I’ve heard it said that depression is anger turned inward. After 30+ years of depression episodes, which are part of the bipolar cycle, but, for me, are also associated with childhood sexual abuse, emotional neglect, and continual instability, I know this to be true.
Now that I have gained a limited distance from an 18 year toxic relationship with the father of my six year old, gotten the correct diagnoses of Bipolar II Disorder & PTSD, and have spent the last year being in therapy for these things, as well as starting medication, I’m realizing that there is a profound and deep core of anger inside of me. When I get triggered and the anxiety rises, this deep anger rushes into my brain, overwhelms my emotions, and feels like a herd of stampeding mustangs.
Much of the time I take deep breaths and swallow it down. I rationalize and justify why the people and the circumstances are they way they are, try to figure out what, if anything, I can do to change myself: my feelings, reactions, and attitude about it all. This is getting more and more difficult to do.
After 18 years in relationship with a rageaholic and living in an environment where the emotional and psychic energy was continually filled with the tension of daily, intermittent, and intense explosions of frustrated rage at the least little thing that didn’t meet unrealistic, unvoiced, and impossible to fulfill expectations, despite the fact that there was infrequent actions which caused actual physical harm, and the fact that it was often expressed in indirect ways, there was a continual sense of threat of harm. Since that has diminished considerably, I’m noticing a few things about myself.
The first one is that I’m scared of my own feelings of anger. I’m terrified I’m going to loose my grip, lose control, and do some real harm, both physical and psychological, to the ones that I love. After all, I did it in the past, before this toxic relationship and even a few times during the relationship. Spanking out of intense frustration and anger when my, now adult, children were in early and middle childhood, which progressed into physical intimidation or actual, physical power struggles when they were in their adolescent years. These are significant factors in the brokenness of my relationships with them now. I absolutely do not want to injure, bend, or break my six year old’s spirit in the same ways. Yet, every day, I fight, inside of myself, against the powerful impulses to yell, scream, threaten, and spank. Most days, I barely win those internal battles, but, I DO win them.
Secondly, I’ve realized that, for the majority of the past 19 years, I have externalized my anger and projected it onto the visibly angry and volatile person in my life – my ex. It was so very easy and simple to blame his anger for all that was wrong in our relationships with each other and my kids. Every feeling or outburst of anger that I or my kids had was blamed on his generalized anger and his resulting behavior and attitudes. As hard as it was to live in that way, it was so much easier than facing, accepting, and taking responsibility for the anger and rage inside of me. He and his anger became my scapegoat. Now that he is not a daily, physical presence in my life, there isn’t anyone else to be the face and focus of my anger. So, when people around me do things and circumstances arise which would justify a sense of anger in just about anyone, my internal anger response is actually rage.
What I’m also realizing is how closely related the anxiety is to the rage. I suppose that’s part of the lizard brain fear response of freeze, flight, or fight. I was frozen for many, many years. That cold neutrality is no longer an option, not that it ever was a viable one to begin with. All the emotions which were frozen deep inside of me, have had the icy, immobilizing layers melted and there’s no refreezing them. I’ve gone from frozen, expansive, empty tundra to roiling, boiling, billowing smoke and ash which precedes the volcanic eruption of fiery, destructive lava and the raining down of boulders. I feel as if the Tasmanian Devil is a whirling dervish of insatiable rage taking over my nervous system. Perhaps, if I had a safe space in the world or inside of myself to flee to when these things are triggered, it wouldn’t feel as unmanageable as it seems. However, flight isn’t an option, which leaves fight.
The things I’m fighting against are amorphous, diffuse, intangible. They live inside of my brain, my body, and my emotions. They are rooted in the historical events of my past, my children’s past, and the pasts of those who came before me. They are represented in the words, attitudes, and actions of the people I encounter in my everyday life. They materialize in circumstances beyond my control. I’m shadow boxing without being able to even see where the shadows are. The shadows are all around me and inside of me, merging and flowing into each other.
In Evangelical Christian terms, I feel possessed by the evil spirits of rage, hate, fear, conflict, and chaos. I’m in a lifelong war, engaged in daily battle: emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. It feels like I’m constantly losing ground. The strongholds often appear too tall, too wide, too deep, and overwhelmingly imposing. I’m continually being struck by “friendly” fire and striking back with the same. However, feelings aren’t facts. I know this.
47 Everyone gathered here will know the Lord does not need swords or spears to save people. The battle belongs to him, and he will hand you over to us.”
12 Our fight is not against people on earth but against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness, against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly world.
Now that I’m living in awareness of the beast of rage inside of me, it’s time to figure out how to do this:
26 When you are angry, do not sin, and be sure to stop being angry before the end of the day.