The War I’ve Fought My Whole Life

Anger is a reptile. After basking somewhere deep within for ages, seemingly beyond recall or remembrance, it explodes out of you at the worst times. The harder you grasp it, the harder it thrashes. It goes from a striking viper to a death-rolling crocodile. This is what you’re told.

Has it ever occurred to you that your anger is just another part of you? I’m serious. People talk about fear like it’s natural, even though humans are never dumber, more gullible or more selfish than they are when they’re afraid. We say it’s good to be afraid, that we need fear. But we act as though anger is something alien, a primal force too vicious to call human. We don’t say “I got angry” we say “I lost my temper.” Now, I’d wager (Google’s etymology didn’t help this time) that originally this was a steel-smithing analogy. You temper steel after forging to give it spring and tensile strength so it will bend instead of breaking. So, like a sword heated to the point it loses its temper, you snap when angry.

This is a poor analogy. It implies that getting angry is objectively bad. How useful is a broken sword, sure, but is an angry person broken? Supposedly, yes, and they need to be “fixed.” We see this and hear this constantly. The fact that people are angry is counted against them in every situation. Think about Black Lives Matter. Now, we can argue all day about whether the movement is useful (it is, though like any movement it doesn’t always go the right direction). But the number one point made against Black Lives Matter has always been that “they’re so angry.” They believe that African-Americans are disproportionately targeted by police. This also happens to be true, but let that go for a minute. Whether it is true or not, try and tell me the following with a straight face. “We should not be angry if we believe that people trained and paid to uphold justice are instead dispensing injustice.”

Go on, say it. Say that’s something to shrug your shoulders at. Say we should do some meditative exercises. That’ll help, won’t it? Yeah, sure, people are dying who don’t deserve it and don’t have to die, but let’s not be angry about it. And that’s why we never do anything most of the time.

Anger, like every emotion, has a purpose. You can argue that there are better ways to reach that purpose, but pretending it’s an arbitrary curse, a pointless destructive genetic twitch, that’s not right. Anger demands that you do something. It demands a release, and that release has to come in the form of action. One of my cousins told me that only love will help me achieve my dreams. This sounds pretty and it’s exactly the kind of advice you get from someone who’s always been able to find love. I don’t just mean romantic love (though I definitely mean that), I mean the love of friends, the love of family. Even aside from love, I mean basic social support. Many of my psychological issues stem from or are exacerbated by loneliness and longing.

Here’s the disturbing truth you should know to expect from me at this point: without anger I would be dead. It doesn’t make a cockroach dick of difference to me that five or six people occasionally tell me I’m a talented writer. The fact that I sometimes get more than one like on a given blog post isn’t worth a piss-covered penny. I have to remind people that I’m a human who exists and I need emotional support. Can you even begin to comprehend how draining it is to tell people that you’re too tired and you need help? That’s not to mention the ever-present disappointment of a world where my pre-programmed disadvantage in networking outweighs my innate talents. Every  day I see people with only the tiniest fraction of my knowledge, skill and ability paid to do exactly the work that I want to, but badly. And don’t try to sell me that “life isn’t fair” bullshit. I’m not having it. Life is as fair or unfair as humans make it. There’s no law of physics that says “life is unfair.” Neil deGrasse Tyson isn’t working on an equation that describes how unfair life has to be. This an imbecile’s pedantry, and you yourself have been beaten into the ground by it often enough you should be ashamed to bring it up here.

I worked more and harder in my fields than most people actually paid to work in them. I have bled and sweat and fumed and frothed. I have put in so much effort for so little reward that I’d have committed suicide years ago if I weren’t able to get angry. I may not achieve my dreams, but I will rend existence itself before I give up. I can’t rend existence, so you see where this leaves us. If I accepted the placid platitudes coughed up by teachers and psychiatrists and too many “friends” over the years, I would have taken my own life. I am mentally and emotionally incapable of the surrender that everyone around me seems to take for granted. I am not willing to settle into a life of 9-5 mediocrity, slowly clawing my way up the rungs of a retail ladder. Society has, at various times, told me that just about every part of who I am is invalid. My tangents are too niche and go on for too long, my eagerness to talk to (or at) everyone I see is intrusive, my difficulty in picking up cues is annoying, my anger is childish and uncivilized. My sword training will frighten people, my weight training is meaningless because I don’t shell out extra money to go to a gym.

For years I let them grind me down. First the tangents went, then the talkativeness. I stopped going to parties because I was told people were giving off subtle signs that I annoyed them and I couldn’t see any. The idea that they might actually enjoy my company was long since powderized. Well, here is where I draw the line. No one stepped up to fight for me, so I fight for myself. I do not know whether it will be my Stalingrad or Seelow Heights, but I’m too pissed off to give up what’s left of me. I didn’t start this battle. I didn’t get a choice before I was born as to whether I would be born normal, or find myself trapped in a world that might as well have been engineered just to drive me out. But I’m done weathering these attacks as if they’re my fault, as if I deserve them.

It’s taken me years to reclaim some of what I let the world take, and much of it may be gone forever. Calm and inner peace did not preserve me. They’ve only ever led me further down the path to my own erasure and ruin. You cannot rely on friends you don’t have, or ones who are always too busy. Anger is the only salvation for the discarded, the left behind, the forgotten.

I’m not going to offer some emo cliche that no one loves or understands me. That’s not true at all. But when there are dozens or hundreds of miles and months between me and those who do, that doesn’t help much. When I think I have nothing left to give and I’m about to collapse, it’s not thinking about friends or family or even my distant dreams that pulls me back to my feet. It’s anger. Sometime’s it’s mixed with self-hatred, because I know as long as I am breathing that there is more I can do. On some level, in spite of everything I’ve said, I always end up believing that the reason I haven’t been recognized is that I just haven’t done enough.

And I think it’s because I draw power from that. I haven’t grown as strong, or as fast, or as skilled as I have in three and a half years by calmly accepting that I have limits. Whatever I’ve achieved, I’ve achieved by wrath and zeal. It’s by nothing less than acid loathing for my own weakness that I have grown strong enough that others can lean on me. You cannot possibly understand how much I despise myself. I have made a litany of every past mistake, failure, and wrongdoing. Whenever I am thinking of resting too long, I recite them to myself. I use these as a bludgeon when I so much as think of hurting another person. I do this in spite of the fact that I know when they see me angry, the people around me immediately assume they’re under threat. They’ll ask me to stop, with frightened eyes and darting glances if not with words. I will never turn my anger on an innocent person, but I will no longer hold it in check just to avoid frightening them. I will not give up the one thing holding me above slow death just so they don’t have to be intimidated. But I will remember that fear, and use the guilt of inflicting it to drive my fury in the future.

Maybe this isn’t healthy, but it doesn’t matter. For years I thought–naive as I was–that just around the corner I’d get my big break. For years, I thought, “As soon as they see how hard I try…” and so on. In the last few years I’ve realized how infantile that was. But I’ve already told you that giving up my dreams would destroy me. If you don’t believe this, I have nothing more to say to you. That tells me you’d claim humans are whole just because they’re still breathing and talking, even though you know exactly how wrong that is. If I have to give up the sword and the written word, I will be just as dead as any rotting corpse. I will not allow that to happen.

What makes me more furious yet is that I can no longer doubt people have killed themselves because society won’t allow them anger. Physiology and psychology tell us that anger is what we call on when we have to fight hardest and longest. Anger is how we stay on our feet when we should fall, anger is what quickens our minds when we should be tired, anger is what pushes us back to battle through pain and exhaustion. Anger is what propels us through fear and sadness.  Anger lessens our pain and raises our tolerance for it, and not just physical pain. When someone has been abandoned or simply gone unseen by all the people around them, anger is the only thing left to save them. Our society takes that away from people, and then has the gall to be surprised when lonely, forgotten people kill themselves without warning. We call them selfish after telling them to rely on compassion that never comes while condemning the fury that gives strength to stand alone. When they’re left with neither, who are we to act bewildered that they’d choose death over unrelieved sorrow and pain?

Yet, think about how many times you’ve seen the hero character in a movie angry. It’s almost always a bad thing, right? Oh no, they showed an emotion other than calm determination during a fight! These are the kind of examples held up to us about anger. We’re never taught to regard the child stepping between bullies and their friend as angry, even though they are. We’re never taught to think of civil rights activists as angry, even though by word and action many of the most revered showed some measure of righteous fury. Anger is what drives us to fight not just for ourselves, but for others. Anger drives us to become weapons, yes, but whether a weapon is good or bad depends on its use. We do not learn to deal with emotions when we try to ignore them. I did not truly learn to control my anger until I learned to wield it.

I was fortunate. I’m stubborn and two near-death experiences as a child showed me how empty society’s guidelines are anyway. I was able to find my escape. I don’t know if it’s the best answer. But it’s the only one that’s worked.

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