She is always anxious. Even when she is calm there is a buzzing edginess about her, a frantic fragility that can be seen in the way a part of her is always moving, trying to quiet the storm that lies somewhere under her skin. Of course I am always anxious when I am around her, because I have been blessed and cursed with an empathetic heart, one that reads and mirrors emotions like a real and actual mirror, especially the emotions of the people I love.
The “she” I am referring to is my daughter who has inherited this gift of empathy, which usually is something coveted. Something you want your children to emulate. But with Gwen and I there exists this constant exchange of nervous energy that hums back and forth between us, like a hallway full of mirrors. There is no determining where it begins or where it ends. In fact, the problem is that it is never ending.
Even during the many peaceful moments we share there is always anxiety, fear, dread boiling under the surface waiting to steal the day. My heart races. My palms sweat. My nervous system hitches up on its toes, ready for fight or flight. Then, when I have felt this ragging, wasting feeling for too long, the anger comes. For anger really is only secondary to another more harmless emotion, like nervousness, fear, or sadness. Anger only comes out of feeling too bad for too long.
I can usually make it through these horrible anger-filled moments without yelling. I can usually make it through without mumbling hurtful words under my breath. I can almost always make it through without throwing something, and if I do it is usually something soft, as if that makes it any better. I get absolutely zero satisfaction out of hearing a stuffed animal make a floppy little puff against the wall. I may in fact get a negative level of satisfaction (-5 or something) because what I really need is a dangerously loud, brain-pounding clatter. The sort of sound that comes from throwing a brick through a window, or smashing a chair against a jersey barrier. But, I digress, because despite the occasional stuffed-animal throwing, thankfully I can always make it through these moments without striking out at another person physically. Although my arms, hands, even my feet tingle in a rage that takes every ounce of self control to still.
When you first have a child everyone tells you about the love you will feel. The devotion. They even tell you about the exhaustion. The pain. The sadness. But no one mentions the anger. Aside from that little video that they make you watch in the hospital. You know, the one about shaken babies. And while you are watching it you and your spouse look over at each other like, “How could anyone ever do that? We would NEVER do that to OUR CHILD!” And the two of you go on in this blissful little bubble until one day when something explodes in your mind, like a bomb that was planted there by that very video you snubbed, and you finally admit, “Now, I get it. Only now.” And maybe it is just me that feels this way, but I severely doubt it.
I never recall feeling this level of anger before I had children. I will call it sanity-forsaking anger. Shit-spitting mad. A level of anger where everything around me takes on an amber glow, as though hot coals have replaced my eyes. My insides feel like they are external to my body. Like my heart and lungs have leapt out of my chest, my cardiac rhythm erratically beating like a toddler on a drum set, leaving my lungs aching for breath, smothering in the dense, angry air. I can actually feel the cartoon steam whistling out of my ears as my brain fries in the pressure cooker that is now my skull. I can’t formulate logical thoughts. My mind is like a hole-punched sieve that only holds onto hurtful daggers of thought. So it is a good thing that I can’t speak; it is as though the fist of the devil himself has taken my throat up in his hot, evil clutches and twisted.
Once I have unraveled myself from that demonic anger, managed to calm down and hop out of that needley-nest of rage I always feel ashamed. Even if I have managed to follow all the rules. I always feel like I should have enough self control to calm myself before I reach that heightened level of nauseating emotion. But I don’t. And I probably never will.
When I think about it now I am not sure if I really want to stop feeling, even this lousy high-strung anger. There is something intrinsically indulgent in letting your emotions go, raging on to their fullest extent. Something freeing about not constantly reigning yourself in. Allowing yourself to hurt, just for awhile because sometimes that is just what you need. Of course I also need to cease the so-mad Captain Insano behaviors, but stop the feeling, maybe not.
Needless to say I am continually working on changing my own response to anger to be a model for my daughter(s). This is something I know I will have to work on until my quick tempered heart stops beating. The whole exercise has been excruciatingly painful, frustrating, and seemingly impossible, like walking on hot coals while balancing an elephant on my forehead. But if I want my daughters to handle anger appropriately there is no possible way I can expect them to unless I do the same.
So I soldier on, knowing that we are all imitators and pattern-matchers biologically, and eventually if I give enough of my effort to practicing how to react to anger, how to notice the feeling when it is still just fear, or anxiety, or sadness, and how to be unafraid of feeling occasional stark-raving madness, they (and especially Gwen) will learn this difficult skill and be able to use it with their own children someday. That is all any parent really wants anyway, for our children to have the tough things go a little easier than we did, than we do.