The real cul­prit be­hind my anger is­sues

Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough - - CONVERSATIONS - NATALIE REILLY

Ican re­mem­ber the first time some­one de­scribed me as an­gry. A for­mer boss was putting my name for­ward for a pro­mo­tion of sorts and she meant it as a com­pli­ment. ‘‘She has a Larry David level of anger’’ were the words she used. I re­mem­ber fum­ing silently.

I come from a pas­sion­ate, emo­tional fam­ily. So, I had no idea I was an­gry un­til friends started to laugh­ingly re­fer­ring to my ‘‘rants’’. I just thought I was cyn­i­cal. It’s not like I don’t have other feel­ings. When I’m moved by some­thing, like a kind ges­ture from a friend, or a live puppy, my eyes get misty. I laugh loudly and of­ten, which makes me seem like a poster for peri-menopause, but it’s true. And yet, my de­fault ges­ture is folded arms, my de­fault face colour is red.

I’ve yelled down phones – and mo­biles have not pre­vented me from the dra­matic hang up. Mo­biles are in fact fan­tas­tic if you want to throw some­thing.

I’ve been told by a man­ager not to ‘‘get up­set’’ – a fair call as my per­for­ma­tive sigh­ing was dis­tract­ing oth­ers from the pre­sen­ta­tion. I’ve writ­ten nu­mer­ous ar­ti­cles about things that of­fend me, in­clud­ing phrases, hu­man re­la­tion­ships, and MasterChef.

I have sworn at well-mean­ing sales peo­ple. I have called up restau­rants to com­plain about un­der­cooked food, even though I’d eaten it. I pos­sess both a rest­ing bitch face and a work­ing bitch face.

I used to take wild pride in my anger. In a world that tells women to stay silent, to smile, to cheer up, it felt like a fem­i­nist act. I have en­joyed sternly cor­rect­ing sex­ist men and I still think that’s my re­spon­si­bil­ity as a func­tion­ing mem­ber of so­ci­ety. And, as in­nu­mer­able psy­chol­o­gists (and Bey­once’s Lemon­ade) can at­test, anger is a use­ful emo­tion, it tells us when our bound­aries are be­ing vi­o­lated and it leads to knowl­edge about our needs, emo­tional and oth­er­wise.

But, it can also be ad­dic­tive dis­trac­tion. I found this out soon af­ter giv­ing birth to my first kid al­most four years ago. Lack­ing sleep and sense, I no­ticed my­self be­com­ing en­raged at a barista for pro­nounc­ing ‘‘soy’’ as ‘‘shoy’’. I re­fused to pay a cab driver be­cause he took the long route. I be­lieve I told him I’d see him in hell?

Re­cently, while watch­ing Big Lit­tle Lies I saw frac­tures of my­self on­screen. Reese Wither­spoon’s char­ac­ter said she liked ‘‘tend­ing’’ to grudges and was fo­cused on the next mini out­rage, but the truth was she felt out of control, and abandoned. Sim­i­larly, Laura Dern’s char­ac­ter ap­pears ag­gres­sive and fo­cused on petty pur­suits, un­til we learn of her frus­tra­tions, and her lone­li­ness.

When my son was six months old it dawned on me that my anger – once di­rected at semi­no­ble pur­suits – was now lurch­ing at any­thing that crossed my path. It felt like a valve; I had to re­lease it ev­ery day or by evening I’d have a panic attack. This feel­ing, of adrenalin and cor­ti­sol flood­ing my sys­tem, felt like I was some­how in control of a largely un­con­trol­lable hu­man.

One day, in­stead of let­ting my rage about my neigh­bour’s loud ren­o­va­tions over­take me, I de­cided to stop and pause in the si­lence. Try to see if there was any­thing else in there. Quite sud­denly I be­gan cry­ing, and cry­ing and cry­ing. Oh. I was… sad?

We know that sad­ness is anger turned in­ward. We know that de­pres­sion can man­i­fest as anx­i­ety. But what I didn’t know is that anger and anx­i­ety are two sides of the same hot head.

It dawned on me that my anger – once di­rected at semi-no­ble pur­suits – was now lurch­ing at any­thing that crossed my path

Re­searchers un­der­took a study in 2012 that looked at why suf­fer­ers of gen­er­alised anx­i­ety dis­or­der were more ir­ri­ta­ble than the rest of the pop­u­la­tion. They be­lieve a pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion for the anger and anx­i­ety link is that, ‘‘when a sit­u­a­tion is am­bigu­ous, such that the out­come could be good or bad, anx­ious in­di­vid­u­als tend to as­sume the worst.

‘‘That of­ten re­sults in height­ened anx­i­ety. There is also ev­i­dence of that same thought process in in­di­vid­u­als who are eas­ily an­gered. There­fore, anger and [gen­er­alised anx­i­ety dis­or­der] may be two man­i­fes­ta­tions of the same bi­ased thought process.’’

It’s so ob­vi­ous, isn’t it? But it wasn’t un­til I looked into it and felt it, and dared to feel more than just the one emo­tion that made me feel pow­er­ful in what felt like a pow­er­less sit­u­a­tion.

Four years later, I’m less an­gry. Not be­cause I’ve stopped judg­ing or cyn­i­cally analysing al­most ev­ery­thing, but be­cause I’ve tried – and failed – and then tried again to stop fo­cus­ing on neg­a­tive stuff.

So, in­stead of ‘‘rant­ing’’ I try to keep the thought to my­self, un­til I for­get about it, which I al­most al­ways do. I try not to bitch just for the sake of it, and if I’m wor­ried about some­thing small, I don’t call any­one to talk about it, I tuck it away for an­other day.

This doesn’t al­ways work, but the great thing is, I don’t re­ally care. Not be­cause I’m cur­rently over­joyed – far from it. I just see my rage for what it is: fear afraid of it­self.

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