Cliches are taboo in all forms of writing. But sometimes they're the best way to describe the whirlwind of emotions that comes with daily stress and/or chronic physical or mental illness.
During heightened levels of stress, the brain may continuously release cortisol which is the brain’s defense mechanism to a threat. Increased cortisol can impact cognitive function. During ongoing stress, we often think differently. It can be harder to find the words we are looking for...so cliches are just easier. They are direct and to the point, people can relate to the meaning.
Cliche #1 Crawl under a rock.
Every so often the stress of life just gets to me and I want to crawl under a rock. And preferably stay there forever. The cool, mossy darkness entices. The serenity of nothing beckons my brain.
Cliche #2 Anger knocked on my door.
Occasionally, rather than retreating to the void I desire, anger chooses to knock on my door.
OK, in the situation below, it didn't really knock, it came barreling in without any consideration for my feelings.
Cliche #3 When the bough breaks.
Even though I have hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars invested in therapy - sometimes the bough breaks.
Cliche #4 Pushed me over the edge.
I walked in the door after a late night of work - and I was immediately bombarded by life. A whole bunch of nothing quickly turned into a shit ton (a technical term) of everything. For some reason, completely unknown to the universe, we didn’t get our water delivery. Not a big deal in my head, but it was to my son because our well water is nasty.
My son called to my boyfriend, who was sitting in the family room, “Hey, Brian, did you fill the water jug with well water?”
Brian stood up and started walking towards the kitchen.
In that moment, all I cared about were my herbs. I love my tiny garden. The little plants I cultivate are therapeutic and delicious. I have developed a (fairly consistent) routine of nurturing the herbs before work. I am (usually) pretty good at not killing them.
The iron deposits in our water stain everything so I use bottled water for the plants. Before Brian could respond I said, “Babe, please let me know when you do that so I don’t use the well water for the herbs.”
Brian stopped at the table and said, “That’s only the second time I put well water in the dispenser.”
I knew he did it for me. He knows I am spoiled by the hot and cold water on demand.
Brian went on to explain that we didn’t get a delivery this month.
I was confused and asked why we didn't get more water.
“I don't know, it’s not on the calendar,” He said, annoyed.
“What calendar? I don’t know what you’re talking about. Why would they skip a month of delivery?” I forced myself to stay calm.
But he was aggravated and had absolutely no tolerance for my ignorance regarding the water. Which in turn pissed me off because he manages the deliveries.
I quickly gave up on the conversation and barked, “Whatever, I’m going to my room.”
Lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, I made an effort to let it go. I employed a few coping skills to help manage my irritation.
I utilized a breathing strategy.
Practiced being present.
Contemplated meditation (which I hate...so I was clearly putting forth a lot of effort to stay calm).
Eventually I gave in and let my ego slowly feed what would normally just be an annoyance. I let my feelings turn into something deeper and more powerful. I wallowed in the growing anger and allowed myself to blame Brian for my feelings.
I worked myself into a mini frenzy and I couldn’t calm my brain. I wanted to go to sleep but I tossed and turned - for what seemed like hours.
Cliche #5 Tossed and turned.
After I finally fell asleep, Brian came to bed - which (of course) woke me. In my head I needed Brian to feel responsible for my anger. I expected him to apologize for being a jerk.
When he didn’t, I took that kindling and added it to my dwindling fire. I stirred the smoldering coals to add fresh oxygen and watched the flames re-ignite.
I didn’t want the fire to go out.
I knew this wasn’t about the water delivery. But that didn’t matter, in that moment, I needed to be angry.
I spent several days processing the events from the previous 2-3 months. After some self reflection, I realized the stress of having a partner with a recent diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (#DID, formerly known as multiple personality disorder) had been weighing on me.
The intensity of this new stressor threw me back to former habits of avoidance. I needed time to re-work my coping strategies to align with my new reality. #ThinkTalkDo
How anger unfolds for me now, compared to the beginning of my own trauma recovery, is very different. In the early stages of my healing journey, I struggled to control my feelings and I cycled through explosive bouts of destructive anger.
At that time, throwing a brick through the window of my ex-husband’s truck was just easier. Eventually, I had to learn how to identify the emotions that I was experiencing. Then I needed to learn how to explain what was going on in my head and in my body.
Anger is a normal human reaction to difficulties in life. However, it is theorized that many people never learn how to navigate anger effectively. It is not uncommon for people to have inadequate role models as children. These children don’t develop the coping skills necessary to navigate intense emotions.
I was one of those children. I had to learn how to deal with my feelings as an adult.
Until then, I only knew how to block my feelings and avoid them. The responsibility of marriage and a family was a big stressor and I was forced to deal with my emotions. It didn’t take long for anger to become a primary emotion for me. (Click here to discover how I compare mental illness and popcorn.)
People who know me now will find my brick confession difficult to believe.
I have worked very hard to understand who I am. I practice mindfulness and stay positive. Most importantly, I work hard to keep my ego in check. I try very hard not to let other people's actions impact my emotions.
For more information on how Brian and I learned to navigate this difficult mental health illness, please read 5 Critical Steps to Reduce the Stress of Chronic Mental Illness [Series Introduction].
Are there any cliches that come to mind to describe your anger?
About the author: Robyn's career as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) together with her graduate education in psychology gives her a unique perspective of cognitive-linguistic (thinking-talking) difficulties associated with daily stress and mental illness. #ThinkTalkDo
Disclaimer: Content in this blog is for informational purposes only. Statements are Robyn's thoughts and opinions and should NOT be used to diagnose or treat any disorders related to cognition, communication, or mental illness.
For mental health concerns please contact your doctor or therapist. If you need a mental health provider, Psychology Today is an excellent resource.