I’ll just introduce this topic, because it’s a tough one to write about. Sometimes I do that with difficult material; just crack the door open a little to see how dark the passage behind is and if anything really scary comes out.
There are a gang of bad feelings that pick on me when I’m down. They remind me of the bullies I’ve run into in my life - waiting until your alone and down and easy prey and then move in for their sport and amusement. Of that group, anger is probably the one that is least sadistic and the one that’s easiest to open the door to. Sometimes it even feels like a friend; though there’s no happiness in that friendship.
I’m frequently most angry about my son’s cerebral palsy when the statements and bills and the phone calls come. I think this is because it’s a lot safer to be mad at money collectors - they don’t evoke much sympathy.
“Am I late on my payment?” I always remember to ask the various medical billing offices when they call the house.
“No Sir. You’re not late. This is a courtesy call - just to help you remember that there is a bill outstanding,” is what I’ve heard from several medical establishments - it’s part of a script they’re asked to read I’m sure.
“So, basically, this is a form of soft harassment,” I’ll say in response. There’s a part of me that knows there’s a person who just needs a job at the other end of the line; but that part of me is easily overridden. Fair or not, I don’t like the job they are doing.
“No. We don’t harass people Sir. This is a courtesy.”
“Oh,” I’ll say, “So If I ask you to put me on your don’t call list, I can forgo the ‘Courtesy’.
”So this is harassment?“
”No Sir. I’ve said...” they’ll try to resume the script.
I never allow myself to get angry at the person themselves; but I’ll express utter outrage at the practice or the bill. I guess there’s a part of me that hopes that the calling staff will pass the word around that I’m a tough nut and will leave me alone. There are some calls I just don’t get anymore so I expect this may be true.
But behind all this specific outrage at the billing snakes (as I call them), is the more profound root of my anger - my son is not being given a fair shake. And even behind that is my more selfish anger - I’m not getting a fair shake.
These are the same feelings I remember having when I wasn’t selected for a sports team; or when I received a grade that I thought was unfair; or when I had to accept a correction at work that I did not think was earned - poor me.
These feelings, of course, as real as they feel, are not helpful. They don’t help me. They don’t help my son. And they imply a singularity to our situation that is not at all real; there are many, many people who have equal and greater disadvantages. And perhaps, worst of all, these feelings leave me prone to a more dangerous emotion - helplessness.
When it exhibits its darker tendencies, I think of anger as a kind of emotional gateway drug - it opens the door to more dangerous feelings if you overly indulge it.
And I would be lying if I said that I know the best way to manage my anger. I know that sometimes anger can be a great release and can free me up inside so that I don’t dwell on whatever is fueling it. But it’s a very dangerous feeling to manage and more often than not I feel like a caped matador in the ring, dancing with a deadly beast that could easily overrun or destroy me.
I don’t expect to come to any conclusions about these feelings in this essay; it’s hard to have perspective on an adversary that you wrestle with frequently. I just want to open the door, just a little, to those passages that don’t get much light. And to hint at the vast labyrinth that lays beyond. I’m not sure I’ll have the courage find or to cast a light on all the places that lay there, but I’ll at least start with the less dangerous corners of that neighborhood.