You’d think anger problems like mine have no place in this work, and you’d probably be right. But I care a lot about my people and try not to let it get to me.
The problem with saying I have an anger issue is that it instantly identifies me as a terrible person. Pop culture, movies, games love to paint a person with anger problems as a psychopath in waiting, just holding it together long enough to explode in a hail of bullets and crazy when the final straw breaks his back. I have to admit, a small, insistent part of me worries that I could be that guy someday. It’s one of the reasons I refuse to own a firearm. Just in case I snap at some point, I’ll be a hell of a lot easier to take out when I start attacking people in an effeminate, fussy nerdy rage. Probably crying the whole time, too.
Seriously, even saying I have an anger problem forcefully conjures up images of the bad guys on crime dramas, the wife and child beaters, the people who pop out of their cars with a bat if someone accidentally scrapes their bumper. That’s what people tend to think when we think of anger issues. Unchecked, unbridled rage. And I’ll admit, there are brief moments at work where something will inordinately set me off; my vision will blur and narrow almost to pricks at the same time as the rage seems to overtake every other mental process. And it could be nothing at all that sets me off. It could be Fran being her normal difficult self, trying to run away with her brief around her ankles, balls of poop hanging from her knee-length pubic hair. It hurts when I pull them off, but she’s not hearing that it needs doing. She’s pissed. I’m pissed. My anger just keeps rising every step until I’m ready to jump out the window and hug the ground with my face thirty feet below…
But you know what I do then? I back off. I herd Fran into a corner where I can trap her, yank up her brief, and let her be on her way for now. The poop balls are disgusting but not doing her any harm, and she’s too wild to listen. I want to kill someone, myself, but I have her sit down in her chair as gently as possible, directing her through gritted teeth, and I leave, go calm down in a corner. I can spare a few minutes to chill out. Let the anger run its course, boil itself away like an overheated pot of water left on the stove too long; it leaves me cold, ashamed in the end. I’ll take that over jailed or dead from leaping out the window, though.
There are people who would try to make me feel like a dirt bag monster for having a problem like this. They’d say I have no place here, I’m a danger to my residents and staff. I promise you, though, as long as I have my wits, the only danger I present is to the Popsicles in the freezer and the Fig Newtons in the cookie jar. If that’s not enough, I don’t know what will be. You have to understand that we’re all one bad crossed wire away from turning into gibbering idiots, or aberrations. We love to say CNAs are angels, and to a point I agree; we can be wonderfully, beautifully humanitarian. We put our health on the line for vulnerable strangers every day, some who won’t live to see tomorrow and some who will never be aware of our presence in this stage of their lives. But you can’t ignore the darker side of your humanity for the bright angelic within.
All of us have fatal flaws. Maybe you care just way too much, to the point that everything breaks you like china. Maybe you don’t work well with certain types of other aides. Maybe you have a tendency to gossip a lot, and tend to unwittingly wreak havoc among staff. Me, I have an anger problem. I have an ugly, horrible issue that I deal with every single day. A thing I’m deathly afraid of anyone in this business seeing. And it has been seen. I’ve walked out of rooms, shaking with fury, on the edge of tears I’ve beat myself down so hard for being so mad, uncaring that other aides get to bear witness to this side of me. Most days I’m relaxed, joking, the life of the party for some of my residents. Every now and then, though, and it might be something stupid, it might be something totally unknown to me, I’ll get very, very angry, and have to walk away from my job for a while to reassess. I need those breaks to examine my rage to try and peek at its source. It might have nothing at all to do with the person who seemed to piss me off, that’s the unnerving thing. But it’s something I have to do. That’s how I deal with my fury.
If you take anything from this, please let it be that people like me aren’t lost causes on our own. We think of rage issues and that’s what comes to mind. The irredeemable, the awful. Psychopaths, rapists, wife beaters. That one kid who went crazy and stuck a TV remote in his butt when his dad shut off his WoW account. If I need to walk away from something it’s not because I’m going to actually harm the resident. I’d never do that; I have too much empathy for them, too much love, or else I wouldn’t be in this work. It’s because I’m so mad at myself, so guilty, that I need a minute to calibrate my emotions. The only thing in danger is my perpetually rock-bottom self-esteem.
But I can’t tell this to my boss, or my coworkers, without fear that I’ll be put on some kind of watch, at the very least. And hell, maybe I’d do that too, if I were them. Part of the reason I take it so hard is purely because a part of me that logic can’t reach believes all the awful stuff people think about rage issues. I’ve been dealing with it for years with my zen practice, meditation, mindfulness, but part of me still thinks I’m a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off… no matter how many times I’ve proven the opposite. It plain sucks to live like this, it really does. I feel trapped by my anger and by my worries of what people will think if I come out about having it…