Learning to Live with the Demon That’s Always There

Hugo House TheatreAnger, like depression, is a stress response, and both can shorten our life expectancy. I’ve been facing some hard facts lately, and one of them is that I go around packing anger like a loaded gun. Still.

Don’t get me wrong. Anger serves us well in many situations. It protects us from people who would take advantage of us. It gives us the burst of energy to stand up for ourselves or others. It signals that shit is going down, and maybe we had better do something about it.

But the kind of anger I’m talking about is chronic. I’ll be riding the bus, and someone will slide into the seat next to me. Or I’ll be shelving a book at the library, nudging it onto tightly packed shelves. Or I’ll just be walking down a sidewalk and trip on a crack bursting with dandelions. And suddenly, my brain snaps like a homeless schizophrenic, and if it weren’t for my iron-clad self-control, I’d start shouting at whoever happens to be nearby.

I don’t. So I guess I’m sane. But I sure as hell am not healthy.

Chronic anger is destructive. The stress hormones it bathes the brain in damage the ability to form new neurons, make new connections, and leave behind the rage.

In this society, we medicate depression, fear, anxiety, high energy, low energy, female desire, and male erections. What we don’t medicate is anger.

I’ve tried meditation, journaling, therapy, workaholism, socializing, dance, yoga, martial arts, and—yes, I’m not a believer—even church. If the anger lifts for a moment, I break down into tears. I think—mistakenly—that I’m free now. It’s over. The anger has finally washed away with the tide.

It always comes back.

What I’m learning is that I probably just have to deal with it. Maybe it’s part of who I am. A part I don’t much like, same as my chin hairs and creaky knees and oversized ego. But it’s there. So I have to dance with it. Negotiate. Accept it sometimes. Talk to it like it’s a rescue dog that wasn’t socialized quite right and may always have some behavior issues. The thing is that my anger is my responsibility and nobody else’s. As long as I find a way to keep it that way, I think I can live with that. It’s good enough.

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