Recently in my life away from writing this blog, a conflict erupted. It was a big one, with consequences reaching much further than my antagonist realises. I don’t call her my antagonist as if to imply that I am a do-no-wrong protagonist. I make a lot of mistakes. But what is clear is that we are not both on my side (and there are several sides of it).
When the steadily escalating tension finally broke between us, and the full scale conflict began, I asserted a simple boundary: I wasn’t ready to talk to her. I immediately became uncharacteristically quiet, stopped initiating conversations with her, and began giving exclusively evasive answers when she tried to initiate conversation with me after a few days of silence. She could not possibly have maintained the belief that what happened wasn’t serious. When she couldn’t get a satisfactorily abrasive exchange with me, she turned to openly ranting about what she thinks of me—without publicly naming me, of course, but this did not make a difference—only she was lying about what was really going on, what the increasingly complex issue really was between us, and even the timeline of events taking place as she tried to find a way to soothe my temper and move on like nothing happened after I had already said I’m not ready to speak to her.
I made a single comment to address a public quip she casually tacked onto the end of an otherwise unrelated Facebook post, using words I had said to her in private, and while I turned my phone off for a full 12 hours to collect myself, she exploded. Shortly after that, according to several people who had witnessed this as it was going down and contacted me in relation to this particular event, everything disappeared. I will assume this is when she hit the block button to prevent me from contacting her through that medium, even though I was already long ago making no effort to do so. She then started sending me messages through another medium instead, most of which I never answered.
I found myself doing a silent inventory of our relationship, and repeatedly concluding that it was abusive. Meanwhile, through multiple mediums, several people started calling her out for flat-out lying about what was actually happening, standing up for me and themselves, or standing up to her to call her out on culturally appropriative and unethical behaviours despite her insistence on being “traditional” and an “elder”. I heard about all of it from every one of them. I continued to say nothing as she continued to drag more and more people into what she claimed was a “private matter between two people”.
Weeks passed, and she carried on lying, dragging people into the conflict, and openly transmitting what she thinks is happening into the public sphere as she moralised over our racial differences. It was unbearable. When the moment arrived to finally sit down with her face to face, the truths I spoke out loud in that room caused a palpable shock, which she met with more bold-faced lying. I concluded everything I had to say by giving her a choice between accepting accountability to me for the things she has lied about or pretending I never existed. I felt a penetrating chill crawl up through my entire body, as if I had just walked into a glacier-fed stream, and we left her to make her decision. Within days, I reached my emotional breaking point, and simply stopped feeling anything at all.
A few more weeks have now passed, and my emotions have been markedly absent except for somewhat spontaneous, very brief, very intense bursts that slip away just as suddenly. Another person in my life is now facing a crisis, and needs meaningful support as she and her small circle of close friends, including me, attempt to manage it together. Having faced this particular kind of crisis from all different sides of it before, what I lack in age, I make up for in an unfortunate wealth of direct experience. I find myself attempting to manage this crisis by taking on the emotional needs of no less than five people other than myself, with the emotional resources of approximately 30 seconds of tears every couple of days. Surely anyone attempting to compute that will conclude that I am even more triggered now than I already was — even further emotionally dissociated than I was going into this crisis. And so, I am attempting a sort of emotional triage. The person whose emotional needs present the greatest urgency is the one in the greatest, most urgent crisis. Everyone else’s needs come secondary, or in my case, even tertiary.
This exercise is revealing a sort of perspective on abusive behaviours that I don’t think I could see, were it not for my mental health struggle. As I attempt to manage what should be the fairly simple feat of offering my support without also offering judgement or condemnation, I am privy to the details of someone condescending and patronising the person with the greatest and most urgent need for sensitivity, empathy, and respect, behind her back. I dream of telling this person to her face that passive aggression is simply quiet violence. I imagine explaining to her that her behaviour is a reflection of part of what triggered the event that brings us all together in the first place. And I hold my tongue.
As I attempt to manage what would be an equally simple feat of waiting to consult the person with the greatest and most urgent emotional needs before I extend an offer for assistance to minimise her stress around external matters beyond her control, I am being consulted by someone who insists on triangulating instead of letting everyone speak for themselves — someone who has no experience dealing with this kind of crisis, and who goes against literally everything I advise based on my previous experiences to minimise everyone’s stresses and emotional triggers, while she is busy continually triangulating conflicts she had a hand in starting and feeding when she most needed to minimise them as much as possible. I imagine pulling her aside for a few moments to explain to her that what I lack in my age, I more than make up for in the many times I have walked in our sister’s shoes myself, the many times I have been one of the first or last people someone called both before and after a self-destructive behaviour, and the many times I have shouldered the same burden we are all responsible for managing together in this time of our sister’s crisis. I want to tell her that she needs to do a lot more careful listening and a lot less careless speaking. I dream of what this would all look like without her triangulating. I dread what this could look like if she continues with it. And I hold my tongue.
And as I struggle to deal with the immediate repercussions of all of these behaviours, both on myself and on everyone involved, I remember that I’ve been here before many times. I remember that I am the one who eventually gets accused of being abusive and of exacerbating stress, emotions, triggers, and tears. And I remember that I am the one who is sent away from the person most in need of meaningful, non-judgemental support to escape what I have so much clarity to see and experience to walk away from. I continue to hold onto the hope that this will not be the case again this time. But I also anticipate with dread that it’s already too late, that I’ve said too much or said it the wrong way already despite trying to say as little as possible. I dream of telling our sister, and her hearing me tell her, that she is not receiving the kind of support she most needs from these two “friends” of hers, who each talk down about her behind her back like she is actively psychotic because they don’t comprehend her spiritual beliefs, or like she has sustained a serious and debilitating brain injury when nothing of the sort happened, or is being involuntarily pumped full of a pharmaceutical drug regimine that clouds her capacity for rational thought, all leading to such a significant impairment to her ability to effectively deliberate even the simplest decisions, that they think she needs even the simplest decisions made for her without permitting her the respect of being consulted face to face first. And I hold my tongue.
The Creator only gives us as much as we can handle at once. I’m praying that my sister sees this and makes it through once more.