At school, weirdly enough, I have been thinking about how you really define yourself. Maybe most people are not as inconsistent as I am. I find I have to put a condition on everything. I am this way but only under this circumstance and not this one.
It came up today in the context of how touchy-feely one should be when interacting with patients. The conclusion was that a lot depends on what you're comfortable with. And that's when I realized that what I am comfortable with varies wildly. There are certain people who, when they see me, automatically burst forth with hugs and even kisses, and I do not freeze like a board or have a seizure. And yet there are other people who have simply put their hand on mine and it has elicited an involuntary elbow straight to the ribs.
That part is not weird, I suppose. There is probably some degree of that in everyone, varying comfort with varying people. But what I realized is that there is a perception and the perception can become reality. I know that I give the impression that I might haul off and punch you in the face if you touch me without my permission. I'd say that 90% of that impression is absolutely intentional. I like my space uninvaded, and I even consciously make the tradeoff of staving off unwanted contact at the expense of missing out on some welcome contact.
A specific incident came to mind then. It seems a long time ago now, because it was, but there was a day and then a few days after it that the world seemed to be crumbling. There was no footing underneath the ground. Everyone felt this way. Everything was a little off-kilter. We came home from work early, everyone dismissed but with nothing much to do. Pretty soon, we did not want to watch television. The weather was unbearably sunny and cheerful, and it felt absurd that this is what the world might feel like right before it ends.
And what I remember is that my roommate and I stood next to each other awkwardly in that sunlight. Not for very long. It felt somehow unsafe to be out of doors, like the perfect blue sky might crash down on our heads. But we stood beside each other, and I think we were both thinking the same thing. That day and for those few days afterwards, everyone wanted to cling to the things that meant something to them. And for the first time ever, I just wanted to be held. My roommate once, at a party, trashed out of his mind, had kissed me on the cheek, and I, Elaine Benes-style, had nearly shoved him across the length of the room. It was too much to expect that he would know the difference, too much to expect him to risk getting rebuffed when we were all already so raw and vulnerable. And me, I just stood there, wanting one thing, but acting in opposition to the wanting.
Of course, I didn't know things then. But I wonder if I really know so much more now.