Ever since my traumatic brain injury, I have had people yell at me. I mean, in-your-face, sudden, top volume yelling. The weird thing is I don’t flinch. I startle when a squirrel bounces by, but I don’t flinch when some stranger sticks his face in mine and practically spits, he’s yelling so loudly. I don’t respond immediately either. It’s like I freeze and watch. And I’m not afraid.
Now, I’m not talking argument here. I’m talking about someone getting upset with me because I merely point out that they should not be so rude on the TTC. Yeah, stupid, eh? There are non-TTC instances too, but the TTC is peculiar for its daily, non-stop hits of injustice.
Injustice: the kind where people see only themselves, only their desire or complaint, only their selfish needs, and don’t care how it affects others. The boor with his bag on a neighbouring seat on a crowded subway. The TTC employee hiding a stack of papers behind him then leaving them there. The young woman who reneges on her part of a bargain, leaving me in a serious jam, because life is sooooo hard. People really, really, really, really, really don’t like having it pointed out to them that their behaviour or their self-lie is not OK. (Of course, when you get a traumatic brain injury, you have it pointed out to you all the friggin’ time, nicely or bluntly, depending on if it’s a professional health care worker or friend. Even worse, you’re spoken to like you’re a moron. I don’t take kindly to the latter. But I digress.)
I have heard stories about or been spoken to about brain injury anger. But never heard about the other side of the coin: how do you react to sudden or sustained in-your-face yelling? And on a lesser emotional level, arguing?
My rehab team told me a story about a young man whose safety they feared for every time he came for rehab. He’d travel on a TTC bus, and the TTC having this knack for turning drivers and passengers into rude the-world-revolves-round-me boors, his moral anger would rise, and he’d say something. He was probably sharp. He may’ve yelled right off the bat. I don’t know. Some people with brain injury chuck phones at the wall when something triggers their anger; others start with a blunt statement. Neither is socially acceptable. Anyway, they feared that one day someone would punch him out.
What I never heard in this story is how he responded if someone suddenly yelled back — not talked back but yelled back in sharp, blowing-hair-back tones.
I had this one experience where the other got angrier and angrier and angrier. She didn’t move right into my face, but it certainly felt like it. A normal person would at least step back. I did not. I didn’t even flinch. My brain became blank. No words came to me; my body had no reaction. I got real still and real quiet. That probably made her madder. Over the years, my ability to argue back has improved so that in an argument, I no longer do that, but I still do it if I suddenly, without-warning get screamed at.
But I wonder: Is not-flinching a good thing or a dangerous non-reaction? Does it make me safer or more vulnerable?