I know that probably strikes people who know me casually as a weird statement. I love to fight with people. I work in politics, which is about as adversarial as you can get. I’ve been sworn at and threatened more than a few times, and I just laugh it off. I have a strong background in martial arts, even though I’m no longer physically able to practice.
What I can’t deal with is interpersonal conflict. I hate upsetting people and/or feeling like they’re angry at me.
There was a situation on Facebook earlier today. It’s been several hours, and my heart is still racing. I can’t calm myself down.
I have these two friends. Sam and I have known each other for probably twelve years, maybe longer. She has a mental illness and MS that causes difficulties typing (among other things), so she often types in shorthand. Holly is a friend from college who also struggles with mental illness, and she often comments on my posts about invisible illness, since mental illness is also invisible and people struggling with it are often discriminated against. Sam and Holly don’t know each other, but I would’ve assumed they could relate on the basis of those shared experiences, although to be fair I don’t know if Holly is aware of Sam’s MS. But Sam has talked about it in comments on my posts that Holly has also commented on, so I vaguely assumed she knew.
Sam commented on one of my posts (unrelated to any physical or mental illness), and her comment was in shorthand; e.g., “4” instead of “for,” no capitalization. Several hours later, Holly commented in response, saying postmodern English should be classified as a new language. I read it as kind of bitchy–it was unrelated to the post or Sam’s comment, and in my reading sounded like it was mocking Sam.
I said, “Sam uses shorthand because she has a disability that often makes it difficult to type.”
Holly’s response: “Okay, but I had to read it three times to understand it.”
“At the risk of sounding like an asshole…if you don’t like it, no one’s forcing you to read it.”
At that point, Holly private messaged me and said I did come off sounding like an asshole. Fair enough–I’m pretty talented at that. I told her I couldn’t find a more diplomatic way of saying it that still conveyed the point, and I repeated that Sam physically cannot type well most of the time. Holly said she’d been trying to be humorous, and I said I was sorry, I had misinterpreted the tone, which is easy to do in text. She said something to the effect of, “I won’t make you put up with me anymore,” which felt kind of passive-aggressive, but I tried to cut her some slack because I know what it’s like to genuinely feel like people don’t want to have to put up with me. I said I had overreacted and didn’t mean to sound like I liked Sam better than her. She said she’d lay off commenting for a few days, and I said I understood and left it at that.
But now I’m feeling a whole mess of tangled emotions. I’m still angry because I feel like once I pointed out to Holly that Sam types the way she does because of a disability, she should’ve apologized, or at least stopped arguing the point. Her original comment felt snide and judgmental to me. I can accept that it was an attempt at humor, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still judgmental. There’s this sort of educated elitism I see happening, and I’m not exempt from it–I’ll admit that I judge some people based on their [lack of] grammar, particularly if they’re habitual offenders. But I’m also aware that there are a number of disabilities that can cause it. People with dyslexia can struggle a lot with spelling and grammar. People with various physical disabilities like MS or rheumatoid arthritis can have difficulty with the physical act of typing. Dictation programs used by visually impaired people often switch homonyms homophone like you’re/your and there/their/they’re. Hell, even iPhone’s Siri can come up with some weird transliterations–at a political even, my RFD dictated a text saying “All of the parking lot,” but what Siri came up with was, “I love the parking lot,” which confused the hell out of the guy he was texting. (We joked that we should adopt that as a social media hashtag for the two western/central Mass regions.) So it made me angry that Holly, who struggles with her own experience of invisible illness, would continue to argue the point after I told her that Sam’s way of typing was due to an illness rather than willful ignorance.
But it’s very possible that I overreacted. I can see how “If you don’t like it, no one’s making you read it” could be hurtful, even though that wasn’t my intent. I feel guilty for hurting Holly’s feelings and making her feel like I don’t like her.
Then I feel frustrated because I feel like I can’t tell Holly what my thoughts/feelings were or what I was trying to communicate. I saw that I’d hurt her, and I figured that trying to defend or even explain my point of view would seem defensive and make her feel more hurt. But how do I express my feelings? Where can I say that it felt like she was mocking my friend for bending grammar to accommodate her disability? When do I get to say that even though she was trying to be funny, it didn’t come across that way, and I jumped in because I didn’t want Sam to be hurt by her comment? How do I explain that I felt defensive because I’ve been judged and had snide comments made about my disability?
I don’t know how to balance it all. I hurt Holly because I was trying to keep Sam from feeling hurt, and I set my own feelings aside because I wanted to make Holly feel heard and mitigate the hurt I caused her. I knew that an argument with Holly probably wouldn’t get her to see my point because who can see clearly when they’re already hurt? That’s not Holly’s fault. But how do I meet my own emotional needs? I want to feel like my point of view is heard too. I want Holly not to make comments that might hurt Sam, or anyone else with a disability. I want to stop feeling like a terrible person for hurting Holly. I want to feel like I’m not being a crazy, fucked-up drama queen for feeling upset by the whole situation. And I do not know how to do any of that.
So now I’m struggling with urges to self-harm and to binge and purge. Partly to punish myself/ease my guilt, but mostly to deaden the storm of uncomfortable feelings. I know they’re not actually intolerable, but it sure as hell feels that way right now. I’m trying to breathe normally and slow down my racing heart, with very limited success. I really, really hate this.