About a week ago, Sis caught me just as I was about to lay down for a nap. She wanted me to do the dishes. I told her I was about to go to sleep; she promptly freaked out and accused me of having left dishes in the sink, which was quite true, but also implied I was the only one who'd done so, which suggests that perhaps she thinks Jazmin eats dry cereal by the fistful straight out of the box every morning. Deciding that the fight would take longer than the dishes, I agreed to wash things.

Sis promptly freaked out on me again, backpedaling at about Mach 3, babbling about how if I couldn't then she'd do it, only she had a friend who was in dire straits and coming to stay in her room tonight, and, and, and and and.

"You won," I said. "Drop it."

Sis  has not yet learned that if she wants people to do things, she had to make capitulating less annoying than arguing over it. Possibly she isn't capable of learning it yet.

It's possible to get the do this/what are you stupid, don't actually do it bit out of someone who is going for a power play, but in that case generally they end up not letting you do the thing at all. They just want to know they can force you to do things; forcing you to then not do the thing after they've harangued you into it means they win and they get to tell you they're magnanimous if you ever bring it up again. The considerably more long-winded dance of do the thing/oh god wait I changed my mind if you can't do the thing it's okay are you sure you can do the thing is more the sort of pas de deux you get out of people who are having anxiety issues and can't figure out why making other people do stuff isn't making them less anxious.

The thought process, so far as I can make out, goes something like this:
  1. I'm having badfeels.
  2. A thing immediately preceded my badfeels, and therefore must have caused them.
  3. If I can make someone stop the thing, the badfeels will go away.
  4. Shit, why are the badfeels still here? I must have made a wrong choice somewhere.
  5. GOTO 1.
There is a lot of terrible logic in this. The reasoning has holes you could shove a fully-laden camel through. For starters, it assumes something outside your brain is causing all the badfeels. It's an easy mistake to make; humans are pattern-matching creatures, wired to figure out sequences of events so we can either avoid or take advantage of them. We are not well-equipped to figure out when events are genuinely random, and there's a heavy bias towards noting external stimuli that correspond chronologically closely to internal states. 

[I have seen several wiseacres point out, every single person who confuses correlation with causation eventually turns up dead. Just sayin'.]

Secondly, it assumes the locus of control is internal, i.e., that actually does exist a thing you can do to make the badfeels go away. As it happens, there is a Universal Solvent for feelings of impending doom: Drugs. They work very, very temporarily, but if you're aware of what's going on, Xanax is a handy reset button. I would in fact have given Sis some of my sedatives if I thought she'd have taken them, which she wouldn't have, and if I thought they'd make her stow it, which I could not guarantee. (Technically they are prescribed to me, but as their purpose is to make my life easier, giving them to Sis would kill two birds with one stone. I have the same policy when it comes to rats in their last few hours, although now that I have phenibut handy, that's easier.) Other than that, you can learn to either ignore them or deal with them.

[Fun fact: Most things that set off panic attacks -- mine, at least -- are totally unrelated to the source of the stress that predisposes me to them, and many of them are patent nonsense. 

Right after we invaded Iraq for the second time, I started having nightmares about getting caught in a bombing raid that spilled over to stabs of panic every time I heard a plane buzz by overhead. I lived in Flagstaff, Arizona, at the time. No one in their right mind, and few people in their wrong ones, would bother destroying that place. There's nothing there. It is a town so utterly unimportant in all respects that if you used Flagstaff as a bombing practice range, it would still be a waste of ordnance. The closest things worth blowing up are Phoenix and Hoover Dam, both of which were so far away we'd have had to hear about it on the news.

The stab of panic at plane noises was followed immediately by a stab of embarrassment, because while Flagstaff does technically have an airport, it is the kind of airport that was once characterized by a stand-up comedian as the "Flagstaff Airport, Hair Care & Tire Center", with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Senator McCain landed a 737 up there a couple of times, and he probably shouldn't have. The point of Pulliam Airport is to serve as a base for air evac choppers, because Flagstaff Medical Center is the only Level 1 trauma center for at least a hundred miles in any direction, and so the National Weather Service has somewhere to put their stuff. The generic airplane sounds that set me off were turboprop engine noises -- death from above hasn't gone nnnnnnyyyyeeeeerrrrrr like that since at least the Korean War.

All of which goes to prove that sense has nothing to do with it.]

Thirdly, she's doing that thing where she thinks feelings are facts. She was freaking out and decided it was over dishes, but then when she got me to do the dishes she was still freaking out. Instead of realizing that maybe she was just stressed in general, she interpreted her continuing anxiety as a sign that there was still something to be anxious about. Slapping wildly around for a guess, she settled on, 'hey, maybe badgering the pissy sleepy roommate until she scrubbed plates was the wrong decision here,' and tried to wiggle out of it. 

Lastly, and the bit that I think is making her the angriest, is that Sis has not got a great grasp on Theory of Mind. It's the same thing that bothers me about a lot of people who gnash their teeth over trigger warnings and microaggressions. It's the same "logic" as above, which looks kind of okayish, if you squint, until you unpack all the various assumptions it rests on, whereupon it looks like a terrifying wreck. Superficially, it's "thing made me feel bad > stop thing > yay feel better".

But really, it's more like:

  1. A thing went into my brain. It hit a button. Now I have badfeels.
  2. If the combination of 'thing' and 'brain button' produces badfeels, 'thing' is to blame.
  3. If 'thing' produces badfeels in me, then it produces badfeels in everyone.
  4. If 'thing' gives everyone badfeels, then everyone knows that 'thing' makes badfeels happen.
  5. Therefore, the person doing 'thing' knows it will make me have badfeels.
  6. The person doing 'thing'  has total control over 'thing' and knows it gives me badfeels, and does it anyway.
  7. The person doing 'thing' is doing it TO me, on purpose.
  8. HULK SMASH.
That goes wrong in like a dozen different directions, starting with the assumption that it's the thing and not the brain button that's wreaking havoc, but it's basically the difference between "I am a teetotaler" and "THIS SHOULD BE A DRY COUNTY PASS A LAW RIGHT NOW". Sis thinks she has the universal mind, or ought to. Things that don't bother her don't bother anybody, and things that give her badfeels are morally unjust and should be purged.

I have more than a little sympathy for her. I can tell you from experience that it's goddamn exhausting to drag yourself around feeling that, at any minute, you could fuck something up so completely it would collapse your life, and I don't generally think other people are being obnoxious shits to me on purpose. If Sis' perspective is correct, then we all know how to adult properly. and we're just not doing it because we're lazy or taking advantage of her, and don't care about her well-being. It is a miserable and lonely place to be. She is trying to fix it, just incredibly poorly.

On the other hand, I also have just about zero patience for this, because my mother has been barreling full-tilt down that road my entire life. I figured out about ten years ago that my mother's entire life philosophy makes perfect sense if and only if you have no ability to monitor your own goddamn behavior. Sis' behavior makes perfect sense if and only if you have no ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. I hope to God that her problem is legitimately that she's twenty-one years old and just doesn't know how to human yet, because Jazmin loves her sister. It is unbelievably difficult to come to grips with the idea that someone you love is perfectly happy being hurtful to you forever, and does not consider your feelings important enough to change that.

I also know that there, but for the grace of God, go I. My sister is one of those apples who hit the ground in the shade of the tree and will someday decay back to the Earth right where she sits, never having rolled another inch. I am not. So here's to 2015: Another year where I both refused to be run over, and successfully avoided becoming my mother.

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