Encumbered Spaces

Dr. Donna L. Roberts

Sometimes you just need a little space of your own

Photo by Geng Sittipong Sirimaskasem on Unsplash

I was halfway down the stairs when the gunshot rang out. The shock of hearing it propelled me the rest of the way down at an alarming speed, all the way to the door of the den. There, I paused, afraid of what I would find once I turned the door handle.

Covid-19 was upon us and we were trying to hunker down while still getting things done. My husband and I were both working from home and we had also brought my mother-in-law to stay with us during the crisis. Six months into our new routine, we were still making adjustments to our routines and schedules. It wasn’t easy, to say the least. It all took some time to get used to, with more than a little patience required from everyone.

My friend Ryan had a more complicated situation developing at his place. His older parents had moved in, along with his wife’s. Their adult children had also moved back in, along with their spouses, children and pets, so they were packed into the house like sardines. He described his once peaceful abode as a zoo, and I didn’t think he could take it much longer.

My uncle had taken his life years earlier, so I was already super sensitive to the issue of suicide. My father’s brother had always been depressed, even though they grew up in a family environment with more advantages than most people had back then. My family history, along with my professional training sometimes help make me more keenly aware of stressors before they escalated.

As a psychologist, I pondered what we could do to support Ryan. As he described the mounting tension in his cramped quarters, I became alarmed and decided we should check on him. Since he was usually quite stoic, Ryan’s escalating venting was an uncharacteristic and desperate cry for help.

Photo by Askar Abayev from Pexels

During the coronavirus epidemic we’d made a point of not exposing ourselves too much to others, but I felt sure that this could be an emergency that couldn’t wait and therefore merited the risk. So without further ado, I headed to Ryan’s place, not knowing what I would find.

I drove into the driveway and found most of the gang outdoors enjoying the pleasant weather and playing with some frisbees, making lots of noise as they cheered each other on. When I asked about Ryan, they directed me downstairs towards the den. I opened the door and headed down the steps.

When the shot rang out and I ran the rest of the way down, I was afraid that the worst had occurred. When I finally summoned enough courage to open the door of the den, I was surprised to see Ryan just sitting at his desk with a gun in his hands. “Oh, hi,” he said. “I just wanted to see if anyone would notice,” nodding toward the hole in the wall made by the bullet he had shot.It seemed that no one had heard the noise from the gunshot but me. I was both relieved and alarmed by what I had found.

I slowly put out my hand, and after pausing for a moment, Ryan handed me the gun. I went over to him and put my arm around his shoulders, then led him out of the room and up the stairs, all the way to my car. I told the gang that we were just heading out for a spin, though I took Ryan back to my house where he could relax and chat with me about his situation.

Since then, things have improved at Ryan’s place. His kids have returned home with their families and he’s managing to find enough time for himself, while still caring for his parents and in-laws. He’s put rules in place so that everyone has their own time and space to unwind during these stressful circumstances.

Sometimes it just takes someone to notice a cry for help to put things back on the right track again.

Comments / 2

Published by

Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY

More from Dr. Donna L. Roberts

Comments / 0