Through a lot of trial and error I am coming to understand that people deal with stress in very different ways. Sometimes this can be almost infuriating when their way of dealing is so far from your own, but it is important to understand that they’re doing the best they can with what they’ve got.
Recently some rather stressful events transpired for my sister and her husband. When things like this come up where there’s something to be done, my stress induced reaction is to do whatever I can as fast as I humanly can. This time that entailed driving to my sister’s house, loading her and my brother in law into the back of the car and driving 90 miles an hour on a 65 mph highway to get to the hospital. I’m good with stress when there’s something I can do. The pressure doesn’t bother me. But the minute things are no longer at all in my control, when there’s nothing I can do, that’s when the panic ensues. When the car’s parked and you’re not allowed back past the waiting room, that’s when I pace and hyperventilate and think the worst.
Other people in my family deal with stress in completely different ways.
My dad’s way of dealing with a situation like this is insisting on being there, in the middle of things, even when that means he’s getting in the way a little. And then he likes to talk. About anything. And he expects responses too. This used to be infuriating to me. I couldn’t understand how someone could just make small talk during a time of high uncertainty. But it finally clicked for me that that’s his way of letting things go that he can’t control. As I’m speeding down the road and he’s sitting in the car, there’s nothing he can do. Focusing on all that he can’t do wasn’t going to help anybody, so he made conversation. I get that now.
My brother’s reaction is usually to make jokes. This time it wasn’t. I think this is the first time he hasn’t started in on the jokes. This is the first time it was just too serious. Well, maybe the second time, ever. The first time was when my dad died and they shocked him back to life, and he was in a coma for a week. My brother didn’t make jokes then. He also didn’t visit me alone in the hospital with a silent man except to bring me cash one time. This time he didn’t disappear, and he didn’t joke. Somehow this is different. I didn’t understand. I still don’t really. But his process I can deal with.
My other little sister freaks out. Straight up panic. She didn’t come with us this time, partly because there wasn’t room in the car, partly because I booked it out of the house and told her to stay. There wasn’t anything she could have done to help, but the emotional charge in the room would have had repercussions hitting a solid 10 on the richter scale. My sister is one of those people who acts with the best intentions, she really does. The fault lies in my inability to deal with emotional turmoil in a time of stress or confusion. It’s like pouring molasses into your engine compartment and then trying to win a race. My own emotions are only allowed to exist after every possible measure has been taken that can be. I don’t know how to function in the face of the emotional onslaught of others. Hopefully one day I’ll learn.
My sister with the emergency has her own ways of coping. By the time I got to her house her demeanor was calm and logical. Well, mostly logical. I can’t speak for anything going on in her head or heart. It must have been pure insanity, as well as frustration for the laws of physics which seemed only to be working against us (yes, I’m talking about friction). I don’t know how she dealt with any of it. She was quiet and patient. So was her husband. I don’t know how they pulled that off. I know their minds were reeling and they must’ve thought the worst. I assume they were praying their asses off and just waiting to find out what was going on. All I can say is kudos to them. It’s that brand of dealing that I can roll with easiest. I don’t get how they did it, how they dealt with it, but they did.
Thankfully, after two days of wondering, we now know that things are going to be okay, at least for the time being. I can only pray that things will become smoother and start to look up in the coming months. Maybe in the mean time I should work on my ability to deal with the important people in my life who process stress in entirely different ways than I do.
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