I tend to treat my emotions like I play poker: conservatively. I do the same thing with cognitive dissonance. Perhaps it’s part of my “nineness.” I am happiest when everything is in balance and at peace. (Is it ever?) When peace and balance is broken, I have three stages:
- Ignore it until it goes away.
- If it can’t be ignored, fix it.
My capacity for stages one and two has a pretty high bar. My goal is to be as zen as possible. In seminary I learned some skills; how to see myself in others and to see others for themselves; how to choose between judgment and compassion; how to (try) and let go.
These have all served me well over the years. However, the problem is when stage three is reached: the explosion. Too much pressure over time without release ends badly for all involved. Usually it’s just a little thing that sets off the explosion; in this case it was fruit flies.
Full disclosure: I harbor a deep seeded dislike and fear for 99.9% of insects. (.1% reserved for butterflies) However, I have a healthy respect for what they do for the ecosystem. If given the choice I just gently remove them from my vicinity instead of killing them. A face full of fruit flies is not so much a choice as it is born from a sub-circle of hell.
Before the explosion, there was the buildup.
Our house was broken into. You can read all about that here.
We’ve been hosting a friend over the last few months. I love him like a brother and am blessed that we can help out. Heather and I have a policy that we share what we have with our loved ones. The challenge is that having a long term guest breaks our routines and strains some resources. Plus he has a cat.
I understand that pets are, emotionally, like second children. I look at our own dog Leia and couldn’t imagine life without her. A second animal in the house takes some getting used to. She is a great little cat; but being a cat means she abides by her own sense of behavior. It means new boundaries and adjustments, like making sure she doesn’t sneak outside or eats the dog’s food.
We found out the dog has fleas.
Then there’s the household chores, work, etc.
The list goes on ad infinitum. I can usually shoulder most, if not all, of it under normal circumstances. What changed is Seattle’s weather. Most notably, it’s warmer and drier than normal weather. This caused allergy season to go from “normal” into “extreme.” Last year, I had very mild allergies. This year, I have been a miserable wreck. Constant sinus misery is my kryptonite: it completely breaks my calm and collected self. It causes my dissonance meter to malfunction and small things suddenly become BIG things.
So when I picked up the kitchen compost and a bunch of fruit flies exploded in my face, I exploded. All over my poor wife. It’s because she was there and because she’s emotionally available to me. This wasn’t a “break all the things” and “somebody call the police” breakdown. It was more of a seething, rolling, uncontrollable wave of frustration. The more I tried to hold back, the angrier I became. She was afraid I was going to hurt the dog. (which I would NEVER do no matter how angry I was) But I can understand how scary it must be to see me lose it.
In the moment, all the little things that cause me irritation and annoyance became targets. I blamed myself, my wife, my friend, the dog, the cat, and everything else I could for not doing enough to make things “perfect.” The emotional volcano had erupted.
And it kept on erupting. I had no control over it. Every time I would try and relax and take a step back, I would just get angrier. The catharsis had to run its course. I had to just BE angry. So I was… for 24 hours. I didn’t tell my wife I loved her, I couldn’t stand the thought of talking to friends. Truthfully, I was not myself.
Finally I was able to just let go and be normal again. Part of it had to do with me finding some allergy medicine that worked. The other part was making a difficult but conscious effort to just calm the frak down. Then I was able to make up with my wife, get some chores done and work on feeling balanced. Eventually I felt more in control of my whole situation.
The reality is most control is an illusion. I just need to find better, more constructive ways of dealing with irritations. I need to deal with issues head on instead of letting them build up. I need to mitigate my emotions rather than keep them dammed. I have to accept I am a work in progress and pay better attention to the “under construction” signs.