They say that anger is a secondary emotion. By “they” I mean the often faceless cadre of professionals with mix and match letters after their names. Those letters denoting a devotion to sitting in lecture halls longer than many of us cared to or could afford. That dedication often confers upon them a freedom from questioning or doubt by the masses. Even so, through my own experience with anger (and my obnoxious need to question everything regardless of who says it) I find it to be a primary emotion lately, and particularly primal.
If I suspend my disbelief, however, and take their collective word for it, then anger stems from fear or sadness. So the obvious follow up question as I try to discover why I’m teeming with rage at the moment is, “What am I afraid of or sad about?”
When I wrote recently about the stages of grief, a friend of mine pointed out that she hadn’t looked at our quarantining experience as a grieving process. I, on the other hand, see every episode that causes my depression to flare up as a time to mourn. The key for me to get through it is to figure out what loss I’m mourning and why. The big three for me at first blush right now are the loss of freedom, security, and autonomy.
The concept of freedom has been watered down in recent years. It’s used as a catch-all and often politicized mantra. A major component of those inalienable rights of which our forefathers bespoke. Those of us in the US can sometimes take it for granted, because by way of gestational geography, we were born into it. It’s hard to comprehend the lack of something you’ve always possessed until it’s taken away. And much like the young tyke whose lollipop is stolen by a bigger kid on the playground, we cry and fuss and meltdown at the loss. If you look at it closely enough though, only a rare few off-gridders ever truly possess it it. We’re all governed by laws that detail how free we really are at any given moment, so freedom in its broadest sense is therefore born into confinement. Following that line of logic, we’re only having our playing field adjusted slightly, and if you’re deemed “essential” it’s an almost imperceptible loss.
Security, or more pointedly safety, is next on the list and something that’s been tested quite frequently in my lifetime. Those raised in nurturing homes are blessed with it for eighteen years straight and sometimes longer. Sheltered by helicopter parents from the ways of the world, and like Linus from Peanuts we toddle out from under their rotors gripping it tightly in non-blanket form. The myth of it is shattered, however, when we step from the shadow of the blades into full sunlight and our vision is unimpeded. Random acts of violence, illnesses, inebriated drivers, or warring combatants can steal any sense of it from our grasp. So our actual security only exists until it doesn’t. That kind of crapshoot can’t be the underlying fear I’m bucking.
By process of elimination then, it’s the stripping of autonomy that I’m railing against, or to quell my ego…fighting for. It’s a concept that’s often danced around, but rarely do you see it caressed and called by name. Merriam Webster (sorry OED fans) defines it as “self directing freedom and moral independence.” It’s basically the ability to do what you want, when you want. That, my friends, is what has many of us in knots right now, and with social distancing we can’t even hire a masseuse to work them out! The laws of the land have always been in place, so while we don’t necessarily have the total freedom we’re told we possess, we do have the ability to work within those laws on our own terms. Or at least we did.
That imperceptible shift in the playing field lines that I mentioned earlier has actually forced a major shift in our daily lives. Picking up a package left on your front porch has now become an exercise worthy of Chemistry class. How much bleach in conjunction with sunlight over time equates to COVID-free? Our places of refuge outside our four walls are also no longer viable getaways. Stepping into a building with your mouth unfettered by some PPE apparatus is an act of, at minimum, shunning and at peak…ejection from the premises. We no longer have a say in what we wear outside of our domiciles, where we go, or how close we stand to someone. That autonomy, that choice, has been snatched from us. Our lollipop is in the hands of someone with more power than us and our brains are creating their individual Tyler Durdens ready to form Fight Clubs to take it back by force.
It appears that the degreed ones were right. My anger may be primal, but it isn’t a primary emotion. It’s stemming from the fear that my autonomy will never be recovered. With no end in sight, my mind is extrapolating my circumstance out to the worst case scenario. One where I no longer get to do what I want, when I want…and that is scary. It’s also sad, which doubles down on their assessment of where anger derives its fuel from.
So the next time the rage bubbles up, rip its mask off. Like Scooby Doo’s band of misfits, we can reveal that it’s not anger that’s been has been chasing us through our hallways. It’s the fear and sadness of these uncertain times. Without access to some scrying mirror or one of Dionne Warwick’s psychic friends, I have no way of predicting how this will all pan out. I do have faith, however, in the adaptability of human beings and in the collective ability of our spirits to find our way back to some sort of peace within ourselves. As ironic as it sounds, peace is what we need to be fighting for.
As always, I wish you health and safety, and now also a prayer for some semblance of peace to quell the fear and sadness.