Today a good friend put up a blog post about some problems that she is having that made me step back and really look at myself. In a nutshell, she writes about the struggles she has with emotional balance in her life, and the impact that it has on her family. Not a light topic, but one that really makes you sit back and think. I will warn you that this post is a deep dive into some pretty dark places in my soul, so read with that knowledge.
Myself, I have really been struggling with anger outbursts for the last few months. I know where it comes from. I know what is causing it. I do NOT want it coming out, especially at my children, but time after time my anger and frustration comes spilling out, overflowing the emotional levies that I keep trying to shore up, and all that darkness comes out, overflowing onto my family.
To recap for those who are joining us late, I have been laid off and unable to find work now for 18-months, with very few prospects to change this condition. I have had a few interviews, and while I felt good about them, time after time I would find that I was not selected to go beyond that first interview. I have always been proud that I have worked hard at maintaining a stable employment status, and I have always promised myself that I was not going to bounce around from job to job like I watched my father do while I was growing up. I wanted stability for my family when I had one. I wanted to be able to provide for them the opportunity for lifelong friends. I wanted stability. That one desire and promise has driven me my entire working life, and when I got laid off…it all started to crumble away like a storm levy made of packed earth facing a raging floodwater. Until this happened I had no clue how much of my self-esteem was tied to fulfilling that promise.
Since then, as the weeks and then months began to march past with no change in employment in sight depression began to really take root. Think about it from my perspective. Here I am, a man who just turned 41, with three young children at home and in a relatively new relationship. I haven’t had the time to really build a solid emotional foundation for that relationship, and along come three little souls that are depending upon me to provide, teach and guide them through their lives, and at this point in time I feel like I don’t even know where I am going, much less how to direct them in their own lives. Money problems which I had finally gotten on top of in the years before marrying Sarah started to creep back in with the reduced income, and bad habits regarding finances stared cropping up again as well. This led to frustration over financial problems, coupled with frustration over the employment problem, and it all started to mix and boil deep inside. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t even really want to admit to it. After all, I am supposed to be the strong one that everyone else can lean on. The rock in the storm. The sheltering tree. And deep inside all I felt was the soil washing out from under my feet. Despair came in and joined with the depression, and that all started turning into anger.
Now for the problem, as if this wasn’t enough of a problem: I am starting to use that anger more and more with my children.
The truly disturbing trend that I am starting to see is that more and more I find myself using anger, feigned or otherwise, to discipline my children. I try Sarah’s soft words and gentle caresses, but when they don’t work I fall back on using anger as discipline. It isn’t even a conscious choice any longer, it has become habit, and that is what truly frightens me. If I am using anger now, the road isn’t very long before I start using physical violence as discipline rather than anger? If using anger frightens me, using violence terrifies me. I worry that I am turning into a monster to my children, even when I try to keep it bottled up. I yell and scream and even raise my hand to my children. They are learning to fear me, and I am using that fear to teach them to obey. I know deep down just how bad this is, and where the potential for far worse lies, but I don’t know how to break the cycle.
Now then, I know that being aware of the problem is the first step in fixing the problem, so I figure that I am at least trying to walk the right path. I know that taking time out and going for a walk with my pipe to decompress goes a long way to helping me cope. I know that sitting down with Sarah and having a real conversation about what is troubling me is extremely therapeutic. I know that these are easy things that I can do to help me keep myself in balance, thus making it easier for me to be less of a monster when I get angry and frustrated. The problem is that while I know what I need to do, I seldom actually do them. There is always an excuse for one or the other, and I never make the time to do either of them. And as Sarah’s frustration and depression about things gets more intense she is as prone to being non-communicative as I am, so neither of us talks about what is bothering us.
All is not darkness though, and I have to keep reminding myself of this. I have three very precious children who love me. I have a fantastically understanding wife who has stood strong at my side through the darkest, most difficult experiences that I have ever had in my life. I have family, who while they may not really understand me, still love me and do what they can to be supportive. I have some strong anchors in my life to give me some grounding. I also have things really starting to grow and improve. I have met a fantastic group of fellow Heathens, and am really starting to bond with them. That experience alone is bringing a lot of light and hope into my life. We are looking at an opportunity to finally move into a healthy living environment, and finally having a place for the kids to run and play and simply be kids. That factor alone would do my mental health a world of good. I also had a really good interview with Netflix today, and I really hope that I get a job offer out of the deal. The prospect of a healthy living environment and stable employment can really do wonders for my emotional well being. So, while things are rather dark, there is a lot of light starting to leak in around the edges.