Can You Hear Me?

Can You Hear Me?

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She asked me something — I don’t know what: probably to confirm some detail or other — but I couldn’t respond in my withdrawn state.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two or three more times: obviously she was so distracted by her tirade that she didn’t notice I was overloaded and withdrawn.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.

14 thoughts on “Can You Hear Me?

  1. I don’t know what to say.. sorry to hear your birthday went pearshaped.. if this is a more exceptional situation tho, i think in the end it is very unfortunate that when your wife gets emotional over something (which can happen sometimes..to anyone) it is felt so much as an aggression by you and then becomes a conflict between the 2 of you.. =(

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    1. Appreciated, but the thing is… it didn’t. This wasn’t a birthday celebration but just a “normal” night out.

      I believe it all comes down to a communication problem that gets out of control occasionally, and then once instincts start dominating our responses we’re doomed!! It could be worse — at least it’s only verbals 😉

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  2. Yikes. I’ve been there too. One time I finally mustered the courage to ask someone who was freaking out at me to tone the volume down a bit or to stop talking just for a few minutes so I could gather my thoughts. I got the reaction of, “You’re not listening to me!” And the person stormed off.

    Ironically, that time I managed to get a break.

    But it’s still hard to resume any kind of normalcy after that. It takes awhile.

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    1. I *wish* I could get that sort of reaction! 🙂

      Instead of “Nobody tells me what to do….” and an escalation. I also find that non-autistic people commonly fail to grasp just how long it takes to recover from these experiences. I’ve been accused of sulking or bearing a grudge when the simple fact has been that I’m still exhausted.

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      1. Thanks! Hopefully it will be the same way again the next time it happens…

        I get so exhausted from this, too. People usually tell me, “Work through the pain!” If I really must plow through the exhaustion and do something, I just choose really simple and repetitive tasks to do. I can’t do anything beyond that because I’m just too drained!!

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          1. Fair enough. Right now I’m trying to plow through some exhaustion, but really, even the simple tasks are taking longer than they really need to. I’ll admit it: I just need to stop everything and take a break.

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  3. You nearly made me cry. I’m sorry the night ended so badly for both of you. I’m so sorry.

    Would you appreciate help with this? I don’t know you very well (and your wife not at all), but I can identify.

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      1. I was in two minds whether to publish this post because it pushed one of my self-imposed boundaries, which is not to risk my words being interpreted as directly criticizing my wife. But since there is nothing new here to people we see in “real life” I decided to stick to my goal of openness and went ahead.

        I was aware writing it that it touches on a subject that might be uncomfortable or disturbing to some: do you thing I ought to add a warning? I regret any upset it caused you.

        You are correct that we do not know each other very well, although given the personal nature of the subjects we each write about we have probably gained a deeper insight than I have with people I’ve known socially for much longer, so neither are we strangers. I so appreciate your offer of help: your kindness has nearly brought a tear to my eyes — so consider me paid back. 😉 I’m the worst judge of sincerity or authenticity: I take things at face value, but even so I recognize the wisdom of offering before providing.

        I will accept your kind offer (but would prefer to keep that part of this out of the public eye, so please email me). I cannot thank you enough for your support, and would be proud to call you a friend. (Of course whether I choose to heed any advice is another story… but that must remain my decision.)

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        1. I was just thinking about that! At what point does it become OK to refer to someone whose blog you read and who you exchange comments with as a friend? Even online there’s still a social minefield that we need to learn how to navigate. I’m glad you took the initiative! 😛

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          1. I’m glad you are of a like mind about it! 😀

            I haven’t a clue about whether a recognized etiquette for this even exists online. Heck, I don’t even have a good grasp of *offline* social conventions. The last time I made a friend IRL it went a bit like this, except with conversation instead of comments. Obviously. 😉

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  4. Chances are, your wife’s yelling at you has absolutely nothing to do with you! Chances are, something else happened that she couldn’t deal with or even recognise instantly, but that was so intense, or the last straw, as to cause that camel’s back to break. Once she got started all reason went out the window.
    I know. That is me!
    Was me!
    The thing is, my tiny little brain was doing its very best to keep going, louder and harder, to cover for the fact that I KNEW I was WRONG! I could not help myself; my rational brain had been blotted out, good and solid.
    So what helps? Nothing at that moment!
    But when reason returned, in my case, it was imperative to pay attention to what EXACTLY made me crack, to then allow myself to be vulnerable enough to admit it to myself and to whoever bore the brunt of my behaviour. Not least of all I had to learn to apologise. It took a while, but eventually I was able to recognise all 3, seconds into the crack, enough to stop me dead in my tracks. WHAT an awesome feeling that was!

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