Friday, 3 May 2013

up close

Every doubt I've ever had about the consequences of sharing my thoughts on the Internet are magnified about 1000% right now. Other people in this very complex picture have a right to privacy but I'm also hyper conscious about the sensitivity everyone feels when death is hovering.

Everyone is sad or scared or angry or desperately in denial. Talking hurts some people even while it helps others. I am experiencing so many heightened emotions, but also reflecting on some very simple realisations.

I am surprised by how little patience I have for other people right now, outside of a small group who somehow seem to be inside the glass jar with me (I am incredibly glad to say primary amongst them is my bloke). This is my over sensitivity, I know it. And I am hardly consistent in what touches me and what strikes me as bizarrely insensitive. I have bad days. And worse days.

Human interaction isn't perfect and I don't usually expect it to be. The myriad of misunderstandings and foolishness that arise from our widely diverse experiences and perspectives can never be resolved into simple truths and generally I try pretty hard to be cool with that. But now the membrane between normal life and unbearable grief is only wafer thin and I have no capacity to be tolerant.

It seems helplessness in the face of tragedy gives people license to speak and act without reflection on what will come from that. I know I've done the same, let my own emotional discomfort run the conversation all the while believing I'm being emotionally supportive. I live in hope that this experience will change that about me.
As one lovely person said to me after witnessing one interaction, there's only two things it is ever appropriate to say to someone unless you are exceptionally close and that's "I'm sorry" and "can I do anything?".

I'm not a very private person but suddenly I feel like everyone is pushing hard on that thin film of
protection I have from being fully immersed, from drowning, in the awful reality of what I am experiencing.
Is it reasonable to expect people to understand that detailed enquiry feels invasive? That asking me to recount what has happened is tantamount to asking me to relive it? That their attempts to make sense of things (out loud and interactively) don't help me at all? That crying about it in front of me only makes me sadder?

Is it only me who experiences expressions of sympathy as abrasions on a thousand raw nerves?

Even while I am shocked at people's insensitivity I know it is only my hyper sensitivity that makes it so shocking. Because frankly, I'm surprised to feel this way. To feel so little comfort from others when comfort is what I crave. I'm a person who dwells with others, so why are they so impotent, or worse, when I need them the most to be at their embracing best? I'm surprised to say I find the company of others a little frightening. I fear how they may inadvertently make me feel, I fear how difficult it will be to try and contain that, and how badly I might behave if I can't.

I wish people's offers of help and support could somehow lighten the load. Frankly I'm pretty exhausted. Quite aside from what I'm feeling there's an awful lot to do. There's decisions and negotiations and a lot of being very careful and thinking about others. There's errands and chores and phone calls. A lot of people to keep at bay who simply don't pick up on cues and hints that we don't have energy for them right now.

[Don't get me started on the people who say I know you don't want visitors but I'll just pop in, or I know you don't want to talk about it, but I'll just ask a few more questions. That part isn't our over sensitivity, it is most definitely a lack of emotional self containment on behalf of other people.]

Life is getting neglected, joy is getting squeezed out through every crack and join. And that's the kicker, the salve to sadness is the first thing to go when everyone else thinks they can best help you by getting in bed with the gore and pain. It isn't insensitive not to wallow, it's right to run from death where you can. Other people being happy reminds me that its still possible even if it seems a long way off for me right now.

I'm fighting as hard as I can to grasp at flashes of joy. And while its a walking stereotype I feel incredibly lucky despite all the horror. Lucky to have had the time I've had with those I love, lucky to be able to hope for lots more time yet with so many of those I hold dear. There is much to appreciate about the now and I realise how much I've cheated myself of past joy by not recognising the importance of what was right in front of me.

I'm surprised too to suddenly find twitter utterly unbearable. The amusing anecdotes and shared groans about life's frustrations seem completely trivial and petty and it frightens me how of all the things going on for people everyday this is the stuff they want most to share. The snipes, whines, complaints, criticisms and character assassinations far outweigh the other stuff.

What once seemed like keeping it real now seems like so much temper tantruming, with about as much dignity and self control as I'd expect from a toddler. I'd read this kind of view of twitter before and totally dismissed it but I've suddenly become acutely aware of how often I think about tweeting simply to vent my anger or share a complaint about a minor irritation in my otherwise pretty excellent life. I'm horrified how often this is the dominant use I find for communicating with people on social media.

Why do I want to harness to awesome powerhouse of social media for the purpose of wallowing in #firstworldproblems? Why do I think anyone gives a crap if I got harassed at the supermarket, cutoff in traffic, overslept, overcharged, broke a fingernail, missed my favourite tv show, got a wedgie, a cold or spilled my $5 coffee on my shirt? Is that really the heights to which I aspire in connecting with the world and other human beings? Is that the kind of inspiring, creative, amusing and life affirming message I want to send out there about who I am and what I'm about?

I know it's the grief talking but really, I just want to slap a good number of tweeters and remind them that they are living incredibly privileged lives. So I'm keeping away because its not nice to slap anyone even if they may possibly deserve it.

Edited to add: a kind reader has sent me this link, and it is a really simple way of explaining how to deal with people in crisis in terms of your own behaviour. I want to make it compulsory reading for everyone everywhere! I encourage you to read it if you have ever thought i just dont know what to say or do here, but in case you don't here is a very brief summary.

Draw a circle and put the person who is at the centre of the crisis in it. Draw progressively bigger circles around this putting the names of people who are progressively more distant from them in those circles. The most inner circle might have a spouse, or parent or child or sibling, the next circle might have children or close friends, and so on, right out to aquaintances, neighbours or work colleagues.

The basic guide to behaviour is that while everyone has a right to express their pain, anger, grief, exhaustion and to offer advice and commentary, they can only do it to people in a bigger ring than they are in. When they are dealing with people in smaller rings they can only offer support, sympathy and help. In general they can listen but not talk and certainly not advise.

While there's a few complexities the model doesn't provide guidance on, like how to deal nicely with people who think they are in much smaller rings than the person in the centre thinks (grief as a competitive habit), or what happens when people in inner rings have to act on behalf of the person in the centre and people in other rings disagree with their decisions (interference vs advocacy), in the main it's a brilliant guide.

Edited again to add more : this is another great link a reader pointed me to, 10 simple rules for talking to sick people in a helpful way. I wish I'd read this one years ago too.