I was having a lovely conversation this evening over dinner with several friends. One of my friends was talking about her son and how angry he is over some very reasonable things outside his control and how difficult a time she was having with her own anger about said things and his when I suddenly admitted something out loud.
I am really angry.
All the time.
I talked to her about the anger that has been ever present deep within me since my body became a traitor and a prison and a horrible place to live.
I explained I used to live with this ever burbling volcano of anger that threatened to spew itself all over whatever I was doing at the moment but that I had grown to exist with it instead of against it.
She was shocked. She said I seemed to be so calm all the time. I agreed. I explained that extreme emotions have a tendency to send my migraines up into the 11’s so I attempt to manage my feelings so that I can minimize the damage they cause me but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
They are there. The anger is there. The burning, burbling, white-hot, fury at my situation is always there. It has tea with me on cold days and toast with me when I can’t manage to make a real breakfast. Sometimes, it even helps me.
Sometimes my anger is why I go for the walk when my body is screaming at me to stay in bed.
Sometimes my anger fuels my art and helps me push myself.
Sometimes it stops the despair.
However, it used to threaten to consume me. It was this nearly out of control feeling just under the societally acceptable veneer of control. It was burning out of control beneath a calm surface of acceptance. It was there because it’s not cool to lose your shit in the grocery store and scream at the ice cream because you can’t work anymore. It was there because no one actually wants to see you throwing all your breakable dishes at the ground. It was there because at after age 6 I was no longer indulged when I beat my fists against the ground and screamed about my really unfair situation.
The anger lived a much stronger existence because there was societal pressure urging me to hide it.
I believe, to this day, that if I had been able to throw an anger party, an event where I had my closest friends come destroy shit with me while I talked about how fucked I was, I would have gotten to a point of acceptance far sooner.
Instead I had this monster eating away at me and threatening my calm when the coffee ran out, or the internet got a little slow, or the dog peed on the floor. It was barely leashed, straining against my control, for years.
It didn’t become an ally until I accepted it. Until I was able to let myself give up the Pollyanna shit and really live in the anger, really acknowledge I deserved to be mad. Once that happened a lightness entered me. I was free of this tethering feeling because I had incorporated it, instead of trying to fight it.
We suck, as a society, at dealing with negative emotions. We hate being angry, sad, you name it. We are happy or we are doing it wrong. Period.
I’m here to tell you to let your inconvenient volcano explode. Revel in your anger. Let it wash over you. Cry, scream, stomp your feet. Be mad. You’ve earned it.
Once you do that, you can aim it’s energy at other endeavors.
I think I may have PTSD when it comes to self-help books, books on migraines, or generally any written device intended to explain to me how to make my current state in life better.
I have been trying to unwrap why I loathe self-help lately and I have hit upon a theory. It’s a relatively new theory so bear with me but here we go.
Ours is a society of the quick fix. If we have a cold and can’t sleep we take NyQuil. If we have a cold and need to go to work we take DayQuil. What we don’t do is rest long enough for our bodies to battle the cold on their own.
Due to our quick fix mentality we have a tendency to offer solutions to the people in our lives who express problems. We rarely actually commiserate. It’s not because we don’t feel sympathy or even empathy for them, but our language of caring has morphed over time from listening and empathizing to offering solutions.
As a migraine sufferer I have had a lot of experience on the receiving end of solutions. It doesn’t bother me from friends or family but it’s the complete strangers that make me crazy. Usually when I meet someone and they find out I have migraines I get asked my entire medical history by someone without a medical degree because their fourth cousin once removed has migraines and maybe they can mention something my nationally recognized neurologist hasn’t thought of yet. It is exhausting and not a way I want to spend one of the rare times I actually leave my house to go out into the world.
I think this is why I hate self-help mechanisms. Rather than listening to each other, talking about our feelings, and creating deep, strong bonds of friendship we are offering other people’s takes on our interpretations of someone else’s problem.
Meet someone at a party going through a divorce? Offer them this book. Got a brother with MS? Here’s a book on how one person worked through their experience with it. Children being… children? Here’s a book on how to parent in a way the person who wrote the book likes most.
Now I am not saying seeking self-help is a bad thing. Personally, if you want to read books on parenting, relationships, investing, whatever medical diseases you may have, and that helps you handle life, go for it with my blessing! There is nothing wrong in my mind about seeking out information.
What upsets me is offering these unsolicited solutions to others in lieu of care.
I get it, caring is hard. It’s time consuming, it takes real listening and empathizing to truly succeed at it and none of us have the time or the energy.
Is that last part true though? Would we find consoling someone less tiring if we did it more often? Could it be we are out of practice and therefore it seems more tiring and time consuming then it truly is?
Here’s my truth: My best memories are from times when I opened up my mind and heart and joined someone in their hardships. Really joined them. Crawled down into the hole they were stuck in and sat with them for a while. I have been blessed enough to build truly amazing relationships with people because I was simply sitting with them and listening when they were having a hard day.
Sometimes the way to be the most helpful is to offer no help whatsoever.