A year of learning how not to be angry

Last year’s headlines left me in a months-long rage. The headlines may still be bad, but I am determined to be better.

This piece started from a rough draft I created on July 1, 2015. There was a period during that year when I woke up angry every morning. It lasted for about three or four months.

The anger usually didn’t settle in until about 15–20 minutes after I’d wake up. Then, the remainder of the day was spent holding it back. Occasionally, it slipped through in the form of a snide comment here and there or choosing to spend stretches of time alone when I could be spending them with others. My patience would run dry at the least opportune moments.

The monster, sometimes, got the best of me.

I wrote a separate piece about this topic back in August, attributing my mood to a need for more sleep with some mention of needing to avoid the daily headlines. It was a softer rewrite of the draft I wrote in July. The daily news, at the time, was consistently bleak. When I started drafting the piece in July, I had typed the following as a note to myself:

Hopefully, when this is published, [the news] will no longer be so [bleak]. If the news is the same or even similar in tenor and subject, then the nation should feel a deep and abiding shame. There were the shootings and killings. Ferguson. New York. Baltimore. Charlestown. Then there were the burnings. Tennessee. Georgia. North Carolina. Florida. Ohio. South Carolina. It seemed like every other news story spelled bad news for black and brown people in America, which is really just bad news for America overall. Full stop.

Today, we have Dallas, Louisiana and more. I fought back the anger I felt a year ago as I put this post together, wishing my hopes then had been met and that I wouldn’t have to resurrect the draft’s sharper angles. I had made a point of learning, in the past year, how not to be angry, applying lessons I had committed to learn in August.

In light of today’s tenor, I felt there was merit in reflecting. If anything, I needed the reminder of what I had learned.

During that period of anger in 2015, I would often find myself wanting to be alone. I was enraged, and I didn’t want to talk about it. Why? Because I found that, when I did, I was called on to speak for all black people. I barely wanted to speak at all, and the only person for whom I was and remain qualified to speak is me.

People didn’t understand why I wanted to disconnect. They didn’t understand why I would want to spend time beyond their reach. The fact is, I didn’t want to be seen.

When I am alone, I am not black. I am not a woman. I am me, and it is enough. When I am alone, I am free of the social obligations, the racial politics, the judgement, the pity and, most importantly, the fear that my anger will get the best of me.

So, I did my best to be alone — to walk away from, as I would see them, sugar-coated conversations. The ones we suck on until we reach the sour, distasteful center. It’s at that point, often, everyone suddenly has somewhere else to be. Rather than suffer the disappointment and frustration of the charade, I often chose to disengage from conversation entirely.

I have since learned, this is something I cannot afford to do.

My life is full of extraordinary people with great potential. It’s my responsibility to engage with them or risk failing others who wish to see change — not to mention myself. There are a few lessons I have learned in the past year that have helped me more gracefully enter and exit my headline-induced state of anger.

  1. Avoid automatic, algorithmic feeds. I enjoy social media, especially the act of sharing interesting stories with others and discussing them. Reading automatic or algorithmically-generated feeds, however, is a fast track to anger, resentment and frustration. So, I avoid reading them. I opt, instead, for highly curated experiences such as This.cm or Twitter lists. I also enjoy newsletters. I visit my friends’ Facebook pages directly, taking in moments from their lives, and sending a gratitude note once a day through Facebook Messenger. I don’t scroll through the Facebook feed, however, and I try to avoid my “home” Twitter list when at all possible.
  2. Observe how you feel. Don’t fight it. When you don’t fight the urge to be alone, it’s easier to discover why you want to be alone in the first place. Rather than fight the urge to run from others, I observe it. I step back and acknowledge the feeling, sit with it and look for value in my current situation with others. Yes, I am stealing a page from the mindfulness handbook here.
  3. If you must be alone, tell people. I do my best to tell people that I need to be alone and, as often as I am able to ascertain it, why I have that need. Both of these are incredibly difficult. It is often easier to slip away without telling anyone, to disappear into a warm, safe place in the hopes no one will find you. The downside is that you often do not have a soft place to which you may return. People have unanswered questions about you, and you become untrustworthy. They don’t know, essentially, when you will slip away again. So, tell people.

None of these are easy, but I have found they help. Meditation, a regular workout routine, a change in overall reading habits and a change in diet have also made it easier for me to be patient and to spend more time with people even as the headlines take yet another turn for the worse. Today, as I write this, I am not alone, nor do I wish to be. I am angry, I am sad, but I have no urge to run. It may be worth it, if you find a friend or colleague has a short temper or has hidden themselves away, to be patient. Trust that they, like you, are fighting their own internal battle — one they must, for a while, fight alone.