A Rough Afternoon

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The usual activities of the day were interrupted this afternoon by a clash of symptoms between me and my wife. She was asking me if I knew a song that was going in our evening show, I said no and instinctively looked over at her laptop to see what song was playing, and that led her to tell me lightheartedly that she didn’t want me to look. I never heard the lighthearted part, what I heard was her being upset at me for spoiling the surprise, so naturally my first response was to apologize for ruining the song and to immediately start kicking myself for screwing things up. This led to things getting heated between us and as is our usual M.O. we both forgot what we were arguing about in favor of new things to argue back and forth. We managed to get calmed down and I went in the bedroom to do my learning for the day, and she very curtly let me know her displeasure with leaving. Turns out I hadn’t announced my intentions – I thought I had – and I was just up and leaving the room without saying anything. This led to more of a blowup, and finally I went into the bedroom and closed the door and started trying to get my learning done.

Try, being the operative word.

I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t concentrate, and one of the games that I excel at I failed four times in a row because I wasn’t paying any attention to what my choices were and just tapped my phone seemingly at random. This led my wife to come into the room and mention my continued failing, and that started a whole new argument that lasted longer than the one in the living room. We were both shouting, and I was as usual absolutely adamant that things go exactly the way that I was envisioning them, which made her dig her heels in more.

I don’t remember a lot of details, but she just would not let me take responsibility for starting the argument. Finally, after what seemed like hours, we agreed that we were each responsible for our part in the argument and that closed it down for good, but not before we were both absolutely pissed at ourselves for not having better control of ourselves in the situation.

We went on the air, apologized for not being our usual high-energy selves, and did the show. Tonight’s show took a little more out of me than shows usually do, and I’m quite tired. Can’t wait for bedtime.

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Fight! Fight! Fight!

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Okay, not really, the fight was Sunday. Therapy was today, and that’s what we talked about the majority of the time.

I was honest that I couldn’t remember what started the fight. I couldn’t at the end of the day Sunday, and I’m even more clueless about it today. I think it was me reacting poorly to something that my wife said, and she got frustrated at me putting myself down, and I got defensive about that, and she got more frustrated, and then I started getting frustrated, and the next thing you know we were yelling at one another’s symptoms again.

Our fights tend to follow a pretty cut and dried format. Once we’re actually fighting, almost always following the pattern above, we will move rapidly from topic to topic. Topic A is directly relevant to topic B, which is directly relevant to topic C, and so on – but topic A hardly ever has a thing to do with topic C. This is why we think that we can’t ever remember the thing that started the fight – we get so distracted from the original argument that we never can remember how to get back to it to resolve it, and so we individually sit and seethe all day, knowing that we haven’t resolved anything and are very prone to getting right back into the thick of arguing and fighting.

It’s important to note that we hardly ever have a rational argument, much less a fight. I can count on one hand the number of rational, lucid fights that we’ve had in 17 years. It just doesn’t hardly ever happen. My therapist understood the issue about our symptoms fighting one another though, so that was a good thing.

We arrived at two realizations, that kind of go hand in hand. Generally when we fight, we’re each trying desperately to fix the complaint that the other person has, rather than trying to reflect their emotional state back to them. An example of this would be “It seems like you’re feeling really down on yourself, do you have any idea why?” The other part of this is that when we argue, we don’t need to be right, although we’ve erroneously thought that was the case for me most of the time. We need to understand what the other person is experiencing.

It was recommended that the next time we have a fight, we stop for a moment at the beginning and ask ourselves “What is it that I need to understand about you and what you’re experiencing right now?”

We also covered the progress I’m making on my checklists, and she’s really pleased with the progress that I’ve made so far. She wants me to keep it up, though, and she’s fine with me changing the goalposts to achieve a check mark, like I did yesterday with my back, rather than just blowing it off. It’s important to continue hitting full marks rather than allowing myself a cheat day, because one day off will lead to two, then three, then the next thing you know I’m off my checklists for another couple months again.

So that was therapy in a nutshell today. I went into the detail that I did this time because it’s important that I remember all this stuff for future reference, and it’s easier to put it here in the blog than write it down for me to try to remember another day.

Time (Management) Passages

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Today has been an exercise in productive communication and goal-setting.

Once the irrational shouting and jumping to conclusions and feeling sorry for myself was all done, that is.

This morning’s festivities started out with my wife having a conversation with me about one of my interests, and me, like a dolt, didn’t give her my undivided attention. To be fair, both of us are guilty of this at various times – usually we’re competing with the internet for one another’s attention, and that was the case this morning. I happened to scroll past a political cartoon that caused me to laugh out loud, and this understandably frustrated my wife – she’d been having a discussion with me about one of my interests and I very rudely let my attention fall away from her onto something that was relatively trivial. So she very calmly told me that I’d hurt her a little by doing this, and that was my brain’s cue to immediately pile on. I was immediately convinced that I’d utterly pissed her off, that she was exasperated with me, that she was at the end of her rope with putting up with my crap, and then I listened to what she had to say about not taking it personally, not building it up to more than just a piece of information, and I struggled (successfully!) to fight back the irrational thoughts. And then I paid it no further mind.

We moved on to the events of the day. We got a little upside-down in our budget this pay period thanks to some extraneous expenses that we really didn’t have to purchase and some necessary expenses that we forgot to budget for, and so we spent a while disseminating all that we had to do versus what could be put off until we had the money again at the end of the week. This led to a heated conversation about how Sundays tend to be very busy for my wife, since a lot of the chores that have to be done – grocery shopping, laundry, and this week a couple of projects that are competing for oven time – tend to fall on her to do. I vented my frustration that I didn’t feel it was fair that her day be so hectic, when she should be taking it easy on a day off; she countered with “when else am I going to get this stuff done?” It became a bit of a shouting match on both sides.

And then I stopped and asked her “what would be more stressful for you, spreading out your Sunday chores across the week, or having more time for you during the week and having a busy Sunday?” It was the first time that I’d tried to see things from her point of view and not mine, and it changed the conversation entirely. From that point we were civil, we were forthcoming, and we were rational. We decided that she’d start splitting her Sunday chores throughout the week, with Sunday being a fallback for days that get too hectic otherwise, and that I would help where I could.

We also discussed future plans for the laptops – we’re upgrading a drive on each one with the tax return – and so further conversation about the laptops added an ongoing project to her evenings, one I’ll help with where I can.

Not proud of how the conversation and day started, but I am proud of how it ended. We’re both feeling much better now and hope it stays that way for the rest of the night.

Streaks Both Long and Short

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I have two learning apps on my phone. One, called Elevate, provides brain games that help expand vocabulary and quicken mental mathematics skills. The other, called Duolingo, uses a method similar to Rosetta Stone to teach foreign languages – in my case, Spanish. Both apps provide daily exercises and usually only take just a few minutes a day to complete. Both apps also track streaks of consecutive days used. Heading into yesterday, I had a streak of 119 days – nearly four months – of consecutive days used.

And then yesterday, on what would have been day 120, I forgot to do my learning.

When I looked at the clock a few hours ago (I’m up late – early? – nursing a sore back and a glass of water) and saw that it was past midnight and realized that I’d put my learning off long enough to break the streaks, I was furious with myself. Logically, I knew that this was no big deal in the scheme of things, that the 119 day streak started on day one and that today I could start a new, even longer streak. I was exceedingly proud that I had clocked 119 days straight. I was beyond embarrassed that I missed day 120.

My wife tried to remind me that it was no big deal, but the more she kept trying to convince me of that, the bigger of a deal it became, until the streak had been built up in my mind as the most important aspect of the exercise, rather than the incredible body of learning that I had strung together and had only taken one day off of in four months’ time.

I went to bed angry. I hate going to bed angry. In the bedroom there was an exchange of increasingly heated words as she became more frustrated at me for not listening to her and I became more stubborn about how this was a life-altering, unforgivable error that I had committed against the universe. Finally I got tired of trying to make my point and tired of not seeing hers and I strapped on my CPAP mask and laid there, fuming into the night. The longer I stared at the wall in silence, the cooler my temper became, and eventually I grabbed my phone to start a text conversation with my wife laying mere inches away. I apologized for my behavior, I apologized for not seeing things her way, and I apologized for sending her this apology via text and not vocally. (I can say short sentences with the CPAP mask on, but the longer I talk, the more choked I get trying to vocalize while air is being gently forced into my nostrils, and I had a lot of apologizing to do.)

I used the Nook app on my phone to read for a short while, continuing to cool off, and eventually we rolled into position and I spooned her, and that’s how we fell asleep.


Speaking of the CPAP mask, I haven’t reported on how things are going since picking up the machine on Wednesday. I’ve slept every night since with the mask on, throughout the night, and have been waking up with progressively better rest. Thursday I took two short naps after waking up around 9:30. Friday I took an hour long nap after waking at 7:00 am with my alarm. Yesterday I woke at 10:00, but didn’t nap at all throughout the day. We’ll see what happens after I go back to bed, now that the pain in my back has eased off and my glass of water is gone. It’s a streak of three days so far, but it’ll be 119 days on its own before I know it, and who knows what changes will have happened because of the improved sleep?

A Flaw in the Line

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Today I had a period of time that I completely checked out. It was bad. Let me try to relate to you what I experienced.

The best that we can remember, I was already in a bad mood, believing that I wasn’t being productive, that I was being lazy, despite accomplishing quite a few things around the house early on in the day. My wife tried to reassure me that I was being productive and contributing to our household, and I refused to listen to her. That got her ire up, and we devolved into a shouting match that lasted for at least three cycles of irate and calm.

Early on in the process she gave me the line “is it better to be right or be happy?” and I answered her “I’d rather be happy.” And then kept right on digging my heels in.

The louder she got, the more my mind checked out of the conversation. I found myself refuting everything she said out of hand, barely aware of what she was saying, only paying enough attention to be able to counter her with progressively more nonsensical arguments. The line was clearly not working.

Eventually I just started asking for the argument to be over. No more yelling, no more debate, just quiet. And we’d quiet down and start to try and rationally discuss what had just transpired. And within minutes we were right back to irrational yelling.

This was a long episode, maybe 45 minutes or so, and it finally burned itself out enough to where I could approach the post-mortem with a clear head. Why didn’t the line work this time? It had worked beautifully twice before this. What was different about this instance?

I’m blessed with the ability to be uniquely insightful about myself and what’s going on with me, even if I can’t necessarily be insightful all the time. If hindsight is 20/20, I have X-ray vision. It took me only a short few minutes for me to break down the situation and realize where the flaw was.

I started out in a bad mood. I was already spiraling downward when the exchange between us started. That wasn’t unique; the two times before I was already feeling crappy about myself and the line worked just fine. The disconnect came about because I couldn’t answer the follow-up question until late in the argument, and I was still so frozen in thought that I couldn’t articulate it in the words that I needed to.

The follow-up question to “Would you rather be right or be happy?” is, of course, “What would make you happy?”

When she first gave me the line, I couldn’t answer that. I had no clue what would or could make me happy at that point in time, and not being able to answer that question just fueled the fire into irrationality and panic. (I think I’ve said this before in this blog, but it bears repeating: where others fight or flight, I freeze. The more panicked I became over the situation getting out of hand the less able I was to cohesively think and communicate a solution.) It wasn’t until I was mentally and emotionally exhausted that I started voicing what I wanted, what would make me happy – the end of the episode – only I never said in so many words that just stopping the argument would make me happy. And so it continued in cycles.

We apologized and made up afterwards, went about our day, enjoyed the rest of it without further incident. But fights like this drain both of us, and we’re both tired beyond belief at this point in the evening. The physical effects of my bouts with irrationality last far longer than the mental or emotional effects. Within minutes of the end of the episode, we were back to being a loving, doting couple, but I was tired for the rest of the day.

So the lingering question remains: how do I answer that follow-up? The initial question, “right or happy,” acts as an interrupt of the spiraling process, but unless there’s a pleasant thought to replace the awful one, the process of arresting these incidents of irrationality isn’t complete. And the follow-up, “what would make me happy,” oftentimes has no answer. It’s not that I can’t think of something, although this time I couldn’t. What happens when my irrational mind doesn’t give my rational mind permission to voice its desires to let someone outside my head help make those desires a reality? Worse yet, what happens when the answer is “being right would make me happy?”

Today has given me a lot of things to think about. But right now, I’m going to try not to focus on the unanswered questions that linger long after today’s face-off ended. Right now, I’m going to try and do something that’s going to make me happy.

Even now, through a calm, rational mind, it’s difficult for me to voice that opinion. What if what I want to happen isn’t agreeable with my wife? What if she wants to do something else? Would she feel forced to just go along with it despite her wish to be doing something, perhaps anything else?

My mind is starting to spiral back into itself again, and so I’m going to wrap this up and actually communicate my desires with her before I start the mental ouroboros all over again.