1. How can I tell if you're angry?
In order from clear-cut to ambiguous to false-positive:
A) I flat-out say so, though I am more likely to specifically state "pissed off" or "really annoyed" than "angry".
B) I am gesturing wildly, shaking my head emphatically, and/or shouting "NO. NO NO NO THAT'S NOT IT!" or making a very loud, very sarcastic, huge logical leap. This is a combination of frustration at my own perceived inability to make myself understood, and frustration at you (or at someone in the room or at the person you are quoting/paraphrasing) for failure to understand. Sometimes this will happen when my intuition is screaming "NO NO NO!" and the logical part of my mind hasn't filled in the details yet but I must get the "NO NO NO!" out there ASAP.
C) I am quieter than normal and speaking in a very detached-sounding near monotone. Unlike the above, which is more likely to occur with people I *expect* to have clue, this is what happens when I've already come to the conclusion that the target of the anger will NOT have clue on the particular subject, so I am trying to stay calm for the benefit of any bystanders.
D) This is sometimes a false-positive but sometimes a milder form of B) above: any combination of fidgeting, biting nails, biting lip, playing with hair in a preoccupied manner, or brow-furrowed. This is my "attempting to concentrate" look. Sometimes it means that the ADD is really bad today and I'm trying to focus on what you're saying through ridiculous amounts of brain fog, or the gimpy leg is acting up and I'm trying to focus on you instead of on OW DAMN IT THIS HURTS. Sometimes it means I am trying really hard to actively listen to what you're saying for positive reasons. Sometimes, however, it means that you said/did something that I am trying my absolute best to give you the benefit of the doubt that you didn't mean the way it came across, so I'm concentrating to be sure.
E) This is a definite false-positive: loud, shaking voice. That is almost always panic rather than anger. If there is any anger involved, it is clearly subordinate to the fear.
2. How should I behave around you if you're angry?
This depends on whether you are Completely Not The Problem, A Symbolic Part Of The Problem, or Most Or All Of The Problem.
If you're not the problem, you're not the problem. Listen, commiserate if appropriate, and offer solutions regardless of whether or not they are advisable or even physically possible. (The one exception: do NOT offer solutions that boil down to, "Well, if you just had a more positive attitude, this wouldn't make you angry!" Seriously, NEVER do that.)
If it is partially or completely about you, then you need to listen to the reason WHY I am angry - this will also clarify to what degree the problem is you and to what degree it's a matter of "I've heard this eleventy-billion times in the last month and I really don't need it from you!" Hear me out, even if you do not agree, even if you think I am completely off base. If you're either not the problem at all because I misunderstood, or you suddenly get why you were eleventy-billion-and-one $INSTANCE_OF_PROBLEM but totally didn't mean it that way, there are at least even odds we will both end up laughing at ourselves and at the problem and all will be well.
If it is a more serious issue, or you are a more serious contributor to the problem, what I need is: A) an apology that B) shows you understand and C) take responsibility for your role in the situation, followed by D) making whatever amends are appropriate and E) NOT DOING IT AGAIN.
3. How do you want me to behave when you are hurting emotionally? How is it best to comfort you?
Example from someone who recently Did It Right: "Wow, it sounds like things really suck for you right now, and I'm sorry to hear it." That is generally sufficient. I appreciate but do not expect additional help beyond that. If additional help is offered, please make sure that it is something you can and will follow through on. Few things cause more hurt than expecting that I won't have to do something alone, only to find out that I do.
4. Are there things we should not discuss?
Yes. In general, if you are female, have always had a Body Mass Index of less than 30, and are not known to me as someone who has a clinical eating disorder history, I probably do not want to hear about how fat and disgusting you think you are or about your miracle diet plan. I NEVER EVER EVER want to hear ANYONE do this around my daughters, period. (Complaints about not fitting into clothes, about feeling out of shape, etc. *are* OK since they are issues that go beyond the weight itself. This is specifically about fat-shaming directed at oneself in my presence, when you are considerably less overweight than I am or possibly not overweight at all.)
Please ask before talking about sex in explicit ways around me. Sometimes I'm OK with this, and sometimes I am not, and I do not have a specific template about when those times are.
If I am showing signs of obvious discomfort (see D and E under the "How can I tell if you're angry?" item for what that looks like), I would appreciate if you asked if the current topic is OK. I will not hold it against you for not doing so, unless it involves fat-shaming or explicit sex talk.
Also, do not state or imply that you are mentally unsafe (i.e., a danger to yourself or others) unless you mean it. For both personal and professional reasons, I cannot afford to take this anything other than seriously.
5. How should I treat you when you are ill?
Depends on what you mean by "ill". If I'm contagious, keep your distance and keep me in your thoughts via phone or internet.
If I'm having a bad pain day (Mankoski pain scale 5 or higher at rest), I may want VERY low-key social interaction - nothing more strenuous than sit-at-coffee-shop. If you're OK with taking the kids off my hands for a couple of hours so I can rest and attempt to get the pain under control, that's extra-awesome.
6. What makes you happy that's in my power to grant you?
I like to talk to People about Stuff. If you're willing to listen to me babble about all the research projects I want to do, that's wonderful. If you are informed enough about child welfare and/or mental health and/or social sciences in general that you can offer interesting constructive feedback, that's even better!
I like to go out with my kids to places that are kid-friendly without being inherently adult-unfriendly. If you can help me find more of those places, that's extra-awesome.
7. How would you like us to recognise your birthday?
Remembering it is good. I like cards (tangible or virtual) and most standard gifty-stuff, if you're so inclined.
8. Are there any standing categories of presents that would be appropriate or unwelcome?
Always welcome - interesting books, Fair Trade coffee/tea/chocolate, *small* flower arrangements, Fiesta dishes, gift cards you know I will use but might not spend the money of my own accord (all the better if accompanied with an offer to go with me to pick stuff out sometime).
Please avoid - clothes unless I request something specific on a gift-request post, committing me to an activity at a specific place and time without clearing with my spouse first (we both try to be very conscientious about not simply assuming it's OK to stick one person with the kids without notice or reason - if you want to surprise me with something of this nature, clear it with him first and he'll probably say yes or have a very good reason to say no), gold or gold-plate earrings (my skin reacts badly to them for some reason).
Always welcome - books (best to ask first to confirm they don't already have what you want to get), Stride Rite or bookstore gift cards, candy or other treats in small quantities, hair accessories or art supplies for Alex, toddler-friendly musical instruments for Tori. They also love to get things in the mail!
Please ask first - large quantities of candy or other food, toys (check for duplicates as well as whether we have the space), clothes (size and specific items needed varies widely), CDs/DVDs, offers to spend time with them or teach Alex something new, etc.
Please avoid - anything that takes up a lot of space unless you've cleared it with us, giving Alex lots of things all at once that would be dangerous for Tori to have.
9. Are there times of the year that are difficult for you? Please explain if you are comfortable.
The Easter holiday season, due to losing a close friend to suicide on Easter Sunday.
10. Are there important anniversaries in your life?
Independence Day weekend is a close-enough approximation of John's and my when-we-met anniversary. July 3rd is our actual wedding anniversary, as well as my anniversary date of employment. The birthdays of my kids (September 8th for Alex and November 6th for Tori) also count as this.
11. How do I cater for you if you are visiting me?
This depends on length of visit as well as if it is just me or me-plus-family.
- MSG and NutraSweet both give me migraine-like headaches if I happen to ingest them (or in the case of MSG, smell it in large quantities). Foods that need to be watched for possible MSG content include: anything cooked in or with broth or gravy, any pre-mixed seasoning packet, most salty snacks other than plain chips/pretzels/popcorn, salad dressings, many commercial soups, sausage, meatballs, and seasoned french fries/curly fries. Most gum contains at least some NutraSweet, as do many mints. Please be mindful of food labels, and please don't expect me to eat somewhere if I can walk in and smell the MSG on the air.
- I can be very sensitive to noise. This gets worse if I'm tired and/or hungry and/or emotionally stressed. I try to be nice about asking for stereos/TVs to be turned down, but if I ask it's because it's really bothering me, so please try to lessen whatever the noise is.
- I need to know that there are sturdy chairs around that are OK for me to sit in. This is *usually* not a problem except in camp-type situations, but sometimes it has been an issue. If you're worried about me breaking a chair, tell me to avoid that chair - it's embarrassing, sure, but not as bad as me actually breaking the chair. I know I'm fat - you don't have to pretend otherwise. :)
- I need at least some awake time that does not have a Specific Activity planned. Failure to get this time tends to lead to it being stolen from time I should be sleeping. Everyone will be better off if this does not happen. Likewise, if I say I need to get off my feet soon, I AM NOT KIDDING. Sometimes this will be visibly obvious if you happen to glance at my ankles and notice that they look like I am carrying small (or not so small) citrus fruits around in them. Sometimes it's less obvious but no less painful.
If the girls are with me:
- Unless there is an immediate health or safety need, if they tell you not to touch them, DO NOT TOUCH THEM. This will lead to very angry parents.
- Alex is old enough and coherent enough to be addressed directly most of the time about most things. Talking to her parents as if she isn't there will lead to angry Alex AND angry parents. Please don't do this.
- The girls have a semi-elaborate bedtime routine that involves a lot of reading. Alex used to have major sleep problems; this has mitigated these problems a lot. You may join in on the reading if you wish, but otherwise please do not disturb or question the need for this time.
- Tori is a bit difficult to entertain and to control at this age. This is limiting the amount of visiting we want to do as a family. It's not because we're avoiding you - it's because we do not believe on inflicting a child we cannot yet trust to behave appropriately on people we like. There may be a lot of split-time involving one parent (possibly plus Alex) doing a collective activity with friends, while the other parent takes Tori (and possibly Alex) to an explicitly toddler-friendly venue, and then everyone meets up for a meal. This has NOTHING to do with how positively or otherwise the person who is handling Tori feels about the friend involved. It may have to do with me trying to give John some relief from dealing with Tori, or it may have to do with how strongly one of us feels about the activity we'd be doing.
12. If I want to contact you, how should I do it?
- Facebook message or chat (I will definitely see it, response time may vary).
- Email to cheshire23 at gmail (ditto).
- Comment/message on my DW or LJ accounts (ditto).
- Call/text my cell phone. Please don't call after 9 PM unless I know to expect it or unless it's an emergency.
- AIM/MSN/Yahoo/GTalk (I'm not consistent about turning these on or off. If they're on this is probably OK, but I might have forgotten to set myself away even though I am.)
- If it's really important and all else has failed, use my work e-mail/phone (if you have it) or tell John that you need to talk to me, since he's online/available more than I am.