What Happened When I Finally Told My Psychologist About My Rage
I knew, when I was 6 years old, that something was different about my brain. At the time, all I knew was that I was scared and angry all the time, but other kids did not seem to be. I tried to keep my symptoms hidden because I saw the way adults treated kids who were scared or angry.
For the kids who had angry outbursts, adults said those kids were “bad,” “liked to hurt others,” “manipulative” and “selfish.” Adults I knew shamed those kids and punished them, telling them what bad kids they were, and many adults even told these kids they would go to hell if they did not start being “good.”
The threat of going to hell and being a bad person was my biggest fear growing up. I mean, what kid wants to think they are inherently “bad?” I wanted to be a good person. But I was angry so often and I just wanted to scream and hit things. I assumed that meant I was bad and would go to hell. And there was nothing I could do about it.
When I was 19 years old, I was finally able to start seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist but the one thing I never told anyone was how much rage I had. I fully identified with characters like the Incredible Hulk, who tried to be good but also had this internal rage and anger.
When I started to get treatment at 19, I was diagnosed with major depression along with panic and anxiety disorders, but somehow I knew those diagnoses were not quite correct because I also had periods of extreme rage. I was never going to ask my doctors about rage. The fear of being a bad person who would go to hell stopped me, as well as the fear of being “put away” for being seen as too violent. There was no way I was ever going to tell anyone how I sometimes kicked holes in my walls at home or became so angry I would hit myself … until I had my son.
When I was 25 years old I had my son, and I was terrified of ever being angry around him, but I was also terrified that if I asked about my rage they would take me away from him. I decided to take the risk anyway because I wanted as much help as I could get, and I knew my therapist well enough by then to know I would not just be taken away from my family. When I finally told my psychologist about my intense rage, I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder.
Back then, 15 years ago, no one ever talked about bipolar disorder as being anything other than periods of depression and mania. Mania was always described as periods of feeling invincible and being on a high where you feel good all the time. In fact, even when you look mania up now, it is still usually described that way. They never mentioned rage. However, mania can also mean extreme irritability and rage.
While the trauma of being told people who have rage or anger issues mean that people are bad has always stayed with me — I am still working on healing that trauma — finally asking my doctors about it has helped me be more compassionate to myself, less scared of myself, and I was able to learn how to help myself.
My therapist explained to me that first, rage is actually a normal emotion for everyone. Just because people get angry and have angry outbursts, or even just think angry thoughts, does not mean they are a bad person. It means their brain is perceiving fear and is in fight or flight mode — anger would be a “fight” mode. Second, there are many ways to help decrease the fear in your brain that can lead to rage, even for people with bipolar disorder. Our brains may have a much harder time dealing with fear and the resulting anger than neurotypical brains, but with the right help, we can learn to assess our emotions and decrease rage, and rewire our brains to handle fear better.
If you have rage and anger, know you are not alone and it is actually “normal” for everyone. You are not a bad person. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctors about your symptoms of rage and irritability so you can find the help that works for you.
Rev. Katie Norris is a health coach and owner of Recourse Health and Fitness Coaching. She is a Certified Primal Health Coach with a specialty in supporting brain health. She is also a Montessori-based dementia care specialist and is the primary author of Creative Connections in Dementia Care. For more information about working with Katie, sign up for her newsletter.
Photo by Camila Quintero Franco on Unsplash