Travels with Myself

The Occasional Blogs of Doug Jordan, Author

40. Anger And Grief

At this point in my journey I became convinced some people are put on this earth just to test my anger management skills.

It may seem odd to think of anger as a sign of returning to mental health, and it wasn’t obvious to me at the time either, but instead of the nihilism of anger that I had been experiencing I was seeing something different. The anger was no longer directed at blaming and revenge, it was more generalized. I’m sure I offended some of my friends during this period, and for that I must apologize. I just hope they can see that this was part of my healing process.

In the Kubler-Ross model on stages of grief, anger usually is placed near the beginning of the grief sequence and then the person progresses to depression. 

In my own model of emotional responses to change, anger is a point of high energy following denial, then bargaining and depression, but often we return to anger each time we receive a new disappointment. 

In my model I point out that the transition from shock to acceptance is not a single cycle but more often a repeating cycle. In most cases, with luck and mental resilience, the cycle becomes less and less severe and people resume emotional stability with acceptance of the new normal, whatever that new normal is.

But in my experience, as I discussed in a previous post [https://afspublishing.ca/15-about-grief/], [https://afspublishing.ca/17-grief-3/] with the grief of lost love and a broken heart, the ‘cycle’ may not have progressed in this sequence, nor even any distinct stages at all. I think the cycle was continual oscillation between denial and depression, or maybe merely between anger and bargaining. With bouts of sleeplessness and mania in between. Anger constantly in the background until my meds began to level off my moods.

When Marlene was Ill and then died of her cancer, my anger was largely directed at the Canadian medical system, and not all of that anger was misplaced, but in the end we can’t blame government for Marlene contracting cancer. And then I was angry at my own impotence, that I could do nothing to save her. My anger darkly turned to blaming her for leaving me, and for leaving us with no chance to repair the faults in our marriage. But my rational mind quickly disposed of those pointless points, maybe.

With the crushing disappointments from the loss of Emily, my mood turned very dark indeed, resentment and revenge was high on the list: why should I be feeling so much pain and she was not? I fantasized about the harm I might do her, classic male possessiveness. I’m not proud of this period of odious anger, but I am now much more aware of the syndrome many men (and perhaps some women) experience when they lose control of their lives. When you are in the grips of this sort of a mental anguish, self-control is a myth of the dispassionate bystander. You might be amazed what you might do, or think of doing, when in the grips of extreme emotion. It’s not for nothing the legal profession, and murder novelists, speak of crimes of passion. But intent, mens rea, is not a crime, only actus reus

My anger with Emily ran parallel with self-anger, harming Emily with self-harm. But here again, almost all of this took place in my besotted brain, fantasy melded with depression, and inertia. 

In the model of grief we begin to find acceptance with testing, trying new experiences, and as I have suggested, with each test there often comes failure, and new disappointment, and the cycle of anger and depression repeats. I gave myself many cycles via match.com! It was easy to dismiss many of these prospects as even more damaged than me, but my self-image was constantly under barrage from the sense of my own feckless failings of rejection, that I wasn’t worthy of their interest; I despaired that I would ever solve this problem of loneliness, and worse, this problem of aging. Anger turned to rage, rage against the dying of the light.

But that isn’t true either. This was what I thought, but it isn’t what I felt. Mostly I felt a dull pain, and powerlessness. Paxil helped. My mood had flattened, my anger diminished. I was no longer feeling so desperate and my mental models less vivid. I was still impatient with people, and pace, and I’m sure I muttered under my breath at times, or even at times over my breath (anyone else ever get road rage walking behind some people in the grocery aisle?) My social self-control was often tested, and almost as often I failed – you don’t tell an old friend she is a bitch just because you are feeling pressured by her. 

When I began to wean myself off Paxil I began to feel my mood lift again, though the anger response still lurked below the surface ready to erupt with each new frustration. Surprisingly, perhaps, this was a good sign. Anger, yes, but much less manifest, and gradually less frequent. My self-destructive thoughts receded. My energy level was returning but with more constructive ideation. I was still living with ‘my hair on fire’ but, it seemed to me (probably not to others!), now with a certain deliberateness and a sense of adventure.  

A particular incident seemed to me symbolic of my shift in attitude. I was driving home late one evening along the Queensway, exiting south onto the 416, and as I did so, accelerated out of the curve into the straightaway. I had done this many times before, flirting with the guardrails and with thoughts of how well those crash stanchions actually worked if you drove into them at speed. But his time I wasn’t thinking about crashing, but mere speed. I decided to see how fast my powerful Accord could actually go, just for thrill of it. I punched the accelerator and in seconds was at 160 kph, then 180 and pushing 200. The car was smooth and stable and I wondered at the blurred guardrails whizzing by. I thought maybe 200 was my limit, though not the car’s, and in any event, my exit to Kanata was fast approaching. I eased off the gas pedal and geared down, imagining myself in F1 Monza exiting for a pit stop. 

It seems to me this was the beginning of healing, and return to my ‘normal self’. But I also knew my old self was never to be the same.

5 thoughts on “40. Anger And Grief”

  1. I have been observing you for the last several years and noticed how everything is centered towards you. Your ability to listen to others has always been very limited as you are more interested in telling your story than listening to others. One piece of advice for my friend Doug: Try looking people in the eyes and listen to what they are telling you. People have stories too and the world does not turn around Doug Jordan only.
    By listening to other you will realize that you are not the only one who has issues with life. By truly listening to others you may discover a whole new world and in the end your problems might be smaller than you imagine.
    I will keep on reading your emails and blogs because for me you are important and I want to listen to what you have to say. Next time we meet you might take a few moments to listen to what I have to say. Good luck and keep on enjoying your new life in the Philippines.

    1. Thank you for this thoughtful and somewhat wrenching note.

      It has definitely occurred to me that this blog is ‘all about me’ and I have worried that people will tire of reading about my relentless struggles with myself, my grief, anxiety and depression. But after all, it is about me: Travels With Myself. 😏

      As we move into the next phase of this journey, Returning to the Sun, you should see a shift in tone; you should already have noticed this in the last few posts.

      But it’s still my journal. It’s my story. It’s not a conversation, it’s a narrative. What I hope makes it interesting to my readers is that it’s human and the messages more widespread than merely mine.

      I take your advice my friend to listen to others. I hope I am not so tone deaf. Certainly in this time I have been very self-centered. I have no doubts that others have their own troubles and their own stories to tell. And mine are no worse than many others. Life after all is about suffering, says the Buddha, and Scott Peck. I am happy to listen to others’ stories. Unfortunately, few people are much willing to tell them, preferring silence and privacy to potential public disdain.

      I know I can learn from others. I know how to empathize. I am willing to listen to advice that will help me on my journey: finding my purpose, accepting my fate.

  2. Doug,

    I strongly identify with your internal struggle and appreciate you being frank about it. It IS highly unusual to hear someone write what they think. But it is compelling. So, from my own selfish position, I encourage you to continue in this context!

    Regards,
    Dave

  3. Doug
    I think your involvement with Emily, so soon after Marlene’s death, prevented you from grieving properly. I think rejection is probably more difficult to overcome than death. And you, my friend, have experienced both in a very short lapse of time. No wonder you can’t follow the proper pattern of grief!! Part of your anger towards Emily rests on the fact that she deprived you of the normal grieving process.

    As for your loneliness…you keep trying to solve it with companionship. Acceptance was never an option and yet…you never really tried it. I understand this more than you may think because I went through the stages of seeking companionship after my partners’ deaths, I have decided to live with “acceptance” and am filling the loneliness with all kinds of different approaches.

    I think your friend who made the first comment knows all about the purpose of the blog, but wanted to pass his or her message. A blog, for you, is more or less, a public diary and reveals your inner thoughts. So yes…it will be all about you and all of us should realise that.

    1. Very thoughtful response, Francine. Thank you.

      I agree that the Emily distraction was probably a mistake, for both of us – though she should have had more control than I (but do any of us in the grip of our emotional mind have control?), and it certainly complicated my journey with grief. But what you may not fully realize, Marlene’s death left unresolved issues; irrespective of Emily, I would still have to deal with those and my attitude/orientation to life.

      As to ‘acceptance’ this can never be a solution for me. Despite my inherent Introversion, I crave intellectual stimulation, (and other stimulation!) and companionship, which to me is not fully satisfied by casual, or even close, social relationships. Maybe I could fill that void with 10000 hours of therapy.

      The old self was much like the current self, but much more controlled, and reluctant. My shift to my current state was not sudden, it has been occurring over a very long time (>20 years!); it just began to accelerate with Marlene’s illness and dying. I have chosen not to go that far back in my blog because I don’t want to expose the entirety of my struggles with life’s difficulties. Travels With Myself is not intended as merely a ‘public diary’; it is to give others opportunity for reflection on their own life challenges.

      Of course my friend was passing on his message – seeking to help me in my time of need, but really, his advice is so conventional: it is no comfort to oneself to acknowledge that others also suffer: I think Helen Keller’s homily is empty empathy:
      “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

      Shrug.

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