At that time we lived a good walk from the children’s school and nursery and each day began with a mile walk to school followed by a trek to nursery, return trip to nursery at lunch time, then the school run at 3.15. I did this with a push-chair and a buggy board (do you remember those?). Most of the time I was working nights, pregnant or nursing but mercifully the journey was broken up by good friends, coffee, offers of help and life-saving chatter at the school gates. Most of all the journey was made pleasant by the lovely location we found ourselves in. Our house was built on a little rise over looking a meadow where we could watch curlew and hares. There was a footpath running along the back of the houses and a roost of one hundred long-tail tits in a hawthorn tree just outside the kitchen window. Not long after we moved in we spent all the money we had on having our own hawthorn hedge laid in the traditional way: they cut almost all the way through the stems that they called pleachers, laying them over at an angle, weaving them together and then strengthening the whole structure with vertical stakes. At the bottom of the garden my dad erected a wooden gate by our compost heap and this is the route we took each day, playing at living in the countryside. When it all seemed too much I’d breath deep and find a little thankfulness in the dense berry studded thorn hedge. Or if it rained for days on end I was glad of the short cut along the back of the houses. I didn’t much mind the muddy shoes for the joy of looking out of the dining room window on an evening and seeing my own piece of countryside spread out before me.
Until the day they sent digger to make a new path.
They started digging right by my back gate, a deep trench, foundations for a new path. For several weeks I could not take my normal route. It poured with rain. The baby howled, teethed, gums red raw, cheeks pitted and hot. The toddlers had serial ear infections and the unwashed dishes piled up in the scummy sink. Outside the machinery grunted and growled all day long, breaking the sod, churning the ground. There were no birds in the hawthorn tree. The men had come to make a better path, to turn the strip of waste ground into a community orchard with cherry, plum and apple trees a place for families to walk and children to play, but I saw red. Pure furry: no one had told me, no one had considered me, the work progressed regardless.
I told everyone who crossed my path about the crisis and little noticed that, though most cared, none shared my rage. I shocked myself with the strength of my own fury and found myself reflecting on how destructive my anger was to me and my dearest.
Last week I was watching Frasier (our recorder is choked up with back to back episodes) and he was giving advice to a caller about anger. My ears pricked up, “Most psychiatrists agree that chronic rage is due to …” Then Roz announced that time was up on the show and I didn’t get to hear what chronic rage is due to! But I really want to know. You see I still get angry.
I consider Google. But heavens! Am I really getting all my psychological insight from Frasier and Google?
So I didn’t Google it but later I remembered Dorothy Rowe.
The blurb on the back of my Dorothy Rowe book says, who hasn’t been stuck at a party with someone who had their life changed by Dorothy Rowe? But when I first read her books on depression in the 1990s I didn’t know anyone else who had read her, I didn’t know anyone else with depression and I was only just coming to terms with the idea that depression might be my illness and it might be OK to admit it. The only people I got stuck with at parties had fabulous kids and fast track careers (usually academic or creative). I remember little of Rowe’s main arguments but I do remember the key wisdoms from her pen that turned me around and one of them was this: angry people, depressed people and anxious people have often constructed rigid beliefs about their world and how it should be and a have a strong sense that what they perceive to be wrong should be righted. A more healthy way of being comes through relinquishing rigidly held beliefs and considering alternative explanations for life and the world around us. A strong sense of how things should be and a complete lack of ability to see things any other way is not a helpful way to exist. For faith people this can be especially difficult. Many of us have been taught that doubt is wrong or we have acquired particular fears over challenging doctrines and certainties. When we first came to faith we adopted a system wholesale, a water-tight way of seeing, and it becomes harder and harder over time to sort the good from the bad. But change can happen. There is listening, watching and attentiveness. There is reading, praying, meditating and talking to dear trusted friends. Maybe some of the beliefs we thought were right beliefs or faith beliefs were just un-truths accidentally acquired along the way.
I still get angry, but something changed when I read Rowe. She said, as we grow we develop a set of theories about how the world works and how the world should work. These beliefs can be hidden or public, religious, philosophical or political, but they become central to how we see ourselves and our world. One idea about depression, anxiety and anger is that they are defence tactics that happen when something up-turns our most trusted world view. Our natural urge is to protect ourselves by protesting, withdrawing or avoidance but depression, anger and anxiety grow persistent when we refuse to see something of the possibilities beyond our own redundant schemes of life. This is a junction in the road. The choice is: dig in your heels in or change. I got hurt, but I will recover. It shouldn’t have happened, but life goes on. The world did not go my way, but that can not be changed.
And life is good.
Dorothy Rowe is a psychologist and writer famous for, Depression: The way out of your prison, first published in 1983. Controversial at times, she rejects the medical model of depression and argues that depression happens when belief patterns prevent us from living happily with ourselves in this world.