On Mental Illness: Episodes of Fear and Anger

By Jack Bragen
Monday September 12, 2011 - 11:28:00 AM

I periodically have phases of a lot of anger. During those times, I am not very pleasant to be around; I raise my voice, behave stubbornly or walk out of a room to the bafflement of whoever is with me; usually my wife. There is never an excuse for physical violence, and I don’t do that. However, my mere anger, expressed in facial expressions and tone of voice, apparently is enough scariness to be unpleasant to others. 

Different people with schizophrenia or bipolar have been given diverse levels of anger. The presence of a lot of anger could be attributable to the illness. Some of it could come from posttraumatic stress. I believe that it is very common for people with schizophrenia or bipolar to also have posttraumatic stress disorder. We tend to have a history of mishaps either due to the illness affecting life circumstances, or outside of that. A troubled history can leave a person with a lot of anger. 

Sometimes the anger is turned inward. If a person seems excessively nice while perhaps being unkind to him or her self, it could be a case of that. Anger turned inward could come from a history of being bullied in which it wasn’t safe to express the anger. They may express it with passive aggression, or may even attempt self destructive acts including possibly suicide. (The high school scapegoat often does not succeed in life after high school. Such a person may have ongoing problems. The same goes for someone whose parents used them as a punching bag.) It is important for gentle people to have their anger directed outward. This allows the energy to leave the person’s system and not build up. 

To alleviate my anger without turning it inward or suppressing it, I practice meditation. If I have several good instances of meditation directed toward eliminating the anger, I can tone down the anger for periods of months. Meditation may not work for everyone. A type of meditation that works well for one person may not work for another. Taking a class in yoga or Zen would be a way to get introduced to meditation for those who don’t have much experience with it. 

It is important to “get the anger out” before trying to take the step of eliminating anger. If you try prematurely to get above anger, so that you become an even sweeter person, it will cause grave illness and will not make you a holier person. Anger that isn’t being dealt with can come out in strange ways. To direct one’s anger outward instead of at oneself can take years of work on oneself, and is not done in a month. The person’s ego must also be structurally sound enough to deal with intense painful emotions. Someone who has not dealt with their anger can be like a ticking time bomb. 

I am not suggesting that a person try to vent their anger in a situation of jeopardy. Let the tough guys go on being the manly men who they are. If you in your own mind acknowledge that you’re angry, it is good enough, and it is none of anyone’s business. Nor am I suggesting that you become the bullying person like the one who caused you to get sickened. The world has enough aggressors without adding another one. 

When the step is taken of redirecting anger outward, it can create a rude person, unless a number of strategies are used to vent the anger without becoming an ogre. When angered or upset, I give myself a time out. I also try to refrain from speaking except perhaps to communicate that I am going in another room. During the time out, I allow myself to calm down and get over the anger. Then my thoughts become clearer and less polarized. At this point, I try to stop blaming anyone for being the cause of my anger. Other people do not create your anger—you do it to yourself. Blaming another person for your emotions is dysfunctional. 

When I tried to quit Zyprexa and replace it with another medication, a few years back, it nearly made my wife move out. My behavior was rude and disagreeable, and I lost the insight that would have told me how I was acting and how others were reacting. Despite the side effects of Zyprexa which include metabolic syndrome, (a serious health risk), I am stuck taking that medication; for now the usefulness of it is irreplaceable for me. I try to compensate by watching what I eat. Unfortunately, most atypical antipsychotic medications have the same deleterious side effect. One hopes that the drug companies will come out with something better. 

I get stressed out sometimes by situations that would not affect most people. I have learned to simply let my wife do many things on her own, and leave me out of them. She doesn’t always like this. Yet the alternative is to put me in situations I wasn’t built for. Grocery shopping is one of my problem areas. I experienced a very traumatic event when I worked at a grocery store at age nineteen. That might be the reason why I can’t tolerate grocery stores, or there is some other factor that I am unaware of. We get some of our food at a drugstore rather than at a supermarket, and this is a help. 

If a person at all times acts nice and sweet, it does not necessarily indicate that anger isn’t present. That person might be trying to live up to a religious or philosophical ethic that values non aggression. Or, that person could have been severely punished for acting angry, and is terrified to express such an emotion. It is not a reasonable guideline to expect oneself or another person never to be angry. It is an emotion given to us by evolution for the purpose of self-protection. Fear is another emotion that helped our ancestors survive and bring us into existence. These emotions are deeply ingrained. I would be suspicious of anyone who claims they are without these emotions. 

It takes work to know if a person’s anger is due to issues or if it is due to the presence of a chemical imbalance. If someone’s anger seems excessive and not in proportion to the issue that it is about, it might indicate that medication, if not present, should be used. If the person is already on medication, and the anger seems excessive, the medication may need to be bumped up a bit. Yet, the mere presence of anger need not be attributed to there being something “wrong” with a person; it is a normal human emotion. 

The goal, then, is to direct the fear and anger toward positive acts that benefit us all. One doesn’t need to bully others in the name of expressing feelings. With practice, bottled up feelings can be vented without needing to victimize anyone in the process. And if someone’s anger seems out of proportion and out of control, it could be a medical issue.