There are some things in life that are simply impossible. Kissing your elbow. Raising only one eyebrow. Sneezing with your eyes open. Try any of them, I double dog dare you. Chances are you will discover they cannot be done. If I may, I would like to add something else to that list.
I think it is impossible to overreact.
My psychiatric diagnosis is not something I routinely talk about. More often than not, it is misunderstood. Therefore, at certain times in my life, I have shied away from the subject because of the fear of being judged or labelled. However, in thinking about the whole issue in the last few weeks, I have come to the conclusion that because it is so often misunderstood, I need to talk about it.
In my case, part of my illness means that my emotions are out of whack sometimes, and a situation that might seem like no big deal to most people can be a huge issue for me.
Because of the circumstances that make up my life, I don’t have a whole lot of power in a lot of situations. I don’t drive. Someone else does my laundry and my dishes. I need help getting my shoes on and getting into bed. So the issue of “power” is a big thing for me. I like to have choices and make my own decisions. I like to call the shots about things that go on in my life.
A couple of years ago I was training a new caregiver. During one of her first shifts, I was explaining the most effective ways to interact with me, I relayed to her all the information that was in the preceding paragraph of this post. I ended by saying “Please don’t ever take my power away when people do that it messes with my head.” I told her about my psychiatric diagnosis and that feeling powerless was one of my biggest triggers. She said that she understood.
About a week later, the two of us were training another new caregiver. They dropped me off at a physical therapy appointment and then went to the grocery store for me. When they picked me up about an hour later, and we got in the car, the first caregiver said “I know that there is a meeting on Sunday afternoon to talk about the schedule next week, but that is not a good time, so while you were in physical therapy, we called all of your other caregivers and changed the time of the meeting. It will now be Sunday evening at 6 p.m.
When I started to protest, this caregiver shut me down, and said “Well, this new time works for everyone else, so that is when the meeting is going to be.”
I saw red. After a long night of tossing and turning and several only partially successful attempts to get my rage under control, I saw the caregiver the next day.
As calmly as I could, I told her I was angry. I told her she had no business changing the time of a scheduling meeting without asking my permission first. I reminded her that she worked for me.
That is when I heard it. She said the dreaded phrase.“You are overreacting.”
What she didn’t understand is that when she took my power away with her actions, she was reminding me of other times similar things had happened. Like the time when a friend of mine promised to give me a ride to an event I was looking forward to and then backed out at the last minute. The result was that I could not participate in something I had been excited about for weeks.
There have also been many times in hospitals and doctor’s offices when staff have said things like “I know you like to transfer in a certain way, but we do things differently here, so we are going to do this our way.” Having my power taken away is like someone pouring ice water over hot soup that I made. It leaves me feeling frustrated and helpless. Both are incredibly deep feelings for me, and when I react to experiencing them, I am responding to the intensity of the emotions going on inside me at the moment. Other people may not understand. Other people may not have the same response to a situation that I do. That doesn’t mean I am overreacting. It simply means we have had different experiences and we are not on the same page.
One other thing. In my case, telling me I am overreacting is not going to calm me down. It’s never going to make me respond with “Oh, you are right. I will settle down and be quiet now.” I guarantee it.
Obviously that caregiver didn’t work for me very long. When she told me I was overreacting, I should have asked her to kiss her elbow.
It just can’t be done.