Why do I bother trying to tell you I’m overloaded and need to be left alone? That your soapbox monolog — the volume of your voice and your emotion-laden tone — are hurting me, costing me so much energy to maintain self-control that I am becoming rapidly exhausted. Are you listening to me? Can you hear me?
I gave up; I wasn’t getting anywhere. Again.
To say that this end to the night was unexpected would be like calling the ocean a bit wet. It was darts night down at the pub — oh, and also my 40th birthday, but that’s not really relevant — and it had been enjoyable and relaxed. I’d not been drinking — I rarely do these days — but it was getting late and I was becoming tired. And then… trouble.
Something happened to get my wife started on a subject she feels strongly about. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that she was very openly emotional, and as she got into her stride she became louder and her tone more forceful. Aggressive to my poorly-attuned ear.
I’d reacted quite quickly, withdrawing and trying to focus on something else to distract myself: a coping mechanism. It was helping a little although I did feel some anxiety. Meanwhile my wife had gotten the bit between her teeth and was galloping after her quarry.
She asked me something — I don’t know what: probably to confirm some detail or other — but I couldn’t respond in my withdrawn state. It happened two or three more times: obviously she was so distracted by her tirade that she didn’t notice I was overloaded and withdrawn. A couple of other people did notice though and one of them recognized that I was struggling.
I don’t clearly remember how things calmed down but they did — to a degree — and I recovered enough to say goodnight to people and begin the drive home with my wife, giving a lift to a member of the darts team who lived along the way.
The calm was temporary, the eye of the storm. Once we were alone in the car she started to provide a detailed, comprehensive catalog of my faults in her emotionally-charged voice. I didn’t concentrate on the details of what she was saying because I was driving and that required my full attention. Besides, I’ve heard it all before…
After five minutes during which I’m not sure she even paused to draw breath I asked her to be quiet. I didn’t shout; I was polite. I told her I needed to concentrate on my driving and she was distracting me. I wasted my breath. No, it was worse that that: it fanned the flames.
We did get home safely. I was massively overloaded by this point and as we were walking through the door I tried again, telling her that I was overloaded and needed her to stop talking. Twice. As I wrote at the start, why do I bother? For whatever reason she took offense at my request and up went the volume and emotional intensity.
I snapped — on the brink of meltdown — and punched the wooden door to the store cupboard just outside the front door. It gave me enough of a release to maintain control and avoid a full-blown meltdown.
I retreated to my safe place, the former second bedroom where I have my PC set up while my wife continued to rant elsewhere in the flat as she prepared to go to bed. I sat, stimming. Tense but coming down, the risk of meltdown receding. I fired up the PC and interacted with a couple of people via Facebook, then read various blogs to pass the time until I relaxed enough to sleep.
That took a while: it was during a spell on Twitter after 4:30 when I finally unwound enough to begin to feel tired. I hate insomnia, especially when I have to be up for work the day after.
Experience tells me it will be a day or two before my wife calms down enough to be her usual self. It also tells me that it will be three or four days before I get over this, barring any further incidents. After so many years I despair of ever getting her to truly understand the effect her emotional outbursts have on me. But then again, I don’t know if I can fully understand her side: the challenges of living with me.