When I was a kid, I knew my grandma was really upset when she’d say, “I’m so mad I don’t know what to do!” It’s a common phrase, but it only made sense to me as an adult. I’ve been working on writing something for you, something that adequately conveyed my level of anger and anxiety, but it didn’t work. Maybe it won’t work for a while, and I’m going to have to let that be okay. It’s never been easy to me to decide to write about a specific topic, and just do it. Sometimes the writing comes out hot, quickly and with the full evidence of my fury articulated on the page. Other times it comes like sun shower, with fat raindrops seeming to come out of nowhere, taking their time to reach the pavement. For the last few weeks, I have been the pavement. But I smell water gathering in the air around me.
Between hurricanes, anti-vaxxers (not the vaccine hesitant), and the most recent attacks on abortion rights, I am exhausted. More than exhausted, I’m angry. Not particularly shocked, but yes, so fucking angry. Obviously anger isn’t new to me, but expressing it, even with the people I love and care for, absolutely is. For way too long I believed anger and love could not exist in the same place. I didn’t have any examples of it any way. Whenever someone was angry with someone they loved, I worried it was the end for them, no matter the relationship. I thought the same would be true for me too.
But we learn! Or at least, I did. I learned my anger in and of itself was not inherently harmful to the people in my life. My actions and behaviors could hurt people, but my feelings, my personal emotional experience, could not. My frustration, my disappointment, and even my outrage were indications from myself to myself about what I believed was right, and when I perceived myself as having been wronged. Still, it about killed me when I expressed my anger to someone I cared for, and they responded as if they’d been slapped in the face.
What I thought I was reading on the faces of people who wanted to please, but hurt me instead, was physical pain. And I didn’t want to hurt them. I didn’t want to hurt anybody. So I buried my anger, or found a way to point it back in my own direction. Because hurting myself always seemed like a better option, a clearer path toward being a good person. Then I hid from that person, ashamed of the pain I caused them, and embarrassed by my attempt to stick up for myself and fail horribly. I isolated myself, hoping those moments would fade into distant memories. They didn’t.
Now, I know that I can’t put feelings inside of people by telling them about my feelings. Of course, there’s a way to speak to people with respect, and leading with kindness (if the context calls for it), but that wasn’t ever really my problem. I’m not a hitter (unless I must be) or a yeller (ditto).
I spent most of my childhood and young adult life trying to share my emotions with people who were quick to dismiss my right to have them at all. I believed I could find a right way to say things to people so they could hear me, see me, and even if they didn’t agree with me, respect the place I was coming from and how I’d thoughtfully chosen to communicate. I didn’t know then, that some people will not hear what they don’t want to hear. Any attempt to make them know what they’d rather not is taken as an attack. How could I share my anger if in having the anger, I was already the enemy?
The thing is, I’d rather be perceived as your enemy than be an enemy to myself. That hasn’t always been true, but it is now, and we all have to deal with it. Especially me. I don’t have room anymore for anyone who doesn’t have room for my anger. It’s part of my being. It always will be. You can’t have me without it. It doesn’t make me, or you, a bad person to feel it, process it, and express it. It’s just humans being be humans, Baby. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
I’m not going to stop trying to write to you about these things, these ~feelings~, because I think I’m learning something about myself, and maybe parts of what I’m learning about myself, are important things I needed to learn about Us. Also, this is what I want to talk about. Even if I don’t have all the words I need yet. I know they’ll show up when I least expect them. Like rain when the suns still shining.
A question from one of the best people to ever do this life thing, Mr. Fred Rogers:
What do YOU do with the mad that you feel? Where do you put it down? How do you let it go? And if you can’t do anything with it, how does it show up in your life?
I’ll see you again soon. Thanks for hanging out with me today.
Your text touched me. It was good to read. I appreciate your honesty. I have a similar history with anger. I have been denying it for such a long time, thinking a good person is not supposed to have it. Owning it, too, came with the price. It would just burst out of it, me having no idea I had it and I had so much of it. I'm just learning to live with it, to befriend it, to see it showing my boundaries, to appreciate it. Mostly, to listen. There is a reason, there is an anger. Your boundaries have been crossed, your values have been neglected. Thank you for the email.
As always, I just feel so seen with your writing. My sister and I were recently verbally fighting and our dad got so angry. He hates seeing us fight. And I was really proud of my sister for telling him that it was ok for us to disagree and express that. That we were different people just trying to figure it all out, even in our 40s. I thanked her for that. And thank you to you.