A is for Anger

Happy April Fool’s Day! Today kicks off the A to Z Challenge and the first of my posts on mental health. I’m no good with introductions, so let’s just jump right in.

A is for…

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Anger is a basic, healthy human emotion. It is a signal telling you there is a situation that needs your attention. It is meant to motivate you into action. As with any emotion, there is an element of perception, but generally anger is a response to being treated unfairly, hurt or not having our expectations met. Anger exists on a spectrum from irritation all the way to rage. Frustration is probably the most common point people experience on the spectrum. A lot of people deal with their anger by talking about it, writing about it or exercising it out. These are all healthy ways to deal with anger. Other ways to discharge anger that are also common, but more destructive include shouting, fighting, breaking things or dumping on whoever is near by.

How do you express your anger?

When I am angry, I don’t do any of the things I just mentioned. I wouldn’t describe myself as an angry person. “Angry” is probably the last word most would use to describe me. I just recently discovered that I do in fact, have a lot of anger. So how do I express it? I don’t. Most of the time, I don’t even know I am angry. I suppress my anger and I have been doing it for so long that I no longer recognize the emotion.

Depression and anger have a long history together. Studies have shown that the degree of anger correlates with the severity of depression. Those suffering from depression often have trouble experiencing and expressing anger. It creates inner conflict, triggering guilt, self-criticism and fear of disrupting relationships. Freud even described depression as anger towards the self. I agree with Freud, that is definitely part of it.

In retrospect, I have come up with two reasons for why I started repressing my anger in the first place. One being I am a “people pleaser”. I want to be a good person and I want others to see me that way too. “Good” and “anger” aren’t usually thought of together. That leaves little room for getting angry, let alone expressing it. The second reason is my need for control. If I am in control of my emotions, I am safe. No one can hurt me because they don’t know what affects me. This probably had something to do with those stereotypical mean girls while growing up. Being older and wiser, I know this is unhealthy thinking and it was only a means of self-preservation, but the damage is already done. Suppressing my anger has become a reflex that needs to be undone.

If I don’t get angry, what happens when I am being treated unfairly or my expectations are not met? I blame myself. If I am being treated unfairly it is because I must have done something to make people think they can treat me that way. If my expectations are not met, it is because of my own inadequacy. I don’t go through this reasoning like this in my head. It is automatic. This anger towards myself is turned into hatred. I think What is wrong with you? Everyone else can manage that, why can’t you?

When angry with other people, there is a fear of compromising the relationship or guilt of hurting their feelings. This is enough reason for many to hold back. There is nothing to keep my attacks on myself in check. There are no parallel restraints. Anger turned inwards is vicious. Self-loathing can get so intense that it becomes paralyzing. This paralysis makes you more angry at yourself causing more self-loathing, perpetuating depression. It’s a cycle…… Lovely.

The first step towards breaking a cycle is being aware of it. I can check that off my list.

Babble from the Dark Side

I’m in that bad head space again. It really just sneaks up on me sometimes. I was fine this morning and now, I just don’t know how to exist. I keep trying to distract myself but nothing is working. I just hate myself so much. I want to start punching myself in the head or scratching up my wrists. That’s what I deserve. What’s that going to get me though? I’ve done it before. It’ll sting or I’ll just get sore and bruised and I will STILL hate myself. On top of that I’ll feel lame for doing it. Who punches themselves?!

Why am I working so hard on this motivation stuff? Am I hoping that one day it will all magically come together and I wont have to work so hard at it? I’m kidding myself if that’s the case. It’s hopeless. Existing will never come naturally to me. Working hard is never going to end, I’m never going to get a break. There’s no top of the mountain to reach, I just have to keep going up and up and up.

Some people put their lives on pause. They take time off work to get better. If I did that, would I actually start to feel better? I have a feeling I would just end up guilty, depressed and jobless. It’s not like anything would be different if I took time off. What would I do with the time? I can’t use the time for therapy that’s not available to me. It seems like help is only available to those who have “real” mental illnesses. Whatever that means. I’m not hurting others and I’m not holding a gun to my head, therefore I don’t count? I understand, there’s just not enough money or manpower to help everybody. Besides, I don’t really want to hurt myself, I just don’t know how to live with myself.

I feel like happiness is too much to ask for. I don’t deserve it anyway. Apathy would be nice though. It would be nice for things not to matter so much, for things not to be so difficult all the time, to not have to force myself to do everything. I just want to get up and go about my day and not think about it. I envy people who can just do what needs to be done without thinking about it. Why do I have to think so much?

I can’t stop the thinking. I’ve been trying to just do what needs to be done, to stop dwelling, analyzing and dreading and just do it. When I do this, my dreams tend to get unpleasant. I dream about the tasks I have to do and all the things that could go wrong. I know it’s just a dream and I am catastrophisizing, which is a cognitive distortion, but I still wake up tired and stressed. Being tired and stressed makes it harder to maintain the whole not thinking and just do it thing. It’s a cycle you see. The fact that I know I’m in this behavioural cycle that is completely irrational just makes me angry at myself.

Is it possible to be overly confident and have low self-esteem at the same time? I have low self-esteem, I always have. I remember getting check marks in the “needs improvement” category under self-esteem on my elementary school report cards. At the same time, I have this expectation that I should be better than this. I need improvement? I shouldn’t need improvement, I should be the best. That’s why those check marks hurt so much. I remember really crying over it, getting a stomach ache and throwing up.

what you see

The F Word

Not that F word!

There were a lot of F words that could fit my theme. I have talked about friendship and being “fine” recently, so I was thinking of others; fear, flat, fatigue, frustrated, foolish, frantic, furious. All of these are feelings. So there we go, F is for the other dreaded F word, feelings. Depression encompasses a lot of different feelings…or none at all. It’s a bit of a paradox in that sense.

faces of depression

Feelings are mediated by the limbic system in your brain and the autonomic nervous system in your body. Feelings are systemic. They are a whole brain-body reaction. When you panic for example, you are having thoughts of dread and doom, but you body is involuntarily reacting too; a higher heart rate, quickened breathing, sweating, shaking, etc. Every reaction requires a stimulus. Often the stimulus is self-talk or an external event, but it can be unconscious too. Feelings are also influenced by stress. When in a state of stress, your body is already primed for an emotional reaction. That’s why it takes so little to set you off when you are under pressure.

Feelings are subject to suppression. You can actively hide them or hold them in when you feel they are inappropriate for your current environment. Other times they may be unpleasant and its easier to distract your mind and avoid them than deal with them. The psychologist says that because I don’t express my feelings, I end up tired and depressed. Psych also says that by blocking my feelings I give myself anxiety. So it’s my fault I’m anxious and depressed? Thanks a lot. That makes me feel a lot better. I believe the psychologist is partially right, so how do I solve this problem? Identify and express. Easier said than done.

buried under depressionOften I feel overwhelmed by the intensity of my feelings or lack of. I feel buried with no way out. I don’t like to talk about my feelings. Not only is it uncomfortable, but I don’t know how to express what I’m feeling in words. I think I’ve been able to identify the basic feelings I have trouble expressing; anger and sadness. These are very basic emotions, there are probably a whole bunch of more complex emotions mixed in there, but we’d be here forever if I talked about those. So anger and sadness it is!

I have a lot of anger towards myself. I have discovered that is because I am a perfectionist. I am working on that. I hold in my anger towards other people too. I think it’s because I am worried about hurting them (emotionally) or what they will think of me. This is silly because when people are angry with me, they tell me and I’m not hurt and I don’t think any less of them. I have to learn to be more assertive.

I’m not really sure where the sadness comes from. Maybe it’s linked to the anger somehow. More likely I’m just chemically imbalanced. I do feel less of the sadness when I am medicated.

So I have identified my feelings. According to psych, that is half the battle. So now for expression. There are three ways I can think of to express feelings. 1) Talk to someone, 2) write them down, 3) physically discharge them.

For anger, I’m choosing to physically discharge it through exercise. I have done karate in the past and found that sparring helped. Since I can’t go beating up people on the street, I’m going to start exercising more. I plan to get back into doing cardio and maybe some kickboxing on my own.

Sadness is a bit harder to deal with. Since I am awful and using my words, 1) and 2) don’t really work for me. So how do you physically discharge sadness? Crying comes to mind. Sometimes I can cry, sometimes I just can’t. As you can see, I’m still trying to figure this one out. What do you do to manage your feelings?

The Ball of Shame

Happy St. Patty’s!!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

My Dad’s side of the family is Irish. We’ve been in Canada for generations, but one of my great uncles still had an Irish accent. It was awesome. I live in Montreal and we have a rather large, close-knit Irish community. There are St. Patrick’s Day Galas, a pageant to select the Queen of the Parade, special Irish breakfasts, everything and everyone downtown turns green and the Irish pubs go nuts! People are all dressed up in crazy outfits and drinking green beer on the streets. It’s actually a lot of fun.

My cousin runs the pageant. She was queen once herself. It’s not a typical pageant. It’s more like a public speaking contest. Contestants have to introduce themselves and their Irish background. They prepare a speech on Irish history or literature and they have to answer a current events question on the spot. Whoever is elected queen gets a trip to Ireland, leads the parade and spends the year volunteering in the Irish community. It’s a pretty good program.

It has become a tradition for my family to watch the parade together and then retire to my aunt and uncle’s place for Irish coffee and food. Every year we gather on the same street corner to watch. Kids, adults, dogs, the lot of us, plus our friends. There is usually about 25 of us.

Yesterday was parade day…..and I didn’t go. It’s not that I didn’t want to. I enjoy the parade, especially the music. I even bought a green sweater to wear for the occasion! It’s also been a while since I’ve seen my extended family. I’m dying to see them. So what’s the problem? I don’t want them to see me. Do you ever feel that way? It’s kind of a weird state to be in. It’s not like I have anxiety about it or don’t have the energy for it, which is usually the case. Maybe ashamed is the right word? I’m ashamed of myself.

My family is going to want updates on what has been going on. I don’t know what to tell them. I’ve stagnated at work (or school, whatever you consider Ph.D. work to be). My own research is stuck in ethics, I’m having trouble getting volunteers for the other studies I am involved in and I have no publications to report. Then, there is the bad news about my husband’s job (see yesterday’s post). On top of that, I’m fat and ugly and my clothes don’t fit nicely anymore. I have been gaining weight (thus why my clothes look bad), my skin is a mess and I haven’t washed my hair. This is not how I want the people I care about to know me.

So you think maybe I should have put on my best clothes, gone and kept the conversation focused on them. Impossible. My cousins are the type of people who look you in the eye, ask how are you? and actually wait to hear the response. I can’t avoid talking about myself a bit. So I stayed home. I missed out on my family, the fun I could have had and the memories I could have made. This makes me sad.

I should just put real clothes on and go. That’s what I usually end up doing, forcing myself out the door everyday. For some reason, this time, I can’t and I can’t quite explain why. Just get over it I tell myself, they are your family, they will love you anyway. I know this is true, but it doesn’t seem to help. I want to be successful, confident, pretty, fit and charismatic. Don’t we all right? Sometimes I pretend that I am. I fool my friends and co-workers pretty well. Acting gets to be exhausting though. Family and very close friends are different. I feel guilty putting on a show for them. It’s not really me after all. I’m so afraid of being less than what they expect. I don’t want to disappoint them. Now you say, you are disappointing them by not going. I know that too, but it doesn’t compare to the disappointment they would have in interacting with me.

The Ball of Shame that holds me hostage

So now we have fear, sadness, guilt and shame cycling through my head. Are these feelings what is keeping me housebound? Is that it, or is there more to it? I don’t want that to be it. Seriously?! Feelings are stopping me from doing things? That makes me angry at myself. I think I’d feel better if there were some sort of physical barrier stopping me or someone holding me hostage.

Usually my posts are a little more upbeat. I try to talk about more positive experiences or at least experiences where I have learned something, but I’m afraid I just haven’t figured this one out yet. Have any insight? I’ll be sure to let you know when I do.

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