques to help him not be as affected by them. Something I’ve tried to combat negativity in the past is repeat a phrase to myself that separates me from whatever’s happening outside of my head. Z’s working on that, he says it works for him, but I’m skeptical, it’s never really worked for me.