[TW angry outbursts, sexism, racism, abuse, ableism]
I have trouble dealing with anger, my own and that of others. For me, the experience of anger is inextricably linked with fear. I do not know how to deal with anger in a healthy way. I experience it viscerally as fear, a pounding heart, clenched muscles, adrenaline shocks until my hands shake, panting, and a very physical aftermath – chilled, shaking, waiting for my heartbeat and breathing to slow back down. I do not have these reactions because I am angry, but because I am afraid of being angry.
Most people have been called crazy for things that are not, in fact, related to neurodiversity or mental illness. Women get a lot of this (“crazy bitch”), but anyone who dares to have strong opinions that do not align with the majority of whatever space they inhabit at that moment, anyone who has a different perspective, and therefore a different perception, of an event or reality in general is immediately tagged, bagged, and thrown out the door with “crazy.” And when people tell you often enough, with large enough consensus, seriously enough…you start to wonder. Once you start to wonder, it’s a hard habit to break. We’re taught to undermine our opinions, our knowledge, our very principles if we are not in line with the group. America is the land of individuals…only in so far as you won’t cause an argument. Those who do argue are “crazy” or “angry” or “sensitive” or any of a vast number of designations that are dismissive and mean “ignore this person.” In small doses, we give them a taste of the treatment with which I am sure many neurodiverse people are intimately familiar with – we ostracize, torment, dismiss, deny, ignore them. We treat them badly so they will fall in line.
When I am angry, I wonder if they are right. I wonder if my perception of reality is much more skewed than a neurotypical person. I wonder if my memory is failing. And I fear my own capacity for violence. I fear that I have the capacity to snap, to hurt, to wound with words or actions in ways unrelated the stimulus for my anger. Every time I needless insult someone during an argument, I worry – is this the start of losing my compassion? Most of all, I feel as if I have a limited time to express myself. My anger has always been shut down – by fights, by punishments, by ostracism, by people shouting over me, walking away, dismissing me. Later, I started to shut it down myself – triggered, I would go to my own quiet space, wishing to hurl plates, smash furniture, scream and rage, and instead curl into a tight ball and cry, feeling absolutely no release until after sleep. It is only when I am angry that I hate. Before and after, I feel contempt, incredulity, or I don’t pay attention. When my anger sparks, I loathe the cause down to the core. I am afraid of that energy.
So I shake, and I say bad words sometimes, I’m not able to argue well, I feel that time is running out before the boot drops on my head, and I am afraid with the memory of hundreds of angry blows both physical and mental. I try to get my punches (my arguments) in while I have time, and then I try to run away if I can. But the anger nags at me – finish the argument! Read what post-argument snide comment zie posted.
Later, calmer, I reread things. The fever heat of fear and fury does not descend. I see a point I wish I had made better. I see an opportunity for actual discussion I missed…and I see my own ad hominem attacks and I cringe.
I would like to have a calm anger. I would like to have an anger that can hate the action, not the person. I would like to have an anger through which I can think. I would like to have an anger that can be expressed in ways other than choked up, unsatisfying tears. I would like to have an anger that is righteous. I would like to have an anger I am not afraid of.
Personally, I’m philosophically Buddhist. I believe that I will always get angry. I believe it is possible to not need to act on that anger, or at least act on it in ways that cause harm. Calling out privilege and bullshit and refusing to back down does not require that I insult someone as a human – it requires a steadfast focus on the behavior or speechact at issue, and a refusal to be goaded into condemning a person.
When I got angry, I used to (crying in my room) think something petty and mean and no little bit scary. “I hope he trips on the stairs,” “I hope she dies in a fire,” “I hope a piano falls on hir head,” down to the little bit silly “I hope she slips on a banana peel,” “I hope he cuts his toenails a little too short,” “I hope zie catches a cold.” I never thought much about it. The “die in a fire” thing I got from my younger brother, but one day, I thought it, sort of as a joke, and then I had a moment of sober contemplation about how fucking awful that is or would be. Wishing harm on others…the “I don’t really mean it” and the “It’s not going to cause a fire” defenses don’t work there any better than the same defenses for rape jokes. If you don’t mean it, why say it? Why put more violence and violent imagery out there? You’re right, it’s extremely unlikely that you will start a fire with an idle, petulant wish of harm. That’s not the point. The point is that dying in a fire is horrible, it really happens, and joking about it is just. not. funny. Wishing it “non-seriously” at someone is downplaying the seriousness of it.
In a world where Melissa McEwan of Shakesville routinely gets death threats, rape threats, and a cubic fuckton of other violent missives for her steadfast and snarky advocacy of, of all things, freedom and equality and good faith relationships, do we really need more vitriol? In a world with wars and genocide and domestic violence and rape and abuse and murder and bullying, do we need more negative energy put out there? You can shake your head at my woo woo semi-magical thinking, but I now prefer, when confronted with evil or assholery or general ignorance, to wish good things to the victims, survivors, and the world in general. Defend, of course. I try to always step up when I can, lend my voice when appropriate, make sure people are safe, do concrete things too. But when all that can be done has been done, it never hurts to add a wish or a prayer for peace, healing, and love.
So when I get angry, when I make an ad hominem attack, when I get so caught up in my fear I can simultaneously not not-reply because of the sensation of the trap closing in on me, and not reply because I am afraid of what I will say, I will take a deep breath. I will walk away. I will come back when I can think. And most of all, I will keep company with those who will support me, who will not try to make me doubt my sanity, and who will have my back. And I’ve got theirs.