The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 29 Aug 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The anger

Anger has been with me for so long that it feels like a permanent travelling companion.

I grew up with a dad who had been brutalised by his own father, systematically, every Saturday when his mother was out visiting her family. He beat him, and beat him and beat him until my dad went berserk and threatened him with a knife. The man who became my granddad panicked and ran next door for safety. It might have damaged my dad’s reputation with the neighbours, but the beatings stopped, and my great grandparents, who I knew well, always treated my dad with extra love. Perhaps they knew more than they said, but they were wise and shrewd people.

The legacy of this for my dad is that he is volcanically angry. Although he has never laid a finger on me or my mum, the threat of violent rage was never too far away during my childhood and I learned to read his moods and to try and use humour or absence to escape the worst of them. No child should have to develop those skills, ever, but then no child should be savagely beaten by their own fathers, and I’ve never felt the slightest malice towards my dad because of that. We are where we are and no amount of enmity towards him will stop the beatings his dad meted out.

At the lowest point of my depression, he stormed around the house, angrily hurling my clothes at me until I was cowering. I’m six foot three and broad shouldered and he’s much smaller and much shorter, but my illness had stopped me from responding, other than to stand there in a cringe and hope he didn’t hit me. He wasn’t going to hit me. But when you stop someone expressing their emotions and tell them the only one they’re allowed to show is anger, this is what happens. I see it all the time with men, hurt on some deep fundamental way they can’t articulate, and I see it with my dad who, occasionally, looks at me with the hurt, scared eyes of the child he once was.

And of course, the legacy for me has been much the same. Anger was the emotion that men expressed, so I was an angry, impotent child and grew into an adult who was just as proportionately angry. While I’ve never, ever hit or struck anyone, just as my dad never hit or struck me, I know that I have made people afraid I might and that still pains me even now. I have rampaged through houses, beaten doors until they fell off their hinges, hit walls, and destroyed hundreds of pounds of property in moments when the red mist descended and I was walled off from reason.

Breaking down a few years ago was caused, in part, by my ability to be angry deserting me. I’ve written elsewhere about how I apologised to a man against whom I had borne a grudge for, as I saw it, nearly running me over. While I didn’t deserve his kind response, I found myself telling him that my wife of the time had tried to commit suicide, which was true, but I hadn’t imagined or indeed wanted to blurt it out in the middle of a suburban street to a complete stranger. My mind unravelled pretty fast after that, but anger was waiting for me as I slowly recovered.

It slid its hand back into mine and we were united, as of old. That anger has flared up numerous times, particularly after the referendum and a few days ago in response to my utter inability to direct my financial destiny. Going mad, breaking down or whatever you want to call it, shreds your finances and leaves you dependent on the goodwill and generosity of an ad hoc cast of characters who assemble themselves when you’re unable to. I’m lucky that my parents have some money and luckier still that my partner is possessed of infinite love and tolerance, as well as being solvent and able to help me out.

But anger at that rears up. I can’t direct my destiny. I can’t afford Marks and Spencer sandwiches. I can’t go into a shop and afford the luxury of buying stuff without the luxury of thinking about the financial implications. And last week, I took a minimum wage job as a football steward because I need money coming in and writing is fairly quiet at the moment. And it was standing by my allotted gate in the heat of the afternoon sun on Saturday that the anger at my own human frailty, at my head and at my threadbare finances, finally started to dissipate.

By chance or, as I believe, Something Else pulling the strings, I ended up talking to two people who had mental health problems that mirrored mine quite closely. We marvelled that we were there, us sufferers from depression and anxiety, surrounded by people and not just existing but enjoying it and feeling relevant to the world around us, as though we were needed in some great celestial way. When I was talking to one of them, I felt a lump in my throat and tears at the edge of my eyes and we laughed, shook hands and then went our separate ways, happy, for once, to be alive.

I’m not saying that the anger or sadness has gone. This isn’t Hollywood, where characters have a moment of epiphany and never do X or think Y again for as long as they live. Sadness is with me always, in some greater or lesser extent, and anger circles me like a wolf, waiting for the moment when I’m temporarily weighed down by life and unable, for the time being, to think myself back into the game. As I say, we’re old acquaintances.

What depression has taught me, and what I’m at my best when I remember, is humility. I didn’t want to be there on Saturday, because I didn’t want the stigma of a minimum wage job or to work with people I wouldn’t mix with socially. Well, I can take those words and eat them. Scoff them right down with a huge serving of humble pie and meek pudding. What I saw, in the two people who I met briefly and may never see again, was love and the bravery to talk about a complex and difficult condition to a total stranger. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world. I’m going back again, and want to do the rest of the season, at least, and even if I never speak to anyone about mental health again, having the humility to shut up and listen is a skill I need to practice.

Humility is the answer to anger, because you can’t hope to maintain it when you allow in the experiences of others and admit that you don’t have the answers. Don’t get me wrong – I forget this more than I remember it and I can be pushed into insane levels of anger by something as prosaic as someone not indicating or driving up my bum. These are flaws and I see them as such and I’m trying to admit them, to think of all the times I’ve not indicated or driven up someone’s arse in a rage. Being human, in short, sets me free, and being angry fetters me.

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