I almost died. Until about 20 minutes ago an 8 foot metal cased, pull down, projector screen hung in our office area between two desk stations. The left side of the projector decided to free itself from its mooring and came crashing down directly beside me, upsetting my coffee cup and putting a sizable dent in the microwave and stack of papers next to me.
Nearly died may be an exaggeration, but had my head been a foot to the left I would certainly be at the emergency room right now, and yet I’m only just now starting to feel upset about it. Just another example of my peculiar blessing/curse and what I really want to write about here.
Most scientists have social quirks, but most of those quirks make them less compatible with normal society. I myself have a rather significant quirk, however, it works in the opposite direction making me easier to get along with for most people. I can speak in crowds and groups comfortably even making others more comfortable, and I am seldom involved in work place drama or arguments. As great as that may sound, its not born out of any skill, but rather out of certain quirks and deficits. Deficits with disadvantages equal to or greater than those advantages…
For most of my adult and adolescent life, whenever some event happened that should have raised my adrenaline I would find myself strangely unemotional. I remember as a teen, one of my co-workers dying of a heart attack and feeling strangely dead inside, unresponsive, as though I hadn’t known the man. Its a strange phenomenon that I can’t imagine is specific to just me, but the end result is that it takes me far longer to process emotional information than many people.
Like I said, there are advantages. Some situations require you to put emotion aside to ‘get the job done’. The place where I am most thankful for my quirk is in public speaking. As soon as I step in front of an audience I feel a switch flip and all my nerves and anxiety drain away, a strange feeling to be sure. My body sort of goes into ‘auto-pilot’ and I can present my data in a relaxed and personable way that has earned me a lot of praise, despite being able to remember little of what I said or did. I do have to be careful, however, because in ‘autopilot’ I rely heavily on what I already know, and its important to be sure that I’ve pre-phrased the thoughts I want to convey in a way that makes sense to the audience, otherwise I might as well just be talking to myself. Also, over-preparing and trying to think to much on my feet can over-ride the switch and the nerves and anxiety return undermining any skill I might have.
Another situation it is helpful in is in emergency/first-aid situations. I haven’t been in many of these, but under acute stress like that I’ve found that, despite my suspected ADD, I am able to quickly identify and focus on what needs to be done. The adrenaline clears my mind of emotion and I can make decisions better than under normal circumstances.
HOWEVER, there are some very real struggles it brings as well, besides delaying emotional processing. I believe part of the reason behind this emotional dissociation is my psyche’s attempt to avoid conflict. Its easy not to feel hurt when your emotions have been turned off. Its the first step in the ‘Jedi Mind Trick’ that my psyche likes to play on me.
You might think that being able to shut off emotion would make me a great debater. But quite the opposite is true really. First off, most debates don’t elicit enough adrenaline to flip the switch. Second, the switch itself is part of a process designed to avoid conflict and debate. What really happens is that if someone approaches me with an aggressive assertion, I find myself suddenly without emotion, and without bearing. I stumble to find my own position on the topic and my own subconscious slips in and whispers, ‘..these are not the droids you are looking for…’. My mind pre-filters my thoughts and I am suddenly agreeing with everything coming at me,even backpedaling on statements I’ve made, as though I were talking with Obi Wan himself.
It’s infuriating. After the non-conflict I so easily acquiesced to, I find myself either suddenly perplexed about what I believe or subconsciously bitter and angry at the arguer for ‘subduing’ me.
It all goes back to codependency and conflict aversion. I’m working on it, I let the switch flip when it helps me, and I’m trying to develop strategies to manage conflict on my own terms. Also, a big thing that has helped has been the realization that in the real world you can sometimes just say ‘No I don’t agree,’ without articulating why. I get a certain freedom from that thought.
In the end, I’m a pretty agreeable and likable guy on the outside, but on the inside I have to work hard to stand up for and even know myself. Its a quirk that only my closest friends can see, and not even most of them. But its a part of my story, a part of my journey. I’m not trying to eliminate the quirk but to make it work for me, and I think I’m winning.
I’ll find those droids one of these days…