Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Losing it

Posted by boakley59 on June 13, 2008

Living with a chronic disease prompts endless self-examination. Every physical or emotional change may be a sign of some chemical imbalance or symptom or, on the positive side, a restoration of lost strength or energy.

Lately I’ve been uncontrollably angry, and I am not sure what to make of it. Time was when I thought anger was beautiful in a way — raw, powerful, pure emotion. If I was angry about something, it was because I was absolutely sure I knew how I felt about it. Of course, I grew older and became absolutely sure that most of the time anger was a form of embarrassment at having some inadequacy of my own exposed rather than recognition of some injustice or inadequacy in the world at large. Anger became ugly, because it was impure — seldom having much to do with its target.

Now, it feels like my anger is telling me something about my disease, but I am lost between the two extremes of the anger I used to know. My anger is directed at things that should arouse objections, but the passion seems disproportionate or counterproductive, simple rage with no curative power.

Perhaps this is somehow positive: I have regained strength and energy, but I am still housebound, so my energy has nowhere to go. My fury is then the teapot coming to a boil. Perhaps it is the flip side of that coin: I am housebound and thus powerless and ineffective to do very much about anything, let alone social injustice or the great failings of our times. My fury is then the howl of the helpless, the cornered beast battling any way it can to survive.

As a child, I had a recurring nightmare in which I was a Tweety Bird sort of character pursued by the Big Bad Wolf. But I was a strange bird (those who know me will no doubt find that fitting): I was too small or feeble to fly away. I had only one defense: I would face the pursuer and scream — well, more like gargle — at him. I finally escaped this pervasive nightmare when I stopped remembering any dreams. To this day, I know that I must be under great emotional strain when I remember a dream.

But now I find myself living much like this feeble bird. I see things that I must do something about, but all I have is a limited capacity to make noise.

So this is my garbled (gargled?) message: Please stop polluting the planet. Stop treating your brothers like your enemies. Please stop enriching yourselves at the expense of others. Live as if you love life itself, not just yourself. Show better manners than you expect of your dog or cat.

What has made me so mad? Everything has made me so mad. I have watched so much television and read so much Internet news and commentary in the past housebound year that I am sick of my species. We foul our water, land and air, then debate whether this thing called global warming is real or concocted. Does it matter if we’re not sure yet whether the worst possible effect of pooping in our own house is real? Isn’t befouled air, land and water in the least case still enough of a self-indictment? Do we have to actually all start dying soon for us to be sure that living in filth is a bad thing?

And do we really need to look so hard to see that something is woefully wrong? Can’t we just look in the mirror and see that upsized meals, energy drinks, pills for every ill and gadgets for every bored moment are twisting us? Don’t we see the assault on our spirit that is the average advertisement? I say assault on our spirit because it’s not the insult to our intelligence that’s the biggest problem, though that’s bad enough. It’s the notion that we can’t be cool, healthy or decent without the right shoe, pill or gadget. It’s the notion that anything bad that happens to us can be fixed by the right doctor, lawyer, preacher or purchase.

We have become cornered animals, trapped in our own self-indulgence, howling at the tethers and snapping at whoever comes near.

Living is hard work. Meaningful solutions to our problems require constant study and effort, even if every once in a while they can be summed up in a sound bite. We would rather market the problems than address them — and salve the symptoms of our self-inflicted wounds than change our ways.

I have recently been caught up in a flame war at, a community news site. The fire-fight was sparked by some mean-spirited, not-in-my-backyard commentary on a proposal for a homeless shelter. Too many of the comments were of the “Oh yeah? You’re another!” variety, with no attention to the issue.

From all sides came claims that “we’re the ones who stick together; we’re the best — and you’re not.” With no actual details revealed by any participant, people on the other sides of the various fences were described as bad Baptists, failed businessmen, hypocrites indifferent to their fellow man, reasons one writer stopped going to church, pathetic admirers of bad politicians (or was it snobbish foes of good politicians), and just the sort of subhuman that anyone from this side would expect anyone from that side to be.

We all live in glass houses, which sadly seem nevertheless to have no mirrors.

Unfortunately, this is the tenor of much of the commentary throughout the Web. Indeed, one calmer writer at dogtownwire urged less concern about the worst of the remarks because “it’s just the internet.” But this is the “everybody does it or boys will be boys” defense that excuses drunken drivers of murder, rich athletes of rape, or pigs in general of wallowing in slop. Yes, there are times and places to let your hair down, but this must not become a license to meanness. The anonymity or distance that the Web affords us at the same time it lets us reach everywhere should not allow us to forsake manners and plain decency. It’s precisely because we can reach everywhere that we should be on our best behavior — otherwise we foul our own nest.

So, confined in illness to my own nest, I am angry at how dirty I have allowed it to become. I am angry at how readily so many have helped and at how much cleanup needs to be done. I worry that we’re all too late to peek in the mirror.

I wonder whether this is a sign I am regaining the strength to do some good or beginning a final slide into my nightmare.

Is it more than my temper that I’m losing?


2 Responses to “Losing it”

  1. jennholsted said

    keep screaming, Bruce! I read a verse today from 1 Peter … it said, “Love one another as if your very lives depended on it.” I’d say in these times our very lives – and the lives of those around us – do depend on it.

  2. Ben said

    Your examination of anger remind me of Stephen King’s latest 10-pound novel “Duma Key,” which I’m enjoying as a recorded book on my commutes. It starts after a construction accident where the protagonist loses an arm and suffers severe injuries elsewhere, including brain damage. It is the best rendering of rage I’ve seen written. He’s lost everything that made him — his livelihood, independence and (relative) youth — even his wife. He gets maddest when people try to help him. King makes that illogic logical; it must happen a lot. — Ben

    Bruce sez: Yes, it seems that howling rage is often our mechanism for gaining extra strength when we are at our most helpless. A cornered animal, a lioness defending her cubs, and so on. Re: “maddest when people are trying to help” — I too mentioned near the end of my post that I was mad at “how many have helped,” and just to be clear, I want to restate that I was talking in that paragraph about befouling the nest. The help I was talking about was humanity’s penchant for pollution of our environment, our discourse, our emotions. From the sound of it, the kind of help that King’s character finds most maddening is the kind that has warmed my heart and helped me heal through this ordeal: So many people have reached out, with the greatest gift simply being their attention.

    Thanks to all.

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