On loneliness and rage

leaf headDepression is rage turned inwards. So says my psychotherapist and many others who have written on the subject. Rage with nowhere to go. Rage at the state of the world. Rage at a world incensed by the allegations of sexual assault coming out of Hollywood and Parliament. Rage at #metoo. Rage that no-one is surprised, that it is an open secret and has been for decades. Rage at our impotence to do anything about it except, well, rage.

Rage is frightening, to ourselves when we experience it and to others who witness it. We were taught to tame it at a young age. Don’t be so cross, stop it, shut up, we were told. So we buried our rage in the innermost depths of our psyche only for it to come out years later in the plethora of mental health conditions and physical ailments we see all around us today. Untapped and ignored, we pass our rage onto our children. They mirror it back to us in the most terrifying renditions of demonic possession or re-enactments of the exorcist. We look on in horror as we see our own rage reflected back at us through them and think, oh god. Not them too. They can’t feel this too, they can’t. This terrifying feeling that we have repressed for generations, that was passed on to us from our parents, who in their time were dealing with the unresolved grief of wartime but always, always keeping a stiff upper lip, keeping calm and carrying on.

I have pledged that the buck stops with me. That I will not pass my rage onto my daughter. Well I haven’t done too well there. The description above happened in our house last night and I froze. In my mind I ran away, got on a train to the Scottish highlands and lived there until I was an old, old lady in an old stone croft with only sheep for company. In my mind I did all sorts of terrible things to myself that you don’t need to hear about, all of which were savage and none of which were pretty.

Rage is isolating as it’s so unacceptable to say it out loud. In the restraints of our civilised British culture we don’t rant and rave on the streets. If we do we’re seen as mad. Occasionally we are mobilised to protest political injustice, so can vent some of our rage at the ineptitude and injustice meted out by the politicians who should know better. But the private rage stays in. We bottle it up. We go to the doctor for anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, anti-feelings, anything to stop the rage. It’s lonely feeling like this. Imagining we are alone in our rage. We know on some level that we aren’t, that there are others, for when we have the guts to tap into it and confess to a trusted friend just how much bile is really circulating our system, we feel validated. But generally it’s something to be kept hidden, a shameful secret that we couldn’t possibly reveal to the wider world.

I have hidden my rage since I was a child. I had a comfortable upbringing and I wasn’t abused or neglected. I had everything I needed and a good education. We had enough food and holidays and culture and a good solid moral upbringing. But the rage, the rage wasn’t something I could show. When I did, it had to be suppressed, as it hit a nerve with those closest to me, a nerve they weren’t able to deal with nor heal as it was too raw, too deep, too painful to confront head on. So it buried itself into my soul, poisoning the dark recesses which should really have been aired, until it became so much a part of me that I couldn’t distinguish my rage from my self. They were one and the same. I became my rage, and nothing I did could separate me from it. I tried to purge myself of it through drinking, through over-exercise, through starving myself, through bingeing, through manic project-organising and over-working, through an all-encompassing self-loathing that tarnished everything I touched. But it wasn’t until it was named that I was able to even begin to separate myself from it.

It’s still a work in progress. Many days I dream of escape. I go to the Himalayas or to Iceland or to the wild forests of Canada. I go to feral places where I howl like a banshee with no witnesses nor judgement. In my mind. But in reality I am in my little study in my house typing these words. Alone. With my rage. Perhaps I need to befriend it, like they say, to feed your demons. So I’m trying. Perhaps I even need to tickle it and laugh at it, encourage it to laugh at itself as it takes itself oh, so seriously. It’s slow progress, but there is a growing part of me that is resolved to get there. The part of me that previously wanted to die but now wants to survive this plague of our ancestors and get it out in the open.

Kali lithograph, c 1895, British Museum

Some say that we are living in the age of the Kali Yuga, an age of ignorance and dishonesty, sexual manipulation and hypocrisy. It certainly feels like that. I guess all we can do to get through it is to harness the spirit of Kali by facing our rage in whatever form it may take, be that addiction or overwork or repression or neuroticism. To be gentle on ourselves, not to try and tame it but at least try to understand it. That way our children may have a healthier blueprint for managing one of the most frightening of human emotions which, uncontrolled, leads to the violence and destruction we see all around us every day.

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