Last night we nearly had a formal complaint laid against us by a student. It wasn’t due to harassment, abuse or even incompetence. It was purely due to the student not getting what they wanted. They wanted to renew a book, but it was wanted by another student, so I wasn’t able to renew it for them. This sparked, what I can only describe as a childlike tantrum. She yelled, insulted me and said that I couldn’t be trusted. I was stunned at how quickly she was triggered into acting out. I’m not saying she has a mental health issue, but that she was severely triggered by not getting her own way.
I’ve lost most of the interaction to the dissociation, but some of the bits that I remember are just bizarre. Management wanted to make sure that she spelled our name correctly on the complaint – if we’re going to be complained about, she can at least get our name right; Carrie asked her to calm down so we could resolve the situation; One observed, ready to step forward and protect us all. The whole incident left us shaking and totally dissociated. It happened during the night shift, so I was the only staff member in the building. Both of the student assistant shelvers had their headphones on listening to music, so didn’t know anything had happened.
I had to explain the incident to my team leader and circulation supervisor this morning in case she did go ahead with the formal complaint. Our cynical friend said that we should have called security, but I didn’t even think of it at the time. Also it would seem silly to call security over someone having a tantrum because they didn’t get their own way.
It’s odd whenever I see anyone totally lose control like this, how little sympathy I have for them. This woman may have genuine issues that mean that she is unable to cope with life and is trying to work through them. But all I saw was someone who had no control, pushing their problems onto someone else (me). I can understand this sort of lack on control under extreme stress, but this was about not being able to read a book! It was the sort of behaviour that got us sectioned under the Mental Health Act when Frank was angry that we were in a hospital.
I think I find it so hard to identify or understand her behaviour because the dissociation I experience, is all about hiding. If I’m triggered, I’ll try to escape the situation without causing a fuss. My first response is to hide. If I’d been in this woman’s place, I probably would have dissociated, shut-down and walked away. It’s only when we consider something so overwhelming, and there is no possibility of running away, that we act out in front of others. It’s only happened when we were being assessed for our level of safety in the psychiatric ward, so it’s very rare. When it does happen, it usually leads to another round of self-hatred and self-injury.
I suppose what I resent most about this woman’s behaviour, is that most people would pass her off as having “mental problems”. But this is so unfair and insulting to those of us who genuinely do have mental health issues and are working hard to heal and get help. She may have mental health problems, but she could just be immature and incapable of handling the world. That doesn’t necessarily equate to having a mental health issue. This is what encourages the stereotypes about mental health. One of the interesting clips I’ve seen to try and challenge the stereotype about a mental health diagnosis is Schizo from Time to Change (as a warning, the start could be triggering).
What annoys me, is that I allowed this incident to trigger me. I allowed someone throwing a tantrum to get me upset to the point of dissociating. I had some really nice students during the rest of the night, but that one incident ruined my night and still leaves me shaking when I think about it.