Thoughts on Anger and Gratitude

Fatman, accompanied by the Legion of Junior Super-Villains

Fatman, accompanied by the Legion of Junior Super-Villains

I have posted this photo previously. It is a picture of my sons and me from this past Halloween. They were excited and happy; I was excited and happy. My mantra for much of this week has been, “Dear G-d, please give me back my old, happy life.” THIS was my “old, happy life,” from only a few weeks ago.

I have been attempting to compose a blog post for the past three days. Wednesday I was too down and depressed to attempt writing anything. Thursday, my head was full of thoughts, but by the time I arrived home, I was too exhausted to open the computer, much less write. I tried getting up early this morning to post, but I overslept. And now it is the beginning of Shabbos. Dear, forgiving, loving G-d, please forgive me my sin of blogging on Shabbos. Not being able to write these past three days, for a man to whom writing currently means salvataion and serenity, feels like I have been denied food and drink. Forgive me, I beg You.
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Wednesday’s unofficial theme (for me, at least) was Anger.

Anger has always been for me the most difficult of emotions to process and handle. As a child, only one person in my household was given “leave” to be angry, and the rest of us were not permitted to show anger. Thus, I learned to fear any expression of anger on my part. Also, as a young boy, I worshipped politeness and tended to respect figures of traditional authority, such as clergy (of any religion), police officers, and members of the military. I developed a code of gentlemanly behavior, similar in many ways to the Japanese code of warrior’s chivalry known as bushido. Bushido emphasizes loyalty to the clan, or uchi, and avoidance of the expression of inappropriate emotions at inappropriate times in inapprorpriate company. Failure to live up to these standards results in “loss of face,” or what we Westerners would call “shame.” My code only allowed me to express anger in the defense of my family or friends; expressing anger in my own interest seemed to abrogate my code and has thus always caused me shame. Shame is produced in my breast by inappropriate expressions of temper with my children, with my work peers, or with my teachers.

On Wednesday, I nearly lost control while speaking with one of the therapists at my group therapy. I attempted to tell the full, harrowing story of Tuesday night, when I had experienced a full week’s worth of stress in the space of a few hours and yet had avoided having a panic attack. This therapist, for reasons of style or personality, rushed me in some very disconcerting ways, such as frequently sighing, staring at the clock, and telling me on multiple occassions to finish my tale. I felt a fury build in me. However, I did not realize until hours later that my fury actually had little to do with this particular therapist, but was rather sublimated fury resulting from my hidden anger at a close associate who had inadvertently caused great harm to my son, Levi. The therapist’s condescending mannerisms reminded me strongly of this person’s ways. I wrote a full page of obscenities, thus avoiding voicing them, and since my anger did not recede over the following hour, I left the facility three hours early to try to work off my anger. I went to the Fredericksburg Battlefield, but it was too cold out to walk. So I drove back to Manassas, got a haircut (finally), which came with a very welcome massage, and I tnen attended to the not-so-fun but necessary task of cleaning the dried vomit out of the back of my car. I went home and tried to nap, but Judah, my youngest, insisted on imitating his older brother Levi by throwing a phony, faked fit over a missing piece of Lego creation. Although I was unable to deal with him at the time, I later warned him that his fit was completely inappropriate and any resumption or repetition would result in harsh consequences. He seemed to listen. I did not want to blog that evening, because I dislike blogging majorly negative experiences, as doing so tends to reinforce them.

Thursday’s official theme was Gratitude.

Gratitude, to me the opposite of Anger, is my favorite emotion to experience and express. A different therapist showed our group a video which indicated that expressions of gratitude, whether received by the object of gratitude or not, tended to increase the happiness of the emoter by between two and eighteen percent. I had often experienced this myself. We were given an assignment to write a letter to a person who had either been greatly influential in our life or who had been enormously beneficial. I chose to write a letter to my coworker who had escorted me down to the nurse’s station when I had my initial panic attack at work, and who did not shame me in the least when I began weeping about my son’s state. I also wrote a similar letter to my wife, Dara, for whom I have so much to be grateful, including accepting my faults and limitations and shouldering so much of the pressure of this past month. We were also asked to compose a list of things we are grateful for. Here, in part, is mine:

I am grateful for my boss’s very supportive and humane phone call, which lifted my spirits by reinforcing that my office wants me to return. I very much WANT to return.

I am grateful for a haircut and massage which helped to ease my tension and anger.

I am grateful for my dog’s affection, and even for his sense of depression due to Levi’s absence; he demonstrates his loyalty by sleeping each night on Levi’s empty bed.

I am grateful for Judah doing his homework in my company, cooperatively and without rancor.

I am grateful for any good night’s sleep.

I am grateful for the jazz in my car which allows me to drive in a placid and safe manner.

I am grateful that I was able to gain understanding regarding the true source of my worrisome anger on Wednesday.

I am grateful that Dara has made several safe drives to and from Dominion Hospital in Falls Church, an hour away from our home. I am grateful I will get to visit Levi on Saturday.

I am grateful that Levi has met at least one friend in the hospital and that he is looking forward to participating in art and music therapy.

I am grateful for Asher’s frequent expressions of love and his offers of back rubs.

I am grateful that on Tuesday night, I did not panic when Judah began uncontrollably vomiting in the back seat of my car. I am grateful that the staff at McDonald’s did not seem especially upset by the mess we left in their bathroom sink.

I am grateful for the kindness of the staff at the IHOP on Hoadley Road, particularly Santa Claus and Charlie, the IHOP District Manager. Bless them all.

I am grateful for the wonderful circle of friends and relatives who call me regularly to check in on my status, and especially to those who have sacrificed time to come visit.

I am grateful and honored by the support of my therapy group, who expressed outrage to some of the staff following my early exit on Wednesday. The welcome I received from my fellow patients completely restored my faith in my program’s worthwhileness.

I am grateful that I had the presence of mind to apologize to the therapist I had been angry with for my inappropriate expression of fury and that I could tell her it was mostly not her fault at all. I experienced that sweetest of experiences which G-d in His grace sometimes allows us to be a part of: the making of a former foe or perceived enemy into a friend. (On that subject, I wish more would be written about one of the most extraordinary events of the Twentieth Century, America’s rehabilitation of Japan. Although much popular history is incomplete [including the popular history of this event], I believe this was the first time in history that an assaulted nation treated a conquered enemy with such compassion and understanding, enabling Japan to remained completely Japanese and yet, in some ways, to also become more American than America. I have always been enormously fond of the Japanese and, as I state above, I feel a genuine connection to and affinity with their culture. I hope to visit Japan someday.)

I am grateful for the sorrowful but necessary understanding that many good, well-meaning people are mostly unable to recognize signs of enormous distress in those persons who surround them. This could be said to be due to conditions which place them on the autism scale, but it is more likely that it is due to narcissism. Three times this week I have exprerienced good, well-meaning people completely ignore the visible signs of either my son’s emotional distress or my own, and how they continued with their behaviors which were contributing to our distress. I believe this common phenomenon is the root cause of virtually all domestic violence. Such narcissistic ignorance and failure to properly observe often leads to tragedy.

I am grateful for the courage and the serenity for me to today have made a fourth attempt to reconcile with my mother. I am grateful for my brother’s willingness to assist with this attempt. Also, I am grateful to G-d for potentially answering a prayer I have been making for a year and a quarter. Ric mentioned that my mother has been reading articles on autism in children. This may mean nothing at all, or it may mean that G-d, as He did with Pharoah, is softening my mother’s heart. Reconciliation and healing may follow. I should know within a few weeks.

2 comments

  1. Nathan Krawitz says:

    I’m so glad you can find the time to discover positives among your recent negative experiences. It can be most difficult at times.

    Personally, I find joy to be the opposite of anger and the opposite of gratitude could be deliberate indifference. Either way, to seek out the blessings when it’s easy to let the bad things get to you takes a special grace and enlightenment far too few of us possess.

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