On Anger

There’s a rage monster buried inside me, waiting for when I’m weakest, for when my defenses are most exhausted; waiting to come and lash out against the people I love the most.

The rage monster is almost always there.

I’m sitting at the kitchen counter at mom and dad’s house on a Sunday morning writing this and already the rage monster has stirred twice.

I sleep in the basement here, where all of dad’s computers are. Since I tend to sleep in later than everyone else, dad quietly snuck downstairs to work on his project of scanning all of my medial bills (there are so many he’s running out of space in his rather substantial file cabinet). He’s courteous when he does this: he keeps as quiet as possible, only turning on his dimmest light and the only sound that betrays his presence is the gentle whining of the scanner.

But, oh how it angered me this morning. It’s unjust anger because I haven’t asked him not to do it. And I haven’t asked him not to do it because sometimes I’m fine with it and other times I’m not. This morning, I wasn’t.

I woke up, still quite exhausted because he had been at it for who knows how long and it had half woken me up, leaving me in a panicked sort of dream state. My eyes were closed, too heavy to open, my consciousness was split between the dream I’d been having and the increasingly irritating whine of the scanner.

I wanted to cuss dad out, I wanted to let him know he’d woken me up with his incessant noise, which he should obviously know would bother me. I wanted to swipe all of the papers and books laying on the desk next to my bed onto the floor. Like Jesus cleaning out the temple. I wanted my voice to boom, to carry throughout the house so everyone would know my worthless pissant of a father had woken me up.

I didn’t do what the rage monster wanted me to do. I’ve learned how to control it.

Instead, I sat up, mumbled incoherently and asked dad to go upstairs so I could change into my regular clothes. Dad was more than happy to oblige and went upstairs so I could change.

I found him a few minutes later, using his iPad at the kitchen table. The rage monster had been successfully contained so I greeted him warmly and asked if he wanted to join me outside for my morning cigarette.

Dad agreed, like he always does and I welcomed the morning, smoked my cigarette, and chuckled with dad when he told me Kerrin had already managed to persuade someone to let her outside three times despite the fact it was only 9 in-the-morning.

Cigarette finished, I went to retrieve my laptop, took it to the kitchen, and poured a cup of coffee to set about reading my email.

I can’t concentrate on reading without almost absolute silence (though sometimes I can listen to music as long as I’m the one to choose it). And so, the rage monster surfaced again as dad turned on Game of Thrones in the basement to keep himself company while he worked on his scanning project. The bass of his speakers carried through the walls as the theme song played and I found it impossible to read my email.

Why was he so inconsiderate? Why did he have to listen to it so loudly? Couldn’t he put headphones on? And besides, why is he watching Game of Thrones all over again? Every time I come over it’s the same TV show and then the same questions about the plot he asked the first time he watched it. He’s the biggest imbecile I’ve ever met.

It would get worse from here but, thanks to CBT – I’ve realized how unjust my anger is; how misguided the rage monster is. So I put on some headphones and begin reading my email.

And that’s just it, the anger of the mentally ill, my particular anger this morning, isn’t anger at my dad. I’m projecting it onto my dad. I’m not frustrated with dad – he’s just the easiest target. I’m frustrated with my illness, I’m frustrated at the voices who won’t give me a moment’s respite, and I’m probably getting a little bit manic since my mania usually ends up expressing itself as anger.

Mom and dad realized this early on. Before I learned how to control my anger, to express it positively, I was very much verbally abusive toward my parents. I went through a months-long bout of absolutely hating my mom. Thinking she was the dumbest piece of the most worthless trash I’d ever met. She was scum, not worth my time, she was the stupidest person I’d ever met, and about all she was good for was making me dinner every night. And even that usually tasted awful. Any kind action she showed toward me was insufficient and clumsily executed – she could do no right and it just seemed to worsen with every passing day.

None of these thoughts are even remotely true and my hateful words cut her deeply. My mom is an amazing woman – talented (especially in the kitchen), loving, intelligent, and really one of the best people on planet earth. But my rage monster targeted her day after day, week after week for months on end.

My mom’s amazing-ness is most easily demonstrated by her recognition that it was the rage monster, the illness, and not me who was treating her so poorly. She didn’t lash back, didn’t escalate the situation. Mom recognized I was going through hard times – I was recovering from the trauma of ECT (which came with so much loss in my life), the overwhelming post-ECT depression I felt, and the fact my fiancé had just left me. Add in the normal regimen of hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, dissociation, and an almost complete lack of social life and it’s little wonder I was frustrated.

Mental illness skews reality. Something like schizoaffective disorder can change reality almost completely. The world is seen through the spectacles of hopelessness and despair. Everything and everyone is working against you. It’s stressful, it’s frustrating, it’s arduous, it’s so many things all at once that it often overwhelms me. And, when there’s so much overload, that negative energy has to go somewhere. Right now, that negative energy is going into these words. Years ago, it was going into a hate campaign against my mom. I much prefer the former to the latter.

It’s the same even with healthy folks, we all get into bad moods, we all take our frustration out on the people we love the most. Mental illness just amplifies and complicates everything. My journey toward controlling my rage monster started with mom and dad telling me they loved me despite my unjustifiable and terrible anger. They don’t lash back at me – they fight my irrational anger with love and understanding. And it’s that attitude which enabled me to find non-destructive ways of getting that energy, that hatred out of my system. Oftentimes, it’s writing, sometimes it’s loud music, sometimes it’s walking with Kerrin, and other times it’s blowing virtual things up by playing video games.

Whatever it is I do to wear my rage monster out, it can’t be directed in such a way that it hurts other people. It must be a healthy way of expressing that anger, with no one getting hurt either physically or emotionally. Rage is just energy, it can be directed at other things, at inanimate things. It can be harnessed into something positive. By harnessing that rage, I’ve been able to express my feelings in a much less destructive way – I’ve made beautiful works of art and I’ve written these words. And, because I’ve managed to harness that energy, I’m all the better for it.

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