Not expressing stuff the normal way can be dangerous.

There are a number of things I don’t express in the “normal” way.

For example, few people can recognize when I’m anxious unless I’m panicking. Because short of panic, my response to anxiety is to grin and act giddy and also to make a lot of smartass remarks. Which is taken by most as amusement and also being a smartass. It’s also why I used to be a holy terror in class (if your response to anxiety caused by someone yelling at you is to grin and giggle and crack jokes, the person yelling at you will be incensed and they will yell at you more until embarrassment overrides fear and you start crying or until you panic and flight or fight kicks in, I say from experience. A screamed, “is this funny to you?!” is almost as bad to me as a shouted, “look at me when I’m talking to you!”).

Not many can recognize when I’m in severe pain because the drama, for lack of a better word, of my reaction to pain is inversely proportional to the severity of both the pain and its cause. So if I’m whining about how much stubbing my toe hurt, it probably does hurt, but I’m not injured. If, by contrast, I’m curled up on the ground in silence holding my toe, with or without tears running down my face, it’s probably broken. Since most people do the opposite, by and large, my pain is either under- or over-estimated whenever I have to deal with unusual doctors.

And only two people can recognize when I’m having serious breathing issues. Because to outsiders, it just seems like I’m thinking or maybe a bit cold. I get quiet,  and I stare off into space. I hunch over a bit. It’s subtle. If it’s bad enough that I’m anxious, I might seem cold but in good humor, as I’ll crack jokes and generally act giddy. This has caused medical people to not treat me for asthma because I’m not acting like most people act when they’re having breathing trouble.

My point is this: If, like me, someone expresses stuff unusually, that can lead to misinterpretation by others. And the misinterpretation can cause serious problems. I’m not yet sure how to fix it, since in my experience even saying explicitly that I react to stuff weirdly doesn’t work.


9 thoughts on “Not expressing stuff the normal way can be dangerous.

  1. feministaspie says:

    I can relate to this to a certain extent. My response to anxiety is basically to withdraw and stay really quiet, and whilst some people recognise that (especially people who know me), most of the time people don’t notice anything’s wrong because it’s like they barely notice I’m there at all, and when they do, I end up “faking it” for a few minutes rather than admitting I’m struggling.

  2. bjforshaw says:

    short of panic, my response to anxiety is to grin

    And when I’m being accused of something I haven’t done, and I’m trying to deny it, the other person sees the grin and thinks I’m lying. No. I’m nervous. Because I’m feeling under pressure.

    • ischemgeek says:

      Same here! So many times, I was accused of lying because I grin when I’m nervous and when dealing with people who are already convinced it’s your fault, who wouldn’t be?

      I had a huge blowup caused by that with my father in high school and ended up storming out of the house and sleeping under a dock that night. (this in a Canadian autumn, where it frequently frosted overnight, and in the country, so raccoons, foxes, bears, wolves, etc, are not uncommon – I probably wasn’t as much danger as I would have been sleeping under an overpass in Toronto, but it still wasn’t exactly a safe decision, but I couldn’t go home because I was too afraid, and I couldn’t word so I couldn’t go to a friend’s and ask to stay the night, and I knew I could fit in the crawlspace under the dock and that the bumpers insulated well so that I would be able to stay warm, so I went there) My parents were shocked because I’d rarely challenged them, but the combination of yelling at me, threatening me, physical intimidation, and trying to be coerced into admitting fault that wasn’t mine made me feel trapped, and then fight-or-flight hit, so I fought enough to make room to the door and then I fled.

      … And nothing has been spoken of it since. My mother found me the next morning, and brought me home, and nobody has mentioned it ever since… It’s a rather creepy taboo. They’ll hint about it, but it’s never been talked about ever, and whenever someone’s brought it up, they shoot down the conversation.

  3. Oh yeah. Yesterday my husband walked into a wall and I burst out laughing. He was walking backwards down the hall, being silly and I saw that he was about to back into the wall but couldn’t get the words of warning out. Then I just start laughing manically and couldn’t stop. So frustrating.

    But usually my nonstandard reactions tend more toward silence and withdrawal. It’s interesting that you mention that people mistake your distress for being cold because I get asked a lot if I’m cold when what I really am is intensely socially uncomfortable.

    • ischemgeek says:

      Sometimes, I feel anxiety as being cold (I think part of why I wear sweaters all the time is I’m prone to anxiety, since I don’t need sweaters when I’m in a low-stress environment, even if the air is the same temperature), and I’ll start shivering. So, sometimes, I’ll be shivering because I’m literally cold, sometimes I’m shivering because I’m anxious but my body’s interpreting that as being cold so I do think I feel cold even though on retrospect later I can tell I was actually anxious, and sometimes I’m shivering because I’m anxious but I do know that the shivering is due to anxiety, even if I do still physically feel cold.

      It’s hard to tell the difference between the first two cases, though. It’s even harder still to explain it to people whose bodies don’t interpret anxiety as “let’s shiver as if we’re hypothermic!”

      • Extreme anxiety causes me to shiver too. When I start shivering I know I’m in big trouble. But I think in my case it’s related more to elevated heart rate than feeling cold at that point. It’s entirely possible that I’ll be sweating and shivering at the same time, in fact. I need to pay more attention to this when it happens.

      • ischemgeek says:

        I can’t rely on shivering as a hard-and-fast warning sign because I’m oversensitive to cold and shiver pretty easily anyway, but it would be a useful warning sign if I could.

  4. notesoncrazy says:

    That being cold thing is spot on! I’ve never put two and two together with that, but reading what you wrote and reading what Musings wrote above me, I have to admit people ask me if I’m cold at what seems to be just the strangest of times. It throws me off so much (because no I’m not cold, I’m anxious/freaked/scared/thinking…) that not only can I not clarify that I’m not ok, but I start to doubt myself. My response is usually, “what? Oh, uh, yeah…maybe.” Because confusion on top of whatever else is overwhelming.

    And my pain response works the same way (visible response is inversely related to amount of pain). It makes for a lot of unpleasant experiences with doctors and other professions over or underestimating things and doubting me in one direction or the other. Not fair.

    • ischemgeek says:

      Annoying, isn’t it?

      I had a doc disbelieve that my ankle hurt that much until I returned to the doctor’s for the third time and he finally X-rayed it. It was a mild break.

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