Today I went for a hike at a nearby mountain. I’ve been meaning to spend more time there, and though it was a challenging hike, the view was worth it and the self reflection was important.
I did a lot of reflecting about anger. I get mad at myself a lot these days.
I’m mad at myself for not sleeping enough.
I’m mad at myself for having a short fuse with Bailey when she throws a toddler tantrum.
I’m mad at myself for not doing more around the house.
I’m mad at myself that I didn’t take more precautions when going on a hike by myself and got a little lost.
I’m mad at myself for (emotionally) hurting the people I love during mania, whether or not I meant to do it.
I’m even mad at myself for having bipolar.
When I was younger, my mother warned me of the dangers of becoming an “angry young woman.” I was an environmental studies major, and found myself riddled with fears and frustrations about the seemingly inevitable decline of our natural world. My reaction to this information often manifested itself as anger. I would make sarcastic or rude remarks about people’s choices, or the town I grew up in, or large corporations, and how they were responsible for the demise of our society.
It wasn’t until I got a job with an educational nonprofit called City Year that I embraced the value of idealism as part of my life (note: I’m going to describe idealism here as we used it there, philosophers please don’t @ me about the technical definition).
Idealism often gets mistaken for naiveté, because idealists believe, beyond rationality, that the best outcome will happen. It’s therefore assumed that an idealist must be ignorant of all of the many ways in which things could possibly (and even probably) go wrong.
But that’s the beauty of idealism: it’s not expecting that everything will go right, it’s expecting that the best is possible, and that you can’t let fear of the real world tear you down on your way to achieve your goals. The best possible outcome doesn’t just appear out of thin air: it takes hard work, and continuous learning, and critical feedback, and perseverance in the face of disappointment. It takes trusting in yourself and in others around you to do what’s right and to deliver on your goals.
It’s exhausting. But the rewards are immeasurable.
Manic Stephanie is an idealist to the max. Everyone I met in the ward had a story to tell, and I was so eager to bring out the best in each and every one of them, no matter how checkered their past or present was. I was also eager to support them in helping each other: a task that one of the adolescent patients, in particular, took to heart.
I would describe regular Stephanie as a dormant idealist. Maybe just because regular Stephanie had (has?) been depressed for so long that she’s lost some of that spark. I still believe, on the macro level, that we can tackle big problems and succeed at coming up with big solutions. On a personal level, however, I find it much harder to stay optimistic.
CBT teaches you about positive self-talk. For every time I think, “I hate myself, I’m a burden to everyone I love,” I need to counteract it with, “I am so lucky to have people who love me in spite of my flaws.”
But then there’s also radical self-acceptance. This requires me to lean into the fact that I have flaws, like any human, and I need to accept and forgive myself for them. I am angry- but it’s because I have a lot to be angry about. We all do.
I suppose the purpose of this post is to reiterate that if you’re like me, it’s ok to be angry. But it’s best to be angry while believing, in your heart of hearts, that it’s possible for it to get better some day. As long as you take one good step at a time towards that possible future, you’ll get there.
And on the way there?
Cry and scream and punch the air and feel grateful that you still care enough to be angry.
Thanks for reading,
69 miles down, 31 miles to go