This week, I was being a, well, let’s not sugarcoat it. I was being a bitch.
Sometimes this just happens. It’s like a combination of circumstances and crazybrain and I don’t even know what. Everything that comes out of my mouth is absolutely toxic and horrible, and is specifically designed to be as hurtful and nasty as possible; and since I'm pretty good at zeroing in on vulnerable spots, I'm an expert at finding the cruellest possible thing to say to someone.
Part of these episodes is my brain’s clever, clever way of pushing people away; by being absolutely vile to people I love, I can turn them against me, thus vindicating my brain’s belief that I am a hateful, unlovable person who should go sit in the corner and feel bad. Plus, my brain gets the added bonus of taking pleasure from hurting someone.
I’m not particularly proud of this, but there is a part of me that feels a small, vicious delight in watching someone’s face fall, and seeing someone walk away after being attacked for absolutely no reason other than being there. I’m like one of those giant fluffy cats that looks all cool until it goes ballistic on you when you try to pet it, and you’re left going “What the fuck was that?” And then you walk away and the cat starts purring with satisfaction.
You can practically see it hanging a “mission accomplished” banner on an aircraft carrier.
So the thing is, I tend to kind of disassociate myself in Bitch Phase. I see it happening but refuse to do anything about it, and come up with some pathetic, mealymouthed excuse, and I expect all my friends to be cool with it, because here’s the thing: The first rule of Bitch Phase is that you don’t talk about Bitch Phase. Everyone’s supposed to pretend it’s not happening, and it didn’t happen, and anyone who brings it up gets an icy glare.
After all, I wasn’t feeling myself, so I shouldn’t be accountable, right?
Yeah, I don’t really get that rationale either.
This week, I decided to do something different when I felt Bitch Phase coming on. It started when I was out with friends and I felt some nasty words tumbling out of my mouth and I watched my friend’s face twist with shock and I asked myself “Dude, what's even with this?” So I excused myself and went home.
And then I took an Adult Time Out. I went almost totally off-grid for the day. I did some vacuuming. I baked bread. I weeded weeds. I made pudding. I sprawled on the grass under the buckeye and read "Ash."
I did not answer my phone or deal with any email, really. I didn’t check my text messages, I barely looked at the Internet except to make sure there was no major breaking political news that might spell the end of society.
It was my version of “If you can’t say anything nice to anyone, don’t say anything at all,” and since I apparently couldn’t open my mouth without being mean, I had to isolate myself for the good of humanity.
It turned out to be a really great decision. For one thing, I didn’t hurt a whole lot of perfectly nice people for absolutely no reason, and that made me feel better about myself. I short-circuited my brain’s whole scheme of being an asshole and then acting shocked about the predictable consequences, and I protected people I love from some of the less awesome parts of me.
Just because I’m capable of being nasty when I’m feeling weird and unbalanced and gross doesn’t mean I need to be, nor does it mean I have any right to be; if I can recognise what’s going on, I should be self-aware enough to remove myself from the situation. This is, like, Grownup 101, people.
And I got some time to actually relax and de-stress, which, unsurprisingly, made me feel somewhat less bitchy. It also gave me a chance to do some serious thinking and processing about things going on in my life, without the pressure of social interaction. You can’t reach critical conclusions about these things in one day, but I made a lot more progress than I would trying to front while processing complex, confusing and sometimes contradictory emotions.
When I was a kid, my dad never used time outs. Although there were certainly times I probably deserved them because I could be an absolute shit. There were times, though, when I would choose to isolate myself because I just couldn’t deal, so I associate this kind of isolation not with punishment, but with being allowed to withdraw and figure out what was going on with me so I could work up to being fit for polite society.
I hadn’t really done that in a very long time -- sometimes I isolate myself from people because I’m busy with work or depressed or bouncing off the walls, but not because I’m in an absolutely horrible mood that does absolutely no good for anyone, including me. No, usually I inflict my foul moods on everyone around me, because apparently I think that's cool.
By the end of my Adult Time Out I was starting to feel more refreshed, and more capable of dealing with whatever the world had to throw at me, rather than being overwhelmed and crabby.
I felt like I could interact with other people like a fucking adult, instead of a spoiled brat who thinks it's OK to lash out at people for no reason. I felt, critically, like I could actually ask for help and reach out for support, rather than just being nasty and watching everything blow up in my face.
There’s this kind of pressure on grown-ups to be with it all the time, and let’s face it, that just ain’t possible. Sometimes you need to have a meltdown in the office, and sometimes you have a case of the sads, and sometimes you need to have an Adult Time Out, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We’re humans, not robots, and we have emotions and feelings and sometimes they get messy, and sometimes we can’t even pin down why we’re having them, but that doesn’t stop them from happening anyway.
So you have a choice of trying to bottle them all up, or releasing them explosively and then feeling sheepish later, or taking some time out to actually process them in a way that might be productive, and could lead to some actual change in your life. And I know which I’d rather choose.