So, I’ve been on the Therapy Train for a while now. I feel like I’ve got a pretty decent handle on Sadness.
I do not know what to do with Anger, however, which is why I am spending my morning drinking coffee and thinking about the Incredible Hulk.
Most of what I know about Dr. Bruce Banner comes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and from the roller coaster at the Universal Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, FL. When I first started exploring the comic book origins of the characters that movies were teaching me to love, I didn’t devote any time to the Hulk. I was excited about Spider-Man, the ultimate nerd hero, and the Guardians of the Galaxy, funny, quippy renegades featuring a sensitive, badass tree creature. The Hulk wasn’t a character to whom I could relate. His adventures seemed like a bummer.
But then Joss Whedon’s The Avengers rolled into town, and Mark Ruffalo’s Banner uttered that now iconic line.
“That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry.”
I just re-watched that scene on YouTube, because I wanted to get the line exactly right. And Ruffalo’s reading of that line breaks my heart just as much as it did when I heard it on opening night back in 2012. Ruffalo delivers that line with such a quiet, nonsensical resignation. What I imagine comes next in Banner’s brain is, “And I’ll always be angry.”
This thing about me will never change.
Anger bit me in the ass and made me recognize it last summer in Paris, of all places. In the summer of 2016, I traveled to Europe for the first time. I spent almost all of my two weeks in London, due to the fact that I, a lifelong and now professional Shakespeare geek, have always dreamed of seeing London. Also, London was hosting the 2016 Star Wars Celebration, and I. Was. Psyched.
I saved my money and plotted and researched for over a year in preparation for my European adventure. I learned about Oyster cards and pounds and the train I would need to take from Gatwick Airport to Victoria Station before I could make my way to my lodgings in Camden.
I thought I was ready. But what I thought more, though I couldn’t articulate it out loud at the time, was, “The universe fucking owes me. I have been sad for so long, and I have worked hard on it, and I have had my heart broken, and I have retained my ability to dream, and the universe owes me an amazing experience in London. I deserve this.”
My Mom flew into London with me, and was to spend the first week with me. On our last full day together, though, we had tickets to take the Eurostar to Paris; the day that the universe owed my kind, beautiful, compassionate, patient, perfect mother. My depression breaks my mother’s heart. I think she sees it as her fault. I want to be better for my Mom. I wanted to give her the perfect Mother-Daughter Idyllic European Adventure. We were going to see the Eiffel Tower together and smell flowers and eat baguettes.
I couldn’t even hold it together for a hour.
We made it to Gatwick Airport. I can’t sleep on planes, so I was running on fumes. We got off the plane, hustled through the terminal, found ourselves at the front of the airport. I saw actual England just out the windows.
I didn’t know how to do anything.
A crashing wave of panic collapsed over me. I didn’t know where to buy the Oyster card, I didn’t know how to exchange my money, I didn’t know how to get on the train to get to Victoria Station, I didn’t know where the bathrooms were, I didn’t know anything. Moreover, I was too afraid to ask anyone for help. Needing help meant that I had failed. Failed at this thing that I wanted so badly. In my brain, my trip was already ruined, and it was my fault. I was ruining this super expensive, theoretically wonderful thing for myself and for my mother.
Every time my mother suggested we ask for help, I became angrier and angrier at myself for not being able to take the advice. I felt completely numb inside. I didn’t know how to do anything. I wanted to die. I wanted the floor of the airport to swallow me whole. I was wrong about everything. I was a failure at everything. Everything I had ever feared about myself was true. I couldn’t breathe.
As I continued to slip into terror, I knew I was making my mother more and more worried. I was ruining her trip already.
My London dream was already over, and I hadn’t even left the airport.
Yoda said it best. “Fear leads to anger.”
The rest of that first day was more of the same. I trudged in defeat through rainy London, so angry about my perceived failure that I was numb to the potential of happiness or excitement. Mom and I made our way to Camden, ate some disappointing pizza for dinner, and called it an early night.
The ensuing week got a little better every day. As my internal clock caught up with the new time zone and as we started seeing some of the sights I’d always dreamed of seeing, I felt more positive. The chain link fence of fear and fury that had knitted itself around my heart that day at Gatwick began to loosen up a little bit.
Exactly a week from the day we’d left the States, Mom and I woke up early to make our way to King’s Cross station to board the Eurostar to Paris. Mom wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Arc de Triomphe. I wanted to visit a museum and eat a chocolate croissant. We would have a total of six hours in Paris. Everything seemed so do-able on paper.
I mean that literally, by the way. Using the WiFi in our dorm room in Camden, I had spend the night before our Paris trip charting a public transportation route that would get us successfully to all of our destinations. I read articles about how to have the best single day in Paris, written by successful American travelers. I scrawled everything down in my notebook. I wasn’t going to let our only day in Paris be a repeat of our first day in London.
Our arrival in St. Pancras International Station was Gatwick Airport dialed up to a fucking thousand. Because not only did I still know nothing, now I knew nothing and also didn’t speak French. My notes were useless.
The desire to throw the temper tantrum to end all temper tantrums, and then to crumple to the floor and die on the spot came roaring back.
Let me move this story along a little bit. I feel such guilt about this trip, and I want to provide every last detail in attempt to purge it from my memory. But my thesis statement is as follows: I was a bitch that entire day in Paris. When things weren’t exactly as I always pictured, I felt as angry as I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I was a capital-M Monster. I wanted to scream and break something and scream some more.
The cherry on top of the Paris sundae was when my Mom was almost pick pocketed on the Metro. Like the rookie tourists we were, we were carrying a backpack. We had successfully made our way to the station nearest Notre Dame. If the day was going to swing back in our favor, this was the moment.
Instead I noticed a boy fiddling with the zipper on my Mom’s backpack. She turned around, and said, “Hey!”
In that first split second, I was angry at my Mom. I was sure that the boy, who couldn’t have been older than ten or eleven, was trying to let my Mom know that she had foolishly left her zipper undone. He was helping us, because people are generally good.
I made eye contact with him, and then noticed the other boys surrounding him.
I made eye contact. They all took off running.
I. Hulked. Out.
The boys ran, and I tore off after them. I ran the 400 meter dash in high school. I am fast. And I was furious. I chased those boys over multiple Metro platforms, screaming at the top of my lungs, “Fucking thieves!” the entire way.
We made it to a staircase that led out of the station. I was so close to them. I wanted to rip them apart for fucking with my Mom.
My foot went out from under me on the second to last step. I fell.
A tiny voice in my head whispered, “What would you do if you caught them? Stay down.”
At this point, my Mom caught up with me, yelling that the kids hadn’t managed to take anything. My Mom still had her wallet and her passport, and we were okay.
I burst into tears. I was terrified. My Mom was terrified. She was angry at me for how I had reacted. I was angry at her for being angry at me. I cried the entire walk to Notre Dame.
I want to pretend that I don’t know what would have happened if I had managed to catch those kids. But I know. My Anger was in complete control of my body that day. I would have tried to hurt them. I would have screamed obscenities and put my hands on them until someone tore me away.
I would have smashed.
Before Paris, I didn’t know that that sort of Anger was inside me. Now I know. This thing is in me, and maybe this thing will never change.
Turns out, I don’t like me when I’m angry. My experience in the Paris Metro made me realize that I needed to be back in therapy. That I needed to work on the Anger section of my Mental Health Utility Belt as much as I have worked on Sadness.
So, when I start to feel defeated about Anger, when I start to beat myself up again about what happened in London and in Paris, I think about Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk. I remind myself that everything about us, whether we like it or not, does not have to control us. We can live in harmony with the various aspects of ourselves. We can contain Monsters and Superheroes all at once. My Other Guy thought she was being a hero that day in Paris; that she was rescuing my Mom. It didn’t work out the way she planned, but that’s okay. It’s just another thing on which to work, to acknowledge, to sit beside and breathe.
As a wise frog once said, it’s not easy being green.
hot drink suggestion: some earl grey tea, to remember the good times.
music suggestion: alan silvestri’s main theme from “the avengers” (i am not creative, but also, damn. get it, alan silvestri.)