my dharma journey to mental healthiness


As a kid, my anxiety led to anger, and I had no way to deal with it. Instead, a habit of anger developed and grew deep roots. This is not something I want to continue; it’s a sucky way to live.

I wish I could get angry in the right way.

Anger isn’t a problem. I have been able to get angry with no effort since I was a kid. My earliest school memory is of being sent to stand in the hall for some kind of outburst; I don’t remember the outburst, but I do remember the punishment. In grade school, I once got a D in “Behavior” or some such. Anger is an emotion that is as familiar to me as breathing.

And that’s almost not hyperbole.

The trouble is, my anger has almost always been self-destructive. In large part, that’s because my anger has also been internal. Most of the time I get mad, I do so in my head. Yes, I know that’s where all emotions are, but some people get mad and act out on them: throwing stuff, hitting people, being confrontational, and so on. There are several reasons my anger tends to hide inside my head.

One, if I bust stuff by smashing it, I have to pay for it. I don’t like having to pay to replace stuff. I’d rather not do that.

Two, I’m a coward. I think I got into one fight in high school, and I ran away before anything happened. (I got chased and clocked in the ear, but that was the end of my career as a pugilist.) Getting into any kind of anger-based confrontation with a stranger could be fatal these days; mental health issues aside, strangers can be reasonably feared as potentially deadly.

This doesn’t stop me from shouting at drivers when I’m on my bike, but they almost never see or hear me. It’s a chicken way to “confront” people, and it’s utterly pointless. And again, what if they see me flipping them the bird – yes, I do that stupid bit of acting-out – and decide to come back and challenge me?

Unfortunately for me, I cannot hide my emotions. When I get angry, it shows. I cannot let something slide – get angry but hold it in, let the moment pass – because other people know I am angry and makes any pretense on my part hopeless. 

No one loves the age of masking more than me. With only my eyes on display, and those hidden behind my glasses, it’s easy to relax my face into whatever I’m feeling without worrying that others will see. Of course, I also have to make sure my voice sounds normal, that I don’t say something stupid, that my actions are calm. All of these are things that are difficult for me but made a bit easier because I can hide the most superficial aspect of my emotions.

My basic problem with my relationship with anger is that I do not get angry in a productive way. I get angry reflexively, the kind of thing a mindfulness practice seeks to end. I allow that big red button to get pushed because I do not mindfully intercept the thoughts and emotions. I go out into the world and do not prepare myself for something I know is very likely to happen. It’s not that I have no control over anger; it’s that I have yet to develop mindfulness as a more prominent aspect of how I move through certain parts of my world.

And all of this stems from my basic issue with anxiety. I am frightened and unsure of so much in my life, and have been since I was a child. As a child, anger was my only tool. It was an awful tool, but no adult helped me to find a better way. In my 60s, I know better ways. I just have to give myself the space, and make the effort, to apply those tools so that instead of knee-jerk responses to things I encounter, I can remain calm and happy.

I much prefer calm and happy.