Friday, February 18, 2011

Words Through the Walls

Hello Friends:

I am, this very moment, hearing my neighbors arguing.  I live in a townhouse with reasonably thick walls, but yelling, loud music, and such can be heard pretty clearly.

This couple has a loud argument about once a month.  They have done this for the last three years.  Usually I immediately play music to drown it out, leave the house, or start up with an engaging video game until they are done.  Usually lasts 15 minutes to half an hour, and then they seem to wind down.  I try to avoid hearing them because (1) I really don't have any interest in knowing what my neighbors are doing, I am not nosy or gossipy by nature, but more importantly (2) hearing the sound of yelling in an argument makes me really, really uncomfortable.  Scared.  Angry.  Sad.  Confused.  Then scared again.  These arguments really, really upset me.  I get a sensation that I'm going to freak out, and can't move fast enough to find a way to drown it out.

This is hardly a huge shock, given how I grew up.  The yelling at us kids for stupid things.  And worse, the yelling between my parents that would always be turned on us once they got tired of yelling at each other.  I was raised in a chaotic environment where verbal abuse, loud and otherwise, was commonplace.  And having been raised that way, it is again no surprise that I repeated this pattern of self-abuse by living with an emotionally and occasionally physically abusive boyfriend for five years.  So I am understandably very touchy when it comes to couples yelling at each other.

The thing that makes this argument different is that I am intentionally not tuning it out.  I've chosen to practice my mindfulness in this really uncomfortable situation.  I'm going to sit here and listen to this.  I'm going to feel what I feel.  I'm not going to judge myself or try to keep from feeling unhappy.  I'm just going to sit with this discomfort.  I'm going to think thoughts, ask questions, but I'm not going to avoid anything.  No avoidance.  This is really hard.  There is a rock in my stomach.  My palms are sweaty.

And it is still going over there.  Loud and scary.  I can hear, actually hear, the sound of my parents arguing in my head.  I feel like I am being yelled at, personally.  This is a bad one even for the neighbors.  It has already been a half hour.  Why does a woman stand there and let a man call her a *uk#ing idiot?  Why does a man stand there and let a woman call him a lazy bastard?  These are somewhat rhetorical questions, since as I said I was in an abusive relationship, and at the time I thought I deserved the abuse.  That I wasn't worth anything better.  That I could never find anything better.  I was also afraid to leave.  I was afraid he would stalk me, hurt me.  So yes, I get why people might do it.  But ... but really.  Now that I'm out of it, no, I don't get it.

Good grief, he is actually mocking her now.  Mocking.  A sing song voice.  The tone makes me want to tear someone's eyes out.  Wait.  Now they are yelling about who is at fault that each one of them no longer has friends.  Their words through the walls are loud and perfectly clear.  I'm choking down pained laughter.  If they would actually listen to themselves, the 'lack of friends' would be less of a mystery.  I sure have no interest in them.

My husband and I never yell at one another.  Not now, not ever.  Not once.  We've had a few heated arguments in the 17 or so years we've been together, but never yelling.  Part of the reason, of course, is that I can't abide it.  He is much less sensitive to it, given the normal volume of conversation in his house growing up was yelling, even when people were perfectly happy.  But even so, he agrees it is much more pleasant without the constant noise.

Okay, now it is so loud it is garbled.  Um.  He's saying "You are an a$$hole to me.  You haven't changed at all."  She is too shrill to be understood.  I realize I am actually afraid of ... of him doing something like ... well ... firing a gun.  I have this image of a gun going off, and a bullet flying through the wall and killing me.  How ... bizarre.  I ... you know, I have that thought every time they yell over there.  Somehow ... somehow I see their arguing as a direct threat to me.  A threat to my life.  Well, of course I do.  But now that I think about it, that's me doing ...

Oh, for heaven's sake, I'm having a flashback.  Of course I am.  I don't mean to say I've been shot at.  It's not that literal.  I have Chronic PTSD, not trauma from a single event.  When I flashback, I find myself caught in an amalgam of events; a mix of memories, some clear, some vague.  So it takes me 45 minutes to realize I'm in the middle of a flashback.  It does usually take a while since I don't have any visual symptoms.  I don't 'see' the past.  But I can hear it, smell it, even feel it.  My eyes see 'now.'  The rest of me is perceiving a blur of events from long ago.  My heart is pounding, I can hear my parents yelling, at each other, at me.  I am ... I am a little girl hiding in a corner.

And as soon as I started writing the above paragraph, I started feeling more normal.  Realizing it wasn't 'real,' wasn't 'now' helped it go away.  I have no evidence that things next door have ever gotten physical.  Just yelling.  There is no indication or evidence that any kind of violence has or will happen over there.  My fear of being hurt is completely unfounded in the 'now'.  It is entirely the past.  I'm there, living it as if it were the present.

It's been an hour.  They are finally done.

That sucked.

Was it worth it?  Hmm.  I'm an experimentalist, so it's hard to say an experiment was useless.  Even a null result is a result.  I didn't actually freak out.  I had a flashback.  I probably always do and never realized it before, even when I turn up the music, since I am always rattled for hours after they shut up.  Running from it did not make the fear stop.  I can't say confronting it made the fear stop, since I feel like total crap right now.

But if nothing else, I did just prove to myself that I can live through an argument.  The yelling alone can't kill me.  I did not 'freak out' any more than usual.  And I also have some more proof about how tough it can be to tell the difference between a PTSD flashback and a nasty GAD anxiety attack.  They seem so similar on the surface, but a flashback is more insidious.  Darker.  Deeper.  Tangled.

Whatever.  I deserve a reward.  Chocolates.  I know I shouldn't use food.  Too bad. 

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info:  The Sun Goes Down, gideon_wright on Flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0


julie buck said...

glad u sat thru this argument. the HARDEST thing i learned in my off and on counseling over the past 20 yrs is to NOT RUN from my fears... which goes so against the grain as human instinct demands that we run from what frightens us; however, this "running" only feeds and amplifies our fears--once i learned to say: ok fear, come and get me, i'm all yours, do with me what you will--lo and behold, the fear diminished..this is a learned skill, definitely NOT AS EASY AS IT SOUNDS, all about trusting the process. bravo to you!

drugsaregood said...

Huh, I hate hearing people yell. It freaks me out. I hadn't really thought of it that much though, so reading your post was really interesting.

Ann said...

I think it's a good skill to have, sitting mindfully through something that is difficult for you, although it's too bad you have such neighbors. I also have a yelling neighbor. She seems to choose boyfriends who are a little down on their luck, and then about six months in, she begins to berate them for it. They in turn, call her things like "psycho bitch." Like you, I wonder why either side puts up with it. Some of them have stayed around for years. No thanks, I say.

The Blue Morpho said...

Hello everyone - thanks for all the comments!

Julie - Exactly, seems straightforward but is so hard in practice. Letting fear play itself out. But it does make you stronger.

drugsaregood - Yeah, hate that sound. I don't think I'll ever be comfortable around it, and maybe that's a good thing.

Ann - Yes, strange isn't it. Maybe your neighbor needs guys she feels better than in order to support her self esteem. Who knows. Sorry you have this in your environment, too.

expwoman said...

I admire your willingness to experiment, to see what happens if you lean into the anxiety rather than flee from it, even though at the time, it seems crazy not to flee because of all that old stuff bubbling up. It was really hard for me to accept that discomfort didn't mean danger--I'm still working on that. When my OCD flares up, the images and thoughts seem as scary as actions, and yet, I am learning to call their bluff.

julie buck said...

was good to hear from you...also, as bad as this MAY sound, it's well, not good exactly, but makes me feel less of a self blamer and less alone in all this, knowing others are out there with similar experiences, which of course i've always known this fact, but this is the first time i've been a blogger and can now read about, empathize with, understand, comment on, share with etc others with this commonality.

Jen Daisybee said...

If I was you, I'd find out if there is a neighborhood association to complain to. I know whre I used to live in a townhouse of my mother's, people write letters of complaint about their neighbors all the time. It's kind of ridiculous the way they do it over every little issue, but what you describe sounds like a legitimate problem. If they are renters, you could complain to their landlord. Just an idea.

I think it's good that you are trying to adjust to the loudness. I understand being sensative to yelling, because I grew up with my mother violently yelling all the time, and I can't handle it at all now. I admire you for trying to force yourself to deal with being there in the midst of that. But if there is anything you can do to make them shut up, hey, I'd do it.

It's good that you write about your symptoms, so you can look back later and see where you've improved!

Suicidal No More

Marj aka Thriver said...

Flashbacks suck, but it is empowering to find that something so disturbing doesn't...kill us! Yay!

I'm making the rounds to say goodbye to the blogosphere as I just put up my last official blog post after five years of blogging. Thanks for following my blog and leaving your thoughtful comments. Blessings and best wishes to you.

Tenzin Dasal (Tibetan Name) said...

Just a little message to thank you for such an inspiring piece of work.
Trauma is a very strange thing and far too many times it is considered to be untreatable or incureable.
I came across your blog whilst looking for people with similar interests and it was a very well put together piece of work.
As you will see from my blog I am a trauma life coach working with the spiritual aspect of trauma as opposed to just the physical. For this reason I work from a spiritual but non religious perspective using non medical methods. Having experienced my own trauma I am aware of how little is understood and actually how trauma is often viewed as a mental illness when evidence shows it is not.
If I can be of help please contact me on my e mail.
Thank you again for your blog it was refreshing, maybe you could check mine out for further info.

With respect Tenzin Dasal.

Anonymous said...

I am researching for a documentary on anxiety and would like to speak with you if you might be interested in participating.

Liz Etherington

The Writing Goddess said...

Greetings, Blue Morpho. Stumbled on your blog through a link on another blog. While my issues are somewhat different, I too an recovering from a verbally abusive relationship (besides an uneven childhood.) Stop by and visit, if time/life allows.

So glad you were able to be mindful and BE, while your neighbors carried on.

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