My wife should probably write this article, but she’s busy living her life and glad that the angry man she has been living with for 36 years has done enough healing that he can write about it. The healing began for me when she went to see a doctor and began getting help for her depression. As she started to get better, it became evident to her that I could also benefit from getting help with my own depression.
I, of course, insisted that I was just fine and didn’t need any help. I attributed my angry outbursts (rage attacks) to a normal reaction to her hurtful behavior. Occasionally I would blow up with her and she would close down for weeks or months. Like many angry men I didn’t recognize how destructive my anger was, how it impacted my wife, or how damaging and long-lasting was the trauma of anger. Usually I wouldn’t blow up, I’d just give her that look. She would say, “You get that beady-eyed look that chills me to the bone.” I had no idea what she was talking about. I was a nice guy, I told myself. Not the beady-eyed monster she was seeing.
Actually, she wasn’t seeing a monster. She was just seeing an angry man who was both self-destructive and was pulling her down with him. The monster was what I saw in my dreams, but was afraid to confront in my waking life. It was much easier to have inner dialogues that blamed her for my anger. “Who wouldn’t be angry,” I would tell myself, “when their wife is always complaining and nagging. It’s like getting hit in the head with a 2 X 4. I can’t let her get away with that.”
In the professional world, of which I’m a long-time member with a Ph.D. in International Health and a clinical license to prove it, we call the kind of thinking I was engaged in “delusional.” Twelve Step recovery groups simply call it “stinkin’ thinkin’.”
It was becoming increasingly clear to my wife that either I had to get some help or she was going to have to leave the marriage. I, of course, was oblivious to all this. How could she even think of leaving me? I was a good man. I had never hit her. I didn’t drink. I made a good living. I came home on time (mostly). Certainly a few angry outbursts here and there couldn’t be that bad. Deep inside I was terrified to look at my anger and rage, for fear that I would find a monster.
My wife never insisted I get help. If she had I’m sure I would have refused. “No one’s going to tell me what to do. I’m my own man and I make my own decisions.” She was firm, but gentle, stronger and way more loving than I was at the time. She just kept telling me I needed help, but it was up to me to go or not. I finally went and it was like a damn burst open.
I could finally talk to a person about what was going on inside me. The therapist was skilled and helpful. With my wife’s help and the help of my therapist I created my own scale of aggression and depression. I would monitor my feelings and behavior and it gave me a clear picture of when I was getting depressed and when I was getting manic and angry.
I began reading books on mood disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder. The professional books were interesting, but the one that rocked my soul and shook me to the core was An Unquiet Mind: Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison. I had read her text book on bipolar disorder and I was shocked to know that she had suffered from bipolar disorder herself. These were the words that touched me so deeply. They captured precisely what I was feeling. They expressed both my terror and despair.
“You’re irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding, and no reassurance is ever enough. You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and ‘you’re not at all like yourself but will be soon,’ but you know you won’t.”
I thought that if she could get help and talk about it, then I could too. It’s been eighteen years now since I reached out for help. At first I resisted taking medications, thought I could handle things myself, along with talk therapy. But I did take them and they helped a lot. There really is a biochemical aspect to mood disorders as well as psychological, interpersonal, and social aspects.
Gradually things got better. I’ve had setbacks, often when I’ve felt overwhelmed with work or dealing with a serious loss. I had one setback when I lost my job, another when a friend committed suicide. But with love from my wife and help and support from a good therapist I’ve been able to get healthier through the years.
When we’ve experienced dealing with mental illness, resisted it for so many years, and then gotten good treatment you see the cycle in others. When I think about the words “You’re irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding, and no reassurance is ever enough. You’re frightened, and you’re frightening,” I think of Donald Trump. I’m not making any kind of diagnosis. I’ve never met the man. But there is a certain resonance with my own experiences and I feel a kindred spirit with an angry man who has not yet dealt with his own issues.
I wrote an article about Mr. Trump and shared some of the intuitions I have about the state of his physical and emotional health. In the article I said, “We know from Mr. Trump’s own writing that he was an aggressive and violent child growing up, that he was sent to military school at a young age, and had difficulty controlling his temper.”
Only those close to him really know how angry he is. But as a voting citizen, I wouldn’t want him to have access to weapons of mass destruction until he gets some serious help. Politically I’m reminded of another Presidential candidate that the Republicans nominated awhile back. His name was Barry Goldwater.
The Republican campaign tag line was “In your heart you know he’s right.” The Democratic response was “In your guts you know he’s nuts.” I never thought that really applied to Mr. Goldwater, but it does resonate for me when I think of Mr. Trump. Right now, we still have the option to leave him if he doesn’t get help. If he’s elected, it will be much more difficult.