Plate smashing and murder at the swimming pool – dealing with anger

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“Bugger off I’m MEDITATING!” I yell, in a tone not dissimilar to a grizzly bear, as my teeth grind in frustration and  steam begins to gently hiss from my ears. Whoever had just hesitantly tapped on my bedroom door retreats quietly in fear, and it’s at this point I realise that perhaps, just maybe, my quest for inner zen isn’t working as well as I’d hoped.

Everyone battles with nasty feelings of anger and frustration every now and then – it’s part of life. Traffic jams, messy inconsiderate flatmates, unanswered text messages, Boris Johnson – we all have our trigger points. But if you’re dealing with depression, anxiety or plain old chronic fatigue (or all three) the chances are that anger plays a much larger role in your daily life than is healthy, and if it’s not managed, it can cause a lot of problems.

At the height of my worst ever tangle with the black dog, I recall one day seriously debating whether or not I should leave the house and go for a swim at the local pool, because I felt like I was ‘dangerous’. That’s how angry I felt. I was genuinely worried that my simmering, impotent rage was a hazard to civilised society – that I might end up losing control and doing some damage. I might thump the receptionist if she looked at me the wrong way, or push a pensioner over in the jacuzzi. What if someone tried to use my float while I was off perfecting my butterfly? I couldn’t be responsible for my actions with a pull buoy in my hand.

I was being ridiculous, of course. While I was unwell I was no more dangerous to any member of the public than a grumpy cat is to a rhinoceros – but the anger and irritability that come with depression and exhaustion can make you numb to all that’s good and light, it can convince you that you hate everything and everyone, and it can make you doubt yourself in ways you never thought possible. It also has the capacity to turn you into a grade A bitch.

The people I love the most – a dear friend, a brother, my Mum – sometimes unwittingly become vessels into which I unload toxic irritation, frustration, anger and angst. Using your nearest and dearest as multiple punching bags is not cool, I’m well aware. But sometimes every innocent word that tumbles out of their mouth becomes irritating and rage inducing, through no fault of their own – ‘What are you up to today?’ may as well be ‘I broke into your house and painted the walls with cat shit’. You want to deck them for simply having the audacity to start a friendly conversation with you.

At times like this I know I’m being cruel and unloving, but unlocking the part of myself that knows how to reach out and be affectionate, kind and contrite feels like an impossible task. ‘Say you’re sorry! Tell them you really don’t mean to be such a heartless bitch…tell them you LOVE them and you’re only acting this way because you’re hurting,’ is what my heart shrieks desperately to my brain, but I must have some loose wiring somewhere because I never seem able to spit these words out in the heat of the moment.

When anger strikes, avoiding behaving like a petulant child and alienating everyone that cares about you can be so damn hard. But if you’re looking for ways not to end up a social pariah, you can always remember that however hard life is for you right now, it’s pretty crap for your friends and family too – and not just because you’re being about as friendly as an iceberg. It’s truly terrible seeing someone you care about in pain, especially when you don’t know how to help them, or feel like they won’t let you try. I know that all my parents especially have ever wanted is to see me happy, and when I lash out in anger and misery I don’t just hurt myself – I hurt them too. Knowing this is good motivation to hold my tongue when I’m feeling crabby.

And there are always plates. I’ve always said there’s an untapped market for plate smashing therapy rooms at Ikea – you’d be amazed at the simple, glorious joy to be found in buying a £3 bargain box of plates only to go somewhere private and smash the hell out of each and every one of them.

Ultimately, though, all the anger management in the world won’t stop the occasional slip-up. The unnecessary snide comment, the over-reactive retort or the cruel put-down…all because your anger has nowhere else to go.

Which is why I’m going to take a few deep breaths and chase after whoever it was that unintentionally interrupted my peace and incurred my wrath. Because they probably only came knocking to see how I am. Because it’s not their fault I’m in a stinking mood. Because even though I don’t particularly feel like being nice, I don’t particularly feel like closing the door on my loved ones either. One day they might just stop knocking.

Adventures in meditation – part 1

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‘Go away I’m MEDITATING!’ wasn’t something I expected to snarl at the knock on my bedroom door while in the throes of meditative bliss, but as it turns out, finding inner peace through this traditional Buddhist practice isn’t as easy as it looks. For something that from the outside looks like ‘sitting doing nothing’, learning to meditate is bloody hard.

I’ve signed up to Headspace, a project founded by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe. It’s a social enterprise with a simple mission – to get as many people as possible to take ten minutes out of their day to sit in the here and now, decreasing stress levels and improving their mood. Except, as I’m discovering, being still and ‘in the moment’ isn’t something that comes very naturally.

I’m doing everything right. Sitting upright in my chair my feet rest lightly on the floor and my hands are still in my lap. As instructed by Andy, I focus on the various sounds of my immediate environment – the ticking of a clock, the gentle whirring of my laptop and the booming thuds and rattles from next door’s building site. I begin a simple breathing exercise, counting my inhalations and exhalations up to ten, then starting again at one. So far, so good. Except rather than feeling more connected to my body and the present moment, I find myself battling the urge to get up or to drift off in random thoughts. I just can’t concentrate, I’m fidgeting and it’s all I can do to resist bolting out of the chair and running outside to throw myself in the canal in despair.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this. How often do we just stop, and be still? When you think about how often most people are attached to phones, ipods, tvs, laptops, books or are simply lost in their own thoughts, it’s not difficult to see why stopping everything feels foreign. And meditation is far from ‘sitting doing nothing’ – I’m fast learning that the simple act of being present requires a delicate balance of relaxation and concentration. Too much relaxation and you’ll fall asleep, concentrate too hard and you become stressed and agitated. The endgame is a calm state of what’s referred to as ‘mindfulness’ – where you’re aware of how you feel in that particular moment.

Claiming that just ten minutes daily can help even the most time starved of people achieve profound life changes and a healthier, happier mind, the Headspace website is crammed full of guided meditation podcasts aimed at equipping you with easy-to-learn tools to learn ‘meditation for modern life’. The aim is to guide you through a short meditation session, no pressure, just so you get a feel for what it involves and learn the skills to bring a little calm into your life.

This couldn’t be more appropriate for an age in which stress has become a precursor to a whole host of nasty illnesses and depression is projected to be the number one global health burden by 2030. Mindfulness practice features at the core of some modern talking therapies – cognitive behavioural therapy in particular – which have become very popular in treating psychological disorders, but it’s not just mental health that’s affected. Research suggests that meditation can actually slow down the ageing process ; one study indicated it could even delay disease progression in patients with HIV. It seems that on top of eating well and getting enough exercise, learning to meditate could be one of the healthiest things we can do for our wellbeing these days.

With the aim of ‘demystifying meditation’, Headspace cuts through all the usual myths – that there’s not enough time, it’s impossible to stop thoughts etc. The focus is on the concept of short periods of mindfulness – simply becoming aware of your own thoughts and feelings – rather than having to shut your mind off in any way. At one point in the meditation, Andy instructs you to let go of any focus and ‘let your mind do whatever it wants to do’, and bizarrely it’s at this point that my hyperactive mind stops trying to leap and vault into a thousand different thoughts at once, and can’t seem to think about anything at all. I’m positively blank, and perhaps that’s the point.

So far I seem to have mainly spent the ten minute slot squirming anxiously on my seat and trying desperately not to think about chips…which is actually exactly what you’re not supposed to do. Instead of trying to stop myself from thinking and pushing thoughts away, I need to simply notice when I become distracted and bring myself back to the present. I’ve got some serious work to do before I can find my inner peace while omming in a field. Watch this space.