"Nothing scares me more than the thought of you getting mad"
I have two friends who have recently been through poignant medical events.
Friend A, let's call her Sharon, had a heart attack at the age of 42. Friend B, let's call him Alan, has learned he has colon cancer at the age of 50.
Suffice it to say medical ailments are a nightmare for everybody. I am, however, struck by the precarity of so closely resembling them myself. And that is the other side of empathy--sharing pain in this selfish way by seeing how possible/plausible it would be for me to also become this sick, I become paranoid that it’s already here. I pathologize their personalities.
Case Studies: Sharon worked too hard and partied harder for years, serving at the foot of creative capital in event production and PR. Alan is an artist and designer who has lived five lifetimes of labor-work in a myriad of fashion brands, but always guided by a consistent sensibility and style. If you ever saw his designs you certainly identified them from a mile away. The through line between them is that I feel they were unfairly punished by the world they delivered in with aplomb, for so long. Mostly because they are Black and Brown people. “Stress is a killer” everyone says. Well indeed. Just remember who is the stressor oppressor.
A characteristic of their trade culture and emotional atmosphere is anger. And if I'm being honest, talking about anger is why I want to anonymize the specific individuals. I wouldn't want unfamiliar acquaintances to learn that these friends ever had anger issues. A friend recently said to me, “nothing scares me more than the thought of angering you.” And then “I’m so scared of making you angry.” And suddenly my feelings were hurt. Aside from feeling gaslit, I felt injured as an Asian woman. Jeez. Am I actually supposed to not be mad?
Why can’t I be mad? Don’t I deserve that? Don’t you agree that people are awful? Can’t you admit when you are awful? Couldn’t they just apologize?
I want to stop being mad at myself more than anything. Is that what he meant? That he is me and I am him and when I am mad I am mad at myself and that means he is the one that gets hurt? Or couldn’t he just feel sympathy and tell me it’s ok to feel all the things.
I promise I am not mad.
Sharon tells me that managing heart health has become her first and only health priority, which has led to some basic rules about avoiding states of rage, which contributed most directly to her cardiac event. Sure, a pathologist would also identify the use of stimulant drugs and 70 hour work weeks, but rage seems central to the issue. Alan wouldn’t say it in so many words but I know anger is in the ascription of Black men in America, and people have called cops on him when they are scared. (To be crystal clear: this is the fault of people who call cops. Not his actions. Never call the cops on men of color, please.)
I wish I could be angry at someone other than myself.
Of all the feelings I can feel, anger feels the worst. It causes literal panic attacks and subsumes my medium. I come out of writing about anger feeling like I'd just been possessed. It is second only to the impetus of love in delivering high rhetoric on my blog.
Having said this, people respond so deliciously to my anger when I describe it in the third person. It’s impossible not to feed it sometimes. “If you have nothing kind to say, come sit next to me,” Alice Roosevelt Longworth supposedly said in mixed company. The line has also been attributed to Joan Crawford and Mae West. I like thinking it was West who said it, because if anyone was talking shit about anyone it was everyone else, making fun of how smoking hot she was.
People like hearing me talk shit. It’s so rewarding. I’m pretty good at it. Perhaps that is what my friend feels is the treacherous game of sitting next to me. I invite gossip and celebrate its workload. It prevents us from engaging bad players any further than at the buffet line. Don’t sit at our table, says Gossip. And who wants to be ostracized? Not I. Not you. But anger is different.
Anger, I reserve for myself and myself only, and it feels terrible. It curdles my soul. I feel my body falling apart when I am angry. And what kills me--pun intended--is that I cannot ever get past my own fucking self no matter how tantalizingly close my Judas is, beyond my skin. I feel betrayed and abandoned and resort to anger that betrays and abandons me, my balanced disposition, and self control, even further.
I spent an inordinate amount of time mad at myself this summer, and ricocheted back to absolute sadness and shame over the anger. I ought to know better than to fall into the trap of emotions. What made me crazy was knowing I have the tools to wield in order to get out of states of distress. I am a master at this work. I am comfortable in negotiating conflict, I have the means and privilege to get out of any room. I have a stable and loving home, I practiced yoga for over a decade everyone tells me to get back into it for my heart health. Jailbreak the circuitry with a deep breath. I can fit myself into a trance state.
“I ought to know better” I say to myself. I have all of this at the tips of my fingers and I am still mired in my emotions.
What the fuck were you thinking, Anne. Why are you still here?
*deep calming breath*
I prefer myself when I am in love. I prefer myself when I am in love. I prefer myself when I am in love.
*snap* *epiphany* *light bulb*
I was convinced love was tearing me apart because love is supposed to be a partnership, but love is actually exactly like anger. Love is exactly like anger in this one peculiar way. Neither love nor anger are really about other people. These extreme places we end up to feel better together as commiserating witnesses to life and pain and denial, are all places in which we deserve, truly deserve—as in one ought to—ought to be completely alone. When love comes, it comes for you alone. And when anger strikes, its only victim is the self. Drinking poison to kill someone else and all that. Well, ditto love. Drinking wine to get someone drunk. I love being drunk.
It is in being alone in love and being alone in anger that I realize I am the one causing my own heart attack. Justice is a mirror.
Sharon tells me she can’t stand meditation and won’t do therapy anymore. I suspect she has boycotted both because she’s had terrible therapists and seen too much snake oil. Alan is in chemotherapy now and from a mile away, I can tell he has this under control.