One of the things I’ve had a lot of trouble understanding and articulating is how anxiety sparks other emotions. I’ve written before about the different types of anxiety I experience, but to be honest, each time it’s a little different. Always at the root, though, is the anxiety. It’s not an excuse for my fear or my sadness or my anger, and it shouldn’t be. But it can be a reason why those emotions get more intense sometimes.
Take Sunday morning, for instance. I woke up, made coffee, walked the dog, and came back to start laundry. And I found myself getting snippy with the dude for absolutely no reason. I apologized, but I still felt angry. It wasn’t until I also realized that my chest was tight that I wondered if anxiety might actually be what was happening.
I don’t write about anger very much, for a lot a reasons. I grew up in a home with one parent who talked things out calmly and another who most decidedly did not. I learned by the time I was 16 to hold my tongue because there was no use fighting back and it was easier that way anyway. That backfired, though, because I have spent much of my adult life feeling like anger was the only emotion that it was never ok to feel. Every time I’m angry, I feel that it’s unwarranted, even when I have every right to feel that way. Partly that’s from a half a lifetime of tamping it down, and partly it’s because I remember everything and if I wanted to, I could fight really dirty. I can be scaldingly sarcastic and quick-tongued, and I know from being inside my own head that if I let my anger run free it would bring up shit from 10 years ago that has no business being in whatever disagreement I’m having. And I’m not about to let that happen. I don’t want to unleash my temper because it is a fucking beast and I’m terrified of the repercussions that would have.
I struggle with my anger. I’m scared of it. I don’t want it to use me and ruin my relationships. But I’m noticing more and more that anxiety leads me there, and that’s not ok. I’m working really hard to identify how anger intertwines with anxiety and how they feed off of each other. I did this work around sadness in therapy, and it was really helpful, and I know it could be here as well.
Let’s go back to Sunday. I’ve been feeling anxious ever since we got back from Thanksgiving, mostly because I didn’t actually rest during that trip. It was really stressful, and going straight back to work didn’t help. While most days the anxiety has been barely noticeable, it’s been there. I think my first mistake is that I wasn’t tending to it; sure I was doing yoga, but I wasn’t paying an extra attention to it, and I should have been. I knew I was anxious, I knew it would get worse, but I didn’t keep track of it. So when I found myself snapping at the dude, it felt like it came out of nowhere. But that’s not the case. It came from the fact that I’d been quietly on edge for weeks; I was just trying to get through the remaining time until Christmas break when I could finally stop. This one little thing didn’t go right, and the keyed-up anxiety blew it out of proportion.
That’s where the anger came from, and it’s pretty easy to trace. What I’m interested in is why I stayed angry. I had no right to. We talked it out, I apologized, we were totally cool. But I was mad for like a good hour. Part of me is tempted to excuse that with anxiety, to say it was just residual and that takes time to fade away. And I’m sure there’s a some truth to that. But I also think that a lot of it is my fault: I haven’t been talking about my anger – or even letting myself feel it – and so I don’t know how to handle it. I know what to do when I’m sad: not be disappointed in myself for crying 17 times, do yoga, take a shower, ignore the dude and/or cling tightly to him as necessary. But anger? I’ve got no fucking clue.
So that’s my next project. Every time I feel angry, I want to set aside time to look at why. How did I react? Why did I react that way? What could I have done differently? It might be that I can’t do this on my own, and I need to go back to therapy(which is totally cool and I would be excited about). It might be that it’s simple. I don’t know. But I have to try.