Back in March, after a little “tiff” with my Mom (she’s my BFF), I had an “epiphany” about emotions, which I shared with her: Emotions are like the weather---always changing. It could be raining cats and dogs on one side of the street, while on the other side, the sky is clear blue and the sun is shining bright. Or there could be one of those “Devil-beating-his-wife” storms where, simultaneously, the sun is shining and rain is pouring down like crazy! In either case, the storm eventually passes, and the weather is “normal” once again. So, if I get mad and blow off steam, it doesn’t mean that I’m having a bipolar meltdown; it just means that I’m mad and I’m blowing off steam! Better to let it out and move on, instead of carrying the emotion inside until it turns into a tornado or a hurricane! I don’t think Mom paid any attention to me then, but I swear my life is a lot happier since I started following my made-up dictum.
Truth be told, my emotional health/stability has always been a sore spot for me. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been prone to moodiness—crying over the slightest insult or criticism, or giving in to a fit of anger, complete with words like “I hate you” (or worse, “I hate myself”), punctuated with a slamming door and more tears as I flung myself across my bed.
It didn’t help that my parents’ reactions to my outbursts made me feel like my very emotion was a “fault” that had to be corrected. But they never could tell me or show me how to correct it in a constructive way. So, as the years of growing up went on, I learned to “hide” my emotions; instead of crying or yelling or slamming doors, I took to writing down what I felt. And often, I would share these writings with my parents, rather than attempt to talk with them face to face.
This morning, as I was walking into the beauty shop for my regular biweekly appointment, I was greeted by a man who was joking with the proprietor, “You shouldn’t let me answer the door—you never know who I might let in!” Then, he turned to me and said, “Oh, I know who you are; you’re a Quiet Storm!”
I chuckled at this as I sat down in the salon chair and, with my trademark sweetest smile, replied, “You know, I think you got that one right! I like it—“Quiet Storm.” What the gentleman didn’t know is that I had taken one of those silly personality quizzes on Facebook a few months back (“What Natural Disaster Are You?”), which pegged me as a Hurricane!
But dealing with emotions is not as simple and straightforward as attaching a name to it. Years of therapy, first for childhood depression, and later—beginning at age 29—for bipolar disorder, have taught me to examine and understand my emotions more dispassionately, and I have even sought guidance on how to deal specifically with anger, from sources as far-flung as “women’s” magazines to the sage Facebook postings of the Dalai Lama.
As a person with bipolar disorder, I do have to exercise caution when it comes to anger because, unchecked, it may be a critical symptom of mania.
What Triggers My Anger?
Anything that threatens my core sense of my self; i.e., anything that flies in the face of my personal “rules for living”—my worldview, my self-definition, my values, my morals, my culture…. Or anything that threatens to shatter the “face” I choose use to “portray” my self to the world. These “rules,” these ideals that I cling to so tightly, are the ones I probably need to let go of the most.
- “Stupid” drivers who either don’t know or ignore “the rules of the road”—tailgaters, red-light runners, wrong-way-on-a-street drivers, and jaywalkers earn the perpetrators a snarling “Where did you learn to drive—the ‘Acme’ School of Driving???” retort, most often from the “safety” of my closed-windows car.
- Litterers—anywhere there is trash/garbage in the streets, but especially in my neighborhood —elicits a snide remark from me that “This ain’t no ghetto” as I pick up the offending piece of trash (if I have a plastic bag handy). Sometimes I mutter under my breath that I ought to start a “Take Your Damn Trash Home” campaign, complete with lawn signs! (The treasured old “Clean Block” campaigns that used to be run by the Afro-American newspapers no longer pack the same punch around Baltimore that they used to.)
- Music-so-loud-that-I-feel-like-I’m-having-a-heart-attack generally leads me to fight fire with fire. If I’m in my car and stopped at a light, I will crank up the volume of my own music as loud as I dare, and only until the light changes to green; or if I am at home, I will play classical music or a Broadway soundtrack or any other type of music that is counter to whatever is playing outside.
I know full well that these are not particularly rational responses to petty annoyances. So after awhile, I may resort to repeating my Mom’s favorite mantra: “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” while asking myself, “Well, then, what kind of stuff is okay to sweat?”
But when all else fails, I ask myself whether all this “sound and fury” makes any difference to the situation. And if it doesn’t, then I tell myself, “Breathe, Jackie…Just breathe!”
Sometimes, it really does pay to listen to the voice of reason, even when that voice is your own. But for Pete’s sake, don’t answer yourself back!