Dealing with People, or not…

Trigger warning: people being generally not understanding, panic attacks/ocd in public situations


Every time I tell this story, in whatever way I manage (halting half-words to my piercer, word vomit to my singing teacher/speech therapist/general restorer of faith in humanity, skype text to my mum), people go ‘what? that happened today? but why?’


In order to regain my ability to breathe, because my abortives stopped working three months ago and 98% of medications have brutal side effects (including but not limited to: rashes that turn into lumps that turn into holes, allergic reactions, I sat in the car in a parking garage and typed out what I could remember, in the best order I could. It didn’t work, from a calming perspective, but it’s probably the best record I’ll get. Even now, it’s a fuzzy hazy thing that happened, but my traitorous brain, in order to get me through speech therapy, shoved it down and set my ‘recovery’ back another few months, because that’s what it does.

This is what I wrote, in a facebook post that probably gave a few people their daily ‘wtf moment’:
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i went to get my mail and as usual they arranged it in the least stable way. something fell and i stepped back to get it and before i could some lady grabbed it and moved it further away i tried to stop her and that got all my mail taken away even though i was shaking my head and screaming no no no and the post office people’s solution? ‘can we call your mum?’ like what the fuck you let someone TAKE MY MAIL FROM ME then TOOK MY MAIL AWAY and you want to call my mum because you can’t listen when someone you know can’t talk is trying to say no don’t take my mail? i tried to explain and they’re like well you trust us how about we open it for you cos the inside is fine? nvm one of the envelopes was open and paper is permeable and that is not the point then they’re talking over my head ‘what’s wrong with her’ nvm that i can’t see my mail and i’m having an anxiety attack on the floor so i made them bring me a box and i scooped it up in a box once i found where they stashed it and now it’s in the boot making adam dirty and i had to drive into the city during a panic attack and i can’t stop crying and now i’m sitting in the carpark hyperventilating with my arms slashed up and i have to be fine but i don’t even know what she touchesd because i was trying to say no i am fine please leave it and they swooped in and took it all away so it’s all touched everything and it all could have been avoided if people backed the fuck off and/or paid attention enough to realise that shaking head + screaming = no but seriously i’m 30 years old you don’t go ‘can we call your mum’ and you KNOW i’m sick ffs and i refuse to feel stupid for being upset that some took my mail from me because i am an adult and i can pick up my own mail and ignoring someone saying no is rude and i have put up with enough discrimination from the people at this po but my brother won’t change his address so i’m stuck with it and if i go back next week and they say anything i will snap again bec i was trying to explain and what do they do? Snatch my phone away. rawr.
now i have half an hour to look fine and i just want to go home home like where i can’t hear the neighbours talking from inside my house and there are more than two stars at night and where they have parcel lockers and people know ocd is real and listen when you say no


Here is what is wrong with the whole incident:

  • the staff there know me, know that I can’t talk and I have issues around people touching my things, and yet not only allowed someone else to take my mail in front of me, they let her do it twice and then proceeded to take all my mail away from me, putting it in a place I could not see.
  • they let someone take my mail in the first place, while I was obviously doing my best to convey my extreme distress at her doing so.
  • despite clearly being an adult, instead of asking me what kind of assistance they could provide (including none), they defaulted to wanting to call my mother to come and get me. Most people offer a chair, drink, or an ambulance. (And yes, people have called the ambulance on me having a panic attack, and I went with the ambulance people to get away from the people who were making it worse, and that is a story for another time).

I said in my post that I refuse to feel stupid for this. It did cross my mind – i’m an adult i should be able to get my own mail without people interfering – but that applies to everyone, not just me because my brain works a different way. Even if I’d been perfectly calm and able to say ‘don’t you dare touch my stuff you complete stranger’, it still wouldn’t have been okay for her to interfere, and the staff’s reaction was still wildly inappropriate, especially after I did my best to make my lack of consent known.

The other thing that comes up in this was that they said ‘but you trust us with your mail’. I do not. I cope with them handling my mail in a very specific way that generally involves making as few trips as possible, opening all my mail outside the house so that the packaging doesn’t come in and the smelly air inside can go away before the items come in. The thing is, also, they have somewhat of a monopoly over the mail, and it is marginally better to have a few people whom (I thought) were aware of my brain thing than deal with a ton of couriers/my neighbours (who also take my mail), or go to shops. Or it was.

Some people might, at this point, be blaming me for the fact that these incidents occur a lot. Frequently, anyway. But every time I tell someone about one of these things, they go ‘what the? why would someone do that? you’re clearly capable of doing that on your own’. Invariably, also, because I can appear quite able, the interference happens before my disability becomes apparent. It’s my lack of brain spoons/skills/processing power to deal with these interventions in a socially acceptable way that spins them in the direction that they go, and that then affects me. It sets me back, because the thing I’m meant to be doing is teaching my brain to handle stress without routing it through the bits of my brain that are responsible for communication, and in order to deal with these incidents and get to a safe place, I have to push the stress away in order to function, which is only repeating the same pattern, reinforcing the bad thing my brain has done all my life but nobody realised until it got to the point where it was permanent (Trufax: A former sexual partner used to trigger acute conversioin episodes because he enjoyed it more. He got really upset when I explained that was rape, and still to this day denies what he did.) But we’re not allowed/encouraged to fully express emotions in public, and apparently even people who are meant to be aware and understanding, can sometimes not be.

So, no, I do not feel stupid for having an anxiety attack because a stranger decided to steal my things and trigger an OCD reaction, a thing which is still new to me because all these things that were tolerable before are now manifesting in hugely significant ways because every time one of these things happens, my brain decides that it’s better right now to do that thing because I have to drive/have class/have the doctors. The thing that I’m meant to be working on is the only survival mechanism I have, and every time someone sets it off, they are hurting me.

When I discussed this with my psychiatrist, because at this point it’s looking like a thing that will never go away, he said that normally he deals with this kind of thing with exposure therapy. Exposure therapy worked for me in the past, even. Except for one thing:

He said that people behaving like this isn’t normal, and he doesn’t want me to get used to stuff like this because it’s not normal. Not me, not what my brain does, not when my body doesn’t cooperate, but them. Other people’s reactions are not normal, and when they realise that I’m not the same as them, they become extreme.

That doesn’t make me stupid, less capable, weak, silly, or anything else negative. It just means people don’t know how to deal with different.

And also, that they can’t mind their own business. That is also not my problem.

So here’s what you do when you feel like taking someone’s stuff, interfering in their lives, or you think that you might be able to provide appropriate assistance to someone who indicates they might need it.

You make sure they can see you, speak clearly, and ask if you can help. If they say no, shake their heads, back away, or give any visual indicator of discomfort, you back off. If they accept, by saying yes, nodding, or giving a visual indicator of assent, you ask how they would like to be helped. If it’s me, you’d be saving another three-six-nine-twelve-forever months of a recovery from a thing that is so rare that nobody knows how long it’s meant to take or even how it’s meant to work (my psychiatrist is a specialist and he’s guessing). If it’s not me, then the very least you’ve done is treated someone with respect and allowed them autonomy, and the chance to accept assistance (or not) on their terms. You might be the only one that day.

Like, today, I went to get my medication, and the pharmacist smiled, and gave it to me without the list of questions that gets longer every week. “You know the drill, darling,” he said. I didn’t have the spoons to be angry at being called darling, but I was so grateful to not have to fight for one tiny thing that it mattered less.