Fear Leads to Anger, Anger Leads to…Tired?

Yesterday was not a good day on the anger scale for me. To be clear, when I say anger scale, I really mean on this scale:

0 – Totally at peace
1 – Mild annoyance
2 – Frustration
3 – Full annoyance
4 – Hostile
5 – Angry
6 – Seething
7 – Furious
8 – Red Rage
9 – Hulk
10 – Murdertron 9000

I imagine most people have a scale like this; they may use different words, but the result is the same. I spend a lot of the time hovering between 0 and 1, but yesterday I spent a good 8-10 hours between 7 and 8, and it was not pleasant.

Some of it was anger as a secondary emotion – that is, anger that people often use as an immediate reaction when they are in fact feeling something else. Like if someone were to say something hurtful to me, my primary feeling would probably be sadness – but I would instinctively react in anger, maybe saying something just as hurtful in response. I was feeling very sad and hurt by some events happening with a friend of mine, and while I didn’t respond to my friend in anger, I definitely felt it. 

Then I had to fight with my insurance company – and everyone who has ever done that knows how much anger that can bring up. It seems that even though I don’t have a thyroid gland anymore, and so have to be on a thyroid replacement medication to mimic the production of thyroid chemicals, my insurance company thinks that it is an expense that is more than they want to cover. So, in order to convince them that it is a necessary medication, I need to get in to see my doctor – who doesn’t have an opening for a couple weeks, leaving me at the very end of my current prescription. I suspect they want me to change to a medication that is less costly, but frankly, I don’t care. 

Third, Houston traffic. This is generally anger-producing even at the best of times, because Houston drivers seem to have never mastered the fine art of, well, driving. That left lane on a highway? The one for passing and going fast? They feel free to just sit there going the bare minimum, regardless of what you do. That line you’re in waiting for a light, because the lane next to you is closed – but the cones don’t start until the light? They will pull out from behind you, go around you, and then swerve back into the open lane just before the other lane is closed. And right now there is a lot of roadway construction in Houston – especially, of course, on my way to work. A drive that normally takes me 15-20 minutes took me an hour yesterday. 

And finally, customers. I work in retail, and I imagine anyone who has worked in retail knows how annoying indifferent or careless customers can be. At the bookstore I work at, many people feel free to grab stacks of books or magazines, flip through them for five minutes, then leave them at their seat – or worse, they try to conceal the stack somewhere. Or people show up, sit in a chair – either in our cafe area or in the store – and proceed to work on their laptop for 6-8+ hours, never buying anything, never even browsing. As I spend most of my shifts closing the store, the messes inconsiderate customers leave behind are something I have to clean up before I can go home. And then there are always the joyous customers who come in, demand a book – sometimes a big new release (that is sold out because they waited too long to get it), but more often something more specialized or small-press that we either don’t get or have to special order – and get insanely angry when you don’t have it. Or customers who assume you’re an illiterate idiot because you don’t happen to know anything about their favorite author.

So I was pretty amped up yesterday when I got to work; my co-workers could tell, and some said they could hear me grinding my teeth. They were very understanding, when I explained what was going on, so there wasn’t any trouble there, at least. Oddly, the anger seemed to keep me very focused, and I think I went through my assigned tasks much faster than the managers were prepared for; they had to find more for me to do, which eventually ended up in just trying to keep the store tidy. And that kept up for much of the shift – thankfully, I wasn’t working at the cash register or the customer service desk for much of that time. But when the anger finally began to fade, I felt myself just become totally exhausted. The anger burned through what energy I had and left me with nothing when it dissipated. And now, a day later, I don’t feel any of it. I can look back and see why I was angry, but there’s none left right now. Of course, I’m now stuck having to deal with the pain and sadness that are the results of my difficulties with my friend, but I was going to have to deal with that anyway; the anger was just a way to hide from it for a while.

I’m not sure if there’s a point here, really – maybe it’s that feeling my anger, instead of suppressing it, allowed me to let it go, or it to let me go, instead of having to deal with it for days or weeks on end. Maybe it’s that anger can be productive int he short term, but long-term it just sucks you dry. I’m not sure. It could be any number of things. But I felt it was worth talking about.

Kind of a Mess

That about describes me right now, because for whatever reason, today I just feel like a big old collection of sadness, anger, frustration, and fear. It’s really due to a number of things – any one of which would probably be relatively easy to handle on its own, but when they all seen to hit me at about the same time, it makes for a somewhat unpleasant evening.

First, I have a relationship with a friend not only not going in the direction I hoped it would go, but apparently actively going the opposite direction. Then I find out that the CEO of the company I worked for got more as a bonus to his salary this year than I would in 150 years of working 32-hour weeks, every week – and this is for a company that is, on the whole, losing money. Then I make the mistake of reading a discussion where people I would normally respect seem to keep taking up the position of defending a man who essentially lured two teens into breaking into his home, and then, while they were unarmed, drew them into his basement where he gloated and then shot them, multiple times, killing both, before hiding the whole thing. And now it also seems that the one job I was really interested in getting not only has strings they don’t mention in the application for training, but that the possibility of even getting the training is far more competitive than I had been led to believe, and I’m at a disadvantage.

The confluence of those events, which seems to have all kind of hit me today, has me feeling a number of unpleasant things all at once, and I’m still trying to work out how to deal with them. I know that even writing this out will probably have some people very worried that I will be headed for a relapse, regardless of what I say. I’m not depressed, and I don’t believe it will get to that point, but I am feeling a number of unpleasant things all at once, and I am trying to figure out how to best deal with what I am feeling. Since this is a blog about mental health, and my own mental status, I figured it was probably important to write something about it here, even if it did cause trouble – just the fact that I am willing to do that, even knowing it will probably be messy, is a good sign, I think.

I’m not really sure what to do with all of this, but I imagine that I will find a way, or several ways, to try to work through some or all of it in the next day or so. It’s just a bunch of things to deal with, each of which I would have preferred to deal with separately.

The Feeling of Feelings

Acknowledging one’s emotions is an important part of the process of recovery from mental illness. A lot of people never really develop very well emotionally, and I was no different; from an early age I put a lot of energy into distancing myself from what I was feeling, and in later life that came back to bite me, and hard.

One of the interesting things I have found, though, is that each emotion for me seems to have an associated physical sensation. It’s taken a a fair amount of time to really pinpoint them all, which is odd, considering that we are feeling some degree of emotion virtually all the time. But I think some of them don’t really register until we feel an emotion strongly, and I would think that these particular feelings could vary from person to person.

For me, one of the ones I have felt to a fair degree recently has been a feeling of fear or panic. This isn’t something I have mentioned before, but my neighbors, over the past several weeks, have been prone to loud, seemingly violent, fights. I hear them through my ceiling; yelling and screaming and slamming of things into the floor, and at first I found it annoying, but as it grew more frequent, I began to wonder if it was something like domestic abuse. I eventually had to call the police on them, and now every time I hear them I fear that it will be something bad, or that somehow I will get involved. This fear manifests itself as a tightness in my chest, my heart beating really strongly, and a little out of sync; it makes it feel like blood is rushing through my head.

Anxiety is much easier to express; anxiety can be set off by a lot of things, but hearing from anything involving a new job is almost certain to set it off. I have it sometimes when talking with friends who are having rough times; I don’t want to say the wrong thing, but I also want to be a helpful and supportive friend, and that can be a tough road to navigate. It feels like butterflies in my stomach; the easiest way I can describe it is that feeling you get on a rollercoaster when climbing up the first big incline, that feeling of apprehension – is this really a good idea?

Guilt is one I am familiar with, largely because while Is pent so long worrying about the lies I was telling to everyone around me during the worst periods of my depression. Guilt just made me feel sick to my stomach, like I needed to throw up, even when there was nothing in my stomach. Oddly, it didn’t ever make me any less hungry, and it only ever actually made me throw up once, but it really spent a lot of time working its unpleasant magic on me.

Anger is pretty easy; I sometimes find myself going straight to anger in traffic when something crazy happens – which is not unusual in Houston traffic, sadly. It only happens when I drive alone, too, which is strange. Anger is just a burning needs to do something immediate, often violent; I tend to satisfy this by saying or yelling quite an interesting array of things at my fellow drivers, warranted or not. I try not to make rude gestures where they can see me, or hit anything, because I don’t want to engender similar anger, but the yelling kind of feels good to get out.

Sadness is probably the one I have the most intense experience with, considering my depression. I haven’t felt a whole lot of it lately – at least, not to the extent of my worst depressions, or anywhere near that – but I have had moments of disappointment, like being turned down for a job or reprimanded by a manager, that remind me. It’s oppressive; it makes me feel tired, so tired I don’t want to move, or work, or do anything but maybe eat or sleep. It makes me lose interest in things, to just want to sit, sleep, withdraw from the world. It’s dangerous, and can be very insidious, and so I have to watch out for it often.

Joy is the emotion I haven’t had a lot of experience with – well, not until October or so. It was when I first realized I had feelings for Calla, and found out she had feelings for me, as well. My heart almost popped out of my chest, and when I was around her it still felt like that. When I was trying to describe how I felt to her, I used something similar to the rollercoaster description I used above – except for with her, it wasn’t the anxiety of the climb, but the feeling you get right at the apex of the climb – the flash of terror, but then the realization that you’re about to do something awesome.

That covers the five biggies – fear, guilt, anger, sadness, and joy, with anxiety as a bonus. So, how do emotions feel physically when they manifest for you? What kinds of sensations do they create? Think about it, then think about how often you’re feeling each; it can be a sobering conclusion.

Describing Depression

Depression is more complicated than a lot of people think. Well, in my experience, anyway. To a lot of people, depression is just sadness, albeit extreme sadness. It lasts for an unknown period; with some people, it’s situational, with a distinct cause, and once that cause has been overcome, the depression goes away. For others – like me, for example – it is chemical, something wrong with basic brain chemistry, and as far as I know, there’s no cure, just regulation and management. 

Depression can be so much more – and by more, I mean worse – than just sadness, though. Among common symptoms of depression are:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment. (Source: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml)

Even then, that probably isn’t the whole picture. One of the things that was frequently mentioned at Menninger was that depression was anger directed inwards. Instead of taking your anger out on things around you, in healthy or unhealthy ways, you internalize it all and direct it at yourself. You make yourself believe that nothing you do is ever good enough, or ever will be good enough. You hate yourself for the way you feel, or don’t feel. It can manifest in extreme sadness, or, because you hate yourself so much, you don’t want others to know how pathetic you are and so you try to just show nothing at all.

Anxiety is also a frequent component of depression – if not as a part of the depression, then as a complementary issue. Up until I got to the step-down, I never considered that I might have anxiety issues; I knew I was uncomfortable in most social situations, but I figured it was just because I was an introvert. I felt strange, irregular heartbeats, and I would get dizzy or start sweating, but I just thought I was eating too much junk food, or over-exerting myself. Eventually, though, I figured that those were all components of anxiety attacks – not major ones, but enough to worry me seriously. Some people have extreme social anxiety – they don’t want to be around too many people, or they don’t trust others; some are scared just to go outside. Anxiety manifests in a lot of ways, and it’s brutal.

One of the more insidious problems that affects people with depression is one with a variety of different manners – for lack of a better term, we call them cognitive distortions. According to this article, “Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.” These are things like black and white thinking – things are either good or bad, up or down, black or white, with no middle ground; catastrophizing – assuming things will always go the worst possible way; or filtering – seeing only the negative aspects of a situation, and ignoring the positive so that only bad things are seen. The article linked above has many more. 

Cognitive distortions aren’t unique to people with depression, or even other mental disorders; if you look through the list, you might see a few that you fall prey to. They are worse on people with mental disorders, though, because our minds are already somewhat compromised. We are already prone to thinking about the negative over the positive. 

So yeah, depression is more complex than just feeling sad all the time. And it’s rough, because depression is one of the easier mood disorders to describe. I know friends with bipolar, with borderline personality disorder, with extreme anxiety disorders, with schizophrenia. I don’t know that I could describe them. I can only describe depression because I’ve been living with it for over a decade. It’s not something we can just think our way out of. Without the right combination of therapy, treatment, and medication, there’s not much we can do against an enemy inside our heads.