What does one do in an America of violence, alienation, and stigma?
I seem to accrue more and more diagnoses to cover my symptoms.
I arrived at an epiphany this week. The anger of others frightens me not because I fear violence, but because I dread their rage to be unending. When I contemplated where this might have come from, I remembered how things were in my family when I was growing up. First, there was the continual picking of fights by my mother and brother particularly. Then grudges were held — for years. My mother needled me about things I had done in high school forty five years after the fact! Finally, I had no escape even when I became an adult. I dreaded coming home because these scenarios would be repeated over and over again. I had dreamed of leaving this all behind when I went off to college, but adulthood failed to bring me the freedom I craved.
To survive, I developed a number of behaviors. One was to simply avoid getting into any situation where people might fight with me. I isolated. I avoided parties and other social gatherings. I visited my mother as seldom as possible. I should note that not only was the anger of others an issue, but my own anger was a problem. Rage was a second behavior that could quickly get out of hand — though I never hit anyone or threatened to do so. I kept my feelings bottled up for ages without seeking insight into them. Thus from time to time after weeks or months of provocation, I would explode. The purpose of this rage wasn’t to get people to do what I wanted, usually, but to get them to leave me alone and let me do my work. (In my family of origin, there was a duplicitous code whereby I was expected to study, but could be interrupted at any time. I fulminated to try to protect my working time.) Finally, I ran when people attacked. An example of this: One time I went for a job interview where the interviewer started shouting at me. Instead of telling her that she was out of line, I murmured some apologies, left, and drove as fast as I could to get back home. So even though I was more than willing to protect my workspace, I was a coward when people abused me.
Adult life demanded that I make changes, but I did not dare to carry them out until after my mother’s death. I finally allowed myself the freedom to react assertively to rage — apologizing where I had to and standing up for myself when the other person’s apprehension of the facts or my intentions were wrong. My exercise of these has not been perfect, but at least I am standing my ground more. And I try to hear people out more so that we don’t reach the point where they attack me.
This self-empowerment is changing my life. I have less to trigger my anger or my bipolar episodes, especially the depression. A new dream envelopes my mind, a dream that goes beyond hope and manifests itself as self-confidence.