One of the most frustrating things for me to deal with when interacting with others is being called mean.
It is important to understand I am a deeply angry person. This is for a lot of reasons- primarily because I would rather be angry than sad, with anger I have the illusion of control, something that doesn’t come with despair. So I spend a lot of time taking all of my past experiences with trauma, abuse, pain, illness, and use those to fuel anger as opposed to sadness. I’ve spent days not being able to get out of bed from the pain of despair and I prefer the quake of anger to that any day. I’m very much aware that to engage in healing letting go of my anger will be an important step, but I am not yet there.
Anyway, even though I am angry I do a tremendous amount to avoid looking so. A big factor in this is my identity as a black femme, it is not on me to avoid stereotypes, I know this, but the “angry black woman” caricature is very pernicious and has deep implications in almost all environments. Beyond this I also do work to control my anger and manage it, for me this means never letting it show. Because of complex experiences with my father I often feel like if I bring my anger forward then it will only lead to being iced out and rejected. Experiences with my mother have shown me when I bring my anger forward I will have to spend incredible amounts of emotional labor consoling someone and centralizing their feelings (gotta love a martyr complex). Experiences with society show me if I bring my anger forward I will be dismissed and put into the mold I mentioned earlier- the angry black girl. So yea, I hold on to it instead.
This leads me to another point, in discussions of feelings and emotions people often tend to say “how I feel is valid.” And sure, thats true, feelings are always valid, but what does that mean? Yea my anger is valid- but what does that mean? It certainly doesn’t mean healthy. Does valid mean it is appropriate or reasonable? Of course not. As a mentally ill person sometimes it’s hard to understand which informs which, my anger being a result of my mental illness? Or my mental illness being deeply related to my poor coping mechanisms and propensity for anger? Who knows, I suppose it’s unimportant. The point is that I take a lot of time to mask my anger. I also compensate by being overly positive and kind- this doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy kindness, I do. It’s all a bit difficult to explain.
This is why one of the most frustrating things to hear is that I am being mean. I would love for people to understand one very clear fact. If I was being mean to you then you would know. If Alexis Wilson was trying to be mean to you then there would be absolutely no doubt in your mind. I am not a nice person I am a kind person, and, yes, there is a difference (more on that later). This is not something I am proud of, this is objective. I do not enjoy being angry, I do not enjoy how it intersects with my mental illness, these are just realities. This doesn’t mean I’m some unhinged person ready to go off at a moments notice, it just means….I’m angry and mean. So when I come to people transparently and they gaslight me and call me angry? It is the most deeply upsetting and frustrating and maddening thing to deal with. I mean there is real pain there- imagine expending 40% of your daily energy to work to address your unhealthy anger and overcome it in positive ways, imagine being nice to people who hurt you because you don’t know how to tell them what they did was wrong, imagine allowing people space in your life who don’t deserve it because your afraid of how you’ll look if you tell them how you really feel, imagine smiling at your racist coworkers every time they dab in your direction or make some asinine racist joke because you fear being a caricature of yourself, imagine all that then imagine something calling you mean because you told them you weren’t done talking when they interrupted you? Or because they don’t want to be accountable to their own behavior? That shit makes me fucking scream and cry!! You don’t get to do this to me, you don’t get to tell me this is what my anger looks like. My anger is very real and very nasty and if it was directed at you then both of us would be suffering. That is not a promise of physical violence- that is a reality of vitriol. Spewing anger can be justified but in my experience it rarely brings anything positive- it does not yield breakthroughs and almost always leads to one person feeling miserable and me feeling upset by my lack of control. It’s not fun to want to hurt people, or to be good at it. I used to often relish my talent for hurting others, I used to enjoy it, furthermore I was excited by how unaffected I was after hurting people, I was proud for how they cried and twisted and screamed and shouted while I sat coolly smirking. I find these things to be disgusting now. Perspective and time have shown me cruelty and apathy are two of my worst traits and I would love to be rid of them. Both are, in part, coping mechanisms for moving through my world (while encountering abuse, trauma, racism, etc) but this does not make them acceptable. An incredible friend who I hold very close to my heart once told me “Trauma gives motive, but not permission” and I remind myself of this fact often. The work I am engaged in, that is liberation work, is as much about learning as it is unlearning. Anger is something I need to unlearn as a coping mechanism in order to liberate myself, as when we liberate ourselves we liberate others.
None of this is to say that anger is always inappropriate. I once took a human emotions class during my undergrad that was about the psychology of emoting and emotionality and though my professor was better at thinking than he was at professing he was able to relay that all emotions serve a purpose to us. Anger may let us know something is amiss, that we are being treated badly, or that we are hurt. It’s also fine to feel angry and upset at times, but it’s also alright to feel hurt and sad. When people treat you poorly it’s alright to feel disappointed, frustrated and sad, it’s even alright to mourn for a time- but it’s almost important to transcend. Anger, for me, has been immobilizing. It’s kept me in one place unable to move on to healing. I am grateful to be able to note these things, but I’d like to move beyond. I believe transcendenace is possible and I hope you’ll check back in with me in my years to come.