On the surface, M has been handling all this remarkably well — he has remained calm and focused, and thrown himself into the jobhunt with energy and an admirable attitude. But there are flashes of the reality under the surface that are really very frightening to me. The other day, during one of his few moments of weakness, he pulled me close and, after holding me for a few moments, said, “I don’t know what to do with this anger. I have to find a way of getting rid of this anger.”
Anger is not in M’s repertoire. Comedy, compassion, grumpiness, and pessimism are his stock in trade, but anger… anger is something he forbids himself, and when it threatens to rise to the surface, he neatly sidesteps the emotional fallout it would create by turning it in on himself instead. He lets it attack him from the inside, swirling around and causing its caustic damage to both his mental and physical state, rather than let it do anything so dangerous on the outside. And it does do him enormous damage. I have no doubt that many of the physical things he suffers with — the migraines, the sinus attacks, the nagging pains in his joints and muscles, the terrible debilitating funks he sinks into — are caused or exacerbated by the emotions that he holds within himself.
There are a few things about this lay off that feel like they don’t quite add up and we neither of us can help wondering (dwelling… obsessing…) as to whether there was possibly more going on than he was told. Though the situation is what it is and the only thing to be done is to move forward, that possibility nonetheless creates a sense of hurt and injustice which, in turn, gives rise to a certain (understandable and healthy) anger — an anger that would be no problem if it were able to run its course and dissipate in the natural way, but which is a real problem when it is held bottled up the way M does.
Yesterday, he handed me a wooden clothes peg, snapped neatly in half. “Here,” he said sheepishly, “I broke this. Sorry.” As if I care about a clothes peg! That was his full expression of the anger he feels at being dumped, unemployed and underqualified, into a foreign jobmarket, after having brought his family to the other side of the world on the offer of a job that would see him through whilst he trained up to full qualification. It wouldn’t have mattered if I’d lined up a thousand punchbags in front of him — he won’t take a single swing. He has spent a lifetime learning to cope with difficulty by holding everything inside and that much self-training is a very difficult thing to un-learn.
All that swirling emotion, all that anger and injustice, and with it… he crippled a clothespeg. In truth, held in and attacking him from the inside, it is a sure thing that his anger is crippling him much more painfully than that clothespeg ever suffered.