When The Minutes Feel Like Days

Originally posted on December 3, 2012

There is an interesting phenomenon when we are in the middle of stressful situations or we are being intensely triggered by something:  time crawls.

Not only does time crawl, but our need to react or engage is off the charts.  Every minute feels like hours, and we have a massive craving to do something.  We need to do it, and the longer we wait (during these dragging minutes) the bigger the craving.

*record scratch*

Well, I guess I can’t just say we have a craving to do “something.”  We usually have a craving to do something hurtful or just plain stupid.  It makes complete sense in the moment.  Yet, rarely do we crave … oh, I don’t know … meditation.  Or a nice walk.  Or simply not engaging or reacting.  We’re leaning more toward yelling, throwing, crying, calling names or making sweeping life decisions.  Like, moving to the Virgin Islands.

In my parenting, I have found myself in situations where a child is doing everything in their power to engage me.  Sometimes I have tried everything in my playbook (muddling through Dan Hughes’ PACE:  playful, accepting, curious and empathic) and yet they still spiral into a cycle of yelling, raging or non-stop questions with everyone stuck in a space and held hostage.  It feels impossible to survive.  Your blood boils.  Sometimes you are not able to leave because of others in the house.

How the heck do I survive these situations?

First, I stop and evaluate if everyone is safe.  I may hear threats to safety or things, “I’m going to throw this!” or “I’m going to hit you!”  Yet, I have to look at the actual existing threat.  Sometimes we react too quickly based on words, but the words do not manifest into actions.  *note:  this does not include threats of self-harm.  if you child is threatening to harm themselves, please call their therapist or medical professionals immediately*

Then, I determine if someone is being emotionally assaulted.  I am the grown-up, so I have the life experience and wherewithal to withstand and survive verbal assaults much better than other children in my home.  If I need to move siblings to a better space, and maybe turn on a radio or TV for them, then I will relocate them for the sake of their own hearts or healing.

And finally, I wait.  Without engaging.  Easy, right?  Heh heh.  Sure.  As easy as putting together a piece of IKEA furniture in 15 minutes (read:  impossible).

Here is how I wait:  I look at the clock and say to myself, “I can survive this for 15 minutes without doing anything.  I can get on my laptop or grab a deck of cards for solitaire or something.  But I can just not engage for 15 minutes.”  Here is where some of you are rolling your eyes at 15 minutes.  Trust me, I understand.  I know that rages and shouting matches and arguing can go on for hours, especially with certain types of mental illnesses.  But I can’t think that far ahead when I’m writhing in my own frustration and anger.  I have to take it in small chunks.  I make up games in my head (if they are screaming the same sentences over and over, I mentally add “in bed” to the end of them).  I take pictures with my phone and play with my editing apps.  I message friends to catch up.  I can’t write for pleasure when I’m in that state, so I just focus on being busy.

Ohhh, wait.  Almost forgot the most important part.  You then do the 15 minute thing all over again.  And if necessary, again.  Then again.  And … yup … again.

Eventually, it settles.  Eventually, the therapeutic parenting interaction is actually something that can be slightly effective.  Eventually, you will no longer want to slam your head into the wall.


I’m saying this because no matter how many times I write honestly, no matter how many times I admit my own humanness, there is always someone who thinks this is somehow easy for me.  It’s not.  I hate it.  I’ve never liked it.  I like helping other parents because I hate it so much and I know painful it is to do it alone.  I laugh and I joke to keep from crying so much.  I try to help others do the same.

Helping hurting kids is hard.  It is very, very, very, very hard.

I’m also having wine and Reese’s peanut butter cups for dinner.  King size.