Friday, March 18, 2011

The Anger Game

For more than a year I walked a very thin line. I would vacillate from tears to anger back to tears again. The pendulum of my emotions would swing from deep desperation to fury in a manner of seconds. At home I would wallow in the dark sadness, but when I finally garnered enough energy to travel in the world for yet another day the person that walked out of my house tended to be on the verge of needing anger management. And the more and more depressed I became the more and more the anger reared its ugly head in all directions.

Every time I was faced with the option I would choose the anger game instead of the crying game. Somewhere in my psyche that just seemed more acceptable and sane.

It was inevitable that I would begin playing a real game at work that directed some of my rage at the person that I was so angry at for dragging me down so much of the time. And again fury kept me from tears. And so as the abuse escalated and I began to question myself and my abilities and everything else more and more, I also knew deep down that I was by far the more intelligent one in the equation. And since that was my only advantage and no one could really fault you in your work for being smart, a game evolved where for a few seconds I felt some control over my thoughts, emotions and esteem. It started simply one day when I watched the wheels turn and come up empty as I used a seemingly simple word that wasn't comprehended. Oh, this was fun - game on. So I would find ways whenever I could to use my vocabulary and channel my anger into the game. I didn't have to even be a master linguist to win this one. One day I questioned why a qualitative answer was used when it was clear that the analysis we were to provide should be quantitative. Blank stare - score. So, a second attempt was made. "Hmmm," I said. "That's a qualitative statement too. The question says to keep it measurable." It was clear that the person staring back at me had no idea what I was saying but would never admit it - win number one for me. And so the game continued, any time I could work in a word that wouldn't be understood I didn't contain myself. One day I would say that a statement was risible, the next I said that an author was resplendent. I could have won the game using much "smaller" words even, but this just made it more fun for me. So one day near the time of my inevitable point of needing and seeking help I had to write something. The result was brillant if I did say so myself. I handed it over and watched the confusion take hold. So later when a co-worker walked in and saw my competitor with my statement in one hand and a dictionary in the other I had scored the ultimate coupe - game, set, match!

And yet no matter how many rounds I won I never really felt any better. The anger game didn't really accomplish anything in the end. It didn't change anything. Here I thought it was a competition that I was playing in and really it was just one more thing that pointed to how far I had fallen. And the person that was evolving before me was someone that I didn't even really like that much. This wasn't the woman that I had ever imagined being. This wasn't the woman that I was. This wasn't the type of person that I admired. And all of this anger was not in line with the way I would have described myself in the past. It was always there though. I fought it and noticed that more and more I was seeming to lose out to it. I may have played the game well sometimes but when it was me against the game I was losing in a big way. When I let myself in the privacy of my mind think I wished that I wasn't always enraged all the time. Why in the world was I always ready to either fight or cry? Why was there just no longer any middle ground?

But the anger game wasn't contained to only work. It was creeping into and invading every facet of my life. I found myself always irritable and on edge. Always ready to pounce or break. On the phone with a customer service rep I would move through the spectrum of emotions lashing out only to ask for their supervisor that found me sobbing and telling her how being treated so poorly had upset me this much. I found myself using my car horn more than ever. Curse words seemed to always be on the tip of my tongue. Every life encounter was either the most infuriating experience or the most miserable one. I was on a roller coaster of two emotions and I just kept riding and riding thinking that somehow maybe one time the cars would take a different course, but knowing that it was impossible for it to do so. Being furious all the time was no less exhausting than be sorrowful, but the whirling between the two was down right crippling.

For some reason that anger made it feel like I was controlling the sadness, but in the end the misery was still there. It was the most uncomfortable feeling I ever encountered. And the anger fueled depression's fire because the more and more I exploded the worse and worse I felt about the person that I now was and that added to the self-loathing, the sadness, the powerlessness. Freud was right in his description, so much of depression is anger turned inward.

I felt the same way around my family. Any time they mentioned things in a way that I felt slighted me or called into question my life choices or "teased" me I would feel the anger boiling up inside. I would often leave the room and silently scream. Tension would manifest itself into knots in the muscles the ran across my shoulder blades. As I pushed away the tears, I'd ball up my fists tightly and push my nails into the palms of my hands until I felt the slight pinch of pain that I could focus on to tamp down the anger. In situations where I couldn't escape I would say things under my breath or bite down on the inside of my cheeks to control myself. Sometimes I would draw blood from the constant force of my teeth on the tender skin inside mouth. In really bad moments I would also pick under my fingernails where the nail met the skin, clawing and peeling until it bled. But turning the anger into pain at least felt like something. Sadly it was nice to feel anything other than the two emotions that I was constantly living between.  I would vent my frustrations to my mom later asking her why everyone thought so little of me? Why couldn't once something that I did be good enough? Why was my time and the person that I was so invaluable to everyone? All the venom and ire that I had focused into the physical pain would pour out of me and just when the anger would dissipate the tears would begin. What was wrong with me? How did this happen? Who was this girl?

Anger - despair - rage - tears - exasperation - desperation - fury - listlessness  - outraged - inconsolable  - storming - sinking ...

And so it continued on and on, the pendulum swinging faster and faster until it and I broke. I had lost the battle, I hadn't won the game.

It wasn't until weeks after my breakdown as I sat on the sofa in my therapist's office that I noticed that the anger was largely gone even though the sadness was not. This realization was delivered to me as I was giving her an example of something that was said to me. I knew that the intent had not been meant to hurt me, but I had been furious at the time all the same. I had let a few people in my life say awful things to me and yet I didn't know how to stop them and when my life spun out of control those things were just magnified by the anger that I felt and then later added to my feelings of worthlessness. If the people that claimed to love you felt this way then how in the world would anyone else possibly even like you? It didn't matter that intellectually I knew that those that uttered the statement didn't mean to inflict pain, but how do you start to gain control of a situation like that?

And so for the first time I thought to really mention all the anger and rage that I had felt during the previous months. And again I learned how much I didn't understand about depression. Anger was a classic symptom. When I thought of the illness I recognized the sadness, the hopelessness, the exhaustion, the feelings of worthlessness, the hypersomnia, the inability to any longer care about the simplest of things, but the irrational degree of negative thinking and the anger that flowed forth because of it I had never contemplated.  But when I lost control of everything around me, my emotions and feelings and my inability to function in everyday life, the anger was inevitable. No one that crossed my path was really safe from it. It's just another emotion that I could not harness. I was angry at myself for being so angry and depressed, which then made me even angrier. I had been cycling in that pattern for quite some time digging myself in deeper and deeper.

And as I learned more and more about me and my disease I began to feel some small amount of control return. I could finally see the anger game for what it was, just another sign that I had needed help. I closed the lid on that box and hid it away. Hopefully I would never feel the need to play again.

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