Once upon a time, a rolled up used diaper appeared in my very tiny backyard. There had been a general increase in the accumulation of light trash that I assumed had come from the road about twenty feet away from my rock fence, which was built into the hill that my condo unit edged towards; opon the top of said hill was the road.
But the placement of this diaper in the middle of my withering kale plants directly beside my garden shed meant that it could not have come from the road. My neighbor on the other side of my fence was an old lady, kind enough in her way despite being a stickler for strata rules… she never would have done that.
My attention; whilst I was resentingly considering the source of the diaper, landed upon the people who lived in the basement suite in the home beside our complex.
My heart upwelled with resenful and frankly; classist opinions I’m not proud of, about the family that had been playing loud music and apparently throwing their trash in my yard all summer. They had at least one baby stroller: they were my culprits.
All winter, I stared out my glass window at that diaper. I refused to use my own back yard which wasn’t that big a deal considering I live on the wet coast… and I probably wouldn’t have used it anyway… but any time I even thought about going in the back yard… I went to the window, eyed the diaper resentingly and walked away muttering murderous things.
Spring came. The diaper was still present, because I refused to clean it up because I was so resentful of it.
I was looking out upon my yard resentfully one morning, when a flutter of dust caught my eye from the very back corner of my fence: someone was emptying their vaccum cleaner’s dirt compartment into my yard.
It is at this point I completely lost what collective sanity I had amassed to that point and descended to a dark, primal place I had seen many times before as the child of someone compulsively capable of losing their shit at various people in various places regardless of my watchful eyes:
I pulled open the glass door so hard it could have shattered, yelling what I’m certain was very incoherant but LOUD ire along the lines of “What the hell do you think you are doing?!” And then I threw the diaper at the offending party, splattering a winter’s worth of rained on absorbant gel upon my own fence (thankfully, hopefully) missing the teenager that was just cutting a corner on their household chores and engaged in a bombastic screaming match with the kid’s mother about where the hell the diaper came from and how it didn’t come from the road and it didn’t come from my elderly neighbour and so I suspect it came from the family emptying their vaccum into my yard.
This is not a story I’m proud of. But I tell the story every once in a while to exemplify what kind of rage I have. Very few people see this side of me; I do whatever I can to ensure this, but I am not always capable of seeing far enough ahead in a situation to understand I might get to that place.
Seeing ahead in a situation far enough to know that if things go poorly you will not react well is a skill. I have learned it by actively trying to avoid flying off the handle all my life; and failing miserably at certain times. Feeling like you are constantly on the edge of losing control is scary, but an intimate part of my psyche that I have had to find ways to integrate in a positive fashion. Looking ahead in a situation is one of those skills that helps with this.
How does one ‘look ahead in a situation’ though? As people healing from trauma or mental illness issues we are specifically told not to anticipate the actions of others for a very good reason: we’re not psychic and anticipating bad reactions from other people can often either prime us for reacting badly ourselves or give us a wholly unrealistic negative opinion of others. The things we’re trying to avoid here are anticipating the ‘reasons’ we think someone might be behaving the way they are. Projection is a form of anticipating the motivation behind someone else’s behaviour that is actually a hidden way of misidentifying things we dislike about ourselves. Where mind reading and projection meet; influences to our behaviour flourish and the results are often quite damaging to us. The concept of the mirror in projection is something I value and it takes a proactive approach to identifying projection in ourselves and dealing with it.
Looking ahead; then, does not really refer to realistically anticipating the predicted behaviour of others. Looking ahead is a purely personal exercise where we consider what reactions in what level of situation we personally are comfortable with on our own behalf and actively working to prevent the terrible situations that we know we might be capable of.
If I had been looking ahead at any given point in the winter, I would have seen that my behaviour to myself; particularly refusing to remove the offending article out of my sphere of attention, was not conducive to a healthy conclusion.
But to me that situation had no conclusion I was willing to deal with at that time. Option the first: remove the diaper, nothing ever shows up again, I refused to do because I was busy feeling resentful of it’s presence. Option the second: remove the diaper. Take to the house and ask “is this yours?” politely. Deal with however they decide to respond. Option the third: ask my partner to remove the diaper because I knew I couldn’t deal with it and be happier to have it gone. I had a severe issue with asking for what I needed at this time and this option was not clearly available to me.
I chose option four: leave the situation to brew. This was a mistake.
At any point any one of those options would have been easy for me, even the most confrontational method of dealing with the diaper would have been better than what I did.
Did I look ahead and forsee this? I should have. But I was younger and stupider then than I am now.
If you are feeling like you need to deal with a situation, the option to let it brew is probably the worst one you can take because it is conversely completely opposite to your actual feelings of needing to deal with it. So step one in looking ahead is realizing you need to deal with a situation. Step two is something like a mind map that maps out possible outcomes to what you are doing and possible reactions you consider possible on your part as a response. Step three is considering what reactions on your part you are ok with and avoiding uncontrolled reactions. This is something I consider part of personal boundaries with ourselves.
This web program is my new favourite thing also.
So: once upon a time I threw a diaper at a teenager, here’s how you can avoid doing something similar.